These Iconic Historical Photos Open Our Eyes To Some Of The World’s Most Intriguing And Revolutionary Moments
When we think of all the historical events and significant moments that have occurred in the world, it’s overwhelming. There are neverending examples of humanity in all its mess and glory from the major triumphs and heartbreaking defeats that shed light on the human condition, to major sports and political milestones. Here are some iconic historical photos that put us in a time capsule of the past and make us look at the world in a whole new way.
Elvis Presley Served In The Army
While everybody knows about the immense cultural influence of Elvis Presley (aka “The King of Rock’) and his impact on the music industry, this fact about the southern legend may surprise you. This photo is not as common as other famous images of him. From 1958-1960, Elvis served in the U.S. Army as a regular soldier.
Elvis’ valiant status of serving in the army earned the respect of those who had seen him in a negative light previously.
The man pictured in this photo is the immensely influential inventor, electrical engineer, and physicist Nikola Tesla sitting in his laboratory. Tesla’s creation called the “Magnifying Transmitter” was built in 1899 and served as the test subject for his study that same year. The study was centered on the use of high-voltage, high-frequency electricity in wireless power transmission.
Tesla invented, discovered, and patented the rotating magnetic field which has since become the backbone of most alternating-current machinery. In the 1890s, his experiments involving high-voltage, high-frequency power experiments were based on ideas surrounding worldwide wireless electric power distribution.
Carving The Eye
It was in 1923 that Doane Robinson, a South Dakota state historian, needed to find a way to attract tourists and create economic stimulation. His proposal was to make a monument in the mountains which would be a tribute to the West’s magnificent heroes.
On October 4, 1927, federal funding was granted to Robinson’s project and he was able to begin carving. It took him 14 long and taxing years and 400 workers to carve away 450 tons of rock. Not a single fatality was involved.
Job Hunting In The 1930s
The Great Depression was one of the most devasting periods in the history of the United States. Banks collapsed, businesses failed, families lost everything, and unemployment levels jumped to around 25%.
Suddenly, men had to travel far from home to find any type of work. This resulted in unbearably long unemployment lines and being in competition with one another for basic jobs with meager pay. As the sole breadwinner, the husbands and fathers of the Depression could barely put enough food on the table for their families. They also struggled with severe emotional depression.
This image from 1912 shows the surviving passengers of the Titanic boarding the Carpathia. Approximately an hour and a half after the Titanic sank, the Carpathia arrived at the location at four in the morning.
The devasting sinking of the Titanic took more than 1,500 lives. Luckily, the crew members assisted in finding and rescuing 705 survivors from the Titanic’s 20 lifeboats even though it took four and a half hours. Charles Lightoller was the last person to be rescued, boarding the Carpathia at 8:30 a.m.
The President’s Prank
As the 36th president of America, Lyndon Johnson was remembered for one particular prank that he pulled on some guests at his ranch. Johnson’s Amphicar (which was the only civilian amphibious car ever mass-produced) and these guests were at the center of his prank.
The president would drive visitors around the property in the ordinary-looking automobile. When they came to a hill, the vehicle would rush down it in the direction of the lake. Johnson would exclaim that the brakes weren’t working – the guests didn’t know the car was built to float in water!
It wasn’t too long after the Statue of Liberty’s arrival to America from France on June 17, 1885, that this photo was taken. The statue served as a gift to the United States from France. As a figure of the Roman liberty goddess, Libertas, and following its dedication, the icon gained its status as a symbol of freedom.
Since its warm welcome in the U.S., Liberty has been a stunning sight that immigrants would see upon their arrival.
The Two 30-Year-Olds
Taken in October 1956, this iconic image shows two legendary 30-year-old female figures at the time engaging in a handshake. On the left is Queen Elizabeth II, Britain’s longest-reigning monarch, and on the right is Marilyn Monroe, Hollywood’s blonde bombshell.
While these two females meeting each other may seem like an odd juxtaposition of personalities, both of them would have reached their 91st birthdays this year. They will always be remembered for their contributions, influences, and impacts on history and culture.
James Dean, The Rebel Without A Cause
This photo of James Dean was one of the last known photos of him captured before his untimely death. On September 30, 1955, Dean died during a road race, which resulted in a collision car crash as he was speeding along a dark highway.
Driving his silver Porsche Spyder sports car, Dean tragically passed away much too young at 24 years of age. Sadly, he was known more for his unexpected and devastating death than his actual status as a celebrity.
Babe Ruth: The Ultimate History Maker And Record Breaker
In the fifth inning of the World Series’ third game at Wrigley Field in Chicago, on October 1, 1932, George “Babe” Ruth made history. He is known as one of the greatest baseball players that ever lived.
On Friday the 13th, 1934, Ruth is captured hitting his 700th home run in this photograph. It shows him at the at-bat making a pointing gesture. The existing film actually confirms the truth of this gesture, but is ambiguous in its meaning.
The Most Iconic And Imitated Beatles Cover
This photograph was taken in 1969 right before The Beatles were about to cross Abbey Road for their new album cover. The cover would become one of the most iconic cover images of all time, which has since been imitated in popular music.
The photographer was freelancer Iain Macmillan, a friend of John Lennon and Yoko Ono. To capture the famous shot, Macmillan stood in the middle of the street on a small ladder. He snapped six shots of the band as they walked across Abbey Road, right outside the studio.
A Young British Boy Reading
Great Britain was one of the many countries in which Germany unleashed mass and devastating destruction. The Germans enforced mass air raids against the towns and cities in Britain, starting with raids on London in 1940 towards the final moments of the Battle of Britain.
Taken in front of a London bookstore, this photograph is of a young boy sitting and reading a book amongst the remains. The image is beautiful and eye-catching because he is calmly reading while there is so much chaos around him.
Dorothy Counts’ Experience At An All-White School
As one of the only four black students enrolled in an all-white and non-integrated school district, Dorothy Counts was 15-years-old when this photograph was taken in 1957. At Harry Harding High School in Charlotte, North Carolina, Dorothy is seen being teased by her white male classmates.
Now an American civil rights activist, Dorothy Counts-Scoggins received a public apology in 2006 from those members of the crowd who harassed and taunted her. The person who apologized was one of the boys in the famous photo.
The Boy Who Hears For The First Time
Pictured in this photo is a young boy who looks startled and surprised. He isn’t quite sure what’s happening or how. The boy’s authentic reaction was him hearing for the first time – no longer enshrouded in a world of silence. It was probably scary, exciting, and confusing all at the same time.
Named Harold Whittles, his little eyes opened with a miraculous sense of wonder and curiosity. Harold’s world just became so much bigger after getting a hearing aid fitted into his ear.
The First Woman To Complete The Boston Marathon
1967 was a monumental year for Kathrine Switzer, the first woman to finish the Boston Marathon. Race organizers attempted to thwart her finishing the race and Jock Semple, a race official, went so far as to grab her bib. He was pushed to the ground by Tom Miller, Switzer’s boyfriend who was running next to her.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t until 1972 that females were able to officially participate in the Boston Marathon. Katherine acknowledged the gravity of her brave accomplishment and participation in the race.
New Shoes Made This Boy’s Day
This is the kind of photo that makes us smile instantly. Taken by Gerald Waller, the focus of the image is an Austrian boy named Werfel after the war in 1946. He’s sitting outside on the steps of an orphanage in Austria with a brand-new pair of shoes in his hands.
The elation on his face shows how ecstatic he is after receiving shoes from the American Red Cross. On December 30, 1946, the photo was first printed in LIFE Magazine.
Civil Rights Activist Casey Hayden
In the 1960s, American student activist and defender of civil rights Sandra Cason “Casey” Hayden was an integral figure in the civil rights movement. She is most well-known for her staunch advocacy and prompt action against racial segregation.
Hayden was a young recruit to Students for a Democratic Society in 1960. She was also a strategist and organizer for the 1964 Freedom Summer in Mississippi along with the assistance of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. This photo is of her mugshot from the Jackson arrest.
If this image were from today, it definitely would have gone viral on social media. Snapped in 1961, the stunning photo is of pioneering jazz trumpeter Louis Armstrong playing a number for his wife, Lucille, while at the Pyramids. The Great Sphinx of Gaza is on perfect display in the background.
That might be one of the most romantic things we’ve ever seen! For five decades (spanning from the 1920s to the 1960s), Armstrong was among the most influential and legendary jazz figures to ever live.
The Earth Rising
Identifying the moment when history completely changes isn’t a simple task. However, when we see humanity’s first moment of grasping the beauty, isolation, and delicate nature of our very existence, we know in that exact moment. On December 24, 1968, everything changed.
Following the Apollo 8 spacecraft lift off and as its members were en-route to the moon, it became the first human-crewed mission to orbit the moon. This extraordinary photograph captured the first full color sighting of our glorious Earth from afar. Ostensibly, it helped humans realize how insignificant and small they felt in comparison to the vastness of the universe.
Jewish Liberation In 1945
Behind the newly liberated women and the little girl is the train that led Jewish prisoners to freedom. The photo was taken on April 13, 1945, near Farsleben, Germany. These prisoners were freed by members of the 743rd Tank Battalion from the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.
The lady at the center of the image contains a mix of emotions on her face, ranging from sadness to complete relief and joy. No words can truly describe what the liberated prisoners must have been feeling that day, but the photo captures it perfectly.
Right Move Or Wrong Move?
While we’ve all heard of D-Day, it’s likely nobody probably knows about Dagen H (Swedish for H Day). On September 3, 1967, Sweden made the decision to change driving on the left-hand side to the right side of the road. H stands for Högertrafikomläggningen or the Right-Handed Traffic Diversion.
Based on the events of this photo, it’s clear that the switch was not easy and caused lots of problems. Sweden’s decision to move traffic to the opposite side of the road wasn’t received positively. In fact, the idea had actually been voted against repeatedly in the decades before.
Mona Lisa Was Returned
On August 25, 1944, the Allies liberated Paris. Germany unconditionally surrendered on May 8, 1945, and Europe’s war was finally over. As a result, the Louvre’s works that were seized started to go back to the museum during its extensive renovation between 1945 and 1946.
Two years after Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa was stolen from Paris’ Louvre Museum, the iconic painting was recovered. It was inside the hotel room of Vincenzo Peruggia, an Italian waiter, in Florence. On June 16, 1945, the Mona Lisa was brought home.
The Beach Police
Women’s swimming costumes in the early 1900s were cumbersome and uncomfortable. They consisted of high necks, long sleeves, skirts, pants, and were often made of wool. 20 deputies in 1919 were assigned the special task of monitoring the swimwear of the women at Rockaway Beach in Queens, New York. “Sheriffettes” were the names of these deputies.
The battle between women and beach authorities endured. In this image, the Sheriffettes measured bathing suits and would fine women if they were too short.
The Man Behind The Messy Desk
You probably couldn’t guess who this messy desk belonged to… Well, it belonged to the notorious genius and brilliant man named Albert Einstein. This photograph was snapped of Einstein’s study at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton University. In fact, it was taken not long after Einstein’s sudden passing on May 18, 1955.
He quoted, “If a cluttered desk is the sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?” Wise words, indeed, from Mr. Einstein.
The Young Street Performers
A young and then-unknown Robin Williams was performing his mime act with a friend in New York’s Central Park. In 1974, the image was snapped by Daniel Sorine, a photographer who just happened to walk past the duo. Clearly, he had no idea that Williams was well on his way to becoming a massive Hollywood actor.
When Sorine rediscovered the photo years later, he realized who he had captured in such an organic way. He recalled in an interview, “What attracted me to Robin Williams and his fellow mime, was their unusual amount of intensity, personality, and physical fluidity.”
Martin Luther King Jr.
Out of all the photographs taken of Martin Luther King Jr., this is probably one of the most powerful and chilling ones of him. King is captured swiftly removing a burnt cross that somebody had hammered into his lawn, and his son stands beside him watching.
The photo is haunting and mesmerizing at the same time. On April 4, 1968, MLK was assassinated, yet his words, actions, and deeds continue to live on decades later, and his influence will never be forgotten.
The two clasped hands in the photo connected across a wall belonged to a Catholic woman and her Protestant husband who weren’t allowed to be buried together. This caused quite a bit of controversy and division among the people in the city of Roermond. The couple was married for 38 years.
In 1880, the colonel died and was buried on the Protestant side of the cemetery’s wall. His wife (who died in 1888) decided not to be buried with her family but on the other side of the wall. This decision was the only way she could get as close to her husband as possible. Truly, they will be together forever.
The Berlin Wall
In this remarkable photograph taken in 1961, we get a small yet profound glimpse of what life was like for the people who were divided by the Berlin Wall. Families lift their children up to see their grandparents who live on the eastern side of the wall, which represented a bleak outcome of the post-war world.
Overnight, life was transformed in Berlin, Germany. Streets, subway lines, bus lines, tramlines, canals, and rivers were subsequently divided, as well as family members, friends, lovers, colleagues, and schoolmates, among others. Separation was seen in every aspect and every walk of life.
Prisoners Leaving Alcatraz
In this eerie photo, a line of prisoners is captured leaving Alcatraz, America’s most infamous prison. Alcatraz had a harsh reputation and housed some of the most terrifying and ruthless inmates in the country.
Alcatraz held some 1,576 federal inmates over the years within its walls. Wouldn’t the prisoners – considered by many as the world’s most fearsome – feel happy to be released? That isn’t the case in this photograph because their heads hung low as they somberly walked out of the prison.