Yes, This Early 1900s Photo is For Real #NoFilter

These days, photos are completely ubiquitous – we even share them online by the billions. According to InfoTrends, people took an estimated 1.2 trillion photos in 2017 alone.  When you see things like this 1900s Photo, it’s amazing to think how far along we’ve come.

In 2018, over 95 million photos were shared on Instagram every day – and that’s just one internet platform.

People Didn’t Always ‘Say Cheese’

However, in the early 1900s, photos weren’t exactly commonplace. Having your photograph taken was a serious occasion, treated almost akin to having someone paint your portrait. Rarely were people smiling in these photos.

While we now ‘say cheese’ and flash a big grin (or pout), this certainly wasn’t what people used to do. So, it’s no surprise that when this 1900s Photo surfaced, many doubted its authenticity. However, it is real.

Eating rice, China
American Museum of Natural History Research Library

1900s Photo Confirmed Authentic


This 1900s Photo looks goofy, and unrealistic for its time, but the American Museum of Natural History has confirmed its authenticity. “Eating rice, China,” as it is titled, was really taken between 1901 and 1904.

Back then, the Jacob H. Schiff expedition sent a young German scholar by the name of Berthold Laufer to China. His tasks included creating “collections which illustrate the popular customs and beliefs of the Chinese, their industries, and their mode of life.”

All-in-all, he brought back 7,500 objects and provided the museum with 143 photographic prints. It’s unknown where the photos originated or how they were acquired, however. There’s no record of Laufer ever even using a camera. Plus, a few of the images were apparently widely-distributed at the time.

Regardless of how he came to attain them, they provide a fascinating peek at the past.

Eating Rice with a Grin

But what’s up with the cheesy 1900s Photo of the man eating rice?

Well, some folks have speculated that the man in the photo wasn’t aware of western customs. Therefore, he didn’t know that it was more common for people to keep a straight face.

Smiling in Photographs

The practice of smiling in photos didn’t really take off until the late 1920s. But why not?

Some folks suspect it might have had to do with dental hygiene. Perhaps, since most people only had their photo taken maybe once in their lifetime, they preferred not to smile. (Who wants to be remembered with a toothless grin?)

Others have speculated it has to do with exposure time. However, by the 1900s, it didn’t take long to snap a photo.

Certainly more plausible, it may have just had to do with how people were depicted in painted portraits.

Regardless, it does seem unusual to find someone smiling in a photo that old.

Other Photos from the Collection

Looking at other photographs included in the collection does make it feel a little more realistic.

Peking wheelbarrow with riders, China
American Museum of Natural History Research Library

This one, titled “Peking wheelbarrow with riders, China,” clearly depicts people in similar attire from the same era.

Actors in costume, China
American Museum of Natural History Research Library

And this one, “Actors in costume, China,” certainly stands out as well.

For even more juxtaposition, you can see the entire collection at the American Museum of Natural History.



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here