The Story Behind 10 Iconic History Photos
There have been billions of photos taken over the last 150 years. And of these photos, there are a precious few that stand out and tell important stories more so than the rest. These rare historic photographs capture a piece of humanity in a moment that might have been lost except for luck, timing, or persistence of a photographer. These cherished iconic history photos should be enjoyed and remembered because they contain moments that defined the entirety of a movement, tell a cautionary tale, or embody the emotions of a generation. Here are the stories of 10 such amazing, iconic history photos. Enjoy.
The More Things Change the More the Stay the Same: American Standard of Irony
On a cold day in January 1937, the Ohio River overflowed swallowing up large portions of Louisville, Kentucky, and neighboring states including: Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois where the water rose as high as 60 feet in some areas. Hundreds died in the three weeks before it receded; the subsequent damage left over a million homeless in the dead of winter. Hardest hit by the floods were the poor and minority classes like those seen here waiting outside a flood relief agency beneath a common billboard promoting the American Dream during the Great Depression era.
Give Your Friend a Hand: A GI’s Home-Coming Kiss
Marlene Dietrich, a German actress and singer, giving a newly arrived infantryman a welcome home kiss. Marlene was famous in Hollywood for her anti-Nazi political stances that were so strong that she refused representatives of the Nazi party who asked her to return to Germany. Instead she became a US citizen in 1939. Her work in supporting the US military by traveling around the country, appearing before hundreds of thousands of American troops, and raising wartime bonds earned Marlene the Medal of Freedom at the end of WWII.
V-J Day and the Kiss Seen Around the World
On August 14, 1945, after four years of remaining turned off, all the lights in Times Square in New York were switched on in a show of brilliance to commemorate the announcement of the Japanese surrender, and the official end of WWII. New Yorkers filled the Square in a relieved celebration captured so perfectly with this picture of the unknown couple kissing. This is truly one of the most recognized iconic history photos of the 20th century.
How the Mighty Have Fallen: The Iron Curtain Rusting Away
This once towering Stalin Monument had loomed over a city park in Budapest, Hungary and was torn down by a hundred thousand Hungarian revolutionaries on October 23, 1956. That day thousands of Hungarians gathered in the city protesting Russian control in what became known as the Hungarian Uprising. The monument to the Russian authoritarian had stood an intimidating 25 meters tall, but once the revolutionaries had finished only the boots remained with the Hungarian flag planted in them.
Iconic History Photo – Having a “Light” Sense of Humor
This iconic history photo was taken on Einstein’s 72nd birthday and seems to perfectly capture the eccentric nature of the man. While walking with a fellow educator to their car, Einstein was followed by photographers; one asked Einstein if he would smile for a birthday picture. The professor obliged by sticking out his tongue before turning away. This photo has become one of the most popular ever taken of him; much loved for its lighthearted depiction of the renowned scientist.
With Open Arms: Reunited After War
Lt. Col. Robert L. Stirm spent 5 years as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam before finally seeing his family again at Travis Air Force Base in California. His 15 year-old-daughter can be seen throwing herself at her father with tearful look of happiness on her face. This photograph embodied the national spirit that longed for an end of US involvement in Vietnam, and was ready to bring their soldiers home.
Defiance through Victory: A National Statement
In the years leading up to WWII one of the defining philosophies for Nazi Germany was their belief that the “Aryan race” (blue eyed, blonde haired Caucasians) was superior to others. This kind of racial propaganda created an international buzz when African American Jesse Owens trounced the German competition taking home four gold medals at the Olympics held in Germany that year. Owens performance was so outstanding that Adolf Hitler personally penned a letter to congratulate him, although he refused to shake his hand.
Another Friday Night: Finally Out in the Open
While the passing of the 18th Amendment to the Constitution, Prohibition, in 1917 was meant to prevent crime it simply encouraged criminals to go underground. Illegal bars (or speakeasies), international bootlegging, and organized crime all were born out of a resistance to the government forbidding the creation or consumption of alcohol. So unpopular was the 18th Amendment that by 1933 it was repealed to celebrations like the one pictured here.
Levity in the Face of Conflict: Commitment through Struggle
The two men in this photograph were part of the 969th Artillery Battalion. The messages they left on artillery shells were a common way artillery soldiers expressed their contempt for the Nazis. This iconic history photo has a tragic side, however. While the Nazis’ inhumanity to Jewish people was known these African American soldiers also faced regular discrimination from the very country they were fighting for. This discrimination occurred even during war since African Americans troops were segregated from Caucasian troops.
Changing the Rules: Don’t Hate the Players
The photograph was the first of the World War II conferences that brought the “Big Three” Allied leaders together (Joseph Stalin, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Winston Churchill) in 1943. Known as the Tehran Conference, they discussed joint operations to end the war. A key strategy was the decision to move Western Ally troops through a newly opened front in Europe; attacking Germany by invading northern France, what is known today as the Invasion of Normandy.