Vintage photos of the military show how it has evolved

Keystone/Getty ImagesSoldiers during WWII.

Throughout history, many brave individuals have been a part of the military, and have played pivotal roles in shaping society.

But while armies are as old as time, they too have changed over the years.

Take a look at these vintage photos of soldiers to see how much the military has evolved.


Militaries have existed since ancient times: The first war ever recorded took place in Mesopotamia in 2700 BCE.

Hulton Archive/Getty ImagesThis photo was taken in 1891.

Source: The Ancient History Encyclopedia


Despite the saying “all is fair in love and war,” warfare usually abides by a certain etiquette.

Reinhold Thiele/Thiele/Getty ImagesThis picture shows troops from Australia in 1905.

The Greeks and Romans had customary laws of war which the Western military tradition took inspiration from, such as war being openly declared and with legitimate cause, pledged word being kept, and a truce being given to the defeated so that they could recover and honour their dead.


The French Revolution brought about the idea of conscription.

Hulton Archive/Getty ImagesPrisoners taken to be executed during the French Revolution in 1790.

While the idea of drafting able-bodied men may date back to Egypt in the 27th century BCE, the nationwide system most closely resembling that of today was introduced in France during the French Revolution, and institutionalized by Napoleon after he became emperor in 1803.


Suddenly, militaries were no longer limited by the amount of soldiers they had, but by their country’s population of able-bodied men.

General Photographic Agency/Getty ImagesFrench soldiers under attack during World War I in 1918.
Countries around the world still have conscription, and in some cases, military service is even getting reintroduced. Per BBC, Georgia reinstated military service in 2017, Lithuania reinstated conscription in 2016, and last year Sweden voted to reintroduce conscription as well.


France drafted its men during WWI, and eventually other European countries and the US followed suit.

Hulton Archive/Getty ImagesAmerican soldiers marching in 1918.

In 1917, US Congress passed the Selective Service Act, which called for all men ages 21 to 30 in the 48 states plus Washington DC. In 1918, this expanded to include men from the ages of 18 to 45, and from Alaska, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico.


The United States military is made up of the Navy, National Guard, Coast Guard, Marines, Army and, most recently, the Air Force.

Hulton Archive/Getty ImagesThe United States Army marching in 1900.

The Army, Navy and Marines were founded in 1775. The Coast Guard wasn’t formed until 1790, and the Air Force wasn’t formed until 1947.


When the US joined WWI, it had to get creative with how it trained its men, due to mass shortages of planes and weapons.

Keystone/Getty ImagesThis photo was taken around 1917.

Pilots had to be trained with makeshift cockpits and imaginary guns.


Over 4.7 million men and women served in the US forces during World War I.

Hulton Archive/Getty ImagesAmerican soldiers training for war in France.

The US tried to stay out of WWI, but joined after Germany re-launched submarine attacks on passenger and merchant ships in 1917, after having pledged not to, and tried to get Mexico to turn against the US.


With these huge new militaries came unthinkable death counts — there were an estimated 37 million casualties reported during World War I.

Hulton Archive/Getty ImagesRed Cross personnel tend to wounded US soldiers on a Russian battlefield during World War I around 1915.

Source: Encyclopaedia Britannica.


People called it “the war to end all wars.”

Topical Press Agency/Getty ImagesA soldier with a primitive gas mask wields a cane as a gun in 1915.

In 1914, H.G. Wells wrote a series of essays called “The War That Will End War,” which advocated for peace and the disarmament of the German Empire. As the book rose in popularity, the title soon became both a slogan and rallying cry.


The battles were grim — here, French soldiers wear makeshift gas masks in the trenches during the second battle of Ypres in 1915.

Hulton Archive/Getty ImagesGermany’s chemical industry was incredibly advanced at the beginning of World War I.

Germany, at the time of WWI, had one of the world’s most advanced chemical industries, and attempted to weaponize this as early as 1914.

Ypres, Belgium, was the site of the very first chemical attack on April 22, 1915


This photo shows wounded American soldiers by an ambulance in France.

Topical Press Agency/Getty Images1918.

The US saw 323,018 casualties in WWI.


But there were some moments of unity — here, a German soldier gives a wounded Russian a drink from his flask.

Hulton Archive/Getty ImagesThis photo is from 1915.

Here, US soldiers enjoy a small break after arriving in Liverpool in 1918.

A. R. Coster/Topical Press Agency/Getty ImagesUS soldiers in England.

Liverpool was home to a rest camp for American troops. According to Lewis Lukens, the Acting Ambassador to the United Kingdom, “A YMCA hut was set up on Lord Street. The American Hospital in Mossley Hill saw regular musical entertainment, and baseball games took place at Port Sunlight. Later, American public holidays were celebrated on Merseyside. In fact, between April 1917 and September 1918, more than 800,000 American men and women passed through the city of Liverpool – by far the busiest port in the UK to receive US troops and supporters.”


When WWI ended in 1918, soldiers were finally able to return to their normal lives.

Topical Press Agency/Getty ImagesAt the end of the war in 1919, a soldier meets his newborn daughter for the first time.

However, World War II brought even more civilians into combat — more than 12% of the US population served in World War II.

Fox Photos/Getty ImagesWelsh militiamen being trained in 1939.

Since the end of the Vietnam War, America has employed an all-volunteer force.


They trained rigorously in preparation — a formal fitness test was introduced by the US Army in 1942.

George W. Hales/Fox Photos/Getty ImagesUS army troops train along the Irish Coast.

It included push-ups, sit-ups, pull-ups, a 300 yard run and squat jumps.


World War II was the biggest and deadliest war in history.

Keystone/Getty ImagesThis photo was taken in 1942.

World War II involved more than 30 countries and lasted for six years. An estimated 85 million people were killed.

See the percentage of a country’s population that died during WWII here.


After six years, it finally drew to an end — here, US soldiers hold a captured Nazi flag in a French village in 1944.

Keystone/Getty ImagesWorld War II officially ended on September 2, 1945.

The number of people serving in the US armed forces has since dropped — now, less than 0.5% of the population serves.

Keystone/Getty ImagesMembers of an American Marauder bomber in 1944.

In 1973, the US decided to end the citizen-soldier tradition and instead establish a large, professional all-volunteer force. Today, only 0.5% of the population serves.


The military’s size varies from country to country.

Hulton Archive/Getty ImagesMembers of the British Army in 1895.

The US is the world’s most powerful military, according to firepower, but trails behind countries like South Korea, North Korea, India, China, and Russia in terms of size.


Some countries require military service from all its citizens, others don’t.

Hulton Archive/Getty ImagesBritish Royal Marines in 1900.

Countries around the world still have military service, like Brazil, Turkey, Sweden, and Israel, to name a few.


Technological advancement also varies.

Hulton Archive/Getty ImagesBoer scouts in 1899.

Israel is often regarded as having the most technologically advanced military today.


The United States is believed to be the world’s most powerful military in terms of firepower.

Keystone/Getty ImagesAmerican soldiers on a tank in 1945.

Its defence spending is the highest in the world.


But no matter where or when they served, the sacrifices soldiers have made have changed the course of history.

Brandt/Hulton Archive/Getty ImagesAmerican GIs spread Christmas cheer to children in a in an Italian village demolished by the Germans in 1945.

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