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Weird Photos: The Strange Side of Life in the Early 20th Century

Nikola Budanovic

The birth of photography which came in the second half of the 19th century was considered to be one of the greatest technological wonders ever invented. By the dawn of the following century, it attracted upper middle-class enthusiasts who saw the camera as a new art medium, ready to take snapshots of the world that surrounded them ― a world of new machines, new professions, but also new eccentricity.

At the beginning of the most turbulent century in modern history, society was rapidly changing, while still clinging on to its past. It indeed was a time of contradiction.

Smoking boy with chicken

Smoking boy with chicken

A man stands next to an enormous container used to store wine in Kakheti, Georgia, 1881.

A man stands next to an enormous container used to store wine in Kakheti, Georgia, 1881.

A train lays wrecked after entering Paris’ Montparnasse station too fast and failing to brake before crashing through the station wall and down onto the street below on October 22, 1895.

A train lays wrecked after entering Paris’ Montparnasse station too fast and failing to brake before crashing through the station wall and down onto the street below on October 22, 1895.

Dog with a pipe in its mouth

Dog with a pipe in its mouth

Maintenance of Mount Rushmore

Maintenance of Mount Rushmore

Industry was making great advances in terms of the economy while antagonizing growing national powerhouses in the Western world.

However, rarely are any of these grim sights can be seen in these photos. Taken roughly in the last decades of what is commonly known as the “Belle Epoque” ― a period of uninterrupted peace, beginning in 1871, when the Franco-Prussian war ended, and finishing in 1914 ― they offer a glimpse into unusual situations and people caught on film in the early days of photography.

The pictures are more in the line of capturing the carefreeness of the Belle Epoque, although some of them were taken during and after the Great War.

Images like Lord Lionel Walter Rothschild, of the famous Rothschild family, driving in his zebra-powered carriage, or a woman riding an ostrich, are sure to put a smile on your face.

Photo by František Dostál CC BY-SA 4.0

Photo by František Dostál CC BY-SA 4.0

Dalí Atomicus. Image featuring Surrealist painter Salvador Dali by photographer Philippe Halsman.

Dalí Atomicus. Image featuring Surrealist painter Salvador Dali by photographer Philippe Halsman.

Tank treads on an airplane

Tank treads on an airplane

A woman tests a stroller intended to be resistant to gas attacks in Hextable, England in 1938, not long before the outbreak of World War II.

A woman tests a stroller intended to be resistant to gas attacks in Hextable, England in 1938, not long before the outbreak of World War II.

Amphibious bike ‘Cyclomer’, Paris, 1932

Amphibious bike ‘Cyclomer’, Paris, 1932

Brewster Body Shield

Brewster Body Shield

Cats food – nothing but the best fish

Cats food – nothing but the best fish

Divers in 1935

Divers in 1935

Policeman Measuring a Woman’s Bathing Suit

Policeman Measuring a Woman’s Bathing Suit

Nova Scotia piper

Nova Scotia piper

Early version of roller skates powered with pedals, 1910

Early version of roller skates powered with pedals, 1910

Military acoustic aircraft locators

Military acoustic aircraft locators

The tallest man in the world pictured with his father

The tallest man in the world pictured with his father

Young Pioneers Defence by Victor Bulla

Young Pioneers Defence by Victor Bulla

Women wear plastic headgear intended to protect the wearer from snowstorms in Montreal, 1939.

Women wear plastic headgear intended to protect the wearer from snowstorms in Montreal, 1939.

Men in Black prototype? Monowheel by Italian inventor Goventosa, 1931

Men in Black prototype? Monowheel by Italian inventor Goventosa, 1931

Lillian Boyer, standing on the wing of a flying biplane.

Lillian Boyer, standing on the wing of a flying biplane.

Rothschild with his famed zebra (Equus quagga) carriage, which he drove to Buckingham Palace to demonstrate the tame character of zebras to the public

Rothschild with his famed zebra (Equus quagga) carriage, which he drove to Buckingham Palace to demonstrate the tame character of zebras to the public

On the other hand, the group of Young Pioneers in their gas masks or the wacko acoustic aircraft locators bring an eerie feeling to the era which they are portraying.

Related Story: Rare old Photos Show how People Lived in the 1850s

Some of these “strange and unusual” photographs lost their explanation as time went by, and many of them appear to offer no sense at all. Whatever it may be, they surely show a side of the past rarely seen in usual representations, so take a peek, and be free to offer your own interpretation in the comments.

Correction: In the original version of the article we misplaced a photo caption. The correct photo caption is “Policeman Measuring a Woman’s Bathing Suit.”

We made the correction on 4/15/2019