If not for the invention of the camera, many of the greatest moments in our recent history would’ve been lost forever. What would the world be like without unforgettable images such as the flag being raised over Iwo Jima or the man facing down a tank in Tiananmen Square? Such imagery not only documents what happened, but they help us to inspire change and action elsewhere around the world.

Thankfully, we have some amazing visual records of the past. And though the art of photography has come a very long way, each image is just as important as the ones before it. These 20 rare images may be the most impactful historical photographs ever taken…

 1. View from the Window at Le Gras (1827): Taken by Joseph Nicéphore Niépce in Saint-Loup-de-Varennes, France, this is widely considered the first photograph ever. Though the image is grainy, you can make out some buildings, one of which is the photographer’s own home.


2. The first human captured in a photograph (1838): The first person to be photographed can be seen in the bottom-left corner of this image. It was snapped by Louis Daguerre from his apartment building.


3. The first selfie (1839): Robert Cornelius, a photography enthusiast from Philadelphia, uncovered his lens, stepped into the frame, sat completely still for one full minute, and re-covered the lens in order to take the first recorded selfie in history. Imagine doing that today?


4. The first faked photo (1840): Even though Hippolyte Bayard developed the photographic process, Louis Daguerre is known as “the Godfather of Photography” because he released his findings first. Bayard responded by publicizing this image, which appeared to be a photo of himself dead after drowning. It was later discovered to be a hoax.


5. The first photograph of the Moon (1840): The first image of the Moon was captured by John W. Draper. Unfortunately, the photograph suffered severe damage because it was not properly stored. This, of course, only fueled conspiracy theories that the photograph was faked.


6. The first photograph of an American president (1843): John Quincy Adams, sixth president of the United States, was the first American president to have his photo taken—even though he’d already left office by that point.


7. The first photo of people getting drunk (1844): Scottish photographer David Octavius became somewhat of a pioneer for taking silly pictures with his camera. Here, he snapped the first-ever photo of inebriated people (his friends).


8. The first photograph of the sun (1845): It wasn’t until five years after the Moon was first photographed that French physicists Louis Fizeau and Lion Foucault captured this image of the sun—a decidedly more difficult subject!


9. The first photograph of an active war zone (1853-1856): When the Duke of Newcastle and Prince Albert asked photographer Roger Fenton to document the Crimean War, he snapped this. It would become one of the first images of an active war zone. Even though he risked his life, Fenton was accused of staging many of his photos.


10. The first aerial photograph (1860): James Wallace Black captured the first known aerial photograph while overlooking the city of Boston from a hot air balloon. He was 2,0oo feet in the air!


11. The first color photograph (1861): This tartan ribbon was snapped by Thomas Sutton, who invented the SLR camera. To take the photo, he collaborated with physicist James Clerk Maxwell.


12. The first photo of a battle in progress (1870): This image, depicting Prussian and French troops, is the first known photograph of a battle while it was happening. You can see many men engaging in hand-to-hand combat all around.


13. The first color photograph of a landscape (1877): Louis Arthur Ducos du Hauron, a famed color photographer, took this shot of a scene in southern France. The most apparent colorations are the reds, blues, and greens.


14. The first high-speed photoshoot (1878): Photographer Eadweard Muybridge was hired by Leland Stanford to determine whether all four of a horse’s hooves left the ground while running. It wasn’t until six years later, using dozens of cameras and a series of strings, that he produced these photos—proving that, yes, a horse’s hooves leave the ground at the same time.


15. The first photograph of lightning striking (1882): Widely believed to be impossible at the time, a bolt of lightning was finally photographed by Philadelphia photographer William Jennings.


16. The first tornado captured in a photograph (1884): This tornado was photographed from 14 miles away by a Kansas fruit farmer using a box camera. You can see it quickly approaching from the left. This would definitely make most storm chasers envious!

history-photos-11Kansas Historical Society

17. The first photograph of Earth taken from space (1950): This photograph was snapped by a V-2 rocket in 1950. At the time, people described the image as “how our Earth would look to visitors from another planet coming in on a spaceship.”


18. The first digital photograph (1957): This image was created through technological developments by Russell A. Kirsch that made it possible to scan graphics to computer memory. The boy in the picture is Kirsch’s son, Walden.


19. The first photograph of Earth taken from the perspective of the moon (1966): On August 3, 1966, Lunar Orbiter I was just a few moments away from traveling around the moon for the sixteenth time when it snapped this photo.


20. The first photograph ever uploaded to the Internet (1992): When Tim Berners-Lee of the European Organization for Nuclear Research asked Les Horribles Cernettes, a parody rock group, for a photo to put on his invention he called the “World Wide Web,” this was what they submitted. At the time, they had no idea it’d be the first picture ever uploaded to the Internet!


These images are amazing. It’s incredible to see how far the art of photography has come in just a few short centuries!

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