40 Truly Bizarre Things That People Used To Think Were Completely Normal

There’s no doubt that the world has changed – it can sometimes feel that it’s different today than it was yesterday, let alone 100 years ago. Looking back in history reveals just how much humankind has progressed, though. And you’ll get a real idea of how far we’ve come when you read this list of 40 things that people once considered normal. Spoiler alert: they’d all be pretty bizarre to see in action today.

40. Police-regulated swimwear

Nowadays, anyone can wear anything they want on the beach – but not so in West Palm Beach, Florida, in 1925. This picture shows an officer named Smokey Buchanan measuring Betty Fringle’s swimsuit to ensure it complied with beach censor rules. According to website Mashable, the practice happened in different states during the 1920s but seemed to fade out in the 1930s. And we certainly can’t imagine it happening today. Thank God.

39. Buying a home from a catalog

It’s not often that we shop from catalogs anymore – that alone is a throwback. I mean, think about all that wasted paper for a start? But from the turn of the 20th century, people would buy lots of must-haves from them. Sears Roebuck went so far as to sell DIY home-building kits, which shoppers could scope out on printed pages before ordering and building them. And they were high enough in quality that many of the abodes still stand today.

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38. Outdoor bathrooms only

It took until 1910 for the modern toilet to properly make its way into homes. But that luxury was afforded to the rich mainly, meaning many people continued using their much simpler version of the bathroom: the outhouse. And it took decades after the introduction of indoor plumbing for it to become the standard in countryside abodes. Imagine the chilly, fly-infested conditions!

37. Smoking having a doctor’s seal of approval

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Nowadays doctors urge people not to smoke because of the damage it can do to their health. A century ago, though, you’d be hard-pressed to find a pack of cigs with any kind of warning label. Instead, they often included “endorsements” from doctors, extolling the benefits of tobacco. Obviously, the industry wasn’t as regulated, so tobacco companies took advantage to sell their products.

36. Once-weekly baths

A shower’s probably part of your daily must-do routine. A century ago, though, most people considered washing themselves as a special-occasion type of thing. Well, in baths anyway. So they hopped into the tub about once a week up until the mid-20th century, when they started washing more routinely. According to website BestLife, magazine adverts that scared folk about “self respect” perhaps made the difference.

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35. Arranged marriages

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Finding a life partner is mostly about luck these days – and most people will be outgoing in their efforts to find someone right for them. But long ago you wouldn’t have happened into a loving relationship. Families would arrange marriages between their children as a way to avoid inbreeding amongst their clans. This could have started, apparently, as far back as the Stone Age. We’ll take the modern version of marriage, thanks.

34. Skipping soda for its purported side-effects

You might choose to avoid soda because you don’t want the excess sugar, which has direct links to type 2 diabetes. Back in the day, people also skipped soda, but for a much different reason. They actually believed that the bubbly stuff could make women more promiscuous if they drank it. Oh, simple minds…

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33. Divorce determined by the man only

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The rules on divorce varied from state to state, but one thing was for sure: you were out of luck if you wanted a divorce and you were a woman. Most places let the man decide whether a couple would split. The wife might’ve had some leverage if she was abused, but there were caveats to that rule, too. And some states flat-out barred divorce – in South Carolina, for example, it was illegal until 1949.

32. Avoiding Satan’s brew – coffee

It feels like the work of the devil when you can’t have a coffee in the morning. But long ago, people thought a cup of the stuff was something to avoid. Catholics, specifically, in the 17th century considered it to be an invention at the hands of Satan himself. Luckily, they and others realized the merit of this tasty, caffeinated beverage. And nowadays you couldn’t imagine Catholic Italy not serving it.

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31. Disobeying your husband could land you in an asylum

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You won’t find insane asylums open and operating today. In the early 20th century, though, they did, and experts had a pretty broad scope for bringing in new patients. Specifically, they could check in people who were considered to be dangerous. And women who didn’t think obey their husbands or agree with their opinions were among those deemed to be unsafe.

30. Anti-distraction helmets

Too much going on around you while you’re working? You might pop in noise-canceling headphones or think about earplugs. But in the 1920s you might’ve opted for the Isolator, designed as an anti-distraction device. Unlike today’s headsets, though, this one covered your entire head – much heavier than a pair of AirPods, we suspect. Plus you’d look like you were dressed for Halloween… or an S&M party.

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29. Neck-tied workout devices

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Oh god! There are lots of devices out there to help you lose weight and tone muscle. But old ones looked even stranger – at least, as evidenced by this slimming exerciser modeled by dancer Rosemary Andree. Because despite her brave face in this 1930s’ pic, poor Rosemary actually looks like she’s using a designer suicide kit. Yikes! Take a break Rose… rather than breaking your neck.

28. Curing infection with leeches

Before the middle of the twentieth century, there was one creepy, doctor-recommended way to treat infection: bloodletting by way of leeches. The insects helped cure other ailments, too, according to medical professionals of that era. But once penicillin was successfully introduced, leeches – thankfully – fell out of favor. Damn bloodsuckers!

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27. Spring-based shoes for exercise

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There have been many strange inventions over the years which aimed to help people exercise. The Kangru-Spring-Shu was no different. Grown-ups and kids alike could slip into these spring-fitted shoes and bounce around, which we can only imagine was an effective – and pretty fun – cardio workout. But you’d probably look pretty stupid, especially by today’s standards.

26. Keeping skin dry during a bath

Imagine hopping in the bath and doing everything you could to keep your face dry. That was the woman’s dilemma at the turn of the 20th century, so this invention came to be: a very terrifying mask meant to keep the skin preserved. Tell that to your five-step, twice-a-day skincare routine.

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25. Not taking your husband’s name had serious consequences

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Saying “I do” wasn’t the only responsibility of a bride back in the day. Because women basically had to take their husband’s last name – or else. Namely, their employers could refuse to pay them and, in some states, they’d lose the right to vote. And these seemingly archaic rules didn’t disappear in the distant past – Hawaii only axed a law that required women to take their husband’s surname in 1976.

24. Bomb viewing parties

American people wanted to see an atomic bomb explosion for themselves, and the U.S. military had tests to do. That was a win-win for the city of Las Vegas, which saw a boost in tourism and funding when it became host to such explosions in the 1950s. Spectators would gather in hotels and other good vantage points to watch as the lethal weapons detonated into a signature plume of mushroom-shaped smoke.

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23. Lobotomies as a trusted medical treatment

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As recently as the 20th century, American doctors relied on lobotomies as a way to “cure” mental illness. So patients who suffered from the likes of depression or schizophrenia may have had the procedure, during which doctors would separate some of the connections across the brain’s frontal lobe. The U.S. was once performing 40,000 to 50,000 of them per year until the country outlawed the controversial surgery in 1967.

22. Plastic surgery looked a lot different

Doctors didn’t make big strides in the realm of plastic surgery until the World Wars, when they needed to help soldiers burned or otherwise visibly injured in combat. They relied on new skin grafting techniques, which gave way to the modern nips and tucks they perform nowadays. And they prepped for surgery differently, too – this set of glasses helped doctors visualize a new nose pre-operation. Groucho Marx fancy dress anyone?

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21. Mailing someone instead of paying for travel

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Yes, this was a real problem in 1913. A parent wanted to send their daughter, May Pierstorff, to visit her grandparents. But the train fare was too expensive. So they found a loophole – the post office would ship anything under 50 pounds. The child weighed less than that, so they paid 53 cents to send her away. But once the U.S. postmaster general learned about it, he stopped customers from mailing people. Someone always has to ruin the fun!

20. Catching rays indoors

It doesn’t stay warm or sunny in England year-round, so the Branksome Solarium came up with a sneaky solution in 1933. They covered the floors in sand and lit the place with ultraviolet rays to mimic the sun’s natural shine. Then came the indoor beachgoers who lazed in their swimsuits with no coastline in sight. Flat out weird.

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19. Child labor

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The U.S. government successfully passed child labor laws in 1916, but they only stood for two years until they were deemed unconstitutional. It took two more decades for the country to outlaw the practice, meaning millions of school-age children opted for full-time work in factories, mines and other unskilled settings instead of studying. And they say today’s exams are hard on kids?

18. Ankle-based beauty competitions

You couldn’t make it up. In the early 20th century, a woman’s beauty could be judged right down to her ankles. Yes, at so-called “physical culture” pageants, judges would evaluate contestants based on how pretty their ankles were, for one thing. No matter what, participants’ faces were hidden from view, leaving the experts to choose a winner based solely on the body part in question.

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17. Everything went in Jell-O – including fish

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Housewives in the 1960s got very creative with Jell-O. Because they tossed just about any food inside of the jiggly, sweet gelatin. You’re probably imagining bits of fruit dangling in gelatin, and that was certainly a popular addition. But there were also recipes for fish-inclusive Jell-O recipes as well as veal-based blends. Gross.

16. Morbid family photos

We have so many ways of commemorating our lost loved ones that, thankfully, we have ditched this very creepy Victorian-era English tradition. During that time, people would pose and shoot photos with relatives who’d died. The long camera exposure makes it easy to tell who’s dead and who’s alive – the latter group appears blurry because they would move ever so slightly.

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15. Egg vending machines

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We have to admit, we’re a little jealous that this 1960s’ invention is no longer an egg-buying norm. Engineer Reginald Carter came up with the idea for the Egg-O-Matic, a vending machine that dispensed the must-have dairy product to anyone with the right amount of coins. Were we too chicken to keep it going?

14. Foregoing purple-painted walls

An odd 1903 Boston Globe article warned readers against using so-called dangerous colors for decoration. The piece read, “If purple walls and a red tinted window surrounded you for a month with no color but purple around you, by the end of that time you would be a madman.” Luckily we’ve all come around to the regal hue – some might even consider its lighter shades to be soothing now, too.

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13. Stopping at the pharmacy for gas

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We’re not talking about the kind of gas that’s used as an anesthetic, either. A century ago, drivers would pop into the pharmacy not to pick up flatulence-related medications, but fuel for their cars. The stuff came in cans, which they’d pour into the tanks of their vehicles all by themselves.

12. Animal-hair toothbrushes

The first toothbrush – complete with horse or hog-hair bristles – came into existence at the end of the 15th century. People came to favor the former option, as it was softer than the alternative. And this remained the norm until 1938, when manufacturers replaced the fibers with nylon, which they found to be a much more sanitary option.

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11. Wearing pants was illegal for women

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States across America had laws barring women from wearing pants or otherwise dressing like men through the 1800s and into the 20th century. Some ladies did, of course, disobey the rule, but it wasn’t something that the general population appreciated. It took until the 1920s for the style to become an androgynous one. Coco Chanel started making pants part of her collection, and stars including Marlene Dietrich flaunted them, too.

10. Ostrich carts

You’ve probably seen a horse-drawn carriage – perhaps you’ve even clopped down the street in one. As normal as it may be to see equine-powered transit whizzing by, there were other animals at the helm in the past. Specifically, some people had ostrich carts, which could go upwards of 50 miles per hour with the quick-moving birds powering them.

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9. Radiation smoothies

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We now know the dangers of radiation. But a century ago? Some thought the stuff could improve their health, rather than destroy it. That’s why people slathered it onto their skin and poured it into smoothies. One man named Eben Byers would down three bottles daily, a habit that led his jaw to fall off. The 1932 Wall Street Journal story regarding this probably changed a few minds, especially as Byers had also died.

8. Chain-smoking apparatus

Why smoke one cigarette when you can burn through the whole pack at once? Yeah, now that we think of it, that logic is a little crazy. But at least one person back in the day thought that’d be a good idea. So they invented this kooky cigarette holder, which allowed its user to smoke all of their tobacco at the same time.

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7. Heroin as an over-the-counter medicine

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Opioids are incredibly addictive, that’s why they continue to cause a massive drug problem and public health emergency in America. This is now, of course, but in the past, the stuff was seen as a medical remedy. As such, you could buy heroin-infused cough syrup, as well as opium, cocaine and morphine from your local pharmacist. All of which, frankly, is insane.

6. Testing shoes’ durability manually

Shoe companies might configure machines or employ robots to try out their creations and see how long they last. But in the 1930s this was a human’s job. Women like the pair pictured would walk a dozen miles each day. Their jaunts would ensure the shoes stood the test of time – and use.

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5. Trick-or-Treating on Thanksgiving

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Spooky season ends on October 31st with Halloween, the day on which kids dress up to trick-or-treat. But at the turn of the 20th century, the celebration took place a month later, and on a totally different holiday: Thanksgiving. Yes, rather than staying home to feast all day, kids donned costumes and asked neighbors, “Anything for Thanksgiving?” And back then, the answer wasn’t turkey – it was candy.

4. Knocker-uppers

How do you get up on time without a personal alarm clock? That was a serious dilemma for workers up until the 1970s in some places. So they came up with a solution: knocker-uppers. These people went from house to house, waking up tenants by tapping on their windows. You can’t press snooze on that.

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3. Kissing cousins

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Parents often set up their children on dates pre-20th century. And because they didn’t travel far – or have the internet to help set them up – moms and dads had to look locally to find suitors for their kids. That’s why so many people of that era ended up dating and marrying their cousins.

2. Hanging babies from a high-rise window

Moms in the 1920s knew that their babies needed fresh air, but their apartments didn’t afford them any outdoor space. So they came up with a downright terrifying alternative: they’d hang these baby cages from their high rise’s windows, thus giving little ones a horrifyingly high-up place to play outside.

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1. Being ugly was illegal

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Chicago’s aldermen didn’t want their streets filled with so-called “unsightly beggars,” according to the Chicago Tribune. So they filed city ordinances that kept homeless panhandlers who were “diseased, maimed, mutilated or in any way deformed” off the street. People nicknamed this harsh legislation the “ugly law.” How incredibly kind and sensitive.

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