Colored History

Modern technology and a clever subreddit brings our history into color.
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Jun 2, 2014 | By Brandon Workman

The oldest known surviving photograph was taken in the 1820’s. Since then, in its nearly 200-year history, the camera has gone everywhere man has: to the top of Everest, to the Oval Office, to war and more. It’s reasonably fair to say that with every passing day, photography has become a bigger part of our lives. Today, more than 350 million photos per day are uploaded to Facebook alone.

These photos tell our individual stories and together the story of all of us. Certain ones of historical significance live on as indelible images. The ones that immediately come to my mind: Lincoln, civil war battlefields, the Wright brothers’ first flight, the raising of the flag at Iwo Jima, the famous V.E. day kiss, Einstein, the moon landing. Interestingly, what most of these have in common, at least for me, is that they were originally captured in black and white. 

General Jospeh Hooker mounted on his horse (1862)

But a talented bunch, over at this fascinating subreddit, has made it a goal to colorize black and white history. Combining technology, expertise, and passion, the group has brought color to an impressive lot of photos that includes Robert E. Lee at Appamattox Court House, John F. Kennedy, Helen Keller, mid-1940’s Times Square, mid 1930’s construction of the Golden Gate Bridge, and plenty more. And these photos aren’t The Wizard of Oz technicolor, they’re remarkably high quality and show incredible attention to detail.

Their approach, with a technological assist from Photoshop, balances science with art with a little imagination. And it yields extraordinary results. For those willing to get their hands a little dirty and give it a shot, you can read more about the redditors approach here.  

Neil Armstrong training for the Apollo Mission

Sometimes it’s best to let history be – sometimes shipwrecks don’t need to be re-surfaced, or tombs disturbed, or original works re-made (am I right, Planet of the Apes?). But in this case, history isn’t disturbed; it’s brought to life, in a way that enhances.

Thanks to today’s technology, even the most diehard, back-in-my-day, get-off-my-lawn types have to agree.

Union Officers of the 4th Pennsylvania Cavalry (1862)

Crash landing of a F6F-3 on the USS Enterprise (1943)

Henry Ford (1919)

Texas farmer reading up on the news (1931)

Mark Twain (1909)

Young "newsies" enjoying a smoke break (1910)



President Lincoln meeting with General McClellan at Antietam

Lou Gehrig after "The Speech" July 4, 1939

Jack Dempsey (1920)



Theodore Roosevelt in his Rough Riders Uniform

British troops cheerfully board a train for the Western Front (1939)

All Images via Reddit