Powerful Historical Photos that will Absolutely Take Your Breath Away
It’s rare when a photo takes your breath away. But when it does, you can’t help but marvel at the impact delivered by the moment. If a picture says a thousand words, then looking at these photos is like reading a manifesto of the human condition. It’s not perfect, but it is a reflection of who they are, what they did, and what came to pass.
A ‘Burst of Joy’ represented military families
If a picture can say a thousand words, then this picture doesn’t say enough. The picture titled “Burst of Joy” looks simple enough, a soldier returning from war only to be greeted by his family. However, there’s more to the story. The photo was taken by Pulitzer Prize winner, Slava Veder in 1973.
The subjects of the photo are POW Lt. Col. Robert Strim, his wife, and children. Strim had been a POW for nearly six years. Veder’s photo was shot behind Strim, and although his face was hidden, Strim stood in to represent all soldiers returning home from war.
Freddie Mercury doing his thing
Queen is one of the most underrated rock bands in music history. Sure, we know Queen and frontman Freddie Mercury now, but with the rise of “Bohemian Rhapsody,” everyone knows and loves the eccentric singer. Mercury achieved fame for his knock-out performance at Live Aid, where he sang his heart out with thousands of fans at Wembley Stadium.
Sadly, it all came to an end when Mercury passed away from AIDS in 1991. A whole generation wept for a man who embraced the strange and challenged the status quo. Now when listeners hear “Bohemian Rhapsody” on the radio, many can’t help but to scream out the lyrics as if they were at a live concert.
A Serbian soldier gets a shave in the trench
A month after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the world trembled when Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia. The summer of 1914 would promise the wake of “the world to end all wars” and with it the lives of 16 million soldiers. The war divided two nations and yet created a global union.
As lines were drawn, so were the trenches that separated them. Amidst the chaos, it would seem odd to see anything other than violence during such tumultuous time. However, it’s photos like this one that reminds us who was fighting the war. Regular people. And what’s more mundane than a Serbian soldier enjoying a simple shave?
The world stopped turning when Apollo 11 landed on the moon
Everyone held their breath as NASA launched Saturn V into space. Spectators bore witness at the launchpad, while others watched through their television screens. The prize? The promise of being the first to land on the moon. The space race was in full swing, and there was nothing stopping the US from reaching for the stars.
They did on July 16, 1969. When the Apollo 11 crew touched down, their mission was to explore the Sea of Tranquility region of the moon. There, people witnessed Neil Armstrong take his first steps on the Lunar surface and say the iconic phrase, “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” It was one of the most monumental events to ever occur in — not just US history — but human history.
Jesse Owens leaping for the gold in 1936
Jesse Owens is known for winning four gold medals and breaking five world records, one including an 8.13m in the long jump that would last for twenty-five years. Not a bad record. However, he won those achievements under times of adversity, one that judged severely on his race. Fast forward in 1936 and Owens participated in the Berlin Olympic Games.
Hitler was present and watched with the assurance that the Aryan race would prevail and show the world their race was the most superior. Well, Owens blew them out of the water. He won his four gold medals in the 100m, 200m, 4x100m relay and the long jump (shown above). After he won his medals, Hitler left the stadium to avoid having to congratulate Owens’ accomplishments.
Women arrested for wearing one-piece swimsuits in 1922
When we think about the 1920s, we imagine a Gatsby fantasy. Life was nothing more than a grand party, however, it wasn’t the case for some. The women in these pictures are not your average delinquent, in fact, their offense is simply wearing a one-piece swimsuit. For many of us, that shouldn’t result in someone’s arrest.
In 1922, however, there was compliance for proper bathing swimwear. It was illegal for women to bare their necks, arms and bare legs on the beach, and were pushed to wear wool-type swimsuits with long sleeves, skirts, and pants. Anyone who didn’t meet those requirements was subjected to a fine or jail time. Yikes!
Martin Luther King, Jr. marching to Montgomery
The 1960s was a tumultuous time for black communities. With southern states gridlocked in racial conflict, when it came time to vote, many black Americans felt threatened and were subjected to deadly violence. Then in March 1965, a civil rights protest commenced an effort to register black voters.
Protestors marched a 54-mile route from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama where many were confronted with brutal violence. It was enough to call the National Guard to protect protestors. Those who participated, walked for three days non-stop until they successfully reached their destination. The protest was joined by Martin Luther King, Jr. who helped raise awareness of the importance for a national Voting Rights Act.
Millennials did not invent the ‘selfie,’ Robert Cornelius did
Sure we give credit to millennials as the “selfie” generation, but were we truly the first to come up with the concept? Not so! The camera graced humanity a little more than 200 years ago, and it was in 1839 that this particular snapshot was deemed as possibly the first ever “selfie.” The subject in this photo was none other than Robert Cornelius.
Cornelius was an amateur chemist and photographer from Philadelphia who had an interest for light exposure photography. Cornelius set up his camera at the back of his family store and took the image by removing the lens cap and sat for a minute before covering the lens. On the back of the photo, he wrote, “The first light Picture ever taken. 1839.”
The world fell to its knees when they saw Earth at a distance
Yes, we know we already talked about the Apollo 11 mission, but it’s worth mentioning that some stunning photos were taken between their landing and their leaving the Sea of Tranquility. In this particular picture, we see the Earth bobbing in the perpetual darkness of space.
This image was taken before astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin left in the Lunar Module, named the “Eagle” and taking their first steps on the moon’s surface. It’s this image that reminded and humbled humanity how incredibly small human beings are in comparison to the expansion of the universe and taps into the beauty of and appreciation for the planet.
When the Great Depression hits hard
If the 1920s was a never-ending party, then the 1930s was the mother of all hangovers. What was once a shining beacon of hope and prosperity, quickly turned into an economic disaster that left 25 percent of the population out of work and scraping with what they could get off the streets.
With so many out of work, many became desperate and took whatever job they could get, even if it was for a day. Some without a job took to the streets, often wearing billboards asking for work, while others, like this gentleman, found himself protesting unemployment with a sign that read, “I know 3 trades, I speak 3 languages, fought 3 years, have 3 children and no work for 3 months, but I only want one job.”
Watching the airship emerge
The concept of a hot air balloon is not new. In fact, it had been in use since the 18th century until it later evolved into the zeppelin and became the foundation of air travel, a thing of the future. According to Popular Mechanics, it was Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin (thus the origin of the name) that patented the airship.
Zeppelin combined balloon gas cells with a structural framework. You’d think that passenger airships as a bad idea with the number of flammable gases built up in a single contained space, however, airships had considerably low fatality rates. However, thanks to a series of high profile tragedies such as the burning of the Hindenburg, airships became obsolete.
Muhammad Ali defeats Sonny Liston
Even if you’re not a sports fan, particularly boxing, you’d still know who Muhammad Ali (a.k.a. Cassius Clay) was. An iconic fighter and champion boxer, he is one of the most celebrated athletes of his time. He was nicknamed “The Greatest,” and was known to go toe-to-toe with almost any opponent.
In the above photo, Clay just defeated Sonny Liston in the seventh round of the World Heavyweight Title in Miami Beach. It was after his match with Liston that Clay shouted, “I am the Greatest” and “I shook up the World.” This stunning photo beautifully captures victory and celebration, and although the photo of Clay taunting Liston was more iconic, this photo highlighted what happened after Clay finished his dance in the ring.
Woman working electrical in 1942
The rise of WWII called all men to serve their country. As they left to fight the front lines, their jobs were left unattended. This where the working women come in. It was understood that they too had to play their part for the war, and by 1943 65 percent of women made up the airforce industry.
Although women didn’t hesitate to put in their effort, the stigma of women working during the 1940s remained. To encourage women to work, posters were created to appeal toward women to come into the workforce. The most famous was “Rosie the Riveter,” who was modeled after factory worker Geraldine Doyle.
Woman bites police officer
American history is nowhere near perfect. It’s rife with controversy and conflict but also serves as a reminder of the victories and the prevailing over adversities despite the conflict. None is a better example than the Birmingham Protests. Men and women embarked on what would become a protest against segregation through peaceful sit-ins and boycotts organized by Martin Luther King, Jr.
Despite their approach, however, protesters were met with violence. In this photo, a woman bites an officer while they attempt to restrain and arrest her. The aftermath of the violence would trigger radical changes. As President John F. Kennedy would go on to state, “The events in Birmingham…have increased the cries for equality that no city or state or legislative body can prudently choose to ignore them.”
Video games shake the world
Whether we like it or not, video games shaped the way we perceive computers and entertainment. In 1972, the doors were knocked down, leading American pop culture to scream: “I am Pong.” Although it wasn’t the first video game to grace the world, it was certainly one that got everyone running to what eventually become arcades.
With the advent of arcades, a whole generation moved away from television and invested quarter after quarter to either play virtual tennis, defeat aliens in Space Invaders or hang out with everyone’s favorite plumber. Today, it’s even harder to stay away. With companies slowly embracing virtual reality, it’s only a matter of time that people won’t just control the game, but become completely immersed in it as well.
Women’s March 1971
Women marched the streets of New York in 1971 for one purpose; equality. In a decade where women felt like a second-class citizen, they took to the streets and began a revolution. A year before on Aug. 26, 1970, marked the 50th anniversary of women’s suffrage a march demanding the Women’s vote.
The event was deemed as “the first big demonstration of the Women’s Liberation movement,” by Time magazine. The strike was organized by the National Organization for Women (NOW) with their then-president, Betty Friedan. Their fight for equality included the right of equal pay and reproductive rights. It’s surprising that today, women continue to march for the same principles.
Baby’s hanging in a cage
Granted, this isn’t powerful so much as it is shocking. No one in their right mind today would leave the fate of their child’s life in a chicken wired box hanging outside their kitchen window. Today, that would be called child abuse. So much has changed since then (thank goodness).
In the 1930s, doctors encouraged mothers to allow their babies to be exposed to sunlight and fresh air. It was said to raise vitality and increase circulation in the bodies of children, but notice how none of those doctors mention a window cage? This picture is a good example of the baby-cage craze, as a nanny smiles at her employer’s child from the kitchen.
How is it that one photo can say so much in one frame? What’s more frightening is that, when you think about it, this was only 60 years ago. For some, that’s a pretty long time, but for others, it was a heartbeat away. There are people still alive that lived in a segregated world. Let that sink in.
This photo was taken in 1960 and shows segregated bathrooms. It was common in the south and was considered the “norm.” Things would drastically change, however, when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. organized peaceful protests against segregation laws. This challenging of the status quo would eventually lead to eradicating segregation in the south.
John and Yoko lounging at the Hilton
John Lennon and Yoko Ono are one of the most famous couples in pop culture and music history. When the couple got married on March 20, 1969, they decided to something unconventional for their honeymoon. Well, unconventional for us. Most of us would take a long vacation or soak up some sun with our spouses, but not for the Lennons.
The couple knew all eyes were going to be on them shortly after exchanging rings and decided the best way to use the attention was focused on world peace. That’s right, for seven days, the couple staged a ‘bed-in for peace’ in the Presidential Suite at the Hilton Hotel in Amsterdam as a protest against war and violence around the world. Far out! Did we expect anything less?
Johnny Cash writing lyrics
Aside from being a famous country musician, Johnny Cash was also known for his remarkable gospel-type lyrics. However, did you know Cash was also a writer? When he joined the Air Force in 1950, he published a short story called “Hey Porter.” It appeared in Stars and Stripes, the military newspaper. If that didn’t surprise you, he was also a novelist.
He wrote both fiction and non-fiction. He wrote autobiographies such as “Man in Black” (1975) and “Cash: The Autobiography” (1997). His fiction pieces, however, are the most intriguing. Cash published a novel in 1986 titled, “Man in White” which is a fictional account following six years of the apostle Paul. The novel tapped in Cash’s love for the Bible.
Freddie Mercury and Michael Jackson almost collaborated
The 80s were an interesting time. Your mom talks about it like it was America’s golden age, which to some, it was. The two faces that rocked the 1980s were hands down Michael Jackson and Freddie Mercury. The two almost collaborated together, a partnership that would have resulted in the duo appearing in Jackson’s 1985 Thriller album, however, it was short lived.
Jackson kept bringing his pet llama into the studio. That’s right, Jackson brought a llama named Louis with him, and that was too much for even Mercury. Mercury backed out from the collaboration, yet, in 2014, Queen released the songs that Jackson and Mercury worked on. You can find songs on YouTube.
The atomic bomb blew us away
The bomb that fell over Bikini Atoll was the first to deploy after the Japan bombings in 1945. The goal was simple, researchers wanted to know the side-effects of those affected by nuclear fallout. And the best way to do so was with the use of ghost ships and animals.
Yes, animals were harmed in the making of this photo. The animals included pigs, rats, and goats. More than 90 vessels (not all carrying live cargo) were placed in the bomb’s targeted area. After the bomb detonated, scientists studied the radioactive fallout on animals. The bomb was dropped and some scientists felt “a slight warmth” in temperature as well as heard a boom two minutes after the flash.
Elton John performing in concert at his piano
“Buh-Buh-Buh-Bennie and the Jets!” Sing it, you know the lyrics. There is something candid about this shot of Elton John. For one, this photo was taken in 1982, and the look of absolute bliss on his face makes for an awe-inspiring photo. Throughout his career, John ascended to become one of the most popular musicians of the 20th century.
He sold more than 250 million records and even found success on Broadway by composing the music score for Tony award-winning show “Billy Elliot.” In an interview with W, Elton stated that he wasn’t like David Bowie or Freddie Mercury. Elton wanted people to look at him as he performed, and achieved the feat by wearing comical outfits.
The head of the Pharaoh
This photo was taken in 1852 at the Egyptian temples of Abu Simbel by French poet and novelist Maxime Du Champ. Before King Tut’s tomb was discovered in 1922, British archaeologists were swarming Egypt in hopes of uncovering its ancient past. The mysticism of ancient practices of the past intrigued both scholars and adventurers.
Since the 18th century, European adventurers were completely enchanted by the romanticism of the Egyptian world, falling in love with both the architecture and the people. However, as the centuries went by, the ancient relics that once belonged to the land of Pharaohs were slowly chipped away by looters and thieves. This image belonging to the head of a Pharaoh is shown in reflection to that romanticism.
A sea of fans at a Rolling Stones concert
The British invasion was at an all-time high in the 1960s. With bands like The Beatles and The Who, none was more famous than The Rolling Stones. Women didn’t stand a chance against Mick Jagger’s moves and listeners from all over the world just “Can’t Get No Satisfaction” without their Rock and Roll addiction.
The Rolling Stones would eventually set the musical mold that would shape Aerosmith, Led Zeppelin, Sex Pistols, and the Clash. Here is an image that perfectly encompasses the band’s influence over their fans. It was mad hysteria, a disease in which no one was asking for the cure.
On her way to her coronation
The coronation of Queen Elizabeth II was the most anticipated event in world history. Crowned at age 26, the whole world buzzed as a princess became queen. An estimated 8,300 guests attended the Queen’s Coronation ceremony, which lasted for three hours. Over 27 million people in the UK alone watched the queen’s coronation.
Millions more around the world tuned in to watch the rare spectacle. She was the sixth female monarch to ascend the throne, the first being Queen Mary I, who was crowned in 1553. Queen Elizabeth II is the longest reigning queen in history and the first British monarch to celebrate her Sapphire Jubilee, commemorating 65 years on the throne.
Marilyn Monroe’s funeral
Hollywood wept when news of Marilyn Monroe’s death reached the presses. Many were shocked that the cause of death was due to an overdose, however. The actress, whose beauty was coveted by both men and women, was forever immortalized as one of the most iconic celebrities in the entertainment industry.
Born Norma Jean Mortenson, Monroe’s name was created by Fox Studios head of new talent, Ben Lyon. Lyon commented that Monroe looked like Marilyn, Monroe liked the idea just as long as she could use her grandmother’s last name, Monroe. Lyon agreed, thus the birth of Hollywood legend, Marilyn Monroe.