Photographs Of Prominent Historical Figures That Lived Long Enough To Be Captured On Camera
Historical figures from centuries ago are only immortalized in paintings and drawings of what they possibly looked like. However, many people are surprised to discover that the invention of the camera happened in the early 1800s.
This means that some well-known historical figures from the 1800s actually lived long enough to have their photograph taken. George Washington only missed the cut by 27 years, but Abe Lincoln and even Uncle Sam were alive to witness photography. For your viewing pleasure, we’ve put together a list of some rare historical photographs of old historical figures.
Vincent van Gogh, 1872
Perhaps one of the biggest missed opportunities in art history was not appreciating Vincent van Gogh while he was still around. This picture was taken when the painter was still young and full of hope for the future. Unfortunately, his multitude of artwork was not really up for exhibition until after his passing at only 37 years old.
His sister-in-law inherited his work after her husband, Vincent’s brother, passed away months after the artist. Once properly exposed to the people, the notoriety for his talent started to take off. If only it had happened a little earlier. Even his mom underestimated his talent by throwing out boxes of paintings after his death.
Johnny Appleseed, 1845
The name Johnny Appleseed is one that evokes many happy memories of a cartoon man dressed casually as he went spreading seeds across the land.
Born in 1774, John Chapman had an obsession. He believed it was important to spread glorious apple trees across the nation. He was welcomed by Native Americans and settlers equally. Johnny Appleseed had a big heart for people and animals, eventually becoming a vegetarian. He was 70 when this photo was taken.
Harriet Tubman, 1868
The face of the Underground Railroad, Harriet Tubman’s main mission in life was to bring freedom to the enslaved people located primarily in the southern United States.
Pictured here at age 46, she took the next decade to make 13 trips back down south after having escaped there herself. It takes a different type of bravery to put yourself back in the fire to help get people to safety. What’s equally as important as Harriet going back is that she shared information on how to follow the Underground Railroad with others. There is no telling how many can attribute her help to their ability to free themselves.
Frederick Douglass, 1850
No need to ask Frederick, “Why so serious?” That was a very calculated image that we get a glimpse into with this photograph. After his escape from slavery to the north, Frederick fought to abolish plantations in the south. He was in his early 30s when this photo was taken, just over a decade after he arrived in Maryland to freedom.
Another decade or so later, the country was embroiled in war circling around the abolitionist movement. He lived to see the government free the slaves across the nation.
Calamity Jane, 1882
The frontier was known as lawless and chaotic. It’s not surprising that wild rumors permeate the legacy of Martha Jane Cannary, better known as Calamity Jane.
Most often, when you think of women from this time period, you imagine hoop skirts, corsets, and updos with dainty hats. Calamity Jane was not that image. A capable woman on the frontier, she wore men’s clothing and fashioned herself as a sharpshooter. While there is a mix of fact and fiction, she was known to have a softer side towards the sick and in need. She’s represented here in her early 30s.
Conrad Heyer, 1852
The name might not sound familiar, but he definitely lived long enough to leave his mark on history. Let us introduce you to the earliest-born person to ever be photographed. Conrad was born in 1749 and actually fought in the Revolutionary War. Some say he was with George Washington as they crossed the Delaware River.
In fact, he’s the only soldier known to have been photographed from that famous moment. Conrad was 103 in this photograph and lived another three years afterward.
John Quincy Adams, 1843
Born before both the American and French Revolutions, the 6th US president lived long enough to be photographed. Amazing for anyone of the time, but just another notch to his impressive resume.
Considering the average life expectancy of the time was 40, it really was a feat to celebrate. John lived to the advanced age of 80, which was only five years after this photograph was taken. It was also less than 20 years after he was in charge of the US for four years. Funny enough, he looks pretty much the same as the official White House painting in this image. Not only does it show a president enjoying a nice afternoon, but also the incredible talent of the painter from two decades earlier.
Andrew Jackson, 1844
Andrew Jackson may have been the seventh president, but that hasn’t kept many people from looking back on his time as the commander in chief with heavy criticism.
This picture of a man once viewed positively as a military hero was taken shortly before his death at age 78. They say ugly on the inside eventually shows. That might be why he looks so miserable. After all, he is the reason the Native Americans were uprooted from their homes and forced to tread the trail of tears out west.
Martin Van Buren, 1849
We are so rigorous with our presidential nominees, it’s hard to imagine there was a time when no president was actually American at birth.
Founder of the Democratic Party, Martin was the first president to be born on American soil. A proponent of states making up their own rules, he didn’t feel the need to end slavery or stop the removal of Native Americans from their own land. That might have been why he didn’t get reelected.
Medicine man of the Chiricahua Apaches often seemed more like a warrior or chief. Geronimo got his name from the Mexicans he was fighting against. The reason he was there was to avenge the death of his wife, mother, and some of his children. As he ran towards the Mexicans shooting at him, they shouted out the word “Geronimo” to warn the others.
Afterward, the popular Native American adopted it. Geronimo eventually surrendered three times to the American government. During the last time, he led a group of Native Americans down the aisle for President Roosevelt’s inauguration.
John Tyler, 1845
Another president is gracing the list. The 10th leader of the country was 55 when this photo was taken in the last year of his presidency.
John had a strange rise to power. He’s the first to be president without having been elected. That occurred after the death of president-elect William Harrison, who passed away about a month after taking office. He got fatally sick after not wearing a coat at his inauguration. Speaking of bad luck, John’s wife was the first spouse to pass away during the presidency.
James Polk, 1849
From sea to shining sea, that is the battle cry of those who held manifest destiny in their hearts. One of those was the 11th president, James Polk. One of the things most people complain about, when it comes to politics, is that no politician actually keeps their promises.
While in office, James annexed Texas, led America through the Mexican-American War, added territory from Mexico that helped fulfill manifest destiny, negotiated the Oregon treaty, and didn’t run for reelection. These were all points he made during his campaign. This photo was taken the year Polk passed away at age 53 from cholera.
Robert E. Lee, 1845
Seen here with his son in his late 30s, Robert just comes across as a loving father and typical man of his time. He may have been those things at this point in his life, but it wasn’t to last.
A respected veteran of the Mexican-American war, Robert E. Lee was a successful captain who was eventually promoted to general. When tensions were heating out of control between the north and south, war became inevitable. That’s when President Lincoln reached out to Robert in hopes that he would lead the US to victory against the confederate army. The general was conflicted by the request of his commander in chief and loyalty to his home state of Virginia. Ultimately, he chose to represent the south. When he left his home, he was never able to go back.
Franklin Pierce, 1855
If you haven’t thought much of President Pierce, there’s a good reason for that. He was not very popular when he was in office. Here he can be seen during his tenure at age 51. In a time when the country was growing more and more divided, he took the side of stagnation and oppression.
Yes, he was for slavery, believing it was beneficial to the economy. Even though there was another president between Franklin and Abraham, he went out of his way to smack talk Lincoln before and after the latter was elected. After a long struggle with alcoholism, the former man in charge drank himself to death just four years after the Civil War ended at age 65.
Abraham Lincoln, 1846
You can find Abraham Lincoln on some common US currency with his distinctive profile. When most people think of the 16th president, they imagine a black top hat and beard. But that wasn’t always his signature look.
As a well-known lawyer and now congressman, the 37-year-old future abolisher of slavery was sitting for the earliest photo we have of him. Abraham wouldn’t have known at this point, but his life was about to get really busy in the coming years. Oh, the things we could tell him if stepping through the image was possible.
John Herschel, 1867
Sir John Herschel was the jack of all trades when it came to the sciences. Taken only four years before his passing, this photo encapsulates a man who is considered a genius.
To retain expert-level knowledge in subjects such as math, chemistry, and astronomy is more than enough. However, he wasn’t done. He invented blueprints and systems in astronomy that are still used today.
Ichabod Crane, 1848
This name is uniquely synonymous with the Legend of Sleepy Hollow. It might surprise you to know that Ichabod Crane was a real man. But are they the same? The real Ichabod Crane was a colonel with a military career that spanned 50 years.
Was he the inspiration for the character? Well, that was never confirmed by author Washington Irving. However, the two met while Irving was working with the governor of New York. He mentioned how memorable the name was, thus the connection was made.
Annie Oakley, 1880
Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show was a lawful way of making a living during the outlaw era. Annie Oakley was a wildly popular part of the act. Considered a celebrity, Annie was a sharpshooter in the show that was an international hit.
However, before she traveled the world to show off her skills, she developed them to help her family. Oakley grew up with very little and had to learn how to hunt at an early age. That experience made her the highest paid person in the show.
Charles Darwin, 1854
With as much record keeping and observation as he did, it probably crossed Darwin’s mind from time to time how much he could have really taken advantage of being born even just a tad bit later.
Imagine all the fantastic images he could have taken while studying nature in the Galapagos. Well, that’s okay, because he is still remembered as one of the most well-known and influential scientists of all time. This image was taken about 28 years before his death, and before his love for long white beards set in. Surely, as the father of evolution, he’d be thrilled to see how photography has evolved.
Marie Curie, 1903
One of the most brilliant minds of her time, Marie Curie, was a physicist and chemist from Poland. She won the Nobel Prize in both fields. Marie was the first woman to win a Nobel prize of any kind and the only one to win one twice.
It was her time with radioactivity, a term that was created by Marie, that propelled her scientific career. Unfortunately, since she was the first to conduct these studies, no one knew the devastating impact of radioactive isotopes. She carried a tube of them in her pocket. To this day, all of her papers are in special containers. In order to handle them, you have to be equipped for dangerous materials with protective gear. Years after her passing, both she and her husband were moved to the Pantheon, which is reserved only for those deemed national heroes. She’s the only woman buried there based on her own accomplishments. They are interred in lead-lined coffins due to contamination.
George Custer, 1860
Little did the 21-year-old know at the time that he would not be taking the right track in life. Here, he looks so young, so innocent, so ready to get out there and do something. Well, he did something alright. While we’ll never know what prompted George to continue with failed military operations, we do know, that was what ended him later.
Against everything that made sense, he forced an attack on Little Big Horn. Subsequently, he was captured and scalped on the battlefield. His wife had a premonition that something horrific would happen to him and when it did, his death destroyed her as well. His wife Libbie was in her mid-30s when her husband met his end. She lived into her 90s. Libbie never remarried and went on a mission to restore her husband’s image.
Queen Victoria, 1882
This queen was so engrained into the culture that an entire era was named after her. She was a woman who became queen at a very young age, after the passing of her father. Her mother kept her under such a tight lock and key that she was never allowed downstairs alone as a young woman.
Finally, she found her strength and independence as a young woman and went on to rule for 63 years. That includes 40 years in mourning after the passing of her husband, Prince Albert.
Emily Dickinson, 1847
If only Emily could have seen what her legacy would become, perhaps she would have had a more hopeful outlook on life while she was still here. Although it might have had an impact on what she was known for, her dark writing.
Today, she’s viewed as a poetry legend. It would be hard to find someone today who hasn’t at least heard of Emily Dickinson, but that was far from the case during her lifetime. She was basically unknown. It wasn’t until after she passed away that over 2,000 poems were discovered. Emily was 17 in the photograph and it’s the only one we have of her.
Chief Seattle, 1864
It’s not every day a city as big as Seattle has such interesting ties to history. Chief Seattle was a leader, warrior, and peacemaker.
The only photograph known of the Native American chief was taken when he was 78 years old. He was most known for going out of his way to bring together his people with the European settlers. Understandably, he was up against a lot of difficulty with the mix, but he pushed through nonetheless.
Billy the Kid, 1879
He may have only lived for 22 years, but Billy the Kid definitely left an infamous legacy. At first glance, the image almost looks like a painting. However, this is Billy some time while he was out being a gun-slinger in the Wild Wild West.
By the time he was 21, he had already taken the lives of eight men. He lived hard and fast for someone whose first crime was stealing clothes just four years before his death. Billy was wanted with a reward of $5,000, around $175,000 today.
Jesse James, 1882
Another incredibly well-known outlaw was a bushwhacker named Jesse James. He started his criminal career during the Civil War.
Jesse James was a strong supporter of the confederacy and used that momentum to terrorize union soldiers and even participate in their massacres. It wasn’t until years after the war, however, that he started to make a name for himself on the wrong side of the law. This photo was taken a bit before the time he was killed at age 34.
Leo Tolstoy, 1908
In a photo that looks like it could have been taken yesterday sits one of the most prolific authors of all time. He’s also Russia’s all-time highest selling author.
Leo Tolstoy’s works were so important, detailing the life and times during the turn of the century in Russia. In fact, we still study them today. Books such as War and Peace are required reading for many students before graduating. Perhaps the greatest tragedy is that he was nominated several times for a Nobel Prize but did not win due to his controversial views.
Another famous Russian, but for a completely different reason, is the mystical Rasputin. After attracting the interest of the Tsar’s wife, Grigori Rasputin gained enemies. He also had quite the following beforehand, due to his healing powers.
As he got closer to the royal family, people on the outside thought he was having a deeper impact on the business of running a nation. This photo was taken around the time of Rasputin’s assassination.
Uncle Sam, 1855
Uncle Sam wants YOU to know the truth! Most of us recognize this image as a patriotic drawing encouraging men to sign up for military service. However, America’s mascot was based on a real man named Samuel Wilson.
The real Sam used his expertise with meat to feed the troops during the War of 1812. That’s actually how he got his nickname. The barrels containing his meat were stamped with U.S., short for the United States. As a joke, the men took it upon themselves to interpret it as Uncle Sam. We can definitely see the resemblance between the cartoon and this one and only existing photo of Samuel.
Harriet Beecher Stowe, 1870
There are some people who chalk up attitudes of the past to that just being how things were. Harriet would prove that theory wrong. Born in 1811, the future acclaimed author grew up to advocate for freeing the slaves. Stowe toured the nation spreading information about how the US could move forward with abolishing slavery altogether.
Her widely read novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, was believed to be the first step toward the Civil War. In it, she depicted what life was like for African Americans held by plantation owners. She helped tremendously change the attitude in favor of the enslaved.
Arthur Wellesley, 1844
During the Napoleonic Wars, the First Duke of Wellington led the British army. It was his takedown of Napoleon during the Battle of Waterloo that ended the Napoleonic Wars altogether.
That triumph made him one of the most decorated war heroes in Europe. Eventually, he served as prime minister of Great Britain. This photo was taken of him at 75, eight years before he died.
Butch Cassidy, 1900
Banks, trains, and more, that’s what got Butch Cassidy up in the morning. He had a passion for robbery.
Butch Cassidy may have been one of the most well-known outlaws in the west, but he didn’t work alone. Robbing as the infamous duo, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, wasn’t enough. There was also the Wild Bunch. Eventually, the law was catching up to him and his group, so it was time to bail. This photo was taken right before he took off to Argentina.
Daniel Bakeman, 1868
At the time America’s Revolutionary War ended in 1783, Daniel was a mere 24 years old. Luckily for that young man and those who loved him, he survived. That wasn’t the only war he’d see in his lifetime, though. Bakeman was alive to keep up with the news from the War of 1812
Here he’s shown a handful of years after the Civil War. Daniel is notable, not only for his contribution to our independence, but as the longest-living Revolutionary War veteran. At the time this photo was taken, he was the last survivor. Bakeman was also 109 at the time, and lived for another year on top of that.
Jefferson Davis, 1861
There are people who have bad ideas and then there’s Jefferson Davis. He may have done some good earlier in his career, though.
He served in the military during the Mexican-American War, represented Mississippi in the Senate, and was given the cabinet position of Secretary of War when Pierce was commander in chief. However, all that went out the window when he decided to make himself the president of the Confederate States.
The World's First Photograph, 1826
At first glance, it may seem to be a smudge on a piece of metal, but the reality was mindblowing at the time. Once you look at the fully exposed picture of what was being created here, you see it.
This was done using light writing aka heliography. The photo depicts the view outside of a window overlooking buildings surrounded by the countryside. This almost missable piece of history changed the world as we know it and gave us all the historical photos within this list.
Mahatma Gandhi, 1906
In this photo, Mahatma Gandhi is about 36 or 37 years old. If you’ve seen photos of Gandhi they are most likely photos of him at the end of his life. This image of his as a relatively young man is truly rare.
He is widely recognized as one of the most influential political and spiritual leaders of the 20th century. He was an Indian lawyer, activist, and writer who led the nationalist movement against British rule in India. He is most well known for his practices of peaceful protest and nonviolence.
Theodore Roosevelt, 1880
This is a rare photo of a 21 year old Theodore Roosevelt. The 26th president of the United States was the youngest person to become president. He was only 43 years old when he assumed the presidency in the wake of President William McKinley’s death.
He was a strong believer in the conservation movement, encouraging policies which made use of natural resources. He also expanded many U.S. national parks and forests. Later in his presidency he changed his priorities to focus on big business and supporting labor unions.
Mark Twain ,1859
Mark Twain is one of the great American writers. Interestingly, Mark Twain was only a pen name and the man’s real name was Samuel Langhorne Clemens. In addition to writing, Twain was also an entrepreneur and something of a comedian.
He is only 24 in this image. In most photographs he is seen in his later years with white hair and a fluffy white mustache on his upper lip. In this photo he is barely recognizable as the author of books such as The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.
Sigmund Freud ,1872
Sigmund Freud is perhaps one of the most well-known psychologists of all time. While many of his ideas have been challenged and corrected, he remains an important pillar in the field. He is between 15 and 16 years of age here, having no idea that he would be taught in psych classes all over the world in the future.
Some of his biggest ideas were that of the conscious vs. unconscious mind and the id, ego, and superego. He is also studied for his ideas on psychosexual development and dream interpretation.
Winston Churchill ,1895
In this image Winston Churchill is a mere 20 years old. The young politician had no clue he would be leading Britain through World War II in his later life. Winston Churchill is most well known for his inspiring speeches, stubbornness, and refusal to give up, which were all exceedingly useful in the battles of the second world war.
He is probably the most famous British prime minister and is even regarded as one of the greatest Britons of all time. His most famous speech came during the battle of Dunkirk, where thousands of British and French soldiers were saved from the beaches of Dunkirk which were under attack from the Nazis.
Thomas Edison ,1878
Thomas Edison is basically synonymous with the invention of the light bulb. Most people hear the name and immediately think of this invention, but the man was responsible for other inventions as well.
He created the phonograph and the motion picture camera as well. So it is only fitting that we include this rare image of him. We might not have the lightbulbs sitting in whatever room you’re in without him!
Susan B. Anthony ,1848-1849
Susan B. Anthony was an important figurehead of the women’s rights movement as well as the abolitionist movement. She essentially led the charge for women’s rights during the 1800s. She traveled the country and gave speeches, gathered signatures for petitions, and lobbied to Congress.
In addition, the 28 year old woman in this photograph campaigned for the abolition of slavery. Her movements were greatly impactful to the movement and she inspired many others to get involved and fight for their rights.
Hannah Stillley Gorby, 1840
Hannah Stillley Gorby is possibly the youngest born person to ever be photographed. She was born in 1746 and this image was taken in 1840, almost 100 years later! That makes her 94 in this picture and the earliest born person to ever be captured on camera.
Hannah Gorby was only in her 30s at the start of the American Revolution! While she may not be a household name it is fascinating to think that someone had to be the earliest born person to be put on camera, and she is the lucky one!
Helen Keller, 1913
Helen Keller is known for being an author and educator who was blind and deaf. She made incredible accomplishments in education despite her disabilities. She had an unbelievably high IQ.
She used her platform to educate people about disability rights and became a very prolific political activist. She is remembered for her strength and perseverance in the face of adversary.
Buffalo Bill Cody, 1911
William Frederick Cody, commonly referred to as “Buffalo Bill” was a famous American soldier and bison hunter. He is widely known for Buffalo Bill’s Wild West shows and is credited with coining the term “wild west”.
His show was impactful in creating a lasting image of the American west for an audience who did not know much about it. He was also a soldier in the Civil War and the Plains Wars. He was a stagecoach driver, wagon master, trapper, and bullwhacker, amongst many other jobs.
The Wright Brothers, 1909
The Wright Brothers are best known for the creation of planes as we know them today. They basically invented the first gliders that were practical and could be controlled by the pilot. Orville and Wilbur were their names and they were inventors and builders who worked together and were fascinated by flying.
The brothers were also very interested in seeking out the truth so they attacked problems with their planes together to try and create a machine that could fly like none had before. We would likely not have the planes we fly today without the Wright brothers!
Ulysses S. Grant, 1870s
Ulysses S. Grant is the 18th U.S. president best known for his role of successfully leading Union armies against the Confederacy in the Civil War. He is recognized as an American hero for his role in this success.
When he led the Union army, he was a general and later was elected President of the United States. He spent his presidency attempting to change Congress structure and remove slavery from America.
Mary Todd Lincoln, 1861
Mary Todd Lincoln is best known for being Abraham Lincoln’s first lady, but she was a politician in her own right as well. She had many political ambitions but also lived a tragic life filled with loss and depression and anxiety.
She lost 2 sons at a very young age, which was impossibly difficult for her to overcome. She tried to fill the void with expensive shopping and lavish parties. She was not well-liked among the American people, but she did help Abe in his political ambition to become the president of the United States.
Herbert Hoover, 1898
Herbert Hoover is only 23 in this photograph. He was the 31st U.S. president, serving from 1929 to 1933 and is most well known for being the “great humanitarian” because he fed war-torn Europe during World War I.
His efforts helped save millions of people from starving during the first World War. He signed the Agricultural Marketing Act in 1929 to improve the farm crisis. He aimed to have government, business, and labor all work together to improve the economy as well.
Nelson Mandela, 1937
A young Nelson Mandela is merely 19 years old in this photograph. He was the very first black President of South Africa and also a huge activist. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 for being such a leader in the anti-apartheid movement.
He was South Africa’s first Black president and was incredibly influential in black activism. His influence began with nonviolent strikes and protests but he later encouraged Black participants of the movement to violate laws to make more of a stand.