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103 iconic photos that capture 103 years of world history

  • 103 iconic photos that capture 103 years of world history

    It’s been said that a “picture is worth a thousand words,” and throughout history, the adage has proven true. Photographers have documented the major events of our time, from wars and protest marches to space landings, historic speeches, scientific discoveries, sporting events, and other unforgettable moments.

    Beginning in 1918 and leading up to the present day, Stacker gathered the most iconic images from the past 103 years. Of course, the story is tragically the same in 2020 as it was in 1918, as a century after the Spanish flu, the world has experienced the COVID-19 pandemic and the adjustments it’s brought to our lives.

    Not only have these photographs captured our attention visually, but they’ve prompted action at times—even occasionally changing the course of history. During the 1960s, for example, images of Black children being sprayed with fire hoses brought attention to the civil rights movement. During the 1970s, a photograph of a college student screaming in Ohio turned America’s eyes toward the conflict in Cambodia and police brutality at home. A similar phenomenon occurred during the Vietnam War when, unlike the pre-screened shots permitted to be published during World War II, the images that came home were uncensored and graphic. These raw photos fueled general anti-war activism and may have even prompted John F. Kennedy to take action.

    It hasn’t all been doom and gloom, either. Photographs have captured our most joyous victories and proudest achievements, and our most famous entertainers, athletes, movie stars, dancers, and politicians. When reflecting on triumph in World War II, the first image that comes to mind may be the 1945 “V-J Day in Times Square” moment in which a returned sailor dips and kisses a nurse in celebration. And perhaps the most iconic photo in Olympics history: the 1968 image of Black track and field stars Tommie Smith and John Carlos raising their fists in solidarity.

    Scroll on to see history told in 103 photographs.

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  • 1918: Spanish flu

    During the influenza epidemic of 1918, quarantine centers and emergency military hospitals like this one in Camp Funston, Kansas, were constructed at various outposts throughout the U.S. A third of the world's population was infected, and at least 50 million died (675,000 in the U.S. alone)—making the Spanish flu among the deadliest outbreaks in human history. This iconic photograph is from a collection belonging to the National Museum of Health and Medicine, Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, Washington D.C.

  • 1919: Vladimir Lenin speaking to crowd

    In 1918, the Soviet Union’s recently formed Sovnarkom government established a branch of the armed forces dubbed the "Red Army." The following year, Russian revolutionary leader Vladimir Lenin celebrated the first anniversary of the army’s foundation in Red Square, Moscow. In this famous image, brought over from Russia by Dr. W.A. Wovschin, he makes an impassioned speech to Vsevobuch servicemen, calling on them to stay together for the "glory and safety of Russia.”

  • 1920: Republican National Convention

    In June 1920, United States GOP delegates and other party members gathered in Chicago for the Republican National Convention. According to historians, the convention was at an impasse without a candidate everyone could agree on when leaders turned their attention to Ohio Sen. Warren G. Harding. The Midwestern senator was seen as a compromise and managed to secure the presidential nomination, picking up Calvin Coolidge as his running mate and defeating Democrat James M. Cox in the election. Here, the mass of delegates can be seen in the convention hall in this photo from the Library of Congress.

  • 1921: 'Camille'

    Rudolph Valentino, often called Hollywood’s "original Latin lover,” and Russian-born silent film actress Alla Nazimova were two of the biggest stars of their time. Valentino starred in hits like "The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” and "Blood and Sand” while Nazimova starred in "Since You Went Away” and "Madame Peacock.” In this shot from Metro Pictures Corporation, the two pose alongside Arthur Hoyt in the 1921 movie "Camille.”

  • 1922: Howard Carter examines King Tut's mummy

    In 1922, British archaeologist Howard Carter discovered King Tut’s tomb, a large ancient Egyptian vault containing a boy pharaoh who had previously been shrouded in mystery. The tomb, which held the mummified remains of Tutankhamun (King Tut), unveiled new archaeological mysteries even as it solved others. In this image from The New York Times Photo Archive, Carter is pictured examining the remains after the excavation.

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  • 1923: Fred and Adele

    Before Fred Astaire was paired with Ginger Rogers, he and his sister Adele had a vaudeville act that took them to Broadway. There, they produced hits like "For Goodness Sake,” "Funny Face,” and "The Band Wagon.” Although Fred enjoyed more fame than his sister, some have suggested that Adele was in fact the more talented of the two. In this photograph from Fox Photos, the siblings are seen dancing on the rooftop of London’s Savoy Hotel.

  • 1924: Lenin in state

    Vladimir Lenin, the leader behind the communist Bolshevik Revolution, died in 1924 of a brain hemorrhage. The man who brought terror to so many was 54 at the time of his death. Doctors noted Lenin's cerebral arteries were "so calcified that when tapped with tweezers they sounded like stone.” In this Hulton Archive photograph, the Soviet Union’s first leader is shown lying in state at the Kremlin.

  • 1925: Dolly Sisters

    Jenny and Rosie Dolly, known as the Dolly Sisters, were famous in the 1920s for entertaining princes, kings, millionaires, and other members of the world’s elite. The Hungarian-born twins embodied the era's decadence, flaunting their wealth and basking in beauty and glamour. After a car wreck left her face disfigured in 1942, Jenny Dolly committed suicide in a Hollywood apartment. The sisters are pictured wearing stage costumes in this photo.

  • 1926: Suzanne Lenglen

    Long before Serena and Venus Williams soared to international fame there was Suzanne Lenglen, a French tennis player who captivated the world in the 1920s with her controversial habits that included wearing red lipstick, drinking alcohol, cursing, exposing her bare arms, and donning skirts above the calves. The bold tennis star, who’s been called the "most polarizing women’s tennis player of her generation,” was the first to shirk the bulky tennis undergarments of the time. From age 15 onwards, Lenglen won 250 championships over her 12-year career. She is pictured here at Wimbledon in this photo from the Hulton Archive.

  • 1927: Charles Lindbergh

    In 1927, Charles Lindbergh made history when he flew a single-seat monoplane from New York to Paris, becoming the first person to make a nonstop solo flight across the Atlantic. Five years later, Lindbergh's 20-month-old son was kidnapped from his nursery. Ten weeks later, the baby's body was found by a truck driver 4 miles away from their home. The event—a tabloid sensation at the time—ultimately led to the passing of the "Lindbergh law” which makes crossing state lines a federal offense during a kidnapping.

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