Incredible Historical Photos You'll Never Forget

By Jake SchroederLast Updated Apr 18, 2020 9:30:24 PM ET
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Photo Courtesy: @paulmccartney/Twitter

The art of photography has certainly come a long way, but it’s still nice to step back in time to enjoy some incredible moments captured in powerful historical photos. Some of the rarely seen images will make you laugh, while others may inspire or shock you.

Regardless of the emotion, these images pay tribute to some of the world’s most iconic events and amazing people. While the world continues to change, time stands still in these incredible historical photos that are impossible to forget.

A Fallen Hero

In this 1950 photo of the Queen's Guard, the heat seems to have gotten the best of one unfortunate soldier. Fainting from the heat is understandable. Each guard must march and stand at attention wearing heavy wool pants, a form-fitting jacket and a heavy hat made from bear fur.

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Photo Courtesy: Keystone-France/Getty Images

Keeping the Queen's guards on their feet is such a common problem that the British Army is researching ways to prevent fainting. At this point, the guards have instructions to drink lots of water, eat a hearty breakfast and frequently wiggle their toes. It sounds strange, but the toe wiggle can’t be seen inside the thick boots — they have to remain perfectly still, you know — and it helps keep the blood flowing.

A Supersonic Star

This 1950 photo shows the amazing North American Aviation XB-70 Valkyrie in midair. The Valkyrie was a supersonic prototype of the planned B-70, a nuclear-armed strategic bomber. The Valkyrie had six engines and could cruise at Mach 3 speeds or greater at an altitude of 70,000 feet.

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Photo Courtesy: Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group/Getty Images

Developed by the United States Air Force, its high speed made the plane next to impossible to detect on radar, and its ability to climb to high altitudes was unmatched by Soviet fighter jets constructed during the Cold War. The Valkyrie research program cost $1.5 billion — an inconceivable amount at the time.

Queen Elizabeth

Queen Elizabeth II appeared to enjoy sitting next to her guards in this humorous 1974 snapshot. Also known as the Queen’s Guard, the official regiment of soldiers is tasked with protecting the Royal Family and their residences.

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Photo Courtesy: Hulton Archive/Hulton Royals Collection/Getty Images

The Queen's Guard changes in the Forecourt of London's Buckingham Palace at 11:30 a.m. each day during the summer and every other day in the winter. The Guard consists of two detachments, one for Buckingham Palace and another for St. James's Palace. Although the soldiers wear elaborate outfits, their duties are not ceremonial. Each regiment is comprised of highly trained soldiers.

A Star-Studded Scene

In this photo, Karl Malden, Marlon Brando, Kim Hunter and Vivien Leigh are rehearsing a scene from the 1951 classic film A Streetcar Named Desire. All but Leigh had appeared in the critically-acclaimed stage production, which ended its Broadway run in 1949 after 855 performances.

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Photo Courtesy: MoviePix/Getty Images

Leigh had already gained critical acclaim for her role as Scarlett O'Hara in the 1940 movie, Gone with the Wind, but Streetcar proved to be the vehicle that launched Brando's film career, earning him his first Best Actor Academy Award nomination. Malden and Hunter also went on to achieve stardom as accomplished film and television actors.

A Perfect Pose

The year was 1985, and Jamie Lee Curtis was set to star in Perfect. The film was based on a series of Rolling Stone articles that exposed the singles scene at popular Los Angeles health clubs. Curtis played opposite John Travolta, who appeared in the film as an investigative reporter.

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Photo Courtesy: Aaron Rapoport/Corbis/Getty Images

In this publicity still, a relaxed Curtis is wearing a skin-tight, striped, purple leotard. Women soon emulated Curtis' look by cropping their hair and wearing leotards as everyday wear. The daughter of film greats Janet Leigh and Tony Curtis, Curtis was already a film star in her own right, gaining fame just a few years earlier in the classic horror film Halloween.

A Wartime Angel

In 1967, the Vietnam War was at its peak, and the battles were fierce both abroad and at home as protestors called for the war's end. This photo shows sex symbol Raquel Welch supporting the U.S. troops on one of several USO tours arranged by comedian Bob Hope.

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Photo Courtesy: Bettmann/Getty Images

Welch appears to be showing off her dance moves to several soldiers. Just one year earlier, she appeared in the films One Million Years B.C. and Fantastic Voyage, two movies that turned her into a household name. It’s likely that Welch's sultry beauty and charm lifted the battle-weary soldiers' spirits, to say the least.

Walk of Fame

On August 9, 1969, the Beatles were getting ready to shoot the cover for the now-classic album Abbey Road. As the musicians walked along the street, Linda McCartney shot this picture of the Fab Four while the police held back traffic. The photo shows the musicians walking away from the studio, which turned out to be quite symbolic, considering Abbey Road was the last album the four men recorded together.

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Photo Courtesy: @paulmccartney/Twitter

Abbey Road was a commercial success, reaching number one on both the U.K. and U.S. charts. Apple Records' creative director John Kosh developed the cover's concept. He insisted that the cover shouldn't include the album's title or the band's name. The iconic image is often imitated by the band's faithful fans.

Racing to Success

Race car driver Janet Guthrie seems to be giving the camera a confident stare as she sits in an open-top racer in this 1967 photo. Guthrie was the first professional female race car driver to both qualify and compete in the Indianapolis 500 and the Daytona 500.

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Photo Courtesy: Susan Wood/Archive Photos/Getty Images

Guthrie's racing career started in 1963 when she competed in her Jaguar XK140, and she began racing full time in 1972. Her sportscar racing career includes two class wins in the 12 Hours of Sebring endurance race. Guthrie was inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame in 2019 in recognition of her achievements in the world of motorsports.

A Secluded Spot

A lonely team of dogs pulls a sled across the ice in this hauntingly beautiful 1910 photo taken in Antarctica. The team looks tiny as they pass by an awe-inspiring ice formation. The photo certainly captures the incredible beauty of nature at its harshest.

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Photo Courtesy: Bettmann/Getty Images

The picture was taken during the Terra Nova Expedition led by British explorer Robert Falcon Scott. He and his team of 12 scientists conducted numerous scientific experiments and initiated an expedition to reach the geographic South Pole. The expedition ended in tragedy when the scientific team perished on their return trek from the South Pole.

A Prayerful Moment

In this heart-wrenching March 1965 photo, an unidentified U.S. soldier fighting in Vietnam is shown deep in prayer. A makeshift altar with religious items can be seen in front of him as he kneels on top of a small military trailer. During the conflict, it was common for soldiers to worship outside and incorporate military equipment into religious services.

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Photo Courtesy: Bettmann/Getty Images

The photo captured the raw emotion and harsh realities of battle. The controversial 10-year conflict was the subject of much heated debate in the U.S. and abroad. Each year, greater numbers of troops were sent off to fight, even though government officials privately doubted the war could be won.

The Misfits

When blonde bombshell Marilyn Monroe married the acclaimed playwright Arthur Miller, everyone said the two were complete opposites. Nonetheless, opposites initially seemed to attract as the two came together both personally and professionally for The Misfits. This 1960 photo shows the couple collaborating during the filming of Miller's screenplay.

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Photo Courtesy: Ernst Haas/Getty Images

Monroe stood by Miller when the House Un-American Activities Committee served him with a subpoena on June 21, 1956. Miller had attended a few Communist Party meetings in the 1940s and refused to reveal the names of anyone else who had been present. Monroe ignored advice that her career might suffer if she stayed with Miller, and the two married later that year. Needless to say, her career did not suffer.

A Committed Couple

Actor Charles Bronson made a career out of playing the tough guy, but he had a soft spot in his heart for wife Jill Ireland. The two were captured together in this 1971 photo taken in Naples, Italy. Bronson and Ireland appeared together in 15 films. The couple married in 1968, and their love endured until Ireland's death from breast cancer in 1990.

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Photo Courtesy: Angelo Deligio/Mondadori/Getty Images

Ireland was one of the first women to speak publicly about her illness and acknowledged Bronson's constant support throughout her treatment. "What kind of man would I be if I was not there to help her? I feel along with her — not her physical pain, of course, but all her mental anguish," he said.

Transcontinental Railroad

This May 10, 1869, photo marks a joyous occasion as workers on the Transcontinental Railroad gathered in Promontory, Utah, to celebrate the railroad's completion. Recognizing that cross-country travel by horse or coach was long and often dangerous, the Pacific Railroad Act of 1862 tasked the Central Pacific and Union Pacific Railroad companies with the railroad's construction.

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Photo Courtesy: Underwood Archives/Getty Images

This monumental effort stretched from Omaha, Nebraska, to Sacramento, California. Laborers from both companies raced to complete the railroad, ultimately meeting up in Utah. The railroad helped make the nation's westward expansion possible, as travel time was cut from several months to less than a week.

Feeling Silly

Victorian-era portraits often make it seem as though the subjects were so somber. Most photos show people whose faces look grim and serious. On rare occasions, some folks were ready to ham it up for the camera. Taken around 1900, this elegantly dressed woman is all smiles as she reclines on a chaise while holding up a bouquet of flowers.

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Photo Courtesy: Bettmann/Getty Images

Unlike today's instantaneous snaps, 19th-century photos took up to 15 minutes to expose. Subjects had to remain perfectly still in one position so the photos wouldn't be blurry. Maybe that explains a lot of the sour expressions. Poor dental hygiene was the other culprit that resulted in many Victorians keeping a straight face.

Victorian Selfie

You may think of a selfie as being a fairly recent invention, but this 1908 photo proves that theory wrong. In this photo, the camera captured a couple enjoying a lovely sunny day. The introduction of Kodak's Brownie Box in 1900 made it possible for the average person to take photos, including selfies.

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Photo Courtesy: Kirn Vintage Stock/Corbis/Getty Images

Self-portraits have actually been around since 1839 when photographer Robert Cornelius took the first "selfie." The photographic feat was so memorable that a copy of the photo is on Cornelius' tombstone at Laurel Hill Cemetery in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Today, Cornelius would probably be pleased to know just how well his photographic innovation has "caught on."

Helen Keller Reads Eleanor Roosevelt's Lips

Helen Keller was world-renowned as a blind and deaf educator and advocate who served as an inspiration to millions of people around the world. This February 1955 photo shows Keller reading the lips of former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. Roosevelt described the 74-year-old Keller as "The Goodwill Ambassador to the World."

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Photo Courtesy: Frank Mastro/Getty Images

The photo was taken at a dinner held at New York's Waldorf Astoria hotel that was attended by ambassadors from five nations. With help from her assistant Polly Thomson, Keller shared her dream of "helping to eliminate blindness and deafness from the earth. My heart will sing with joy. That is Heaven itself."

Gas Stealers, Beware

In 1973, America was in shock when the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries proclaimed an oil embargo that resulted in a major gas shortage. The shortage led to an increase in gas and car theft around the nation. In this 1973 photo, a father and son made a warning sign to stop thieves.

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Photo Courtesy: Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images

Beginning in October 1973, the oil crisis forced drivers to wait in line for hours just to get a few gallons of gas, and the price of oil rose nearly 400%. The embargo was an attempt by oil-producing countries to leverage their global political influence. It ended in March 1974.

Beauty and the Beast

Famed Swedish actress Greta Garbo seemed slightly uncomfortable as she posed with MGM's Leo the Lion in this 1925 photo. Leo was featured in the film studio's opening credits and was the first of the studio's many lions to have his roar recorded. Like many other celebrities, Leo was the lion's stage name.

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Photo Courtesy: Marc Wanamaker/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Jackie — Leo’s real name — opened for every black and white MGM film made between 1928 and 1956. He also appeared tinted in sepia at the beginning of The Wizard of Oz. He earned the nickname "Leo the Lucky" after surviving several accidents, including an explosion, two train wrecks, an earthquake and a plane crash.

An Aviation Marvel

The Grumman F-14 Tomcat was an aerodynamic work of art. This supersonic aircraft was the first fighter jet to be built with twin tails. This 1965 photo shows the Tomcat, which was developed for the United States’ Naval Fighter Experimental program, in the air. The Tomcat took its maiden flight in 1970 and was designed to go up against MiG fighters during the Vietnam War.

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Photo Courtesy: U.S. Navy/Wikipedia

The F-14 Tomcat had Low Altitude Navigation and Targeting Infrared for Night used for making precision ground attacks. The plane was retired in 2006 after being replaced by Boeing's Super Hornet jet. Although it’s no longer used in the United States, the Iranian military still utilizes the planes that were exported to the country from the United States in 1976.

A Great Game

Two soldiers tried to forget the horrors of World War I by playing a quick game of dice in this 1918 photo. Known as "The Great War," the global conflict is considered one of the deadliest wars in history. An estimated nine million soldiers and seven million civilians perished.

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Photo Courtesy: Kirn Vintage Stock/Corbis/Getty Image

World War I was a historical turning point that resulted in a greater number of political rebellions. The war also led to the loss of many former nation-states, including Austria-Hungary, and gave way to new nations and borders. Additionally, the League of Nations was created to work to prevent future battles.

A Musical Meeting

Jazz legend Louis "Satchmo" Armstrong was caught sharing his trumpet-playing technique and favorite mouthpiece with (then) Vice President Richard Nixon in this 1957 photo. Armstrong was visiting the Capitol when he demonstrated the technique he used to "make the horn cry." He revealed to Nixon, "I might change horns, but never my mouthpiece."

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Photo Courtesy: Bettmann/Getty Images

Armstrong was fondly referred to as "Ambassador Satch" for holding concerts around the globe. Soon after the meeting with Nixon, he embarked on an unofficial goodwill tour of South America, Russia and Africa. Armstrong was appointed as an official U.S. cultural diplomat in 1960.

A Passion for Pitching

Cuba’s Fidel Castro had a passion for baseball, as seen in this 1964 photo. The image captures the dictator as he winds up to pitch. As a college student in the late 1940s, he supposedly caught the eye of American scouts when he pitched for the University of Havana’s baseball team.

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Photo Courtesy: Jung/ullstein bild/Getty Images

Although it has been reported that Castro attended training camp for the New York Yankees and was given a tryout by the Washington Senators, there’s no record of the infamous Cuban leader ever playing for a Major League Baseball team. We can only imagine how history would have been altered had Castro entered the world of sports rather than politics.

A Supreme Decision

This May 1954 photo captured Nettie Hunt and her daughter Nikie sitting on the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court. Nettie was sharing the news with her daughter that the high court's ruling in Brown vs. Board of Education made segregation in public schools unconstitutional.

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Photo Courtesy: Bettmann/Getty Images

The case was heard by the justices after Topeka, Kansas, resident Oliver Brown was told he could not enroll his daughter in an all-white public school near their home. The Browns and 12 other families filed a class-action lawsuit, contending that segregation was illegal. The high court's historic decision marked a critical turning point for the Civil Rights Movement.

A Fearsome Flood

This image depicts boats filled with people trying to stay dry in the 1910 Great Flood of Paris. This historic catastrophe occurred after the Seine River rose more than 26 feet out of its banks, pouring flood waters into the historic city's streets in late January. Thousands of Parisians were forced to evacuate as water crept into their homes and businesses.

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Photo Courtesy: Bibliotheque Nationale/Wikipedia

The overflow was caused by heavy winter rains that poured into the Seine, causing it to rapidly rise. Although officials feared the flood would result in numerous deaths, miraculously, no lives were lost. The Seine finally returned to its normal level in March of that year.

Flying High

We typically think of Neil Armstrong as the first man on the moon, so it’s easy to forget that he got his start as a naval aviator. In this 1960 photo, Armstrong is pictured standing beside an X-15 hypersonic research aircraft. The plane could fly 4,520 mph at an altitude of 354,200 feet.

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Photo Courtesy: NASA/Wikipedia

Armstrong's flight experience prepared him for his future work as an astronaut. The plane, which was a marvel at the time of its development, helped engineers design the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo mission rockets and modules as well as the Space Shuttle. The plane is currently on display at the Smithsonian's Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.

A Somber Goodbye

Austro-Hungarian Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife, Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg were photographed in their caskets after their assassination by 19-year-old Serbian nationalist Gavrilo Princip in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914. A grenade had been lobbed at their motorcade earlier in the day but had hit the car behind them instead.

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Photo Courtesy: Corbis Historical/Getty Images

The Archduke and his wife were shot by Princip while traveling by car to visit those who had been injured in the grenade attack. Sophie was struck in the abdomen, while the Archduke was mortally wounded by a bullet piercing his neck. The couple's murder, in combination with rising political tensions across Europe, sparked World War I.

A Commanding Performance

Charlton Heston and Cecil B. DeMille were captured together on the set of The Ten Commandments. Heston was in full costume for his role as Moses. DeMille had cast him in the lead, believing he most closely resembled Michelangelo's statue of Moses in Rome.

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Photo Courtesy: Bettmann/Getty Images

The finished movie ran nearly four hours and required a cast of 14,000 extras. The Ten Commandments cost $13 million to produce and was the most expensive film of its time. In addition to playing Moses, Heston also served as the voice of God in the film's famous burning bush scene. Since 1973, the film has been broadcast on television around the Easter and Passover holidays.

Raising the Flag

Alfred Eisenstaedt’s photograph of an American sailor and woman kissing in Times Square is a symbol of the relief and excitement that washed over the country in the wake of World War II. And Joe Rosenthal’s 1945 photograph of U.S. troops raising an American flag in Iwo Jima has come to represent the moment just before that relief.

Flags Of Our Fathers
Photo Courtesy: Joe Rosenthal/AP/Wikimedia Commons

Although the photograph earned him a Pulitzer Prize, some felt that Rosenthal had staged the patriotic shot. Regardless if it was a genuine moment or not, it is known that this is the second flag raised atop Mount Suribachi that day.

A Civil Rights Salute

Black athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos each raised black-gloved fists during their medal ceremony at the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City. Smith and Carlos earned gold and bronze medals respectively during the 200-meter running event and, when “The Star-Spangled Banner” played, faced the American flag and kept their hands raised until the anthem ended.

Civil Rights
Photo Courtesy: John Dominis/Angelo Cozzi via Mondadori Publishers/Wikimedia Commons

Both athletes — as well as the silver medalist, Peter Norman — wore Olympic Project for Human Rights badges to further raise awareness of civil rights causes. At the time, a raised fist became a “Black Power” salute and symbol for the American Civil Rights Movement, though Smith later wrote that the gesture was a “human rights” salute. 

Migrant Mother

Considered one of the most iconic photographs in American history, Migrant Mother was taken in 1936 by Dorothea Lange. While taking photographs of migrant farm workers in California for the Resettlement Administration, Lange came across Florence Owens Thompson and her children.

Photo Courtesy: Dorothea Lange/Library of Congress/Wikimedia Commons

Decades afterward, Lange recalled her encounter with the famous photograph’s subject, noting “I saw and approached the hungry and desperate mother, as if drawn by a magnet.” The image was later retouched so that the subject’s thumb was no longer visible in the lower right corner. Now, it is a defining image of the Great Depression era.