These Historical Photos Were Digitally Colorized, And The Results Are Extraordinary
By | August 19, 2022
The stunning colorized photos collected here capture some of the most jaw dropping images that won't be found in history books. Some of these photos date back to the 19th century, but take a closer look and you'll see how the colorization captured more than expected.
By adding color to a photo that was once black and white it takes on a quality that makes it look like it was taken yesterday. What once looked like an archaic part of the past now shows a different side of history that you already know. These people could be someone that you know or that you've seen in passing, it's just that they're from another century.
It's eerie how the past is now brought back to life in such a relatable way thanks to the power of colorization. Look closer and you'll see that life is incredibly similar to the way it was when these pictures were taken.
When Walt Disney created Mickey Mouse in 1928 he had no way of knowing exactly what kind of cultural contribution he was making. There was no way to know that by simply producing Steamboat Willie that very year that he was changing not only the landscape of animation and filmmaking, but that he was laying the groundwork for a new kind of entertainment that would still be beloved almost 100 years later. It was only a couple of years later that Disney began to license merchandise that had Mickey's face all over it.
Even with the success of Mickey Mouse it would be decades before Disney became one of the most profitable and insanely successful studios of all time. It wasn't until the release of Cinderella in 1950 that the company experienced its first real success. Finally, in the 1960s, Disney was able to parlay that success into a real deal magical kingdom where they could share their creations with the entire world.
Japanese-American college students during their relocation to an internment camp. Sacramento, 1942.
In spite of the prison-like qualities of these centers the Japanese people inside did their best to remain positive and not lose their sense of self. The last Japanese internment camp shut its doors in March 1946, but it wasn't until 1988 that the United States government officially apologized and awarded $20,000 a piece to more than 80,000 Japanese Americans as a form of reparations.
Anne Frank when she was 12, posing for her school photo in 1941. Lest we forget.
Less than a year after she was forced to change schools the Frank family went into hiding behind Otto Frank's food business. Helped by non-Jewish friends, the Frank family hid in a secret area with four other people for two years. Unfortunately, Frank was never able to grow up. She and her family were discovered by the Gestapo in August 1944.
Cecil J Williams in 1956, drinking from a fountain marked "WHITE ONLY"
Williams' friend and comrade in the civil rights movement Jon Parrish said of his friend:
Cecil and I didn’t dwell on the superficial elements that could have divided us. We were more than a generation apart in age, of different races, representing different fields of humanities expertise and different political affiliations, but we held the same core principles, the same commitment to democracy.
Frances 'Poppy' Northcutt, First Female NASA Engineer in the Apollo Program (1969)
Northcutt says that when she first got the job at NASA she had to study harder than she did at school. She explained:
All of the engineers were dudes... I’d take a piece of it home every night and go through the code and come back the next day and start asking questions.
A photo of Joseph Stalin taken at 4:31 am on June 22, 1941. He was just told that Germany had attacked the USSR, starting a war against the Soviet Union. The photographer was asked to destroy the photo but he saved it
This over-trusting of Germany became foolish when Stalin's spies returned from Germany, Japan, and Switzerland with information detailing a Nazi attack on Russia. By the middle of 1941 Stalin was still certain that Germany would keep to their deal in spite of a mountain of evidence to the contrary. Stalin thought all of this information was just a play by the British, however when the Germans attacked previously agreed upon safe zones on June 21, 1941, Stalin had to be awoken to the news that not only was he pushed into the war whether he wanted to be or not, but that he was caught unawares.
Lizabeth Virginia Scott, known for her smoky voice and being "the most beautiful face of film noir" during the 1940s and 1950s
Scott was perfect for the hard boiled detective films of the '40s and during her years at Paramount she earned critical praise although most of that came later. Her natural cool made her a fan favorite, and today she's seen as one of the more important noir character actors of the day. After her film career ended she went on to work in real estate in Los Angeles, but we'll always love her for her time on the silver screen.
German prisoners of war in an American camp, photographed as they’re forced to watch a film about the German concentration camps, 1945.
Not only were these men forced to watch footage of what they'd done and what they'd fought for, but they had to actually visit concentration camps and look at the bodies of people who lost their lives for simply being different. The footage that these men are watching came from newsreels that were readily available in the united states. These men initially denied or refused to believe that their countrymen were capable of such terror, but they finally admitted the truth.
8-year-old Różyczka Goździewska, the youngest nurse in the Warsaw Uprising. She helped as an assistant in the field hospital by bringing water to the injured, chasing away flies and serving as a source of happiness
Referred to as a nurse because of the way that she made her patients smile. She brought water to people in need and did her best to keep flies away from their wounds. Even though she was growing up in the middle of Europe during World War II she survived and went on to graduate from the Silesian University of Technology.
Flight Sergeant James Hyde with mascot dog "Dingo". He was killed when his Spitfire was shot down by German fighters near Nijmegen, Holland, on September 25, 1944.
As a pilot for the RAF Hyde was joined by many pilots from across the world who flew for the Allied Forces. Men came from the Caribbean, Poland, New Zealand, Canada (just to name a few countries) to help stop the Nazi incursion into Europe. Hyde was shot down in 1944 over the Netherlands in bitter battle with the German air force.
John Quincy Adams, the first president to have his picture taken, 1843
This daguerreotype of President Adams is believed to have taken by Philip Haas at his home in Massachusetts. If anything, this photo shows just how serious Adams was about his craft until his final days. Seeing him in full color this way gives him the look of a very serious grandfather who's always busy but who understands the practical value of pausing for a photo.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg during her first term as a D.C. Circuit judge (1980)
After more than a decade on the job as a D.C. circuit judge she was nominated for the Supreme Court. Initially there were some questions as to whether or not she could serve the highest court in the land, but at the end of the day her nomination went through with a nearly unanimous vote. Ginsburg held her position for nearly 30 years.
Family portrait after World War I
It's heart breaking to see this young family posing with their lost patriarch's clothing. Not only are they posed in a way that makes it clear that they've lost something important to them, but we can see how much this man meant to them. It's a stark reminder than in war the causalities aren't snuffed out in an instant but over years as memories fade.
Dorothea Lange Portrait of Mother and Child during The Great Depression, 1939
When Lange spoke to the mother she heard about the pain of their existence in this work camp. She later recalled:
I saw and approached the hungry and desperate mother, as if drawn by a magnet. She said that they had been living on frozen vegetables from the surrounding field and birds that the children killed
A police officer scolds an anti-masker 1918
Some people claimed that the masks were hard to wear and that they made it impossible to do their jobs. People who refused to wear the masks faced fines, jail time, and even being publicly shamed. The punishments sort of worked, but just like during the outbreak of 2020 there were plenty of people who just didn't follow the rules.
April 18, 1963, Toronto Maple Leafs GM and coach Punch Imlach savors the moment. The sign reads "No Practice Tomorrow"
How was he able to lead his team to such vaulted glory? Aside from just having a bunch of great players he was known to be incredibly skilled at motivating his players and using them to the best of their abilities. By 1967, his Maple Leafs had some of the oldest players in the league, showing that you don't need youth on your side to get the job done.
American troops on board a landing craft heading for the beaches at Oran in Algeria during Operation Torch, November 1942
The soldiers were bombarded for days. The beach was harder to take hold of than expected and it didn't pull forces away from the area in the way that the Allied Forces hoped. At the end of the day Operation Torch served to show British and American forces just how much work there was to be done internally before the end of the war.
Italian Farmworker in Bridgetown, New Jersey. 1941
Working in the vegetable fields of New Jersey, this woman is making sure that the local economy keeps moving. She's not just one person throwing beans into a basket, she's a part of a community who's helping to feed the people around them. By 1942, she and women liker her made up most of the work force.
Kane Tanaka, born in 1903. At her 118 years old is the only living human that was alive both during Kitty Hawk first flight on Earth and Ingenuity first flight on Mars
While speaking with her grandson, Eiji Tanaka, CNN learned that she's still up and kicking. He said:
It's great she reached that age and she can still keep up an active lifestyle -- we want other people to see that and feel inspired, and not to think age is a barrier. I don't remember her talking much about the past ... She's very forward thinking -- she really enjoys living in the present.
A selfie taken by Edvard Munch after admitting himself to a psychiatric clinic in 1908
Munch believed that his depression and anxiety coupled with his drinking was leading him to an early grave. He spent six months in a facility where he dieted and received "electrification" therapy for his nerves. After he left the hospital he was noticeably more relaxed and easy to get along with. It's likely that without this stay in a psychiatric facility he wouldn't have lived to the ripe age of 80-years-old.
Queen Elizabeth, at Buckingham Palace, photograph by Cecil Beaton, 1942
In 1940, Princess Elizabeth began the first of many addresses to the young people of England as a part of the BBC's Children's House. She opened the address by saying:
Thousands of you in this country have had to leave your homes and be separated from your fathers and mothers. My sister Margaret Rose and I feel so much for you, as we know from experience what it means to be away from those you love most of all. To you living in new surroundings, we send a message of true sympathy and at the same time we would like to thank the kind people who have welcomed you to their homes in the country.
American Civil War Veterans drop flowers from the air onto Gettysburg Battlefield to honor fallen comrades, 1938
These veterans look nothing like what we think of Civil War veterans. They're dressed like gentlemen of the 1930s, and they seem confident taking part in air travel. Hopefully we're all so comfortable with the changes in technology when we're their age.
Joan Crawford, one of the greatest stars of the golden era of Hollywood
Crawford's success came when she appeared as a lovelorn rich girl in 1928's Our Dancing Daughters. From then on she worked, worked, worked, and rarely took the time to have a personal life. Her workaholic nature finally paid off in the 1930s when she not only was named the top-earning star of the decade but when she won an Academy Award for her work in 1945's Mildred Pierce.
Henry Ossian Flipper, the first African American cadet to graduate from the United States Military Academy at West Point
Flipper was unjustly court martialed in 1882 for embezzling government funds, something that he contested until his final breath. He went on to work as a civil engineer in El Paso, Texas, before entrenching himself in the petroleum industry for the rest of his life. In 1999, President Bill Clinton pardoned Flipper and overturned his discharge.
Eartha Kitt as photographed by Chuck Stewart, circa 1955
Kitt was beloved for her demeanor, but it was her voice that was the epicenter for her whole vibe. Her tremolo filled growl of a singing voice made it seem like she was singing directly to the listener, that she had recorded the song just for you. She cooed and whispered, all in the name of making the listener think that she didn't just want to serenade them, but that she wanted to seduce them.
According to the Smithsonian, the meteorite that hit Hodges was a piece of a much larger rock that broke in two as it hurdled towards the Earth. The piece that didn't hit Hodges landed a few miles away and now it can be seen in the National Museum of National History. According to Michael Reynolds, an astronomer at the Florida State College, we have a better chance of being hit by a tornado and a bolt of lightning and a hurricane at the same time than we do of being hit by a meteorite.
Oda Nobuyoshi, civil right activist and dentist from Japan during the Meiji Era, photo taken in 1880 when he was 20 years old
Seeing Nobuyoshi in all of his glory is exactly why it's so cool to colorize vintage photos. Not only do we get to see what it would be like to peer into history with fresh eyes, but we can see that the people of another century weren't all that different from who we are today. In color, Nobuyoshi looks like someone we would see at the coffee shop or the record store.
Bruce Lee with producer Fred Weintraub, on the set of 'Enter the Dragon', in 1973
Initially, Lee believed that he had total control over the script, but when he discovered that Warner Bros. had no desire to let him make the movie he wanted he just refused to show up on set. He knew that if he didn't do something dire that the film would be ruined so he began a two week standoff with the distributor. After about 14 days Warner Bros. gave up and told Lee to make whatever he wanted.
Harry Houdini (c.1900)
In the summer of 1900, Houdini nabbed a booking at the Alhambra by performing for free for the detectives of Scotland Yard. He was finally given a spot on a show and he was immediately challenged by another performer to escape from a pair of handcuffs. Houdini nailed the challenge and he quickly became a darling of the papers and hit in London. He secured a two month booking at the Alhambra and the rest is history.
16 year old German soldier crying after being captured by the Allies, 1945
According to American photojournalist John Florea, Henke is weeping from the shock of war following an attack by American forces. Florea believes that Henke changed his story to say that he was defeated by Russians because he joined the Communist Party in East Germany following the war. At the time anyone who surrendered to the Americans was believed to be a member of a "third force." Florea thinks that Henke changed his story to cover his tracks. We'll never know what really happened.
Nicholas II, the last Tzar of Russia, informal photo of him (unknown date)
He was charming and easy to get along with, but he preferred to be with his family more than with his subjects or royals from other countries. Presented in full color, this photo shows Nicholas as we've never seen him. He looks curious and relaxed, happy to be in nature and away from the rigors of his job.
Berlin 1961: Escape to the West
Two days following the rise of the barb wall version of the wall, 18-year-old East German police officer Conrad Schumann was put on patrol at the corner of Bernauer Strasse and Ruppiner Strasse. He carried an unloaded weapon because of its light weight and at 4pm he jumped over the wall and into a waiting West German police car. He later said:
My nerves were at a breaking point. I was very afraid. I took off, jumped, and into the car… in three, four seconds, it was all over.
Josephine Baker, a performer, French resistance agent, and civil rights activist.
In 1963, Baker marched alongside Martin Luther King Jr. at the March on Washington and even spoke during the day. Finally accepted by her fellow Americans she became the focal point of "Josephine Baker Day" on May 20th thanks to the NAACP. Before she passed in 1975, Baker headlined at Carnegie Hall to a capacity crowd, her most grand performance.
In 1911 the Mona Lisa was returned to Louvre after it was stolen
The painting didn't show up for 28 months. It popped up in Florence when Vincenzo Perugia tried to sell it to a dealer in the area. After Perugia tried to pass it off he was caught pretty much immediately. He claimed that the painting was stolen by Napoleon and that he wanted to return it Italy. Today, the Mona Lisa can still be seen at the Louvre.
A British Army soldier handles a homing pigeon at an Air Ministry Pigeon Section loft in England during World War II in April 1941
Homing pigeons served the Allied Forces by transmitting messages throughout various theaters of war and helped soldiers speak to one another without using radio signals. 32 pigeons received the Dickin Medal during World War II. Created by the British, this medal was given to animals who displayed honor and valor under fire.
Anna May Wong Poses in a Publicity Photo for "The Toll of the Sea" (1922)
Wong dropped out of high school in 1921 to pursue acting full-time. She was only 17-years-old when she earned a role in The Toll of the Sea, a silent film version of Madame Butterfly. Her career didn't really take off until she left Hollywood for Europe. Afterwards, Paramount Studios sought her out for a series of leading roles while she also worked on Broadway.
A British veteran of the Napoleonic wars posing with his wife
The outfits on display in this photo are perfectly aligned with the era. In the 19th century people rarely had photos taken of them, especially if they were just regular people. It's unlikely that a working class person would have more than one photo taken of themselves during this time. That's why this couple is wearing their best outfit, it's how they want to be remembered.
Audrey Hepburn, America's sweetheart even though she was born in England
However, she almost didn't make it to the silver screen. When she was just a teenager in Holland she almost died of starvation during World War II. In the winter of 1944 and '45 she had to live in her family cellar for weeks at a time because of the German bombing campaign overhead. She later recalled:
I went as long as three days without food and most of the time we existed on starvation rations. For months, breakfast was hot water and one slice of bread, made from brown beans. Broth for lunch was made from one potato and there was no milk, sugar, cereals of any kind.
Charles S.L. Baker (1859-1926) was an American inventor, who patented the friction heater
Baker worked for 20 years to come up with the theory of friction heat, something he believed to be more cost effective than the traditional radiator. He patented the system and started a company called The Friction heat & Boiler Company of which he sat on the board of directors. Baker's work may not be known to many, but his system shows what can be accomplished with hard work.
The Graf Zeppelin flies over the 4000 year-old pyramids in Giza, Egypt, 1931
Karl Henry von Wiegand was aboard the Graf Zeppelin when it flew over Egypt in 1931 and he described that fantastic voyage in the San Francisco Examiner later that year. He writes of the excitement when people aboard the zeppelin saw the pyramids:
'The Pyramids in sight!' came a shout from the bridge. A rush to the windows. In the distance, silhouette-like against the sun, loomed the world’s most ancient monuments. We circled them and the Sphinx and twice over the city of Cairo with the domes and needle-like minarets of the many mosques.
US Soldier with pictures of his girlfriend, Chu Chi base camp, Vietnam 1968
This soldier isn't alone in placing pictures of his best gal around his helmet. While he couldn't very well just look at pictures of her on his phone he did have the ability to carry a version of her everywhere he went - even in the thick of battle. These photos not only reminded him of his gal, but it showed him that there was something to go home to.
Spanish flu, California 1918
For many living in California at the time they did what they could to stay healthy and that meant wearing a mask over their mouths and noses while staying away from large gatherings. Science was nowhere near as good as it is today so people simply had to wait for the flu to burn itself out. It was well into 1920 before life was back to normal and people could about their lives as if nothing had happened.
Pioneers from the 1st Foreign Regiment of French Foreign Legion arrive in Paris just in time for the 1939 Bastille Day Parade
Created as a group with the specific purpose of clearing obstacles and barriers set down by the enemy, the Pioneers used their axes to smash anything and everything in their way. When they weren't wrecking shop, these guys worked as craftsmen who fixed anything that needed repairing on the battlefield. Today, the pioneers serve an important ceremonial function that reminds the French of their past.
Three men of "The Windrush Generation" migrants from the Caribbean arrive on UK shores, 1948
The tragedy of this group of hard working people is that even though they were given the jobs that kept that kept the country running, they were often seen as illegal immigrants because of their lack of paperwork. Because of the unofficial nature of their stay in the UK no one knows exactly how many of them made a home in England. It's likely that there were at least 500,000 people who came to the country illegally, but that's only an estimate.
Woman standing on the frozen Mississippi River (1905)
The ice trade was located mostly in the northeast and Norway, but freezes like this created a great chance for people to harvest their own ice and either sell it or keep it. At its peak, the ice industry employed thousands of people around American and peaked at $28 million annually. The next time you toss some ice in your drink think about how hard that would be if you had to cut it out of a lake.