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17 Amazing Photos From 100 Years Ago

We look back at a century-old photographs.

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One hundred years ago, as WWI raged on and women fought for the right to vote, people were balancing on rooftops, using ostriches as tourist attractions and performing the first plastic surgery operation. With some help from BuzzFeedwe put together a list of photographs that will forever document the events of 1917. Check them out below.


John Reynoldsknown as the “Human Fly” was a famous acrobat who used to entertain people by balancing on the edge of buildings, as seen in this photo. In order to get to the roof, he would scale the outside of the building. He drew crowds of nearly 1,500 people. In this photo, he is balancing on top of the Lansburgh furniture building in Washington, D.C.

Wikimedia Commons

The first jazz records ever — “Dixie Jazz Band One Step” and “Livery Stable Blues” — were recorded by Original Dixieland Jass Band for the Victor Talking Machine Company.

Wikimedia Commons

Can you see him? This is camouflage at its earliest stages during WWI. The image shows someone in “dazzle” camouflage, which was designed to make soldiers harder to target, but not hide them completely.

Vintage Everyday Facebook

Lifejackets were also very different 100 years ago. U.S. sailors fighting in WWI were using be mattresses in place of life jackets, which, ultimately, was a bad idea, since the mattresses would just absorb the water and sink, dragging the soldiers down too.

Wikimedia Commons

The Silent Sentinels were a group of women in favor of women’s suffrage. They were organized by Alice Paul and the National Woman’s Party. On January 10, 1917, they protested in front of the White House. The protest lasted for six days a week until June 4, 1919, when the 19th Amendment was finally passed. Paul was later jailed for seven months.

Wikimedia Commons

A century ago, people were using radium as a medicine, guaranteed to give users a “healthy glow.” Customers were told they were taking “health-giving electric atoms.” This is obviously before the harmful effects of radiation were known.

Julia Ward Howe. Wikimedia Commons.

Sisters Laura Elizabeth Richards and Maude Howe Elliott won the first Pulitzer Prize in biography for Julia Ward Howe, which chronicled the long and complex career of their mother (shown above), an abolitionist and suffragist who wrote “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” They were the first women to win a Pulitzer.


A woman was fed up with her husband refusing to bathe, so she took him to court. He said that he was too large to fit in the bathtub. The wife came out on top, and the husband was sentenced to probation which meant that he’d be jailed if he refused to find a way to take a bath.


British soldiers set off one of the biggest non-nuclear blasts in modern history on June 7, 1917, after placing highly explosive mines in tunnels underneath the massed German army at La Boisselle near Messines in France. The blast was heard in London and Dublin and the mushroom cloud it create rose to 4,000 feet. Ten thousand German soldiers were killed, and the crater that was left was over 200 feet deep and 450 feet wide.


A mother accidentally killed her family with pancakes when she mistook arsenic for flour. At the time, arsenic was readily available because it was used for pest control. But unfortunately, it also looked like flour, and therefore, accidents like this tragic one explained above occurred.


A giant German Zeppelin was hit by French fighter plans and crashed into a French valley. At 550 feet long and 70 feet wide, it lodged itself across the valley and horrified observers who called it a “hideous, abominable killing machine.”


Dr. R.B. Armitage tried to give young women who planned to get married sex advice through a book, Private Sex Advice to Women. He told them to not have sex during pregnancy and also, any pain during menstruation was abnormal and caused by “too-tight clothing, eating pickles, and not getting enough exercise from housework.”

Madame Mac Méod (future Mata Hari) éxécutant des danses brahmaniques dans la bibliothèque du Musée Guimet de Paris.*13-3-1905. Wikimedia Commons.

Mata Hari (real name Margarete Zelle) was a Dutch exotic dancer who was convicted of being a German spy and was executed by a firing squad. She was born in Holland but moved to Paris to pretend to be the daughter of Dutch royalty and a Javanese princess. She was wildly popular and took several wealthy lovers, but also accepted money from a German office. She was found guilty of being a double agent and spy by the French courts, and was executed in October 1917.


Harold Gillies performed the first-ever plastic surgery in Kent, UK, after finding a way to prevent the body from rejecting skin grafts by boosting the blood supply to the surrounding tissue using a tube of flesh called a “pedicle.” The patient, Water Yeo, was wounded during the Battle of Jutland in 1916. He received the first successful flap graft in 1917.


The German army mounted cameras on pigeons using aluminum breast harnesses. The camera would take pictures at regular intervals through a timer.


U.S. immigration officials pinned an address to a child after she arrived unaccompanied and dropped her off at the post office.

Wikipedia Commons

Have you ever thought to yourself, “Wow I would love to go to an ostrich farm?” Well, that’s what entrepreneur Edwin Cawston was hoping when he created the first ostrich farm in the country, successfully creating one of the most popular tourist attractions in the U.S. He shipped 50 South African ostriches to California, and guests could ride on their backs or in an ostrich-drawn carriage.

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