Life of the 1850s: 45 Amazing Photos That Show How the World Looked Like Over 160 Years Ago

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Over 160 years ago, the world was in a state of transition. The Industrial Revolution had laid the groundwork for an upcoming rapid modernization; steamships and telegraph lines were making the world a smaller place; the United States was struggling with the issue of slavery and trying to avoid a civil war; and a relatively new invention was becoming an indispensable tool for artists, documentarians, and journalists: the camera.

By the 1850s, dozens of photographers were traveling the world, capturing scenes they either hoped to sell, or were commissioned to photograph. These amazing photos will bring you back to the 1850s to see how the world has changed.

Drinking and cards, circa late 1850s

Engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel (front row, center-right) and others observe the SS Great Eastern launch attempt in Blackwall, London, November 1857. It was a massive steamship, the largest ship ever built when it launched

Faruk Khan, or Farrokh Khan Amin-Doleh, vice premier to the court of Mozaffar ad-Din Shah Qajar, and the Persian ambassador to French emperor Napoleon III, and Queen Victoria, circa 1857

Former President Martin Van Buren, the eighth president of the United States, posing in photographer Mathew Brady’s
New York portrait studio, circa 1855-1858

Group portrait of a man, woman, and boy, with Niagara Falls in the background, circa 1855

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