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Truthful Stories Behind 23 of the Most Iconic Photos in American History

From heartbreak to joy and everything in between, each of these iconic photos tell a truly American story.


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Snapshots of History

History vitrify or not, these iconic photos capture standout moments from the human story. Learn the stories behind these historical photos, and the individuals featured inside them, including a shot from the battlefield of the Civil State of war; Lou Gehrig wiping away tears, equally he announced his retirement; and the final moments of the crew before boarding the


Robert Cornelius

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The start selfie

In 1939, more than 120 years after the first photo
was taken, Robert Cornelius set a photographic camera in the dorsum of his family’southward store and took what’southward believed to exist the very beginning photographic self-portrait e’er. What’s phenomenal is how long information technology took for someone to take that first “selfie.” One affair is for sure—he nailed his lighting.


James Polk

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The get-go presidential portrait

The very first president to be photographed was our sixth, John Quincy Adams. Just even and then, it wasn’t until 1843, more than than a decade after he left office. It took until 1849 for the beginning president
in part
to accept his photograph taken. That was James K. Polk and the photographer was Mathew Brady, who was also well-known for his photographs of Ceremonious State of war battlefields.


American Civil War

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Decease on the battlefield

For most of history, the horrors of war could but be described by those who’d been on the battlefield. That began to change in 1846 during the Mexican-American War when an unknown member of the American armed forces took what’s believed to be the start battlefield photograph. Only information technology wasn’t until the Civil State of war that non-armed services men began traveling with the ground forces in an effort to photographically relate our nation’s fights. This photo, taken by Alexander Gardner, depicts “the issue of a shell on a Confederate Soldier” during the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863.


President Abraham Lincoln

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Portrait of Abraham Lincoln, 1863

This iconic photo of our 16th president, Abraham Lincoln, was taken just one week before he delivered his famous Gettysburg Address in 1863 (“Four score and seven years agone…”). Contrary to popular belief, he did not write it on the back of the envelope.


The only known photo of BILLY THE KID

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Billy the Kid

Born in 1859 in New York, Billy the Kid gained fame equally a Wild West fable and i of America’southward most notorious outlaws. Past the time he was shot down in 1881 at historic period 21 by Sheriff Pat Garett in Fort Sumner, New United mexican states, he’d killed at least 12 men (he claimed it was more than than 20). This 1878 photo is the but photo of Billy the Child that’south known to be. Here are more than of America’s well-nigh notorious criminals, from every country.


Kitty Hawk, North Carolina

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Aviation takes off

Wilbur and Orville Wright were brothers and all-time buddies who ushered in the age of modern aviation. On December 17, 1903, they flew the start powered, sustained, and controlled airplane flight, depicted hither, near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina (technically, Orville was in the plane, and Wilbur was on the ground, but they always took dual credit for everything). Learn virtually 12 other famous siblings who changed history.


Victorian homes on Howard Street damaged in the earthquake

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San Francisco Earthquake

At 5:12 a.m. on April 18, 1906, a violent earthquake bankrupt loose with an epicenter almost San Francisco. Thousands of lives were lost during the “great” San Francisco Earthquake, which nevertheless ranks every bit one of the most meaning earthquakes of all fourth dimension. Pictured hither is the damage to a row of Victorian homes on Howard Street almost 17th Avenue. This isn’t the only earthquake whose damage was captured by the photograph; here are 6 others.


Young Girl Working in Mill, Lincolnton

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Young girl working in a cotton manufacturing plant

Between 1908 and 1912, investigative lensman Lewis Hine traveled across America photographing children working in factories, fields, and mines—some as immature as three, and all indelible piece of work weeks that averaged 65 to 70 hours. Hine’s photos—like this ane of a immature girl—helped catalyzed a alter in public sentiment toward child labor and ultimately led to mod child labor laws.


Charlie Chaplin


Charlie Chaplin as the “Lilliputian Tramp”

Charlie Chaplin’s nigh iconic on-screen character was the “Footling Tramp,” which he debuted in the 1914 silent film,
Kid Auto Races at Venice.
Dressed in baggy pants, a tiny hat, and huge shoes and begetting exaggeratedly polite manners, a super-expressive face, and a hilarious toes-out walk, Chaplin’south virtually recognizable alter-ego appeared in films through 1952 and fabricated Chaplin ane of Hollywood’s first celebrities. Never seen a Charlie Chaplin film? Here are the other classic movies people lie about having watched.


Spanky McFarland


Spanky and Petey

Before the director Hal Roach conceived of
Our Gang
(later known every bit
Little Rascals)
, children in Hollywood tended to be depicted as tiny adults. In 1921, Roach found himself riveted by the spectacle of a group of little kids grouse over a bunch of sticks and realized the natural charms of children were far more interesting. In 1931, three-year-old George “Spanky” McFarland joined the cast and became the starting time breakout star of the testify, aslope Petey, the dog.


Florence Thompson

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Migrant female parent

In 1936, lensman Dorothea Lange was terminal a month-long shoot depicting the drastic toils of migratory farm laborers in California when she came upon peapicker Florence Thompson, age 32, and was drawn to her “as if by a magnet.” Lange’s series of photos of Thompson and her children (here she’due south nursing her youngest) may be among the most famous from those desperate times.


Hindenburg airship

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The Hindenburg disaster

In 1937, the
was the largest blimp always built and the pride of Nazi Germany… until it burst into flames over Lakehurst, New Bailiwick of jersey, killing 36 passengers and crewmembers. Here’south why you don’t see blimps anymore, simply partially related to this tragic moment.


Lou Gehrig wipes away a tear while speaking during a tribute at Yankee Stadium in New York.

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The “Luckiest Man”

In 1939, at Yankee Stadium in New York, start baseman Lou Gehrig announced his retirement from baseball. The reason? He was dying of ALS, which would become known equally “Lou Gehrig’due south illness.” Nevertheless, Gehrig referred to himself equally the “luckiest human being on the face of the planet” as he wiped a tear from his eye. He died two years afterwards at historic period 37.


Joe Rosenthal

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Raising the flag at Iwo Jima

“Perhaps no Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph is better known than Joe Rosenthal’due south picture of six U.S. Marines raising the American flag on Mount Suribachi on Iwo Jima,” co-ordinate to the Pulitzer arrangement, itself. Rosenthal took the photograph for the Associated Press on February 23, 1945, and within days, it was everywhere, symbolizing American dominance in the Pacific war zone. It later became the model for the U.S. Marine Corps State of war Memorial in Arlington, Virginia, which has added to its fame. Don’t miss out on the 45 things America’s troops wish you knew.


Alfred Eisenstaedt poses with one of his best know photographs

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“VJ Twenty-four hour period in Times Foursquare” or “The Kiss”

The photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt took many photos of famous people over the class of his career, but it’s his photo of two unknownsa U.Due south. Navy sailor and a woman in a nurse’southward uniform locked in an ecstatic embrace during the “Victory over Japan Day” celebrations in New York City’s Times Square on Baronial xiv, 1945—that’s his most
The photo was published that same month in
magazine, but it took many years before the pair of strangers was finally identified every bit Greta Zimmer Friedman, who died at 92 in 2016, and George Mendonsa, who died in Feb 2019 at the historic period of 95.


Marilyn Monroe poses over the updraft

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That photo of Marilyn Monroe…

A publicity still for the 1954 film,
The Seven Year Itch,
this photo of Marilyn Monroe standing on a New York Metropolis subway grate with the wind blowing her brim up, is arguably the nearly famous paradigm of Monroe, who herself is however 1 of America’s most iconic and tragic celebrities in part because her death continues to remain a mystery.


first official White House photograph of Mrs. John F. Kennedy

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Mrs. John F. Kennedy

This is the first official White House photograph of Kickoff Lady Jacqueline Kennedy taken at the beginning of 1961. Different these 13 rarely seen photos of Jackie, the image is well known.


Three-year-old John F. Kennedy Jr. saluting his father's casket

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The loss of a begetter

It wasn’t
a nation that was left devastated by the assassination of John F. Kennedy. This iconic photo depicting three-year-former John F. Kennedy Jr. saluting his begetter’due south casket in Washington on Nov 25, 1963, left an enduring image that reverberates to this mean solar day.


Martin Luther King Jr


“I have a dream”

Civil rights leader, Martin Luther King, Jr., had a dream, and it was that racism would 1 day be a affair of the past. He delivered his famous speech during the March on Washington on August 28, 1963, at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. He was assassinated less than five years later, and these 12 conspiracy theories surrounding his decease still remain.


The Moon - Astronaut Edwin 'Buzz' Aldrin

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The human on the moon

On July 21, 1969, the astronaut Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin posed for a photo abreast the U.S. flag…planted squarely on the surface of the moon. Yet somehow, despite photograph show, this moment has get one of the 14 of the craziest popular culture conspiracy theories of all fourth dimension.


Four crew members

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Christa McAuliffe’s last moments

Christa McAuliffe was an American teacher who’d been selected from more than than 11,000 applicants to exist the first educator in space. Tragically, on January 28, 1986, the space shuttle
exploded 73 seconds later liftoff, instantly killing McAuliffe and the other six coiffure members. This photo allows u.s. to remember the hope, pride, and excitement she must have been feeling as she walked jauntily toward the launch pad—and her fate.



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I terminal await at the Globe Trade Center

September 11, 2001: The world looked on, first in atheism, so in abject horror, as airplanes hit one of the Globe Trade Center towers, so the other. Hither, blackness smoke billows out of the doomed towers, mere moments before they crumbled to the basis, taking with them the lives of nearly 3,000 people. Even 17 years later, questions remain almost what really happened that mean solar day.


Emma Gonzalez, a survivor of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland

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Emma Gonzalez stands in silence

At the March for our Lives rally in support of gun control in Washington, D.C. on March 24, 2018, Emma Gonzalez, a survivor of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High Schoolhouse in Parkland, Florida, closes her eyes and cried silently for 6 minutes and xx seconds, the precise amount of fourth dimension information technology took the Parkland shooter to execute his killing spree on February 14, 2018. Now, take a wait at these rarely seen photos y’all won’t discover in history books.