Interesting Photos From History with Little Known Backstories

They say history is written by the winners, but these pictures suggest that perhaps the past is recorded by someone else entirely. In reality, it seems it is the photographers who have the final say thanks to their instinct for capturing moments in time. Since the invention of the camera, the recording of history has changed forever, and the pictures you’re about to see prove it.

Prepare to be shocked, get ready to smile, and pray that you’ll sleep soundly after seeing some of these pictures. Some are haunting while others are just plain interesting. It’s truly incredible the stories that photographs can capture.

1. Chilling on Top of the Empire State Building in 1930

How this man was able to sit atop the Empire State Building as if it was the most normal thing to do during his lunch break is not the question astute observers will ask when they see this picture.

The question everyone wants to know the answer to is how photographer Lewis Hine was able to take this picture. The answer is that it was made possible by a specially constructed basket. Hine rode in this crazy contraption as it swung a thousand feet above New York’s Fifth Avenue.

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2. Three Babies and an Overwhelmed Man (1946)

One is enough, two is a handful, and three is just too overwhelming for this father who had the shock of his life upon seeing that he did not just have one baby – he had three. 

The shock of having to pay for each of their college degrees was probably one of the reasons for his fainting spell, or perhaps it was the price of all their diapers. Either way, babies are a blessing. Having them should be a cause for celebration. In this case, it is a celebration multiplied by three.

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3. This Wyoming Chairlift Was a Lawsuit Waiting to Happen (1955)

Snow King was a mountain in Wyoming that was so massive everyone wanted to reach the top of it. They did so in a uniquely 1950s manner. People did not ride on chairs. Instead, they used an ore bucket to reach the Snow King. 

Eventually, they installed a chairlift. An Army pickup truck’s wheels were used to move its ropes. Life was fun and a little more reckless back in the 1950s. It was especially enjoyable if you finished the ride very much happy and alive.

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4. 90-Year-Old ‘Non-artistic’ Czech Grandma

In Louka, a village in Czechia, a 90-year old grandmother continued to paint gorgeous murals despite having already retired. After her retirement from agricultural work, she proceeded to create detailed paintings like the ones in the image below.

The artwork she produced is exactly what she saw in her head. She doesn’t call her work paintings; she calls them decorations. She also claims she is not an artist but merely someone who does what she likes.

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5. Madonna Before She Became a Material Girl (1976)

Prior to becoming the Queen of Pop, Madonna was once just like everyone else. She was a college student enrolled at the University of Michigan. But the call of music was pushing her to get out into the world and pursue her dream.

She felt her dreams were worth fulfilling more than a college degree, so she left the university in 1978 and has never looked back since. Thankfully, her decision left us with 80s classics that are still treasured to this day.

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6. D-Day in Normandy

This picture captured the concerted effort made by troops from Canada, the UK, and America to fight off Nazi forces along France’s 50-mile coast on June 6, 1944. Though the event has been recreated in countless movies, this image shows the real thing.

The assault lasted until August 1944, and the 156,000 soldiers that took part in D-Day eventually helped liberate France. All their sacrifices proved to be instrumental in ending the Second World War.

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7. This Tortoise Knows the Secret to the Fountain of Youth 

This tortoise’s name is Jonathan. He was born in 1832. On the left, you can see a picture of him back in 1902. The image on the right was taken in 2017. How did he manage to look the same way he did more than a hundred years ago?

Though tortoises have been known to live to the ripe age of 150, Jonathan is 186 years old. He has also sired no offspring. Could this be the secret to his youth? Evidently, Jonathan has not aged in the last century!

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8. Beggars Begging in the Early 20th Century

During the reign of King George V, beggars did their best to get a penny or two, even from royalty. Though his majesty could have given one to this poor chap, it seems neither he nor the people in this carriage wanted to reach into their deep pockets.

This image of a destitute man chasing the wealthy King just to get nothing seems to be an apt metaphor for the same kind of poverty we see in today’s world. 

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9. This 4,000-Year-Old Tree Is Still Going Strong

This picture of a Californian bristlecone pine tree fails to show its true age. Some may think the tree is more than a hundred years old. However, scientific dating shows that this tree was seeded in 2833 BCE. Doing the math, this tree is now more than 4,854 years old.

Named after Methuselah, the longest-living person in the Bible, this tree continues to grow and live life to the fullest. Methuselah the tree may even outlive most of the world’s religions.

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10. A Young Barbara Walters in 1949

Barbara Walters started early in her career and never wanted to stop working. This picture shows her as a young woman, eager to move up the ladder. After acquiring her BA from Sarah Lawrence College in 1951, Walters first worked at an ad agency.

She got a job in 1953 at an NBC affiliate and moved to CBS in 1955 to work for The Morning Show. After her time there, she eventually shifted to The Today Show. Walters has been an inspiration to many young female journalists.

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11. Rare Bugatti Immortalized in a Photo

The creator of the Bugatti, Ettore Bugatti, dreamed of making a car so cool royals would be scrambling to buy it, even in the midst of the Great Depression. Unfortunately, no one, not even the affluent, wanted to purchase the Bugatti Type 41 or Bugatti Royale.

His initial plan to make 25 limited-edition vehicles fizzled, and he only produced seven, one of which he destroyed. Currently, only six cars remain in existence. Whether that is good news or bad is up to you to decide.

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12. Siemens’ Earliest Vacuum Cleaner (1906)

Using an early version of a vacuum cleaner seems similar to hauling around a train carriage to clean your house. Based on this image, cleaning carpets manually today looks easier than using a Siemens vacuum. 

Would you want to haul a 660 pound, one-horsepower machine around the house just to keep all the dust away? Fortunately, a lighter version was made that allowed dust-cleaning to be a little easier than pulling a horse and carriage. We have never been so thankful for modern vacuum cleaners! 

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13. Boy in a Bombed Bookstore, October 1940

More than 20,000 British lives were lost when the United Kingdom was bombed by Germany during World War II. Though a lot of British people managed to continue living a normal life despite the chaos, there was a need to hide in bomb shelters.

Anytime bombing halted, people returned to the places they used to enjoy visiting. This boy managed to read a book in a blown-up bookstore while trying to hold onto some sense of normalcy amidst the war.

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14. Women Working for the War Effort (1944)

Lockheed began allowing women to contribute to the war effort as early as 1944. The Allies needed all the support they could get, and women working in factories helped advance the aeronautics industry.

Daycare centers were pioneered during the war as a way to care for kids while their mothers worked in factories. The war was difficult, but it helped America become the superpower it is today. Whether it’s taken us to a good place globally is, once again, a question we’ll leave you to answer. 

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15. Cincinnati’s Old Main Library Before Being Demolished in 1955

This old public library in Cincinnati had been in existence since 1875. It boasted spiral staircases, book alcoves made of cast iron, marble floors, gorgeous skylights, and a ton of books. Alas, the city decided all these marvels had to go.

The library was demolished in 1955 to give way to the construction of a new building. The only thing left from that classic structure that once housed magnificent literature is this image. Imagine having to go through the card catalog in this library. It is easy to see why they decided demolition was a good idea, but it’s still a tragedy to have destroyed such a place of beauty. 

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16. Rad and Rare 1947 Truck That Carried Beer

They don’t make them like they used to, and this truck is evidence of that saying. Made by Labatt Brewing Co., the Streamliner not only looked cool but was also the epitome of men’s wildest dreams. 

Created by Count Alexis de Sakhnoffsky, it carried beer from one town to another in Ontario. It also served as a moving advertisement for the company and was known as the Labatt Streamliner. We can see why they chose to incorporate “streamline” into its name. This truck is sleek.

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17. Back When Jimi Hendrix Was Following Orders (1961)

Jimi Hendrix, before he became a guitar god, was following orders in the US Army, where he trained as a paratrooper at Kentucky’s Fort Campbell. He was 19 years old. Before that, he was in prison for car theft.

Hendrix did not like being ordered around, though, and felt that the training was so harsh he described his experience as being akin to harassment and bullying. He was later discharged, picked up a guitar, and the rest is rock and roll history.

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18. Walt Disney Before Mickey Mouse

Before Walt Disney created Mickey Mouse, he was a starving artist looking for a big break. He first made “Laugh-O-Grams” – animated fairy tales re-told and played at Kansas City’s Newman Theater.

He was not able to complete any animations, though, as the business went bust. He later moved to Hollywood in 1923, still hoping to fulfill his dreams. Five years later, Mickey Mouse was born, and Disney would never be the same again. He is a shining example for those who are experiencing setbacks while following their dreams. 

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19. A Cop Stopping Traffic for a Cat and Her Kitten 

They don’t make cops like they used to either. This 1925 picture of a police officer stopping traffic to allow a cat and kitten to cross the street is heartwarming. However, it’s also a little sad as such a scene would be a rarity nowadays. 

There is a bit of a catch, though, and some choreography involved. As it turns out, photographer Harry Warnecke missed the initial moment of the crossing and thus asked everyone involved, including the animals, to recreate it. Fortunately, everyone happily obliged.

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20. Gangster Al Capone Gave Away Free Soup

Al Capone was not just infamous for being a gangster. He also tried to do his part to contribute to the community. Based in Chicago, the gang leader also showed his compassionate side when he helped a shelter and food bank to feed people affected by The Great Depression.

The food bank produced warm meals that people lined up for during the cold and unforgiving months of November and December. It served breakfast, lunch, and dinner during these frosty months in Illinois. 

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21. Albert Einstein Liked Comfy Slippers

Understanding the theory of relativity requires the use of tons of brain cells. Actually creating the theory of relativity required even more brainpower. That is probably the reason why Einstein liked to wear these fuzzy slippers.

It may have been one way for Albert Einstein to relax and keep his mind off work. If you created a theory that changed the world, you definitely deserve some fun, soft slippers. And boy do these slippers look ridiculously comfortable. In fact, we wonder where they are now!

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22. Help Anyone in Need, Including Polar Bears

Everyone should give help to those in need, even if the being in need happens to be a polar bear! This is exactly what happened in the 1950s in Russia when Chukchi Peninsula soldiers saw a large number of polar bears struggling to adapt to the -40 degree Fahrenheit weather.

Fortunately, the soldiers had a lot of condensed milk on hand. They opened the cans and gave them to the polar bears. The bears licked the cans clean and made sure they gave some to their cubs.

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23. Babies Sleeping in the Cold Open Air

These infants in Moscow were treated early on as if they were being trained for the KGB. This picture shows a hospital in Russia placing babies out in cold weather. It is a tradition that some Russian mothers apparently still practice. 

Allowing these babies to nap in freezing cold conditions was common practice, and the ritual was continued until they were old enough to go to school. The practice is intended to help children acclimatize and withstand the country’s extremely cold weather.

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24. A Hoover Ad for Husbands

The 1950s was a time when Hoover thought only women did housework. Husbands were there to provide the women in their lives with a device that would make their lives easier. Enter the Hoover!

The $69.99 price tag makes this machine seem like a steal when you consider the benefits of having a vacuum cleaner. Sexist advertising aside, these devices could deliver a clean house, and apparently, a happy wife. Fortunately, women are no longer expected to be the only ones responsible for housework. 

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25. The Last Prisoners of Alcatraz Leaving the Prison in 1963

The Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary operated from 1934 to 1963. It housed prisoners who caused trouble in other prison facilities. Surrounded by the imposing waters of San Francisco Bay, it was considered so difficult to escape from that it was technically impossible. However, maintaining the facility proved expensive.

In the early 60s, experts estimated that it would have required $5 million to repair parts of the prison damaged by saltwater. In 1962, an escape attempt was orchestrated, and that appeared to be the final straw. The image shows the last batch of prisoners being transferred to federal prisons in different parts of the country in 1963.

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26. The First Female Wrestler – Mildred Burke

As early as 1935, Mildred Burke wanted to live the way UFC fighters do now. At 18, she dove into professional wrestling. She was initially a stenographer who pestered a local wrestling promoter, Billy Wolfe, to give her a chance. 

Wolfe got so annoyed at her persistence that he ordered a man to body slam Burke so she’d get a taste of what real wrestling entailed. However, it was Burke who ended up body slamming the man. Only then did Wolfe realize that this woman was serious and worthy of a chance. She has wrestled more than 200 men and only lost to one. What a legend. 

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27. Ronald Reagan vs. The Rat Pack

This iconic image shows then-governor Ronald Reagan with Rat Pack members Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin. The event was a roast of the man who would soon become president of the United States. The picture also shows comedian Bob Hope and actor John Wayne.

The roast showed that Reagan was a good sport compared to President Richard Nixon. Reagan laughed at statements made at his expense and did not mind being a metaphorical punching bag, constantly hit with everyone’s jokes.

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28. The Mount St. Helens Eruption

It was in 1980 when Mount St. Helens erupted. Located in Skamania County, Washington, the volcano spewed steam and issued a slew of earthquakes before the explosion. The eruption of Mount St. Helens also triggered a rockslide that’s still considered to be the largest in history.

Molten rock and gas burst out of the volcano. The resulting damage from the explosion cost more than a billion dollars. However, photographers were able to catch some stunning images of the event, as evidenced by the picture above. 

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29. Maine’s Many Colors

This picture captures the beautiful colors of Maine during the fall. The area is ideal for nature hikes and evening strolls by the lake. The image does not do justice to the cool weather and the scent of spiced cinnamon wafting through the air at night. 

Besides its picturesque views, Maine also offers delicious produce. Pumpkins, gourds, and lobsters are plentiful during autumn. As you can see from the image above, fall is also the season for photographers to capture amazing shots of nature. 

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30. Northern Ireland’s Terrifying Hedges

First impressions usually have the most profound impact on our psyches. The beech trees that line this small Northern Ireland road seem ghostly upon first glance. It’s a picture-perfect scene for those looking for some horror stories to tell. Would you dare to walk down this road alone at night?

In reality, the road is surrounded by gorgeous fields. Come morning, the trees are not imposing at all. The trees have become so famous that this part of the world was even featured in the Game of Thrones series.

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31. This King Was Not Thrilled to Be On a Slide

Before King George VI became king, he was the Duke of York. He also attended the 1925 Wembley Exhibition, where he was photographed going down a slide. Based on his facial expression, he seems less than thrilled about doing it. Do you want to know why?

Before this picture was taken, he gave a speech that took him many hours to finish due to his speech impediment. The ordeal was so difficult for him to get through that everything he did afterward felt downhill.

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32. The Majestic French Alps

The beauty of the French Alps is indescribable. Putting the gorgeousness of this region aside, the term is actually a misnomer. The Alps are not French since some of them are not located in France but are actually shared between Italy and Switzerland.

This image you see above shows but a sliver of the massive mountain range. Just looking at it is more than enough to elicit a yodel – not too loud, though, lest you trigger an avalanche with your voice! 

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33. The House the Blair Witch Project Built

The Blair Witch Project terrified moviegoers at the turn of the century because of its unique blend of fiction and pseudo-realistic documentary storytelling. The house that inspired this 1999 movie is captured in this image. 

Located in Burkittsville, Maryland, the house also inspired the filmmakers (and many audience members who watched their movie) to have nightmares. The same house was featured in other versions of the movie, but the original film remains the most memorable due to the fact that audiences didn’t know for sure that it wasn’t real when it first came out.

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34. Better Late Than Derailed

On October 22, 1895, the driver of the Granville-Paris Express learned this lesson the hard way when the train he was driving crashed through a wall. The train was running late, so the driver decided to rush to get to the Gare Montparnasse terminus.

Though there was only a single death and six injuries from its 131 passengers, rushing is never advisable, especially when you are already extremely late in the first place. The driver was fined fifty francs for this tragic mistake.

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35. A Troubled Bridge Over Calm Water

There is a reason why some people have a fear of crossing bridges. The Tacoma Narrows Bridge was completed in 1940. But a mere four months after it was built, it collapsed due to “aeroelastic flutter” brought about by the high winds that buffeted the area.

The bridge covered the Tacoma Narrows strait of Puget Sound. Before the collapse, a survivor named Leonard Coatsworth heard the crack of concrete. The bridge fell on November 7 at 11 o’clock in the morning.

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36. The Scooter That Was Also a Shooter

What’s a military scooter to do beyond scooting? Shooting, of course! The Vespa 150 TAP (Troupes Aero Porter) was made to serve both purposes. You could shoot down your enemies while looking cool and getting around town in style. 

Originally created for French paratroopers, the scooter featured an M20 75mm recoilless rifle. The Vespa 150 TAP has also been touted as an anti-tank scooter. When riding this vehicle, expect it to be extremely heavy. Do you think you could handle it?

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37. The Legendary Harriet Tubman

This image is of Harriet Tubman in 1911, and it shows her enjoying a day with family and friends. Tubman was born a slave in 1820. She later risked her life to help people free themselves from slavery after she herself escaped and became free in 1849.

After the civil war, she lived on land previously owned by abolitionist Senator William H. Seward in Auburn, New York. She is to be remembered for her courage and ability to fight off the shackles of slavery, despite the difficulties doing so entailed.

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38. Shoe Shiners Hear the Wartime Stories of a Veteran

Back when kids had no television, mobile phones, or video games to entertain them, they relied on wartime stories told by people who lived through conflicts. This 1935 picture captures the moment when the old century met the young ones of the new century. 

Civil war veterans told stories of the old days back in the 1800s, while young shoe shiners waited for a customer to arrive so they could earn their wage. Shoe shiners were mostly seen in urban areas. Their job was to make shoes and boots appear as good as new.

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39. Engineers Working on a Computer

The details in this picture reveal just how far we’ve come with technology. The humongous PDP (programmed data processor) towers over the three engineers in this picture. Those striped pants are a clear sign this image is from the 1970s.

Back then, despite the sheer size of the PDP, it was still referred to as a mini-computer. Similarly, the 1970s saw men wear chunky shoes and puffy haircuts. Fortunately, neither the technology nor fashion sense of the ’70s carried over to the present time. 

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40. Fijian Style in the 19th Century

This 1895 image of a man was taken in the island country of Fiji in Melanesia. Situated in the South Pacific, the island was a British colony in 1895. It was also a producer of sugarcane. The Fijians were skilled canoe builders who traded with Polynesia’s Tongans.

Europeans had been trading sandalwood and cucumbers with the Fijians since as early as the 1700s. In 1970, close to a century after this image was captured, Fiji achieved independence from Britain. What do you think of the Fijian man’s style? We dig it!

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41. Steve McQueen’s Jaguar

Since Steve McQueen starred in Bullitt, and the movie featured cool cars, it was inevitable for McQueen to be interested in owning similarly epic vehicles in real life. Enter the Jaguar F-Type Convertible, which the actor can be seen driving in this 1963 image. 

Considered as the first supercar, the Jaguar was one of McQueen’s most prized possessions. The actor flaunted the beautiful little vehicle as much as he could, and deservedly so. He was the talented Steve McQueen, after all!

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42. The Prague Library

Klementinum Library is located in Prague, which is both ​​the capital and the largest city found in the Czech Republic. This amazing structure consists of a number of buildings, the oldest of which is the Baroque Library. Opened in 1722, it is included within the area of a Jesuit university.

Once inside the Baroque Library, prepare to be entranced by its high ceiling filled with jaw-dropping frescoes that depict Jesuit saints and allegorical motifs that will stimulate your senses. This truly is an architectural wonder.

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43. A Young Jessica Tandy

Driving Miss Daisy was a movie that helped actress Jessica Tandy earn her first Oscar in 1990 when she was 80 years old. She had been acting for a very long time before receiving this accolade, though. At 18 years of age, she appeared on stage in London opposite Laurence Olivier.

This picture shows a young and beautiful Jessica Tandy before the world knew her as an Oscar winner. She was an incredible actor who was adored until her death in 1994. She was married to fellow actor Hume Cronyn.

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44. A Land Far, Far Away

This image is not a painting. It is a real picture captured of the Faroe Islands – a small archipelago nestled between Iceland and Norway. Mostly inhabited by Nordic people, the locals here speak an Old Norse language called Faroese.

Its citizens consume potatoes, meat, and seafood. Their main export (since 1888) is beer, which the countries Denmark and Iceland import heavily. Can you imagine living in such a picturesque place and speaking an ancient Norse language? With delicious beer always available, it would be a beautiful life indeed!

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45. Marilyn Monroe at Home

Marilyn Monroe was a model and struggling actress before she became Hollywood’s blonde bombshell. When she appeared in the 1950s film The Asphalt Jungle, everyone took notice. By the following year, she was a sought-after celebrity.

Monroe practiced her acting chops in Home Town Story, Love Nest, As Young As You Feel, and Let’s Make It Legal. More films came her way in the years that followed, and high-profile relationships came too. This picture is a rare one that captured her relaxing at home after a day of work.

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