Have you ever seen a really old photo that immediately changed the way you looked at the world?
Trust us, you may be one of the most well-read people in the world, but there’s nothing more revealing than the actual pictures from our past when it comes to historical enlightenment.
From the creepy to the unstaged moments that captured suffering, degradation, poverty, or sometimes just fleeting moments showing those that came before us in the act of doing something completely unexpected – we’ve gone in search of 25 of the best one-of-a-kind moments that reveal what left the people of the past proud, heartbroken and what kept them busy during the day.
Here are 25 of the Raunchiest and Most Taboo Historical Photos.
The Drunk Basket
In the 1960s, bars in Istanbul employed basket men to carry their inebriated customers back to their homes. These men usually worked as porters during the day and as basket men at night to supplement their incomes. It couldn’t have been the easiest job to do. I mean, the distance between the customer and poor basket man leaves a lot to be said, but it was actually a brilliant idea.
In Turkish, these folks were known as “küfeci,” and being so buzzed that you couldn’t walk was known as “küfe.” To this day, Turkey even has a common saying, “küfelik olmak,” which means “needing to be carried home in a basket.”
The First “Official” Bikini
We all know bikinis took a while to go mainstream in America, but did you know the first “official” bikini hit the catwalk in France in 1946? It was worn by Micheline Bernardini, a dancer, during a beauty contest and immediately caused controversy. The tiny swimwear even caught the attention of the pope, who called them “sinful.” However, during the sexual revolution of the ’60s, the design took off, and bikinis went from scandalous to mainstream.
The swimwear was named Bikini after the Marshall Islands’ Bikini Atoll atomic bomb tests a week before its release.
The First “Short” Shorts
While we’re on the subject of tiny clothing, we thought we’d cover the photo that captured the first “short” shorts in action.
In the picture, two young ladies in short shorts are taking a stroll around Toronto, Canada. The year? 1937.
The photo is credited with being the first time ladies donned shorts in public in the city, and they drew a large crowd. The vehicle on the left even hit the lamp pole, but the preoccupied male driver didn’t seem to mind the mishap so much.
While we may not find anything wrong with women in shorts today, in the 1930s, shorts were only worn for sporting events, and even then, they still went down to the knee.
Ah, young love, There’s nothing quite like it.
Unless it’s forbidden. In this picture, you’re seeing an American soldier sharing chocolate with a ladyfriend in Japan in 1946. What made this photo taboo, especially in 1946, was that US troops were forbidden to give the Japanese civilians these types of luxuries. Not to mention that these two clearly shared a closeness that was frowned upon.
To put it into perspective, a lot of American soldiers found themselves stranded in Japan for 10 years or more during the US occupation in WW2. Japan’s economy and infrastructure eventually broke down, leaving a lot of families, especially young women, incapable of supporting themselves. Since the US troops had access to all the basic necessities, relationships became quite common.
Gunners in Drag
This 1940 photograph shows a group of British soldiers whose drag show, an institution that kept the warring troops entertained, was cut short by oncoming German bombers. The British Ministry of Information banned these and many other similar pictures, and they remained untouched for decades.
I wish we had more information. For example, where did they get those cute matching outfits? Did the Army provide the clothing and/or turn a blind eye? Why was it okay to dress up in drag for entertainment but not for anything else?
Richard Freiherr von Krafft-Ebing
The photo you see was in the private collection of Richard Freiherr von Krafft-Ebing, an early sexologist and psychiatrist. Nobody knows who the men and women in his images are or where they came from. Krafft-Ebing published his now infamous Psychopathia Sexualis in 1886. The book covered all the “perversions” of the day and age – conditions psychiatrists today refer to as deviant behaviors.
After the publication of Psychopathia Sexualis, Krafft-Ebing became a celebrated, if contentious, figure in the psychiatry circles. Even though he elevated the field of psychiatry through a series of public lectures, they were usually described as “glamorous,” “sensational,” and “showy,” which probably was the exact opposite of what Krafft-Ebing was trying to achieve.
I’m not really sure how I feel about this next photo, but since we’re looking at raunchy and taboo pictures, it fits right in.
It’s a photo from 1958 Paris that shows a group of international businessmen entertained by a dancer.
Paris had long been one of the world’s more “open-minded” entertainment destinations, and the 1950s were no exception. Many large European corporations would hire Paris clubs to entertain their executives and shareholders. It would all change by the ’70s, however, as explicit materials and adult-themed entertainment venues opened up in other parts of the world.
Mistletoe and Gas Masks
Nothing beats a little toxic love between two people…or two countries, for what it’s worth.
In December 1938, there was widespread fear in the United Kingdom, and many people believed that war with Nazi Germany was unavoidable. By Christmas 1938, trenches were excavated in Hyde Park in anticipation of future air attacks. However, the greatest concern around Christmas 85 years ago was that the Germans planned to use mustard gas in future conflicts. As a result, the government organized the nationwide distribution of gas masks. We just love that people found the time to have a bit of lighthearted fun amid the daily worries.
A Mud Wrestling Match
Plenty of nightclubs came up with unconventional ways to entertain their customers – other than the usual exotic dancing – for lack of a better word. One major reason behind their new strategies was the rise and expansion of the adult magazines and film industry. Dancing clubs struggled to make money, and as with every business, managers looked for absurd new ways to keep consumers coming through the doors.
While gimmicks such as mud wrestling were initially exciting and fun, the majority of customers fell out of love with them in no time, and these clubs started to disappear by the early 1990s.
The Woman in the Asylum
Let’s pretend you’re interested in politics. Perhaps you suffer from anxiety, enjoy reading in your leisure time, or do not get along with your family. Maybe you’ve been abused, are bereaved, or suffer from severe asthma.
Between 1864 and 1889, your family could have had you admitted to a mental asylum for any of those reasons. If you wanted to get rid of a troublesome woman, asylums were an effortless way to do it. Women could be admitted for just about any reason. Once there, they were subjected to horrific cruelty and abuse.
Margaretha Zelle, aka Mata Hari, was born in the Netherlands in 1876. After a tumultuous divorce, she devoted herself to studying Indonesian culture and dance, changing her name to Mata Hari.
By 1915, the beautiful woman had relationships with high-ranking men throughout Europe. She would pay the ultimate price.
France wanted to recruit her to seduce Crown Prince Wilhelm of Germany for his secrets, but he didn’t have any. Germany attempted to bribe her for intelligence on France; she refused but somehow bagged their money anyway. The war failed, and France, looking for a scapegoat, chose the woman who couldn’t be kept. They accused her of wearing secret ink on stage and treason. The prosecution said her reputation as a femme fatale was sufficient evidence, and she was condemned to die by firing squad.
The Ziegfried Girl
The Ziegfried girl is our first “super-risque” entry for the day, but she is by no means the last. Stick around for the last items on today’s list. We promise you, it will be worth it!
The unknown performer in this photo, merely known as one of the Ziegfeld Girls, posed for her creative photograph in 1922. Most of the girls took similar pictures to promote the Ziegfeld Follies, a theatrical Broadway revue extravaganza that ran in New York City from 1907 until 1931. Becoming a Ziegfeld Girl was a highly sought-after position since the girls had to be superb singers and dancers, and they also had to be physically powerful, sensual, seductive, and graceful. They eventually became some of the best-compensated women in theatre.
The Eccentric Actress
Why be famous if you can’t be weird and famous? Sarah Bernhardt, the eccentric French actress, liked to sleep in a coffin filled with love letters and adorned with flowers. She must have had infinite letters to pick from, as she had hundreds of lovers ranging from performers to royalty during her lengthy and spectacularly successful career.
Maurice, her only child, who was fathered by a Belgian aristocrat, ended up marrying a Polish princess. She was even rumored to have had a romantic relationship with the Prince of Wales, the future King Edward VII, who once starred as a corpse in one of her plays as a joke.
The Lion Tamer
You only have to take one look at this picture to know this one-armed lion tamer, Jack Bonavita, was a seriously cool dude. The photo was snapped in the 1870s.
During the heyday’s of the circus, it wasn’t strange to come across shows that included large groups of predators. Today, it is frowned upon, and wildlife organizations around the world work day and night to end the practice, with some circuses now either abandoning the use of predators altogether or moving towards the use of holograms.
The Card-Playing Women of the Night
This picture was taken in 1912 in New Orleans. While it is definitely a taboo subject, it’s important to know that this specific trade was quite common across the US until the women’s movement hit in the early 1900s, at which point every state outlawed it. After becoming a state, Nevada legalized it.
As with nearly every other service position, much of the day was spent doing nothing. Alcohol and gambling, both of which were permitted at the time, consumed a lot of the women’s time. It was also quite normal for a regular customer to get married to one of these ladies. For example, Wyatt Earp and two of his brothers all married or had long-term relationships in this fashion. It’s weird, we know, but it’s still fascinating.
An Acrobatic Routine
Does this photo scream “lack of safety nets,” or is it just me?
Louis-Philippe Messelier traveled from France to China in the early nineteenth century and lived in Shanghai. When he wasn’t doing his 9-5 in the wool trade, he played photojournalist at the French Journal of Shanghai. During his time in the country, he saw unusual street performances, and luckily for us, he managed to take a few photos. During the 1920s and 1930s, China experienced rapid modernization thanks to the West. Messelier captured a unique perspective of the country and its distinct customs blended with modern life.
The White Rose of Stalingrad
Have you ever heard of the Night Witches?
It was an all-women aviation group that delivered both of the world’s only female fighter aces: 11-kill Yekaterina Budanova and Lydia Litvyak, the renowned “White Rose of Stalingrad,” who received recognition for 12 solo and four shared kills.
Budanova and Litvyak worked as freelance predators, teams of skilled pilots who hunted down enemy aircraft like absolute bosses. Legend has it that Litvyak painted white flowers on her plane’s fuselage and that enemy fighters would flee when they spotted her. In total, the all-female Regiment unleashed more than 23,000 tons of bombs on Nazi targets.
Courting in the 1800s
Isn’t this photo just the sweetest thing you’ve seen today? During the Victorian era, a courtship was the period that occurred just before the wedding. It was strict people, not at all like today.
For instance, a woman was never allowed to be alone with her gentleman caller, and a chaperone had to be with them every moment they were together. In fact, a single woman wasn’t even allowed to begin a conversation with a man if they hadn’t been introduced – and no physical contact was allowed whatsoever.
I don’t know about you, but that makes this photo just a tad scandalous, in my opinion.
The Young Workers
Thanks to modern technology, we can now colorize the photos of the past. And it is glorious. Just look at these two young workers taking a smoke break in the 1940s. They are the world’s oldest children – or youngest pensioners.
Today, child labour is still a contentious subject. In fact, it is estimated that 160 million children are involved, working incredibly tough jobs and relinquishing their childhood. Even though we would all love to see it eradicated, it is a very real form of slavery, and it takes place all over the world.
Staring Death in the Eye
Fortino Samano was a Mexican revolutionary. This dramatic picture was captured on camera just seconds before his execution in 1916.
Unconcerned about the photographer or his imminent demise, he stares death down, enjoying his last cigar with his head held high and a smile on his face. According to witness accounts, he even issued the order to fire.
Imagine leaving the world like that…
I can’t help but feel admiration for his courage.
The American Soldier & His English Girlfriend
Have you been going about your life under the impression that your grandparents, or even great-grandparents, were falling in love, holding hands, giving chaste kisses, and having babies without ever giving themselves over to wanton desire?
Well, we’ve got news for you. Your parents and grandparents were regular, passionate 20-something-year-olds at one point in their lives. If you still can’t believe it, take a look at this intimate picture of a soldier and his girl in Hyde Park in 1945. If it shows us anything, it is that nothing ever really changes – nothing that matters, that is.
Fun at an Alligator Farm
We’ve made it down to our final four.
Did you know that in the early 1920s, alligator farms were a common tourist attraction?
One of these farms in Los Angeles actually had so many incidents (not to mention injuries), that it had to be closed down in 1957. As it turns out, alligators aren’t the best animals to have around random, untrained people. If you haven’t realized it up to now, have another look at the picture – there’s no safety glass separating the alligators from the people.
Have you ever seen anyone as cool as this young lady?
This photo was taken in the 1940s by Tony Vaccaro. He spotted the American soldier and his German lady friend in Frankfurt. I just love how nonchalant she is. You might not be able to see it, but this young lady is also wearing rollerskates. She genuinely looks like she doesn’t have a care in the world. I don’t know about you guys, but my grandmother was never rollerskating, or smoking in Frankfurt, cool…
Ladies Getting Ready To Entertain The Troops
In today’s spot at number two, we’d like to show you this photograph of women preparing to entertain the men in uniform shortly after D-Day in 1944.
It might seem strange, but the US had showgirls to entertain the troops almost immediately after making it to France. Following the liberation of major cities, particularly Paris, major movie stars, comedians, and music performers also arrived to entertain troops at USO events. It was all done to keep up the soldier’s morale. Keeping them engaged was critical for success.
The Soviets and Germans also entertained their troops, but mainly through coordinated events in occupied cities.
Westerners didn’t get a lot of tattoos during the nineteenth century, but that changed during the Victorian era. At that point, tattoos became more popular across society, especially among sailors, soldiers, and convicts, and one even featured in a high-profile court case. By the 1880s, the elite came on board.
The Prince of Wales and his son, Albert Victor, got them; they weren’t the only ones. Aristocrats of both genders started getting them, and the craze grew from there. Several professional tattoo artists opened shops in the late 1800s, and after the introduction of the electrical tattooing machine in 1891, they were accessible to just about anyone.
When the ‘Freakshow’ was added in the attic of the Panopticon in the early 20th century, Princess Christina, the tattooed woman in our picture at number one, became a main attraction. Her husband and brother were both tattoo artists, and she was frequently used to advertise their work.