Incredible Declassified Government Photos
The invention of photography changed our ability to record history like never before. The potential wasn’t lost on the U.S. government, which faithfully chronicled a huge collection of photographs featuring evidence that was never intended for public eyes.
Many of the best photos in an incredible government collection were only recently declassified as part of the Freedom of Information act. From JFK intel to UFO sightings, let’s take a backstage peek at some of the most infamous events in American history — in photos!
Atomic Bomb Test Dummies in 1953
Nothing creepy happening here at all. It’s just an abandoned house full of mannequins enjoying an evening meal. Okay, you may now proceed to freak out because things are about to get even worse. As it turns out, back in 1953, the government set up an entire fake town populated entirely by mannequins.
Saddam Hussein After His Capture
On December 13, 2003, American military forces captured notorious Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein during Operation Red Dawn. In March of the same year, things had begun to unravel for Hussein in a big way when the U.S. stormed into Iraq to put an end to his 20-year rule.
Emergency Response Teams at the Pentagon After 9/11
On September 11, 2001, Al-Qaeda terrorists hijacked four planes, two of which crashed into the World Trade Center's Twin Towers in New York City. The photo here shows the devastation caused by the third plane, which crashed into the Pentagon, killing 125 people inside the building and all 64 passengers on American Airlines Flight 77.
Project 1794: Declassified Flying Saucer Plans
In 2012, a 1956 report called "Project 1794, Final Development Summary Report" was finally declassified. Its pages detailed the U.S. government's efforts to develop flying saucers in the 1950s. Why? Apparently, they were supposed to intercept Soviet missiles during the Cold War.
Family Photo Charles Duke Left on the Moon
On April 20, 1972, Charles Duke became the youngest man ever to walk on the moon. The then 36-year-old father had spent months away from his family as he trained for the Apollo 16 mission. He had promised his young sons that he would symbolically take them along via a family portrait.
Pre-WWII Aircraft Listening Devices
Although we may be able to track aircraft on radar screens today, things weren't always so easy. This Pre-WW2 photo shows Japanese Emperor Hirohito checking out an array of acoustic listening devices that were used to locate enemy planes.
Atomic Bomb Preparations at Tinian Island
One of a series of declassified photos, this picture shows the final 1945 preparations of "Fat Man," an atomic bomb that was later dropped on the Japanese city of Nagasaki during WWII. The soldier pictured here is checking the casings on the bomb before it departed the military base at Tinian Island.
Hiroshima After Atomic Bombing
The bombing of Hiroshima in 1945 marked the first time that an atomic weapon had ever been used in the history of war. Its effects were devastating for the once thriving Japanese city, leaving 90% of the urban metropolis completely leveled.
Sam the Monkey After His Space Ride
This little rhesus monkey's name is Sam, and this photo was taken right after he returned from an adventure on the rocket ship Little Joe-2 (LJ-2). The spacecraft was a smaller version of a larger rocket and was developed to help test the effects of weightlessness on human astronauts.
Witnesses Right After JFK's Assassination
On November 22, 1963, President John F. Kennedy was tragically assassinated during a parade in Dallas, Texas. Bill and Gayle Newman, the couple who can be seen above covering their young children, were among the witnesses closest to the President when the last, fatal shot rang out.
Man Wallpapering with German Money in the Early 1920s
Between 1921 and 1923, the German Papiermark became so hyperinflated that it became virtually useless. It all began when Germany decided to print more money than they could actually back with gold during World War I. The plan was to repay their own debt when they won the war and demanded huge reparations from the allied forces they were certain they would conquer.
Early Draft of Mount Rushmore
Today, Mount Rushmore is one of the most recognizable landmarks in America. Surprisingly, the idea was first proposed by a South Dakota historian who suggested that Lakota Sioux leader Red Cloud should be the subject of the massive sculpture. Once the proposal was funded, however, sculptor Gutzon Borglum convinced everyone that presidents would attract more tourists.
CIA Photograph of a Soviet Cruise Missile
During the 1960s, the CIA relied largely on photos to help them get a feel for what was going on in the Soviet Union. Many such photographs have since been declassified, such as the one you see here from the Dino A. Brugioni Collection in the National Security Archive.
In 1946, the United States military decided to conduct a series of tests to see how nuclear weapons would affect naval warships. So, they headed out to Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands and dropped a couple of nukes to see what would happen.
Lunar Landing Research Vehicle in Flight
How would you like to be driving through the desert near Area 51 and suddenly find this bad boy floating around above your head? This declassified NASA research center photo actually provides a close-up of Lunar Landing Research Vehicle (LLRV) Number 1 from the 1960s.
American POWs During the Bataan Death March
April 9, 1942, was a horrible day for American forces on the Philippine island of Luzon during WWII. It was the day that U.S. forces surrendered control of the Bataan Peninsula to the Japanese, resulting in what later became known as the Bataan death march.
Plane Behind Many UFO Sightings
Ironically, many of the mid-20th-century files that the CIA has declassified actually weaken the argument for aliens and UFOs. The agency revealed that the U-2 Program in place from 1954 to 1974 was designed to produce high flying spy planes like the one you see here.
Cheyenne Mountain Military Complex
If the world ever finds itself plunged into World War III, then the military complex at Cheyenne Mountain will likely become host to some of America's most important political figures. Designed to withstand the effects of a nuclear bomb, the bunker has been called "America's fortress."
Hitler After Conquering Austria
This chilling photograph from March 1938 shows Adolf Hitler as he announces the "peaceful" annex of Austria. In reality, the acquisition was the result of Austrian Nazis conspiring to seize their own government, by force if necessary. Austrian Chancellor Kurt von Schuschnigg had learned of their plans and met with Hitler in an attempt to work things out.
Kennedy with CIA Director John McCone
The guy talking to President Kennedy in this photo is John McCone, the director of the CIA from 1961 to 1965. Among the most important witnesses in the JFK assassination case, McCone insisted that Lee Harvey Oswald had acted alone and out of mere delusion.
Mysterious Balloons from a CIA File on UFOs
A look through the CIA's declassified files on UFOs turns up all kinds of crazy images. Some of them can be easily explained, while others, such as the images you see here, are left to the imagination. What exactly these strange balloons were has never been explained.
President Nixon Visits the Quarantined Apollo 11 Crew
July 24, 1969, was a happy day in the United States, as Apollo 11 splashed down at 11:49 a.m. after its return trip from the moon. Here, you can see astronauts Neil A. Armstrong, Michael Collins and Edwin E. Aldrin Jr. inside a Mobile Quarantine Facility (MQF). The men remained inside the MQF until they got to the Lunar Receiving Laboratory (LRL) and were thoroughly examined.
Early Pioneer of Aerial Recon Photography
In many ways, World War I forever changed the face of warfare. As the world took up arms after the turn of a new century, horses, swords and single-shot pistols were replaced by tanks and machine guns. It was during this time that aerial photography also made its debut as a form of information gathering.
This scene looks like something out of Star Wars, but the photo you see here was actually snapped back in 1997. The two men who are gazing at the weird object on Nevada's Yucca Mountain are not admiring an alien spaceship, unfortunately. They were working on the installation of a nuclear waste repository.
Astronaut in Reduced Gravity Simulator
Before we touched down on the moon, humans still had plenty of questions about how the atmosphere of space would affect the human body. NASA attempted to get as much information as possible by designing a series of experiments at Langley Research Center.
The Flu Epidemic of 1918
Back in 1918, a huge flu epidemic took out millions of people. It all began that spring when people around the world began getting feverish. By the time it was all said and done, one-fifth of the entire population of the world had fallen prey to the virus.
Wedding Rings Nazis Removed from Victims
The number of chilling images from World War II is far too high to count. Some are heartbreaking even when they don't depict actual violence. Among them is this photograph of a box of wedding rings that U.S. forces found after the liberation of Buchenwald concentration camp.
Thomas Edison's Patent for the Incandescent Light Bulb
On January 27, 1880, Thomas Edison patented his incandescent light bulb. Although many mistakenly believe he invented the light bulb himself, that wasn't actually the case. By the 1880s, light bulbs had already been around for some time, but they didn't work all that well.
American Troops on D-Day
On June 6, 1944, American soldiers stormed the beaches of Normandy in Nazi-occupied France. Their invasion on what came to be known as "D-Day" proved to be among the greatest in military history. Here, you can see soldiers pouring out of the ramp of a landing boat and struggling to avoid heavy machine gun fire from the Nazis.
Lyndon B. Johnson During the Vietnam War
If the pressure that President Lyndon B. Johnson must have felt during the Vietnam War could be summed up in one photograph, this would be it. The image was captured on July 31, 1968, right after a meeting the president had with his advisors.