What's the most badass picture of you as a kid? Maybe that time you pretended to lift a truck that was having a tire changed. Or that other time your family ran into Mike Tyson on vacation and you pretended to knock him out. Both these instances ended in tears. But, more to the point, the keyword in all these photos is "pretended" -- something that the kids from before the invention of color photography didn't need to do to look like total badasses, as the following pictures prove.
#6. Old-Timey Newsies Could Kick Your Ass
Pop culture has taught us that "newsies" were charming fellows who happily yelled out headlines from street corners and burst into song and dance at the drop of a hat. It turns out that they were less like young Christian Bale's character in Newsies and more like adult Christian Bale's character in, well, everything else.
The reality is that children selling newspapers at the turn of the 20th century were tough little bastards -- they had to be, since they were often homeless, and selling papers was the only way they made enough money to eat. Newsies paid the newspaper distributors out of their own pockets and then resold the papers to make a whopping 26 cents a day. Still, 26 cents' worth of gruel and stale bread was way better than 0 cents' worth of starvation, so when a newspaper boy found a profitable corner, he fought off his rivals to hold it (presumably the newspaper strings doubled as whips).
Library of Congress
Most papers were bought out of sheer terror.
Also, it was common for the kids to work late hours, and some literally slept on their newspapers. The one thing the Disney musical got right is that newsies did go on strike on 1899 when the two major New York papers raised distribution prices, but there was far less singing and dancing in the streets than we were told. In fact, we've mentioned before how this group of half-starved homeless kids and their eye-patch-wearing leader, Kid Blink, took on Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst and won, bringing the entire city to a standstill in the process.
The New York Times
Headline: "NEWSIES ON STRIKE!" Sub-headline: "WAIT, SHIT."
#5. World War II High School Girls Learned to Sharpshoot
What the hell, why did no one tell us there was a 1940s version of Red Dawn? That's not a movie still: It's an actual picture from back when "learning how to shoot down Nazis with a rifle" was seriously part of the school curriculum. And no, we don't mean pixelated Wolfenstein 3D Nazis like the ones you spent hours killing in high school -- we mean actual flesh and bone ones.
The Shoot-Hitler-in-the-Goddamn-Face team was a popular after-school activity.
You see, during World War II, the U.S. government didn't want a buncha flabby teens growing into flabby adults and joining up to fight Hitler, so in 1942 they established the Victory Corps in high schools around the country. Kids who joined the Victory Corps took a physical fitness class and volunteered in a wartime activity like collecting scrap metal (which the government pretended was to make tanks or whatever) or being instructed in how to save lives ... and how to end them. More specifically, with shooting.
Library of Congress
The hall monitor who walked around that corner never stopped shitting himself.
Yep, when they weren't doing jumping jacks and collecting tin foil, Victory Corps teens took a "war effort" class, like first aid or sharpshooting, which led to awesome clubs like the Roosevelt High Girls' Rifle Team. And, really, if you were a high school girl, what would you rather do: take a class in putting on bandages, or wield an M1903 Springfield? The latter, obvs.
Library of Congress
"This may be a bad time to tell you this, but I made out with your boyfriend at the drive-in Saturday night."
#4. British Children Went to Sea at Age 11
Aww, look at those little urchins playing with a floater by the beach, not a care in the world. Actually, they're not playing, and that's not anywhere near the beach: That's the middle of the fucking ocean. Those kids are taking part in a real navy-style exercise on one of the United Kingdom's children-only training ships. Flunking a test for these kids could seriously mean drowning, and even if they survived and graduated, it was off to war for many of them.
On the other hand, this is far cooler than our sixth grade class photo.
The training ships were created back in 1756 when England was about to throw down with France and merchant Jonas Hanway was worried that the navy would appropriate his seagoing crews for the war effort. His solution? Take poor kids, stick 'em on ships to train 'em up, and then send them off to fight in the Royal Navy while Hanway's sailors stayed on his commercial ships and continued to make him that sweet, sweet cash.
The kids started on the ships when they were around 11 years old and stayed until they graduated at 15 or 16. It actually wasn't a bad deal for them, since it got them out of the orphanages and poorhouses and taught them a trade they could use as adults ... that is, assuming they didn't drown. Yeah, being poor city kids, a whole lot of them never learned how to swim. But, hey, that's why they called it a training ship, right?
"A snazzy outfit and semen puns? I'm there!"