77 Historical Photos That Reveal The Triumph And Tragedy Of Humanity’s Past

Published September 28, 2021

These unforgettable pictures from history capture everything from the Holocaust to Woodstock to the Civil Rights heroics of Mister Rogers.

Historical Photos Liberated Jewish Prisoners
Mister Rogers Filling His Pool
History Pictures The Harlem Hellfighters
Acid At Woodstock
77 Historical Photos That Reveal The Triumph And Tragedy Of Humanity’s Past
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Human history has always been filled with awe-inspiring heights of kindness and bravery as well as heartbreaking lows of violence and depravity. But it's only in the last 175 years that the invention of the camera has finally allowed us to catalogue all of it. What we're left with is a wealth of historical photos that capture humanity at its best as well as its worst.

From life-saving heroics and bold stands for civil rights to the horrors of the Holocaust and slavery, the history pictures above capture the extremes of the human experience in ways that never would have been possible before the dawn of photography.

But while historical photos like these are indeed worth at least a thousand words each, the stories behind them only add more dimension to these powerful moments from humankind's recent past. Discover both the stories and the images in the gallery above.

Historical Photos That Capture The Power Of Love And Hope

Among the historical photos above, the ones that capture pure generosity, kindness, and affection certainly stand out. Sometimes the scene is as simple as two lovers sharing a goodbye kiss during wartime. But other times, the story is more complex.

Take, for example, the famous "Kiss of Life" photo from 1967, which depicts two electrical linemen in a midair embrace.

Historical Photos Kiss Of Life

Rocco Morabito/Jacksonville JournalThe heart-stopping "Kiss of Life" photo that won the 1968 Pulitzer Prize.

At first glance, it looks passionate. But the photo actually depicts the aftermath of a catastrophic electrical shock, and the attempt of one lineman to save the life of the other. Thankfully, he succeeded, all while a newsman from the Jacksonville Journal took photos from the ground below.

Then there are historical photos in which people express heroism and love in different, sometimes more complicated ways. In one such photo above, a family that had previously exiled their gay son gathers around his bedside as he dies of AIDs.

And when it comes to romantic love, sometimes two people are lucky enough to have a story for the ages. Bonnie and Clyde, for one, may have met a gory end, but not before their story of both young love and daring lawlessness captivated millions of Americans. And in one inimitable photo above, both their youthful passion and their outlaw spirit are on full display as they pose playfully while Bonnie points a rifle at Clyde.

Pictures From History That Depict Terror, Death, And Disaster

But the power of photography lies not only in its ability to depict love, hope, and triumph. Indeed, some of the most powerful historical photos ever captured show the depths of loss, anger, fear, and death.

In one striking photo above, taken during the Troubles in Northern Ireland, an Irish teenager screams at two armed British soldiers.

Captured halfway across the world and a century before, another photo above reveals the wounds suffered by a Black slave named Gordon in the years before the Civil War.

And then there are photos of disasters. The collection above includes both precise moments of crisis, such as the 1937 crash of the Hindenburg in New Jersey, as well as echoes of long-ago agony, like the frozen bodies of the doomed Franklin Expedition to the Arctic in 1845.

History Pictures Hindenburg Over Manhattan

New York Daily News Archive/Getty ImagesThe Hindenburg floating over Manhattan, just before its fatal crash in New Jersey.

And, perhaps above all, historical pictures that capture death itself will always stand apart. Photos in the gallery above reveal, for example, the brave final moments of 17-year-old Lepa Radić, who spent her last seconds on Earth standing up to the Nazis. Then there's the brutal scene at Memphis' Lorraine Motel, where the owner's brother, Theatrice Bailey, scrapes up the blood left behind after Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination in April 1968.

But whether the historical photographs above depict love or pain, salvation or disaster, they capture unforgettable moments in time that will continue to define humankind for better and worse.


After looking through these 77 historical photos, see some of the weirdest history pictures ever captured. Then, see rare historical photos that'll leave you in awe.

Kaleena Fraga
A staff writer for All That’s Interesting, Kaleena Fraga has also had her work featured in The Washington Post and Gastro Obscura, and she published a book on the Seattle food scene for the Eat Like A Local series. She graduated from Oberlin College, where she earned a double degree in American History and French.