Nowadays, it’s rare for a significant event to occur without it being documented in some way. Even if the traditional media outlets don’t cover it, anyone with a smartphone can easily record something within seconds. With just a few taps, that footage can be easily uploaded for the world to see.
Though photographers of yore did their best to capture every important moment they could, technology wasn’t as advanced as it is now. That’s why it’s so astonishing to see the photographs that were taken!
You won’t believe just how many landmark events were captured by a cameraman’s lens. Just take a look at these 31 amazing historical photos and see for yourself!
1. The Gettysburg Address: The red arrow in this picture is pointing to President Abraham Lincoln himself. He had just arrived at the dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery on November 19, 1863 in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Shortly after this picture was taken, he delivered his iconic Gettysburg Address.
2. Titanic survivors flee: Only a handful of images exist that captured the unveiling of the doomed R.M.S. Titanic just a few days before its infamous collision with an iceberg. Even more rare are photographs taken on that fateful day. Here, the very last lifeboat evacuates the sinking vessel. It was snapped on April 15, 1912.
3. The Wright Brothers: In 1903, in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, Orville and Wilber Wright made history by becoming the first people to create an aircraft that could actually fly. This photo was snapped just seconds after their plane took off for the first time.
4. Atomic bomb: Most pictures of the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II are from an aerial perspective, but this person captured what it was like on the ground level. This was the cloud that rose over Nagasaki on August 4, 1945.
5. Neil Armstrong: The most popular images of the 1969 moon landing show astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the actual surface of the moon, but this is a lesser-known photograph of Armstrong immediately after he stepped back into the space shuttle. You can see the delight on his face as he realized he just made history.
6. The first picture ever taken: Historians claim that this is the oldest photograph in existence. It was taken from the window of a Burgundy, France, estate in either 1826 or 1827. This picture was captured by French photography pioneer Joseph Nicéphore Niépce using a rudimentary process called heliography.
7. Abraham Lincoln: This picture was taken in 1862 in Antietam, Maryland. Lincoln is standing with Allan Pinkerton (left), the famed military intelligence operative who played a major role in the creation of the Secret Service; and Major General John A. McClernand (right).
8. Nikola Tesla: Tesla was a Serbian scientist who made enormous leaps in the field of electrical engineering. This photo was snapped in 1899, and it shows Tesla sitting next to his crackling magnifying transmitter, which was used for the wireless transmission of electrical energy.
9. Samurai: Samurai existed long before cameras were invented, so many of the pictures we have are drawings. But one particular class of warriors persisted late into the 19th century, after the advent of photography. This picture was taken in 1860, about 15 years before the reformist government put an end to the samurai tradition.
10. Assassination of Robert F. Kennedy: Many people have seen the footage of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination, but this much lesser-known photograph shows his brother just minutes after he was shot. The young man in the photo was a waiter who happened to be shaking the senator’s hand at the time.
11. Normandy Beach: Cameras were very common during World War II, but most of the footage of the war was shot from a safe distance away. This photograph is appropriately titled “Into the Jaws of Death,” and it offers the daunting perspective of Allied troops about to storm the beaches of Normandy.
12. The Battle of Gettysburg: Fought between July 1 and July 3, 1863, the Battle of Gettysburg was the costliest battle ever fought in the United States. More than 8,000 people died, and the result turned the Civil War in favor of the Union.
13. Capturing Saddam Hussein: On December 13, 2003, American forces captured dictator Saddam Hussein in a farmhouse near Tikrit, Iraq. Newspapers bombarded everyone with pictures of the deposed ruler after he was brought into custody, but this photo was taken just minutes after soldiers discovered him.
14. Construction of the Eiffel Tower: The Eiffel Tower is such an iconic landmark that it looks odd to see it unfinished. This photograph was taken in July of 1988, just 15 months into the arduous process—and still nine months away from its completion.
15. Unboxing the Statue of Liberty: It’s difficult to imagine that the Statue of Liberty ever existed anywhere else other than Ellis Island. But, at one point, it existed in 214 different crates shipped to the United States from France. This is Lady Liberty’s face just minutes after it was removed from a crate.
16. Pearl Harbor: There are many photos of the horrific 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, but this one in particular shows how truly terrifying it was to soldiers who were on the ground at the time. These two men in the foreground of the picture look on in shock as chaos erupts around them.
17. The San Francisco earthquake: The San Francisco earthquake was the second deadliest natural disaster to happen in the United States. The quake began the morning of April 18, 1906, and it leveled almost 90 percent of the city, leaving nearly a quarter of a million people homeless and at least 3,000 dead.
18. Vincent Van Gogh: This is only one of two confirmed pictures in existence of the famous painter that he didn’t actually draw himself. This provides an interesting look at a man who most people only know through his personal self-portraits.
19. Lincoln’s funeral: Six days after the surrender at Appomattox ended the Civil War, John Wilkes Booth assassinated President Lincoln. Four days later, in Washington D.C., the nation came together and mourned the loss of its beloved leader.
20. The event that started World War I: In this picture, police are apprehending Serbian nationalist Gavrilo Princip after he assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914. This act would begin the series of events that caused World War I.
21. Adolf Hitler declares war on the United States: This monumental event took place at the Kroll Opera House in Berlin, Germany, on December 11, 1941. It’s not unusual that someone took a picture of this moment, but it is surprising that this photograph isn’t more well-known.
22. The hanging of the Lincoln assassination conspirators: Even though John Wilkes Booth was the man who killed Lincoln, he was working with nearly 10 other people. On July 7, 1865, four of those conspirators were hung in Washington D.C.
23. Billy the Kid and his posse: The authenticity of this photo is up for debate, but if it is truly Billy the Kid (left), then it’s only one of two known images of him. This picture was supposedly taken in 1878, while Billy was playing croquet with his posse, the Regulators, in New Mexico.
24. The surrender that ended the Civil War: Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered to Union General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House, Virginia, on April 9, 1865, thereby ending the Civil War. Here, soldiers wait outside the courthouse while the details of the surrender are established inside.
25. The Armenian genocide: Over 1.5 million Armenians died in Turkey during the Armenian genocide, but unfortunately, popular Western history doesn’t place nearly as much importance on the event as it should. This picture shows a woman kneeling over her dead child in Aleppo, Syria, around 1915.
26. Thomas Edison unveils the phonograph: Edison gave the world many incredible pieces of technology, like the light bulb, the motion-picture camera, and the phonograph. This picture of Edison unveiling his phonograph was taken on April 18, 1878, in Washington D.C.
27. Massacre at Wounded Knee: On December 29, 1890, United States troops tried to disarm a large group of Native Americans that they forcibly relocated to a camp near Wounded Knee, South Dakota. Over 400 American soldiers killed more than 300 Lakota men, women, and children after one Lakota man refused to give up his rifle. The bodies of the Native Americans were then all thrown into a mass grave.
28. Battle of Little Bighorn: This battle was fought near the Little Bighorn River in southern Montana on June 25 and 26, 1876. American troops fell to Native Americans, and the event was famous for the event known as Custer’s Last Stand.
29. Klondike Gold Rush: Between 1896 and 1899, more than 300,000 people flocked to northwestern Canada in search of gold. During this desperate time, dysentery and malaria were rampant, and food was so scarce that salt was worth its weight in gold.
30. California Gold Rush: 50 years prior to the Klondike Gold Rush, over a quarter million people migrated to California. This huge influx eventually helped with the development of the city of San Francisco and the Transcontinental Railroad. In this photo, a prospector pans for gold in California’s Sacramento Valley around 1850.
31. Completion of the Transcontinental Railroad: On May 10, 1869, workers in Promontory Summit, Utah, were finally able to celebrate the completion of the first transcontinental railroad. The clarity of this picture is outstanding for the time it was taken.
It must have been amazing to capture these events on camera. It’s hard to believe that all of these moments actually happened at one point!
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