Even though we spend years in school exposed to elaborate paintings of historical leaders like George Washington, it’s mind-boggling to consider that the oldest image was shot 27 years after Washington’s death.
About two centuries later, we still can’t fathom a world without the sophisticated cameras built into our smartphones. Read on to see images of notable figures from the past.
1. John Quincy Adams
Adams, the son of founding father John Adams, was the sixth president of the United States. While he was “underrated” by historians, he spent most of his political career feeling inadequate compared to his famous relatives.
This picture of Adams was taken in 1843 when he was 76. It’s baffling to consider that some individuals born in the 1700s survived to have their photographs taken.
2. Charles Darwin
Charles Darwin, born in 1809, is undoubtedly one of the most renowned scientists in history. Despite his fame, many are unaware that actual photographs of him exist. According to Britannica, Darwin’s contributions to science were so significant that by his passing in 1882.
Evolutionary imagery has permeated all aspects of society, including science, literature, and politics. This particular photograph is believed to have been taken circa 1854.
3. Uncle Sam
Uncle Sam is the well-known patriotic figure on the “I want you for U.S. Army” poster. He was born Samuel Wilson in 1766 and worked as a meat packer in Troy, New York.
His beef, delivered in barrels, was essential to the War of 1812 effort. Some joked that the “U.S.” logo on the barrels meant “Uncle Sam.” This image of him was shot in the 1850s.
4. Daniel F. Bakeman
Daniel F. Bakeman, born in 1759, is the last surviving soldier of the Revolutionary War to receive a veteran’s pension. In 1868, at the remarkable age of 109, a photograph was taken of him, just one year before his passing in 1869.
This image serves as a poignant reminder of the sacrifices made by those who fought for our nation’s independence and the enduring legacy they left behind.
5. Frederick Douglass
The gloomy individual with his successful escape from Maryland, Frederick Douglass became a symbol of the abolitionist cause in the 1800s. The date range for this image is about 1847–1852.
According to biographers, Douglass took pride in his reputation and actively sought to present himself as a serious, austere person. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, a prominent feminist of the nineteenth century, aptly characterized Douglass as “majestic in his rage.”
6. John Tyler
With William Henry Harrison’s sudden death from an undisclosed illness in 1841, John Tyler, born in 1790, took office as the 10th president of the United States.
Unfortunately, Tyler, who strongly supports states’ rights, is not highly regarded. The year 1845 is seen in this photograph. Harrison Ruffin Tyler, the grandson of John Tyler, is still living and well at the age of 95.
7. Emily Dickinson
Emily Dickinson’s poetry endured in popularity for decades after her death. Yet, she was mostly unknown throughout her lifetime. Just a small fraction of her 1,800 poems were published throughout her lifetime of 1886.
Dickinson’s life, beginning in 1830, was marked by depression and solitude. The image above is her sole known adult portrait, taken in 1847.
8. Billy the Kid
Henry McCarty, famously known as Billy the Kid, was born in 1859 and is widely recognized as one of the most notorious outlaws of the Old West.
He gained notoriety for his gun-slinging skills and was responsible for the deaths of eight men before his untimely demise at 21 in 1881.
9. Abraham Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln, the sixteenth President of the United States, was born in 1809 and is widely regarded as one of American history’s most distinguished political figures.
This captivating photograph captures Lincoln at 37 as a lawyer and congressman-elect. It is the earliest-known photograph of the iconic leader, showcasing his youthful energy and determination.
10. Franklin Pierce
The 14th President of the United States was widely unpopular because he believed the abolitionist movement threatened the country. He was also known for his criticism of Abraham Lincoln during his presidency.
After Lincoln’s assassination, the President had to use his persuasive skills to prevent a mob from destroying his house. This photo, captured in 1855, serves as a reminder of the tumultuous political climate of the time.
11. Harriet Tubman
Harriet Tubman, born Araminta Ross in 1822, was a remarkable figure in the abolitionist movement of the 19th century. She had a pivotal role in the Underground Railroad, a clandestine network of routes that facilitated the escape of slaves in America and Canada.
This photograph was captured in 1868 in Auburn, New York, where she resided after her heroic efforts in the fight against slavery.
12. Robert E. Lee
The notorious Robert E. Lee is most remembered as a contentious Confederate commander in the American Civil War. Born in 1807 to a Revolutionary War veteran, Lee’s legacy remains debated.
In this photograph from 1845, Lee is with his son, William Henry Fitzhugh Lee. Despite his military prowess, Lee’s association with the Confederacy and his support of slavery have earned him a place in history as a divisive figure.
13. George Armstrong Custer
George, born in 1839, is shown here around 1860 before he began to sport his iconic mustache. His life was a series of setbacks: he was the worst student in his class at West Point and later became notorious as a “foolish” cavalry commander.
Most people remember him because he was spectacularly murdered during the Battle of Little Bighorn, mostly known as Custer’s Final Stand.
14. Calamity Jane
Martha Jane Cannary was a renowned frontierswoman born in 1852. Her life has been shrouded in numerous legends from the Wild West era, making it difficult to discern fact from fiction.
However, her legacy has endured and remains iconic in American history. This photograph, captured in the 1880s, offers a glimpse into her life.
15. Marie Curie
Marie Curie, a renowned Polish physicist and chemist was born in 1867. In addition, she made history as the first woman to receive a Nobel Prize and the only woman to receive it twice.
This captivating photo of Marie Curie was captured in 1900, showcasing her brilliance and determination.
16. Chief Seattle
Chief Seattle, a prominent leader of the Suquamish and Duwamish people in Washington State, was born in 1786.
He is renowned for his efforts to establish amicable relations with the white settlers in the Pacific Northwest. The city of Seattle was then named after him. The accompanying photograph was captured in 1864.
17. Lev Tolstoy
You presumably studied the works of Lev Tolstoy, who was born in 1828, in your high school honors English class. They include War and Peace and Anna Karenina.
He was shortlisted for the Nobel Prize in Literature annually from 1902 to 1906 but never won. In this picture, he is 80 years old, taken in 1908.
18. Vincent van Gogh
Van Gogh, born in 1853, is a familiar subject in art history, but seeing his is a bit of a shock. Despite his obvious talent as a visionary post-impressionist painter, he never achieved widespread acclaim.
His sister-in-law started loaning his paintings to galleries after his untimely death at age 37. This portrait of Vincent van Gogh was taken in 1872.
19. Andrew Jackson
As the nation’s seventh president, Andrew Jackson is often cited as one of the most reviled figures in American annals.
He oversaw the deaths and abuse of several Native Americans, earning him the reputation of a dictator. Jackson was shown here in 1844 or 1845, before his death. He was born in 1767.
20. James K. Polk
While James K. Polk, born in 1795, is not well recognized today, his presidency as the 11th U.S. president was very productive.
His goals were met, including the acquisition of three new territories, the resolution of a boundary dispute with Texas, the reduction of tariffs, and the fortification of the executive branch. That’s Polk in the 1849 shot.
21. Arthur Wellesley
During the Napoleonic Wars, the British army was led by Arthur Wellesley, born in 1769. As a result of his success at Waterloo, Napoleon’s wars were finally stopped.
Arthur Wellesley was hailed as a European hero.
From 1828 until 1830, he led Britain as its prime minister. He was captured in this 1844 photograph.
Goyahkla, also known as Geronimo, was a prominent leader of the Apache tribe. He was born in 1829 and became the “last Native American leader to surrender to the U.S. military formally.”
Unfortunately, he was taken as a prisoner of War in the last two decades of his life. This photograph was captured in 1887.
23. Johnny Appleseed
Many may not know that Johnny Appleseed existed because of the stories they had as they grew. John Chapman, also known as “Johnny Appleseed,” pioneered a nurseryman.
He spread the apple tree throughout multiple states after his birth in Massachusetts in 1774. Don’t be fooled by the 1840s picture, as he was renowned for his kindness.
24. Harriet Beecher Stowe
Abolitionist and author Harriet Beecher Stowe was born in 1811. Her work, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, was published in 1852. She received widespread attention as she gave speeches about the book and her stance against slavery around the nation.
As women weren’t encouraged to speak in public then, her siblings and husband usually did so on her behalf. This photograph dates back to 1870.
25. Isambard Kingdom Brunel
Isambard (born 1806) is the coolest named person ever and an accomplished British engineer. London’s Design Museum showed that he built twenty-five railway lines and over a hundred bridges.
The structures included five suspension bridges, eight pier and dock systems, three ships, and a prefabricated army field hospital. In 1857, this image showed Brunel in front of the ship he designed, the Great Eastern.
26. Jefferson Davis
Jefferson Davis, a prominent American figure, was born in 1808. He served in the Mexican-American War, held a position as a Mississippi senator, and was appointed as Secretary of War under President Franklin Pierce.
However, he is most famously known for his role as the President of the Confederacy during the Civil War. This 1861 photo is a few years before the Confederate surrender.
27. John Herschel
Sir John Herschel had a wide range of skills, from mathematics and chemistry to astronomy and photography.
Astronomers still utilize the pattern he created and his established Julian Day calendar. In addition, John Herschel was born in 1792 and died in 1871. Julia Margaret Cameron took this photograph in 1867.
28. The Oldest Known Photograph
People speculated that light might affect inanimate things as early as the fourth century BC. In 1826, a French inventor, Joseph Nicéphore Niépce, used heated bitumen of Judea combined with water on a pewter plate to photograph the outside of his farm.
Although the image resembles a smudge and requires two full days of exposure, it is commonly recognized as the very first picture.
29. Butch Cassidy
He is one of the most well-known outlaws of the Wild West. Butch Cassidy (Robert LeRoy Parker), born in 1866, led the Wild Bunch, a group of outlaws notorious for their train and bank robberies.
After roughly a decade of crime, he, his partner Harry Alonzo Longabaugh and Longabaugh’s lover Etta Place escaped to Argentina. He took this shot in 1900.
30. Grigori Rasputin
He was a Russian mystic who befriended Tsar Nicholas II and his family after being born in a Siberian hamlet in 1869.
He attracted a following, was praised for his purported healing abilities, and was called the “secret” to the Russian royal longevity. Prince Felix Yusupov ultimately killed him in 1916 after being the object of multiple assassination attempts.
31. Jesse James
There are several well-known figures from the American Old West, and Jesse James is one of them. James, born in 1847, was the ringleader of the illegal James-Younger Gang.
In addition to fighting for the Confederacy, he joined the “Bushwhackers,” a group of guerrilla fighters. In 1882, when this picture was shot, James was a teenager.
32. John Brown
John Brown, a militant abolitionist born in 1800, is famous for his attack on Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, in October 1859.
John Brown was put to death a few months after the failed raid. Augustus Washington, an African-American photographer, captured this eye-catching image of John Brown in 1846 or 1847.
33. Martin Van Buren
Martin Van Buren, the eighth U.S. president, was born a naturalized American citizen in 1782. Historians may disagree on how he should be remembered as President.
However, they can’t deny that he achieved essential strides for the American political system. The image was taken between the years 1849 and 1850.
34. Waterloo Veteran
The definitive defeat of Napoleon at the hands of the allies at the Battle of Waterloo was a pivotal moment in human history.
He set the scene for the following two centuries and had repercussions still felt today. A soldier who fought in the conflict is seen in an image from the 1890s.
35. Annie Oakley
Annie Oakley is best known for being a sharpshooter in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. She appeared in several pulp novels.
She was one of the most well-known figures in the second half of the nineteenth century. Oakley appeared in a lot more photographs than someone who had been born in 1860.
36. Queen Victoria
Victoria, a future monarch, entered the world in 1819, decades before photography was invented. Yet, she was one of the most photographed women in the first century of photography.
That was due to her astoundingly long lifetime of 81 years. Her lengthy reign as British monarch (63 years) also contributed to that.
37. Ichabod Crane
Ichabod Crane may ring a bell for those familiar with Washington Irving’s classic tale, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, published in 1820. Irving never explicitly confirmed that the character was based on the real-life Colonel Ichabod Crane.
However, Ichabod Crane was born in 1787 and had a distinguished military career for five decades. The accompanying photograph was taken in 1848.
38. Conrad Heyer
Conrad Heyer, born in 1749, is the earliest-born American to be photographed. He is also the earliest person to have ever been captured on film. Heyer was a brave soldier who fought alongside George Washington in the Revolutionary War.
It is even believed that he crossed the Delaware River with the great general. The photograph presented here depicts Heyer at 103.
39. Alexander Millener
This photograph captures the remarkable Alexander Milliner, a 104-year-old veteran of the American Revolutionary War. The image was taken in 1864, during the tumultuous period of the American Civil War.
Alexander Milliner’s advanced age and distinguished service make him a remarkable figure in American history. Milliner entered this world on March 14, 1760, in Quebec.
40. Hannah Stilley Gorby
While Hannah is not necessarily well-known, she is renowned for being the oldest person ever shot. Gorby was photographed in 1840, 94 years after her birth in 1746.
She was already in her 30s when the American Revolution broke out. It is fascinating to consider the changes she witnessed, from the birth of a new nation to photography advent.