Fascinating Historical Figures That We’re Lucky To Have Photos Of
Keep in mind that the first photograph, or at least the oldest surviving photograph, was taken in 1826 or 1827 by Joseph Nicéphore Niépce. So, in the grand scheme of human history, we have only had the ability to photograph people and events for a minuscule amount of time, never truly knowing what countless of history’s most famous individuals looked like. Luckily, we do have photographs of some.
Charles Darwin is one of the most celebrated naturalists in history, who was one of the first to suggest that all species come from common ancestors.
Although at the time, his theories were widely rejected by fellow scientists and religious institutions, today, his hypothesis of evolution as a result of natural selection is considered to be one of the foundations of modern science. He published his findings on evolution in his 1859 book On the Origin of Species.
Phoebe Ann Mosey, famously known as Annie Oakley, was a female sharpshooter who became a sensation while working in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. Oakley became skilled as a shooter from a young age in order to feed her family by hunting.
She caught the attention of the public when she won a sharpshooting contest at the age of 15 and joining Buffalo Bill’s show in 1885. During her time with the show, she was paid the most of anyone except for Bill himself.
Born Robert LeRoy Parker, Butch Cassidy was a notorious train robber during the Old West. He was also the leader of a criminal outlaw unit known as the “Wild Bunch” and was eventually forced to flee the country with his partner Alonzo Longbaugh, “The Sundance Kid,” and Etta Pace.
It is believed that Cassidy and the Sundance Kid were killed in a shootout with the Bolivian Army in 1908. Today, Cassidy is considered to be an icon of the Wild West.
Harriet Beecher Stowe
An abolitionist and an author, Harriet Beecher Stowe is known for writing the now-iconic Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which helped to illuminate the harsh treatment of slaves in the country. Her book became internationally known and was used to inspire others to rise up against slavery, especially in the north.
In her life, Stowe authored 30 books, many of which were deeply involved in social issues and her stance on them at the time. Today, her works are considered to be highly influential.
Count Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy, commonly referred to as Leo Tolstoy, was a Russian writer during the 19th and early 20th centuries. Since his early successes, he has been considered one of the greatest of all time.
Between the years 1902 and 1906, he was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature and the Nobel Peace Prize in 1901, 1902, and 1909. Some of his most notable works include Anna Karenina, War, and Peace, The Death of Ivan Ilyich, among several others.
John Quincy Adams
Born on July 11, 1767, John Quincy Adams was a lawyer, diplomat, and statesman. He was the eldest son of John Adams, the second president of the United States. During Quincy Adam’s career, he was a member of the US Senate and House of Representatives for Massachusetts, as well as an ambassador.
In 1825, he became the sixth president of the United States as a member of the Democratic-Republican Party and in the 1830s became associated with the Whig Party.
Closely associated with the Underground Railroad, Harriet Tubman was born into slavery and eventually escaped. However, she then dedicated herself to securing the freedom of others.
She personally led 13 missions to rescue more than 70 other slaves relying on a network of antislavery activists and safe houses that is now referred to as the Underground Railroad. Furthermore, during the Civil War, Tubman continued her fight for freedom when she served as an army scout and spy for the Union Army.
Andrew Jackson worked as a frontier lawyer before becoming a US Senate member, House of Representatives, and a justice on the Tennessee Supreme Court.
Jackson was also a renowned soldier, leading troops in the Creek War, the War of 1812, and the First Seminole War. He ran for president in 1824, in which he lost to John Quincy Adams. After forming the Democratic party, Jackson ran again in 1828, winning without question.
Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke Of Wellington
Arthur Wellesley was a major political and military leader in Britain during the 19th century. An Anglo-Irish soldier, he served as the country’s prime minister twice and is credited with defeating Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo.
Considered one of the finest British military tacticians in history, he managed to win several battles against superior forces while still limiting his own men’s losses. His victory over Napoleon led him to become a national hero, and he was named the first Duke of Wellington in 1814.
Vincent Van Gogh
An artist in the 19th century, Vincent van Gogh was a dutch post-impressionist painter that is noted for completing more than 2,000 works in just one decade. Considered to be one of the pioneers of modern art, his work went relatively unnoticed when he was alive.
However, following his death, he became known as one of the greatest influences in Western art history. Unfortunately, Vincent van Gogh suffered from psychotic episodes and delusions that he ignored until he eventually took his own life in 1890.
Frederick Douglass was a political leader and revolutionary during the 19th century. After managing to escape slavery in Maryland, he became an anti-slavery activist as a leader in the abolition movement in both Massachusetts and New York.
His intellect and influence went directly against the belief that African-American’s lacked the capacity to be independent American citizens, with many Northerners even surprised that he was once a slave. Later in his life, against his approval, he became the first African-American to be nominated for Vice President of the United States.
Martin Van Buren
Martin Van Buren is credited with being one of the key founders of the Democratic Party. Over his political career, he served as the governor of New York, the tenth Secretary of State, the eighth Vice President, and eighth President of the United States.
With Andrew Jackson’s support, Martin Van Buren won the presidential election of 1836, although he lost his 1840 reelection to William Henry Harrison. Van Buren ran for president a final time in 1848 under the Free Soil Party.
Samuel Wilson Or “Uncle Sam”
Uncle Sam is a symbol of the United States government and American culture that first came into use during the War of 1812. He is typically viewed as a man with a top hat, white hair, and beard, along with other American-related regalia.
It is rumored that the character is based on a man named Samuel Wilson, who worked as a meatpacker during the War of 1812. His barrels contained the letters U.S. for the United States, with some joking that it stood for “Uncle Sam.”
The 16th president of the United States, Abraham Lincoln began his career as a lawyer, Illinois state legislator, congressman, and Whig Party Leader. After he won the presidency in 1860, pro-slavery states began to secede from the Union, and the Civil War began.
Lincoln then led the country through the Civil War, preserving the Union, until he was ultimately assassinated in 1865. To this day, he is considered one of the greatest presidents to ever hold office.
Billy The Kid
Born Henry McCarty, Billy the Kid was an outlaw of the Old West who began his life of crime as a young teenager after being orphaned at the age of 15. Before adulthood, McCarty was a federal fugitive with wanted posters referring to him as “Billy the Kid.”
In his youth, he fought in New Mexico’s Lincoln County War, where it is suspected that he murdered three men. Before he was killed himself at the age of 21, he is known to have killed eight men.
A Wild West legend, Calamity Jane, born Martha Jane Cannary, was a frontierswoman and sharpshooter, known to be close with Wild Bill Hickock. Their friendship would result in her performing in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show.
Nevertheless, her personality was considered to be particularly unique, as she was known to be extremely compassionate and, in contrast, a rough-and-tumble type of woman that was known to frequently wear men’s clothes. Her name is right at the top with other famous people of the Old West.
Hannah Stilley Gorby
Born in 1746 in Wilmington, Delaware, in the United States, Hannah Stilley Gorby is presumed to be the “earliest-born person ever to be photographed” on film!
Of course, people don’t want to make assumptions, even historians. Even so, this is a pretty remarkable photograph of a woman who lived during a very different time than the 21st century, if her clothing and lack of facial expression in the picture have anything to say about the matter.
Jane Doe, Post-Mortem
While the lady in this photograph has not yet been identified, people believe she was from the 19th century and one of the first people to actually be photographed post-mortem.
Those on Reddit believe it is a post-mortem photograph, thanks to the facial expression, namely how her eyes and mouth look emotionless and pretty “glued on.”
Grigori Efimovich Rasputin
Grigori Efimovich Rasputin was a Russian holy-man and mystic who worked for Nicholas II and the rest of the Romonav family during the time of Imperial Russia. While Rasputin had befriended the royal family, he wound up betraying them.
There have been different variations of Rasputin throughout pop culture, including the 1997 film Anastasia.
Rhoda Derry was a young woman who became a mental patient for most of her life, but the story behind her illness is what is most alluring to people. Rhoda was dating a young man named Charles, and Charles’s mother did not approve of her.
The mother told Rhoda that if she didn’t leave her son alone, she would cast a spell on her. Rhoda was terrified of witches. Soon after, at 18-years-old, Rhoda began showing signs of mental illness that were described as “madness”. She was admitted to Adams County almshouse at the age of 25, described as “blind and insane” and spent the rest of her adult life in institutions, living to be one day shy of 72.
At just over a year old, Helen Keller lost her sight and hearing due to an illness. During her childhood, she met her teacher and life-long companion, Anne Sullivan, who taught her to read, write, and communicate using language.
As a young adult, she attended Radcliffe College of Harvard University, becoming the first deafblind person to earn a bachelor’s degree. On top of writing 14 books and countless speeches and essays, she also was an advocate for women’s rights, labor rights, and disability rights.
George Armstrong Custer
George Armstrong Custer was a United States Army officer that graduated from West Point at the bottom of his class in 1861. However, during the American Civil War, he proved himself to be a worthy leader and was promoted to brigadier general of volunteers at the young age of 23.
After demonstrating his valor in the Civil War, he also participated in the American Indian Wars. During that time, on June 25, 1876, while leading the 7th Cavalry Regiment, he along with five companies were killed by an alliance of Indians at Little Bighorn, which is now known as “Custer’s Last Stand.”
Benito Mussolini was born in a small Italian town to a father who was a blacksmith and a mother who was a school teacher. He became the Prime Minister of Italy during the 1920s through the early 1940s.
Some may not know that Mussolini spoke many languages including Italian, English, French, and German. Over the years he developed a severe case of claustrophobia because of his previous imprisonment.
Geronimo, or “the one who yawns,” was a leader and a healer from the Bedonkohe band of the Apache tribe. Geronimo was a feared and respected and feared Native American who led several raids against Mexican and United States soldiers that are considered part of the Apache-United States conflict, which resulted from the Americans settling Apache land after the Mexican-American War.
Geronimo was constantly on the run for the U.S. after breaking out of several Indian reservations until he was eventually captured and made his living attending exhibits and other public functions.
The Wright Brothers
Orville and Wilbur Wright were two brothers that gained experience in mechanics working on various devices at their shop in Dayton, Ohio. They would then go to design and build the first successful motor-operated airplane.
Their first flight was on the craft called the Wright Flyer on December 17, 1903, in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. On top of their success in getting humans into the air, the brothers are also credited with inventing aircraft controls that made the fixed-wing powered flight possible.
Daniel F. Bakeman
Daniel F. Bakeman served in the revolutionary and was the last surviving soldier to receive a veteran’s pension for his service. During the last four years of the war, Bakeman served as a private in the Tryon County militia.
After the war, he settled down, marrying Susan Brewer and having eight children.
John Tyler first served as the Vice President under William Henry Harrison before taking on the presidency following Harrison’s death in 1841. He sat at the head of the government from 1841 to 1845.
Unfortunately for Tyler, many historians give his presidency a pretty low ranking, even though some scholars have praised his politics.
A famous American poet, Emily Dickinson, lived from 1830 until 1886. During her lifetime, Dickinson wrote 1,800 poems. Sadly, only ten poems and one letter from her entire collection of art were published before her death.
Known to be eccentric, her poems were a bit different for the time, using short lines, typically no titles, and slant rhymes.
Born in 1804, Franklin Pierce became the 14th President of the United States, winning the election of 1853. Sadly, many moves made during his presidency led to the American Civil War in 1861.
While Pierce was very outgoing, many historians and scholars believe him to be one of the worst presidents and least memorable.
American poet Sylvia Plath wrote numerous poems, novels, and collections during her lifetime. Some of her more iconic works include The Bell Jar and the two poetry collections Ariel and The Colossus and Other Poems.
She passed away in 1963 but was awarded a Pulitzer Prize in Poetry in 1982.
Robert E. Lee
Robert E. Lee is arguably best known for his time as a general for the Confederate States of America during the American Civil War. He was highly regarded during the war and became known as a skilled tactician.
He later became the president of Washington College, later named after him (Washington and Lee University).
Marie Curie was a remarkable chemist and physicist who conducted pioneering research on radioactivity, a term she actually coined during her time in the laboratory.
Born in 1867, Curie became the first woman to win a Nobel Prize. Eventually, she added another to her collection, becoming the only woman in history to receive two.
Colonel Ichabod Crane was a career military officer who served in both the United States Army and Marine Corps for 48 years. Born in 1787, Crane saw numerous wars, including the War of 1812, the Patriot War, and the Black Hawk War.
People might also recognize his name as the protagonist from Washington Irving’s novel The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.
Born in 1786, Chief Seattle was the leader of the Suquamish and Duwamish people. He is known for making relationships with the settlers who came to Washington state, particularly with the American pioneer “Doc” Maynard.
Due to the peaceful relationships the Chief formed, the city of Seattle was named after him.
Russian author Leo Tolstoy wrote numerous iconic novels during his time. Some of his more well-known pieces of literature include War and Peace, Anna Karenina, and the trilogy Childhood, Boyhood, and Youth.
While he never won a Nobel Prize, he was nominated three times for one in Literature and once for the Peace Prize.
Vincent Van Gogh
Dutch Post-Impressionist painter Vincent van Gogh is arguably one of the most influential artists in Western art history. With over 2,100 artworks, van Gogh’s use of bold color, expressive brushwork, and dramatic lines became the fundamentals of modern art.
Some of his most iconic artwork include The Starry Night, The Courtyard of the Hospital at Arles, and the Road with Cypress and Star.
Conrad Heyer is possibly the earliest-born man to be photographed; his claim to fame. Born in 1749, Heyer was a farmer before fighting the American Revolutionary War.
He fought under the leadership of General George Washington and was even part of the famous crossing to the Deleware River in December of 1776. He lived to be 106 years old.
James K. Polk
James K. Polk was the 11th President of the United States and was the first to step down after one term without seeking re-election. He is known for extending United States territory by winning the Mexican-American War, strengthening the executive branch, and lowering tarrifs.
According to historians and scholars, Polk was a favorable president, and he actually accomplished the big items on his agenda.
John “Johnny Appleseed” Chapman
John Chapman, better known as Johnny Appleseed, was a pioneer nurseryman. He went around the United States, introducing apple trees to various settlements, including those in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, West Virginia, and even in Ontario, Canada.
A kind man and a leader in environmental conservation, Johnny Appleseed was even a legend in his time.
A politician, Jefferson Davis is best known for serving as the President of the Confederate States from 1861 to 1865, during the American Civil War. But that is not all he did during his life.
Davis was also a Mississippi Senator, the Secretary of War under President Franklin Pierce, and fought in the Mexican-American War.
Sir John Herschel
Sir John Herschel was a man of many talents. A mathematician, inventor, chemist, experimental photographer, and even an astronomer, Herschel went on to create the very first blueprint.
While studying the stars, Herschel named seven moons of Saturn and four of Uranus, a planet discovered by his father, Sir William Herschel.
Born in 1866, Butch Cassidy grew up to become a notorious train and bank robber, leading a gang known as the “Wild Bunch” throughout the Wild West. He wreaked havoc throughout the west for over a decade.
Finally, with the law on his tail, Cassidy fled the country with his partner Harry Alonzo Longabaugh, aka the Sundance Kid, and his Longabaugh’s girlfriend, Etta Place.
American novelist Ernest Hemingway was born in 1899. He had an extremely strong influence on 20th-century literature, with some of his more iconic works being published during the time.
Some of his more famous novels include The Old Man and the Sea, Farewell to Arms, and For Whom the Bell Tolls. Many of his novels are now considered classics.
Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna
Born in 1901, Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna was the daughter of Tsar Nicolas II and Tsarina Alexandra Feodorovna. Her father was the last Tsar of Imperial Russia.
While there were many rumors of her escape during the siege of the palace, Grand Duchess Anastasia died with her family the night of July 17, 1918.
John Quincy Adams
John Quincy Adams was the son of former President and founding father John Adams and Abigal Smith. John Quincy eventually followed in his father’s political footsteps, becoming the sixth President of the United States from March 4, 1825 – March 4, 1829.
Historians typically rank him as an average president.
Norwegian painter Edvard Munch was deemed insane by many people, especially when his famous painting The Scream was released in 1893. As it turns out, Munch suffered from clinical anxiety and hallucinations, something that can be seen in many of his paintings.
Aware that his “condition was verging on madness,” Munch admitted himself to a therapeutic clinic in 1908.
English author Charles Dickens wrote many classic novels people still enjoy today, including Great Expectations, Tale of Two Cities, and Oliver Twist. The latter has even been adapted into plays and films.
Sadly, Dickens is said to have suffered from severe depression and bipolar disorder throughout his life. He died in 1870.
Nikola Tesla was a Serbian-American inventor, futurist, and engineer. He was one of the greatest minds of the time, yet he had some issues when it came to mental stability.
Tesla actually came from a family of mentally ill parents. Rumor has it that he had such a bad case of OCD that he had to wear white gloves during every meal.
American novelist Jack Kerouac’s first novel, The Sea is My Brother, was published 40 years after his death. While he was living, though, he gained widespread notoriety for his novel The Town and the City, a novel that was published in 1950.
He has a lasting legacy that has been said to have inspired many great artists, including Bob Dylan.
Born in 1858, Theodore Roosevelt grew up to become the 26th President of the United States. During his presidency, Roosevelt accomplished a lot, including the progressive movement and his iconic “Square Deal” domestic policies.
According to scholars and historians, Teddy Roosevelt is one of the top five Presidents to hold the title.
Ulysses S. Grant
Before becoming the 18th President of the United States, Ulysses S Grant led the Union Army during the American Civil War. He is widely known as one of the greatest generals in history. He was even the Secretary of War for a little while.
One of his most remarkable achievements was becoming the first former President to circumnavigate the world on his post-presidency tour.
The amazing mind of Lewis Carroll is the one that brought the world the amazing stories of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There.
Born in 1832, the English writer grew up with a stutter, something that eventually inspired the Dodo bird in Alice.
German philosopher Karl Marx is famous for his economic and political thoughts and theories, speaking out as a critic of the political system during his career from 1836 until 1860.
In 1846 he famously authored The Communist Manifesto which has been studied for generations since around the world. His theory of the working class organizing and overthrowing a capitalist system to create a classless, communist society is now known as ‘Marxism’.
Author Jack London grew up in poverty and tried his luck at gold mining before starting his writing career which quickly took off. His style of writing was new to the times, as most people hadn’t read science fiction before.
His books including The Call of the Wild (1903), White Fang (1906), The Sea Wolf (1904) and many others were massive hits. His personal life was filled with its share of controversies, as he was openly a socialist and was a member of a San Francisco-based radical literary group known as “The Crowd”.
Winston Churchill is one of the most famous figures of the 20th century, serving as the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom during World War II. He is notable for his role in defending liberal democracy in Europe, warning the public of the “iron curtain” as the Soviets and fascism presented a threat.
Churchill was awarded a Nobel Prize in literature in 1953. He also created more than 500 paintings during his lifetime.
An American poet, Robert Frost is perhaps one of the most iconic writers of the 20th century.
He was known for his works on rural life in America, something that is showcased in writings such as Nothing Gold Can Stay, After Apple-Picking, and Stopping By The Woods on a Snowy Evening.
Starting his career off young, German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche became the Chair of Classical Philology at a German university when he was just 24 years old. He presented his radical ideas of perspectivism, most notably, his “death of God” theology that was first seen in his published works in 1882.
Nietzsche suffered from debilitating health issues which led to him being cared for by his mother and then sister. His sister was discovered to be editing his unpublished works, changing their meaning to reflect her own views and contradicting his.
Sigmund Freud is the founder of psychoanalysis, greatly contributing to the advancement of psychology, psychiatry, and psychotherapy during his lifetime from 1856 until 1939.
He developed therapeutic techniques that are still practiced in Western culture today, including free associated and discovered transference. He also studied the impact of thoughts in the unconscious mind and the analysis of dreams.
An American journalist and poet, Walt Whitman was a leading figure in writing and is often credited as being the father of free verse. He was known for his realism and for sticking with true stories about America’s history.
According to art historian Mary Whitall Smith Costelloe, “You cannot really understand America without Walt Whitman, without Leaves of Grass … He has expressed that civilization, ‘up to date,’ as he would say, and no student of the philosophy of history can do without him.”
Tsar Nicholas II
Tsar Nicholas II was the last emperor of Imperial Russia, ruling from 1894 until 1917. While he moved to promote his prime ministers’ ideals, such as economic reform, the Tsar faced strong opposition, ultimately leading to his and his family’s downfall during the revolution.
His most famous child is arguably the Grand Duchess Anastasia.
Arguably one of the most famous Spanish painters, Pablo Picasso created iconic works such as The Old Guitarist, Au Lapin Agile, and Les Demoiselles d’Avignon.
Aside from his paintings, Picasso was also a very talented sculptor, theater designer, ceramist, and printmaker. He is one of the most well-known figures of 20th-century art.
Edgar Allan Poe
Edgar Allan Poe was known not only for his poems but his mysterious and alluring short stories, such as The Fall of the House of Usher, The Tell-Tale Heart, and The Masque of Red Death.
Of course, there is no discussing Poe without the poems A Dream Within a Dream, Annabel Lee, and The Raven.