Once upon a time, the only way humans were able to record historic events was through cave paintings and carving on clay. This evolved into writing on paper and eventually, we were able to record the visible world with a photographic camera. Nowadays, anyone can capture a vital part of history with a just a click of their smartphone camera.
But over the last decades, the U.S. government has used photography to keep track of their experiments, mysterious findings, UFOs, international criminals, and missions that used to be top secret. So get ready to question everything you thought you understood about famous moments in history.
The U.S. Government’s Stash of Declassified Photos
It wasn’t too long ago that a significant series of photos and documents were considered classified by the U.S. government. In most cases, only top officials had access to these images. But a lot of the reasons why these photos were kept secret no longer exist, so the government passed the Freedom of Information act which made once top secret photos public.
This Base Was Ready for the Cold War
The American public in general became intrigued when the CIA declassified photos that showed all kinds of long-held secrets, including a former classified military base built for the Cold War to help government and military officials stay on top of the enemy’s nuclear and intelligence operations.
The 1972 Moon Landing
The last mission to the moon was done successfully by Apollo 17 in 1972. Astronauts Schmitt, Evans and Cernan returned to Earth on December 19, 1972, after their 12-day mission. This photo shows one of the astronauts walking on the lunar surface.
Operation High Jump
Operation High Jump was a classified military research facility that was supposed to get built in the Arctic by order of the U.S. government. The facility was going to make it easier to spy on the Russians. Unfortunately, U.S. navy ships couldn’t navigate through the icebergs in the frigid area.
The Patent of the Original Diving Suit
This photograph was once considered the patent for the first diving suit. Once the patent expired, the U.S. government declassified and released the image. The suit made the diver look like a robot. Fortunately, diving suits are no longer this bulky or uncomfortable.
Hidden Nuclear Bunker in Virginia
The Cold War of the 1960s left many U.S. government officials scared for their lives. Fortunately, they knew that in the event of a nuclear attack, they had bunkers they could hide in, like the one photographed here in Virginia.
One of the Last Glimpses of a President
This was one of the final photos taken of President John F. Kennedy as he rode in the back seat of a convertible with his wife, Jackie, about a minute before he was fatally shot in Dallas, Texas.
The Airbase With An Undisclosed Location
Johnson Atoll was an airbase with a secret location. All anyone knew of the base was that it was in the Pacific Ocean area near an atomic bomb testing site. The exact location of this base is a mystery to this day to ensure the base remains protected.
Pilot Fatigue Fighting Experiment
The U.S. Air Force came up with a number of ways to fight pilot fatigue. This included fighting in different positions such as the one this pilot experimented with in this photo from 1949. Unfortunately, this experiment failed as it was deemed impossible for a pilot to successfully fight this way.
Senator John McCain After Getting Shot Down in Vietnam
Long before he was a senator, John McCain was a United States airman during the Vietnam War. This photo shows McCain being rescued from the waters by Hanoi locals shortly after getting shot down by enemy fire. He was then captured and became a prisoner of war in 1967.
Area 51 UFO
Area 51 is the top secret government base in the Nevada desert that some people believe harbors the remains of the original Roswell alien spacecraft as well as the bodies of the aliens found there. This photo shows an aircraft being studied by engineers at Area 51 and the design is truly out of this world.
The Fat Man Bomb
The Fat Man was the nickname the U.S. government gave the nuclear bomb that devastated Nagasaki on August 9, 1945. It earned its name because of its enormous shape and nuclear payload. But photos of the bombs weren’t commonly distributed in the '40s because the government didn’t want others duplicating the deadly technology.
The Roswell Crash
Rumors claim that the Roswell crash was actually an alien spacecraft that crashed in New Mexico. Of course, the U.S. government denied this and said that it was a weather balloon. Well, this photo of the crash seems to suggest that it wasn’t a weather balloon, but it doesn’t necessarily indicate that it’s a UFO either.
Photo of the First Nuclear Bomb
A secret government project known as Trinity was actually when the first nuclear bomb detonated in the New Mexico desert in 1945, which is when this photo was taken. In the image, a group of engineers are finishing up the construction of the bomb, which was later set off.
FBI Document Regarding UFOs
This FBI document suggests that the U.S. government encountered a UFO in the Nevada desert in 1963. Since the document was classified, a lot of the vital sections were blacked out, which likely made UFO enthusiasts more convinced that the government did indeed run into an actual UFO.
The Prototype for an Ejectable Chair
The U.S. government was working on a chair that could be ejected from a vehicle like a plane in the case of an emergency. This type of chair could also be used on a land vehicle to avoid a catastrophe at the very last minute, as seen by this prototype in action in this vintage photo.
Young Pablo Escobar at the White House
Pablo Escobar was one of the richest drug lords in the world and he was on the FBI’s most wanted list for many years of his life. He was in charge of the Medellin Cartel of Colombia, but even though it put him into danger to do so, he posed for this photo with his only son outside of the White House in Washington D.C. during a trip to America.
Lyndon B. Johnson Looking Defeated During the Vietnam War
This photo was snapped on July 31, 1968, after President Lyndon B. Johnson met with his advisors to assess the ongoing situation in Vietnam. The posture of the president as he sat at the edge of the desk listening to a tape made by his son-in-law, Marine Corps Captain Charles Robb, that described what was happening in the Vietnam War, shows just how distressful the situation was for him.
U.S. Troops on D-Day
U.S. soldiers invaded Nazi-occupied France on June 6, 1944. This event was known as D-Day. This photo shows the soldiers pouring out of a landing boat and facing heavy fire from machine guns. General Dwight D. Eisenhower wrote a note taking responsibility for whatever failures the mission would bring ahead of time. He also praised the brave soldiers in the note.
Thomas Edison’s Patent for the Light Blub
Thomas Edison didn’t invent the light bulb, but he did patent the incandescent light bulb on January 27, 1880. The original light bulbs didn’t last long, but Edison’s modified version was brighter and burned longer than any other bulb.
Wedding Rings Removed from Victims During the Nazi Era
This photo shows a box of wedding rings found by the U.S. military after liberating the Buchenwald concentration camp. During WWII, the Nazis removed wedding rings, glasses, watches and gold tooth fillings from their victims.
The Flu Epidemic of the Early 20th Century
In 1918, the world was plagued by the flu epidemic, which cost the lives of about 50 million people. In this photo, there are several officials seen wearing face masks to protect themselves from this plague which is eerily reminiscent to what people have seen during the pandemic in modern times, too.
Astronaut Flying in Low Gravity Simulator
NASA wasn’t sure how a zero gravity environment would affect humans, so they created a reduced gravity simulator at Langley Research Center in 1963. The experiment made an astronaut’s legs feel one-sixth of their weight, which is what they would feel when experiencing the gravity of the moon.
Nuclear Waste Repository in the Yucca Mountain
The men photographed appear to be looking at some strange futuristic door, which is possibly alien in nature, embedded in the Yucca Mountains in Nevada. But it’s actually a nuclear waste repository and these men were there to drill a 5 mile long exploratory tunnel in 1997.
Early Aerial Military Photographer
The turn of the century saw the introduction of aerial photography as a means of gathering information. As seen in this photo, this was difficult to do because the pilot had to fly the plane while also holding a massive camera to take photos. But their contribution allowed the military to adjust their tactics.
President Nixon Paying the Apollo 11 Crew a Visit
This photo shows astronauts Neil A. Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Edwin E. Aldrin Jr. within a Mobile Quarantine Facility, where they remained until they were transferred to the Lunar Receiving Laboratory for examination. But this didn’t stop President Nixon from paying the crew a visit in 1969.
Mysterious Balloons Linked to UFOs
The CIA declassified files showed images of these types of balloons, which were often used to spread propaganda during the Cold War. In the 1950s, the agency released about 500,000 of these balloons carrying about 300,000,000 leaflets, books and posters throughout Eastern Europe. But for some reason, the photos of these balloons ended up in the CIA’s UFO files.
Adolf Hitler After His Conquest of Austria
This photo was taken in March of 1938 during the moment that Nazi leader Adolf Hitler announced the annexation of Austria. Austrian Chancellor Kurt von Schuschnigg had tried negotiating a peaceful resolution with Hitler. But he was later forced to resign, and the country remained a German federal state until WWII ended.
CIA Director John McCone and John F. Kennedy
In this photo, John F. Kennedy is seen chatting with CIA director John McCone. McCone held the title of director from 1961 to 1965. During the JFK assassination case, McCone claimed that Lee Harvey Oswald, who killed the president, was delusional and acted alone.
Cheyenne Mountain Military Complex
The Cheyenne Mountain contains a bunker called “America’s fortress.” It’s located 2,000 feet below ground level and was designed to be strong enough to prevent being destroyed by a nuclear blast. The military complex is said to have all the amenities U.S. leaders would need including housing, a gym, a chapel and even its own diner.
Plane Believed to Be a UFO
Declassified CIA documents revealed the existence of flying spy planes from the U-2 Program from 1954 to 1974. The U-2 planes flew at over 60,000 feet, which is about 50,000 feet higher than commercial planes traveled at the time. This resulted in several reports of UFOs over the years.
American Prisoners of War During the Bataan Death March
On April 9, 1942, U.S. forces surrendered the Bataan Peninsula to the Japanese and it was bad news for the American soldiers on the Philippine island of Luzon during WWII. This became known as the Bataan death march because Japanese soldiers forced about 75,000 American and Filipino prisoners to march 65 miles to prison camps. Many of these prisoners died of malnutrition and dehydration before they reached the camps.
Lunar Landing Research Vehicle
This NASA research center photo provides a greater look at the 1960s Lunar Landing Research Vehicle (LLRV) Number 1. This vehicle was developed by NASA to help astronauts train for a moon landing. Unfortunately, Neil Armstrong almost lost his life in 1968 while training on the LLRV, which failed in mid-flight.
Dropping Nukes Near the Marshall Islands
In 1946, the U.S. military dropped a few nuclear bombs in Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands to study the effects of nuclear weapons on naval warships. Unfortunately, the radiation levels on the aquatic testing site and its effects on sea life made them ultimately realize that the tests were a bad idea.
CIA Photo of a Soviet Cruise Missile
This photo of a Soviet cruise missile from the Dino A. Brugioni Collection in the National Security Archive was taken by the CIA during the 1960s. Brugioni was a CIA agent in charge of all source briefings and intelligence.
Rough Draft of Mount Rushmore
Back in the day, sculptor Gutzon Borglum started making this early model of the sculpture of Mount Rushmore. Ironically, the original draft indicated that the busts would go all the way down to their waists. But because of budgetary reasons, Borglum opted for the presidential faces only.
Man Using German Money as Wallpaper
In the early 1920s, Germany printed more money than they had gold during WWI, but they believed they could get out of debt after the war was won. Unfortunately for them, the war didn’t go in their favor. So the post-war money was worthless and in this photo, one man was seen using the currency as wallpaper.
Witnesses in the Wake of JFK’s Assassination
U.S. President John F. Kennedy was fatally shot on November 22, 1963 while sitting in the back of a car during a parade in Dallas, Texas. This photo was taken after the incident and it shows Bill and Gayle Newman shielding their kids after diving for cover.
Sam the Monkey in Space
Sam the Monkey went on a trip on a rocket ship called Little Joe-2, or LJ-2 for short. The experiment was done to see how a zero gravity environment would affect humans. Sam was only weightless for 3 minutes and was retrieved alive and well after his ship returned to Earth.
Hiroshima After the Bombing
In 1945, the U.S. dropped an atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. This not only destroyed many of the massive buildings in the area, but it also killed 80,000 people instantly. To make matters worse, thousands of survivors later died from radiation poisoning or injuries caused by the blast.
Osama Bin Laden as a Teen
Long before he became one of the most hated terrorists in the U.S., Osama Bin Laden was just a regular teen as seen in this photo with his family vacationing in Germany. But even at that age, his extreme views eventually led to a falling out with several of his family members.
Prepping the A-Bomb
This photograph shows the 1945 preparation of “Fat Man,” an atomic bomb that was eventually dropped on the city of Nagasaki, Japan, during WWII. In the photo, a soldier is inspecting the bomb before it heads to the Tinian Island military base.
Pre-WWII Aircraft Listening Equipment
This image of Japanese Emperor Hirohito is a pre-WWII photo. It shows him assessing a number of acoustic listening devices which were once used to track down enemy planes. Each locator had a horizontal and vertical horn which was linked to a head set. A technician would use it to listen for sounds of an enemy plane’s engines.
This Secret Cold War Photo
This photo was taken in the 1960s during the Cold War. In those days, the threat of nuclear attacks was very real. But this image shows a German soldier surrounded by a bunch of chemical weapons. And it’s obvious that the U.S. government didn’t release this photo or information about it back then to avoid a mass panic.
The Family Photo Left on the Moon
Charles Duke, the youngest man to walk on the moon so far, placed a photo of his family on the surface of the moon and he snapped a photo of it. He reportedly left the photo there and the back of it read: “This is the family of astronaut Charlie Duke from planet Earth, who landed on the moon on April 20, 1972.”
Project 1794 – Plans for a Flying Saucer
A 1954 report named Project 1794, Final Development Summary Report was declassified in 2012. The report detailed the U.S. government’s plans to develop a flying saucer capable of achieving Mach 3-4 speeds and it was set to be used during the Cold War in the 1950s.
9/11 Emergency Response Teams at the Pentagon
On September 11, 2001, Al-Qaeda terrorists crashed one of four planes into the Pentagon, killing 125 people inside the building and 64 passengers on American Airlines Flight 77. This photograph was taken outside of the Pentagon, which shows the devastating aftermath of the crash.
The Construction of the Berlin Wall
In 1961, construction of the Berlin Wall began and the wall was designed to separate West and East Berlin in Germany. The wall was built by hand as seen in this photo and it symbolized the start of the Cold War. Fortunately, the wall later came down in 1991.
Saddam Hussein After His Capture
Although it was said that Saddam Hussein was always obsessed with looking good, the former dictator was caught by the U.S. military and photographed in his 6-foot-by-8-foot bunker looking disheveled back on December 13, 2003. He was forced to stand trial and was later executed on December 30, 2006.
1953 Atomic Bomb Test Dummies
In 1953, the U.S. government set up a town full of life-like dummies deep in the Nevada desert. The reason this photograph is so creepy is because of the way that all of the lifeless figures are set up to look like a family having dinner. Atomic bombs would then be set off near the area to see how much damage they would have caused had they gone off in an actual populated area.