The most powerful photographs throughout American history

Men on the moon – 1969

“One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” These are the famous words that mission commander Neil Armstrong said when he became the first human being to walk on the moon. On July 21, 1969, Armstrong, along with lunar module pilot Buzz Aldrin, stepped out onto the surface of the moon, placing an American flag and fulfilling a national dream. They had reached the moon aboard Apollo 11, on an eight day mission. This iconic photograph shows Aldrin saluting the flag.

Men on the moon – 1969

Raising the flag at Ground Zero – 2001

Following the tragic attack on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, three firefighters were at the scene, digging through the rubble for survivors. They raised an American flag over the scene of the disaster, and photographer Thomas E. Franklin captured the moment through a telephoto lens. The picture immediately made an impact, and was used on the front page of newspapers all over the world. It was later made into a postage stamp to honor the heroes.

Raising the flag at Ground Zero – 2001

Woodstock – 1969

In August 1969, the legendary Woodstock music festival took place in Bethel, New York. The event, advertised as three days of peace and music, was a cultural phenomenon unlike anything that had ever happened before, and unlike anything that has happened since. Organizers expected some 10,000 people to come, but at the festival’s peak, it is estimated that 400,000 people, mainly hippies and youth, were in attendance. When the event was over, the festival lived on in legend, and in a hit documentary film.

Woodstock – 1969

Gettysburg Address – 1863

In August 1969, the legendary Woodstock music festival took place in Bethel, New York. The event, advertised as three days of peace and music, was a cultural phenomenon unlike anything that had ever happened before, and unlike anything that has happened since. Organizers expected some 10,000 people to come, but at the festival’s peak, it is estimated that 400,000 people, mainly hippies and youth, were in attendance. When the event was over, the festival lived on in legend, and in a hit documentary film.

Gettysburg Address – 1863

V-Day kiss – 1945

You’ve definitely seen this famous picture of a United States Navy sailor kissing a nurse in Times Square after the US victory over Japan in World War II. But did you know that the two people kissing in this picture didn’t even know each other? According to the photographer, on that fateful day in August 1945, this young sailor was walking through the crowds, kissing every woman he came upon. There’s no way that would fly nowadays, but the photograph has been featured in newspapers and magazines worldwide.

V-Day kiss – 1945

Baltimore protests – 2015

In April 2015, a young African-American man died after sustaining injuries while in police custody in Baltimore, Maryland. The event spurred large scale spontaneous protests, which turned violent, and civil unrest in the city. Hundred of people were arrested, businesses damaged, and many fires broke out. A state of emergency was declared and thousands of police and Maryland National Guard troops arrived were deployed. The situation highlighted the racial tension in Baltimore, and led to further anti-police brutality protests nationwide.

Baltimore protests – 2015

Migrant Mother – 1936

When we look at photographs from the Great Depression, Dorothea Lange’s 1936 masterpiece called Migrant Mother is always at the top of the list. This incredible photo captured 32-year-old mother of seven Florence Owens Thompson staring off into the distance. Thompson was a migrant worker, traveling around California picking different crops to try to feed her large family, as many in the area did during the Great Depression. The photo became an icon and a symbol of the difficult era in American history.

Migrant Mother – 1936

USA hockey victory – 1980

“A miracle on ice,” was how the public referred to the United States men’s ice hockey victory over the Soviet Union in the 1980 Olympic Games at Lake Placid, New York. The United States team came in as the underdogs, and nobody expected them to pull off the gold medal-winning victory against the four time defending champions. The victory has been called one of the top sports moments in history, and several films have been made about the memorable game, including the film Miracle, which was released in 2004.

USA hockey victory – 1980

I have a dream – 1963

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s “I have a dream” speech is one of the most quoted speeches in the history of the United States. The civil rights movement leader delivered the address at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. to over 250,000 supporters during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, in August 1963. Dr. King was lauded for the speech, which referenced several historic United States documents, including the Emancipation Proclamation and the Declaration of Independence, in calling for the equality for all US citizens.

I have a dream – 1963

Marilyn Monroe – 1954

Marilyn Monroe is one of the top cultural icons of the 20th century. She started as a pinup model before becoming an actress, and was constantly in the public eye. This photograph was taken during the filming of the movie The Seven Year Itch in 1954, and has become one of the most iconic pictures of that era. Monroe characterized the gender norms of the 1950s, often playing the “dumb blonde” character. Her legacy lives on, and many books, plays, films, and songs have been written about the blonde bombshell.

Marilyn Monroe – 1954

Coming home from war – 2007

When Major Terri Gurrola returned home for a visit during a year-long tour in Iraq, her young daughter Gaby was waiting for her in the airport. Gurrola heard the little girl’s voice and ran toward her, sliding on her knees to embrace her, sobbing. A photographer captured the heartwarming moment, and it has since become a famous picture around the globe, a symbol of the sacrifices that our service men and women make in order to give their children a safe home in which to grow up.

Coming home from war – 2007

First flight – 1903

Today, airplanes are a common mode of transportation, and nobody thinks twice about the ease with which we fly from one location to another. But in 1903, when the Wright Brothers succeeded in building the first airplane to achieve sustained flight with a pilot, it was a pretty big deal. The flight occurred on December 17, 1903, at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, and lasted for about four miles. The airplane, called the Wright Flyer, is on display at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C.

First flight – 1903

Women’s March on Washington – 2017

Millions of people came together around the world to stand in support of women’s rights and a number of other policies including human rights, LGBT rights, healthcare, and immigration reform. The main march, the Women’s March on Washington, was the largest single-day protest in the history of the United States, but there has been a great deal of controversy over how many people were actually in attendance. The march was the beginning of a new movement of women calling for equal rights.

Women’s March on Washington – 2017

Marines raise the flag at Iwo Jima – 1945

The Pulitzer Prize winning photo of six soldiers raising an American flag on Mount Suribachi, Japan during the infamous battle of Iwo Jima in 1945 is one of the most recognized images from World War II. The photo was taken by Joe Rosenthal and has been reprinted countless times. It was turned into a memorial statue for the US Marine Corps in Arlington, Virginia. Sadly, three of the marines in the picture were later killed in action.

Marines raise the flag at Iwo Jima – 1945

Oscars selfie – 2014

This famous selfie actually broke Twitter. At the 2014 Golden Globes, Ellen Degeneres was hosting, and at one point went down into the audience to take a selfie with Meryl Streep. Although Ellen’s selfie with Streep was planned with the producers and with Samsung, what happened next was unexpected. A whole bunch of super famous stars jumped into the selfie, Bradley Cooper grabbed the smartphone, and we ended up with this glorious photograph that quickly went viral. People just love seeing so many smiling, famous faces in one selfie.

Oscars selfie – 2014

Completion of transcontinental railroad project – 1869

In the 19th century, the United States was still a developing nation. The east and west of the country were separated by some 3,000 miles, and it took months to cross the distance by horse-drawn carriage. So, congress funded private companies who agreed to build tracks to make travel possible by train. On May 10, 1869, Central Pacific rail company, which was laying tracks from west to east, and Union Pacific, which was building the tracks from east to west, met in Promontory, Utah, completing the first transcontinental railroad.

Completion of transcontinental railroad project – 1869

Rosa Parks arrested – 1956

In the segregated United States of the 1950s, black people were supposed to give up their bus seats for white people. In December 1955, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat when the bus driver told her to move so white passengers could sit down. The driver called the police, and Parks was arrested. This launched the famous Montgomery bus boycott, for which Parks was arrested again. This picture is from February 1956, and shows Parks being fingerprinted after being booked for her boycott activities.

Rosa Parks arrested – 1956

Lyndon B. Johnson sworn in – 1963

After President John F. Kennedy was assassinated on November 22, 1963, Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson was rushed back to Washington, D.C. in order to protect him from any further attempts. Just before his departure, aboard the presidential plane Air Force One, it was advised that he take the oath of office, because the country could not be left without a president. So, in the middle of the airplane, federal district Judge Sarah T. Hughes administered the oath, and Johnson became the 36th president of the United States.

Lyndon B. Johnson sworn in – 1963

POW returns home – 1973

This Pulitzer Prize winning photo, taken on March 17, 1973 in California, became a symbol of the end of the Vietnam War for the United States. After over five years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, Air Force Lt Col Robert L. Stirm finally returned home to his family. His daughter Lorrie, who was 15-year-old, ran to greet him looking jubilant. The homecoming wasn’t as happy as it looks, however, because Stirm had received a letter from his wife three days earlier telling him that their marriage was over.

POW returns home – 1973

Legalization of marriage for all – 2015

Laws on marriage were decided on a state by state basis until a landmark ruling of the Supreme Court of the United States on June 26, 2015 recognized marriage equality for all. After years of fighting for equality, happy couples who would finally be able to get married celebrated in the streets, and that night, the White House was illuminated by rainbow-colored lights. The ruling made the United States the world’s most populous country to have marriage equality.

Legalization of marriage for all – 2015

Lunch in the air – 1932

The photograph of 11 ironworkers eating their lunch on top of a girder 840 feet in the air is not only a world famous photograph, it is a favorite image for posters as well. The picture was taken during construction of the Rockefeller Center in New York city on September 20, 1932. Although it looks candid, this photo was reportedly planned – other pictures taken the same day show workers tossing a football and pretending to sleep on the same crossbeam.

Lunch in the air – 1932