21 Historic Photos That Captured The World’s Attention

Vintage Wonders Dec 04, 2023

Over time, pictures have frozen some really cool moments that show different parts of life.

From cities wrecked by war to famous people and everything else, these pics can really hit you in the feels and make you think.
These pictures are like tiny pieces of history that got stuck in time. They give us a special view of stories we know and harsh realities.

Check out these twenty-one old photos that made everyone stop and stare. They’re those famous pics that shout tragedy, hope, fame, and heartbreak – and they still hit home just like when they were snapped.


Joe Rosenthal’s famous photo of U.S. troops hoisting the flag on Iwo Jima during World War II is one of the war’s most recognized shots. Even though Rosenthal won a Pulitzer Prize for it, some have argued that he set up the patriotic moment. However, reports indicate that the flag-raising captured in the photo was a real occurrence, although it was the second one that day on Mount Suribachi. The initial flag, raised earlier, was supposedly too small to be seen from the mountain’s base.


In June 1963, Thích Quảng Đức lit himself on fire as a protest against the government of South Vietnam led by Diem.


Taken in the lively streets of New York on August 14th, 1945, “The Kiss” (or “V-J Day in Times Square”) stands as an iconic photo captured by Alfred Eisenstaedt. It freezes a heartfelt moment between a U.S. Navy sailor and an unknown woman, sharing a jubilant kiss in Times Square. Published in Life magazine, the picture quickly became widely recognized, highlighting the profound ability of street photography to seize intimate and fleeting instances of human emotion.


On the morning of September 11th, as President Bush sat in a Florida classroom, he received the startling news of the terrorist attacks happening in New York and Washington, D.C.


Dorothea Lange’s snapshot of the Migrant Mother and her kids is a potent and lasting image from the Great Depression. Captured in 1936, amid the peak of the economic downturn, the photo vividly conveys the desperation and difficulties faced by many during that challenging period. The Migrant Mother, looking away from the camera, is encircled by her children, all displaying expressions of concern and weariness. This renowned photograph, a standout in documentary photography, remains a poignant reminder of the hardships endured by people during the Great Depression.


The picture of the Afghan Girl, or Sharbat Gula, is a striking image that has become a symbol of the challenges faced by refugee women in the Western world. Shot by National Geographic Society photographer Steve McCurry during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, the photo captures Gula’s intense gaze and striking green eyes, set against her worn and gritty appearance. Despite the hardships she endured as a refugee, the photograph reflects Gula’s strength and resilience, making it an iconic representation of the struggles and victories of women in Afghanistan.


On September 4th, 1957, Elizabeth Eckford approached Little Rock Central High School while Hazel Bryan screamed at her from behind on the inaugural day of racial integration.


“Starving Child and Vulture” is a photograph captured by Kevin Carter in 1993 in Sudan. The image portrays a young girl, severely malnourished and weakened by starvation, crawling toward a feeding center with a vulture ominously lurking behind her. Published in The New York Times and subsequently awarded a Pulitzer Prize, the photograph drew widespread attention to the heartbreaking famine unfolding in Sudan during that period.


“Tank Man” is a renowned photograph captured by Jeff Widener in 1989 during the Tiananmen Square protests in Beijing, China. The image features a solitary man standing in front of a line of tanks, obstructing their progress as they navigate through the city.


“Leap Into Freedom” is a photograph shot by Peter Leibing in 1961 during the construction of the Berlin Wall in Germany. The image captures a young man in uniform jumping over barbed wire in an attempt to escape from East Berlin to West Berlin.


The photograph taken by Neil Leifer in 1965 captures a pivotal moment during a boxing match between Muhammad Ali and Sonny Liston. The image freezes the instant when Ali, the reigning champion, delivers a knockout to Liston in the first round of their rematch. This picture has etched itself as one of the most iconic images in the history of boxing.


In October 2010, a touching moment was captured on camera as a South Korean man shed tears while saying goodbye to his North Korean relative. The photograph encapsulates a poignant and emotional instance of separation, acting as a stark reminder of the enduring division between North and South Korea.


In 1987, James Stanfield took a photo of a heart surgeon following a marathon 23-hour-long heart transplant surgery. The image portrays the exhausted yet triumphant look on the surgeon’s face, with his assistant seen sleeping in the corner of the room.


In 1994, a photo was taken of a Russian soldier playing an abandoned piano in Chechnya. The image captures a moment of humanity and normalcy amid the chaos, violence, and destruction of war.


In 1967, Kathrine Switzer made history as the first woman to complete the Boston Marathon, overcoming attempts by race organizers to prevent her from participating.


In a German prisoner of war camp during the 1940s, Horace Greasley had a face-to-face encounter with Heinrich Himmler. Greasley, deeply in love with a German woman, managed an incredible 200 escapes from the camp.


In 1990, Nelson Mandela was set free from prison in South Africa after spending 27 years incarcerated. Following his release, he and his wife Winnie posed for a photograph with their fists raised in a symbol of resilience and defiance.


The sun setting on Mars, a breathtaking moment captured by NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Spirit in 2005.


“Flower Power” is a photograph taken by Bernie Boston in 1967 during a protest against the Vietnam War. The picture features a young man, later identified as George Harris, holding a flower in front of a line of soldiers armed with bayonets.


In 2009, a poignant moment was captured when an Afghan man extended a gesture of hospitality, offering a cup of tea to a U.S. soldier outside Kabul, Afghanistan.


John F. Kennedy Jr. at his father’s state funeral in November 1963.