A middle-aged man works on the framework of the Empire State Building in 1930
Since photography was invented in the early 1800s, much of history — both the savory and the unsavory, the uplifting and haunting — has become immortalized in pictures.
We dug through several historical archives and the Library of Congress to compile the following list of 50 fascinating photos from this country’s past, focusing on shots taken before or during the 20th century.
Of course, this is by no means an exhaustive dive into US history. Rather, the pictures ahead merely capture a glimpse of the many people, actions, and events that have shaped this nation over the past three centuries.
Below, take a closer look at some of the most powerful photos in American history.
large part of the naive yet persistent American notion that World War II was “the good war” is the idea that countless young American men volunteered to fight because they simply knew that it was the right thing to do.
However, consider the following: During World War II, two-thirds of U.S. forces were drafted, not enlisted. Yet during the Vietnam War — the ugly, evil twin to World War II’s “good war” — two-thirds of U.S. forces were enlisted, not drafted.
As North Dakota braces for a Winter Storm, blizzards in March are not new to the state, in fact, this month is when we annually receive the most snow. Bismarck averages 9.1 inches in March and if forecasters are right, we’ll get all of that, and possibly more in the next couple of days.
The worst snow event in North Dakota history occurred March 2nd, 3rd and 4th of 1966. During that epic blizzard, 20-30 inches of snow fell across the state. When combined with winds up to 70-miles-per-hour, gusting at time to 100-miles-per-hour, drifts were 30-40 feet high in some locations.
This iconic photograph was taken during that storm. It shows Department of Transportation employee, Bill Koch, standing next to the top of a set of power lines. Visibility in the open country and farm yards was reduced to zero for 11 straight hours during the storm. 74,500 head of cattle perished during the three day blizzard.
Contrary to what some might have you believe, American identity can look like many things. These Ellis Island immigration photos prove it.
As a clerk at Ellis Island from 1892-1925, Augustus Sherman was in a unique position to document countless immigrants as they attempted to gain entrance into the United States.
The untrained photographer had an undeniable natural talent: Even with bulky cameras and the time-consuming exposure process they required, Sherman was able to take more than 200 photos — of subjects typically detained for interrogation — that reveal as much about the subjects’ fears as they do the diverse reality of our national heritage (all photos taken by Augustus Sherman from 1905 to 1914):
An Albanian soldier.
Some hopeful immigrants could be held on Ellis Island for days, or even weeks, before being approved or deported.
While the Vietnam War raged — roughly two decades’ worth of bloody and world-changing years — compelling images made their way out of the combat zones. On television screens and magazine pages around the world, photographs told a story of a fight that only got more confusing, more devastating, as it went on. As Jon Meacham describes in this week’s issue of TIME, the pictures from that period can help illuminate the “demons” of Vietnam.
And, in the decades since, the most striking of those images have retained their power. Think of the War in Vietnam and the image in your mind is likely one that was first captured on film, and then in the public imagination. How those photographs made history is underscored throughout the new documentary series The Vietnam War, from Ken Burns and Lynn Novick. The series features a wide range of war images, both famous and forgotten.
Some people have selected an image from the period that they found particularly significant, and explained why that photograph moved them the most…
Here, lightly edited, are their responses!
Both during and soon after World War 1, politicians and pundits began referring to the devastating conflict as “the war to end all wars.”
One can hardly blame them for such a grandiose name. The West had never seen anything like World War 1 before. Between 1914 and 1918, approximately 17 million soldiers and civilians died while another 20 million lay seriously wounded.
Yet even this was not in fact “the war to end all wars.” Just two decades later, most of the same countries waged war on much of the same ground. This time, however, the casualties were more than four times worse.
With combined civilian and military death toll estimates ranging as high as 85 million, World War 2 remains the single deadliest cataclysm in human history.
Between 1939 and 1945, the world endured not only its bloodiest and most far-reaching military campaigns, but also some of its deadliest famines, civilian exterminations, and epidemics. In Nazi concentration camps across Eastern Europe, those years saw the worst genocide ever on record.
Yet, today, the devastation of any one of these facets of World War 2 — let alone all of them taken together — is so vast that it becomes unfathomable.
As the famous quote widely misattributed to Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, one of World War 2’s most important figures, goes: “One death is a tragedy; a million is a statistic.”
Perhaps, however, the best way to attempt to drag World War 2’s 85 million deaths out of the realm of statistics and back into the realm of tragedy is not with words, but images.
From the battlefields to the faces of the civilians who never set foot on one but whose lives were shattered all the same, the World War 2 photos above bring history’s greatest catastrophe to life.
American soldiers, injured while storming Omaha Beach on D-Day, recover just after the landings in Normandy, France on June 6, 1944.