History in Pictures

Although photography had become more wide spread by the mid-19th century, it wasn’t until the 20th century that photographs would begin to tell the story of history. Certain iconic photos would be burned in the minds of Americans as reminders of both good times and bad times. Many of these shots won the famed Pulitzer Prize for Photography.

In the mist of the Great Depression of the 1930s, Dorothea Lange captured the despair of the country on the face of Florence Owens Thompson. The photo, known as Migrant Mother, shows a desperate Florence in a lean-to tent, with her two children beside her with their faces turned from the camera.

On February 23, 1945, Joe Rosenthal was the second photographer to take the famous shot of the Raising of the Flag on Iwo Jima, but his photo would become the most popular. It is one of the most reproduced photographs of all time.

Just six months later, World War II would be over and on V-J Day, photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt would capture the joy of the nation in a photograph known as The Kiss or V-J Day in Times Square. The photo shows a young sailor, presumably just home from war, kissing a young nurse in Times Square in New York City.

Sam Shaw was responsible for shooting one of the most iconic photos of the 20th century – that of Marilyn Monroe standing over the subway gate with her dress blown up around her. Marilyn was in New York City filming The Seven Year Itch when the photo was taken in 1954.

There were many iconic photos taken during the 1960s. After the death of President John F. Kennedy in 1963, photographer Stan Stearns caught three year old John F. Kennedy Jr. saluting his father’s casket in a photo that broke the heart of the country. Photographer Robert H. Jackson then snapped Jack Ruby shooting Kennedy assassin Lee Harvey Oswald to death.

Taken by combat photographer Eddie Adams in 1968, the photo captioned General Nguyen Ngoc Loan executing a Viet Cong prisoner in Saigon turned many Americans against the Vietnam War, which would not end for another seven years. In 1972, Nick Ut captured the image of a naked nine year old Vietnamese girl, later identified as Phan Thi Kim Phuc, running from her village, the victim of a napalm attack. The photo showed the affect of the war on innocent citizens.

The 1980s are often remembered as a time of prosperity, but some of the most harrowing images from that decade are the photos of the Space Shuttle Challenger exploding shortly after take off. Most of these images were taken by NASA tracking cameras at Cape Canaveral.

It is hard to forget the searing eyes of the young Afghan girl photographed by National Geographic photographer Steve McCurry at a refugee camp school in 1985. The girl in the photo, later identified as Sharbat Gula, was only 12 years old at the time, but by looking into her eyes, it was easy to see the fear that was gripping Afghanistan refugees.

In 1996, photographer Charles Porter caught the harrowing Pulitzer Prize winning image of firefighter Chris Fields carrying one year old Baylee Almon (who later died) out of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal building in Oklahoma City shortly after the bombing. Like the Iwo Jima image, another photographer caught almost the same shot, but Porter’s became the more famous of the two.

Thomas E. Franklin caught a photo similar to the famed flag rising at Ground Zero on September 11, 2001. This photo shows four firefighters raising the American flag in the remains of the World Trade Center. The photo became known as Raising the Flag at Ground Zero and was listed by Life Magazine as one of the “100 Photographs that Changed the World.”

A photo can capture a single moment forever and the very best of those photos, whether taken during happy times or tragedy, can be used to tell the story of mankind.