27 Iconic Images That Defined The 1970s

Published July 24, 2017
Updated June 22, 2018
Nixon With Elvis
President Richard Nixon meets with Elvis Presley at the White House on December 21, 1970.

Presley was there, many sources say, in hopes of getting a badge from the federal Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs, so that he, as he believed, could carry firearms and drugs as he pleased, wherever he pleased.
National Archives/Handout/Getty Images

Iconic Images 1970s Napalm Girl
This photograph of the devastating impact of a napalm attack on June 8, 1972 remains the most iconic image of the Vietnam War. The girl in the center of the photograph is nine-year-old Kim Phúc, who is running away from the attack with severe burns. UPI/Bettmann/Getty Images

Iconic Images 1970s Kent State Shooting
On May 4, 1970, National Guardsmen opened fire on student protestors during an anti-war demonstration at Ohio's Kent State University, killing four and wounding nine.

This iconic image depicts 14-year-old Mary Ann Vecchio kneeling over the body of Jeffrey Miller just after he was fatally shot.

Hunter Thomspson
Hunter S. Thompson aims his Magnum on his ranch near Aspen, Colorado, circa 1976.Michael Ochs Archives/ Getty Images

Iconic Images 1970s Nixon Resignation
After the Watergate scandal rocked his presidency, Richard Nixon resigned on August 8, 1974. This photo, taken the next day, shows him waving goodbye as he boards a helicopter to leave the White House.Bill Pierce/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images

Iconic Images 1970s Jonestown Massacre
On November 18, 1978, Peoples Temple cult leader Jim Jones told his followers to commit “revolutionary suicide” by drinking cyanide fruit punch. They did as they were told, and 909 members, more than 200 of which were children, were soon found dead at the Jonestown compound in Guyana. Jones himself was found dead with a bullet wound to the head.David Hume Kennerly/Getty Images

Hostages Blindfolds
Photograph taken by one of the Iranian student kidnappers inside the US embassy in Tehran at the very beginning of the hostage crisis, in which 52 Americans were held hostage for 444 days, starting on November 4, 1979, by a group of Islamist students and militants in support of the Iranian Revolution.GAMMA/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images

Iconic Images 1970s Munich
On September 5, 1972, during the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich, Germany, 11 members of the Israeli Olympic team were taken hostage and eventually killed by the Palestinian terrorist group Black September. This haunting image captures one of the kidnappers standing in the hotel balcony during the siege. AFP/Getty Images

Ali Frazier
Muhammad Ali lands a right on Joe Frazier during the second round of their "Thrilla in Manila" fight, which Ali won, in the Philippines on October 1, 1975.Bettmann/Getty Images

Woodward Bernstein Desk
Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward (left) and Carl Bernstein, the men who exposed the Watergate scandal that brought down the Nixon White House. April 29, 1973.Bettmann/Contributor/Getty Images

Apollo 13 Return
Apollo 13 astronauts (left to right) Fred Haise, Jim Lovell, and Jack Swigert wave as they emerge from a rescue helicopter after returning home from their ill-fated moon mission. April 17, 1970.Time Life Pictures/NASA/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Travolta Saturday Night Fever
Actor John Travolta dances with actress Karen Gorney in the movie Saturday Night Fever, which brought the culture of disco to the masses. February 27, 1978.Bettmann/Contributor/Getty Images

Three Mile Island Stacks
The Three Mile Island nuclear plant on March 28, 1979, the day of the meltdown, the worst of its kind in US history.AFP/AFP/Getty Images

Iconic Images 1970s Fire On Marlborough Street
Diana Bryant (bottom) and Tiare Jones fall from the collapsed fire escape of their burning building on Marlborough Street in Boston just before firefighters could save them. July 22, 1975.

Bryant soon died as a result of her injuries, while Jones, who landed on Bryant's body, did not.

David Berkowitz Mugshot
David Berkowitz (aka "Son of Sam"), arrested in Yonkers, New York in connection with the serial killings of six people. August 11, 1977.Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Guns Jeep
Guerilla soldiers drive through Phnom Penh, the day Cambodia fell under the control of the communist Khmer Rouge forces. April 17, 1975.SJOBERG/AFP/Getty Images

Iconic Images 1970s Patty Hearst
In 1974, Patty Hearst, an American newspaper heiress and socialite, was kidnapped by the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA). Hearst eventually began to relate to her captors and started to take part in their criminal endeavors. This photography shows her holding an M1 Carbine while robbing a Hibernia bank in San Francisco on April 15, 1974, a crime for which she was arrested the following year.Wikimedia Commons

Eve Framed
Women sit in protest during the Women Strike for Equality demonstration — emblematic of the growing power of the women's rights movement throughout the decade — in New York's Bryant Park on August 26, 1970.Bettmann/Getty Images

Iranian Revolution
A number of Iranian men hold up photos of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, leader of the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran. Date unspecified.Wikimedia Commons

Jackson 5 1971
Michael Jackson (center) leads the Jackson 5 during their first television special in 1971.Wikimedia Commons

The last photograph of the President of the Chilean Republic, Salvador Allende inspecting the Palace of Modena shortly before his assassination on September 11, 1973. He was killed in an American-backed military coup that placed dictator Augusto Pinochet in control of the country.Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone/Getty Images

Ira 70s
Irish Republican Army gunmen pose during a training and propaganda exercise in Northern Ireland amid The Troubles, a sectarian conflict that pitted the country's Protestant Unionists loyal to Great Britain against the Catholic Republicans loyal to Ireland. February 12, 1977.Alex Bowie/Getty Images

No Gas Sign
A "No Gas Sign" sits in the window of a filling station in Lincoln, Oregon in the fall of 1973, during the oil crisis caused by an embargo by OPEC nations on the US in response to the US support of Israel during the Yom Kippur War.David Falconer/NARA/Wikimedia Commons

Nixon Chopsticks 70s
President Richard Nixon eats with chopsticks beside Chinese Premier Chou En-lai during a farewell banquet on the eve of Nixon's departure from China. February 27, 1972.

This trip to China was important in opening up relations between the two countries as Nixon was the first US president to visit mainland China.
Bettmann/Getty Images

Thatcher Wave
British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher waves to crowds of well-wishers from the steps of her London home, the morning after winning the UK general election to become the UK's first female Prime Minister. May 4, 1979.Bryn Colton/Getty Images

Jane Fonda
Actress Jane Fonda, an icon of the 1970s anti-war movement, speaks at an anti-Vietnam War conference at The Hague, Netherlands. January 1975.Wikimedia Commons

David Bowie
David Bowie poses for a portrait in front of an American flag. 1976.Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

The 1970s were a time of great change and turmoil for both America and the world at large.

The Cold War raged on into its fourth decade, with the US going to war in Vietnam and the Soviet Union going to war in Afghanistan. At the same time, countries around the world were either gaining independence or aligning with one of the two massive superpowers.

And within America's own borders, political upheaval ruled the day as well. The culture clash between President Richard Nixon's conservative "silent majority" and the anti-war movement on the Left remained violent and sometimes deadly as the Vietnam War dragged on and on. As it did, many radical political groups fighting for a myriad of causes were able to rise to prominence in this confrontational political climate.

Yet these tumultuous times also helped give rise to cultural forces of extraordinary power and resonance, with groundbreaking musical artists like David Bowie and Pink Floyd rising to prominence.

From the culture to the politics and beyond, the iconic 1970s photos above encapsulate those turbulent times.

Next, check out some of the most iconic images of the 1990s and the 1940s. Finally, step inside some of the most fascinating hippie communes of the 1970s.

Gabe Paoletti
Gabe Paoletti is a New York City-based writer and a former Editorial Intern at All That's Interesting. He holds a Bachelor's in English from Fordham University.
John Kuroski
John Kuroski is the editorial director of All That's Interesting. He graduated from New York University with a degree in history, earning a place in the Phi Alpha Theta honor society for history students. An editor at All That's Interesting since 2015, his areas of interest include modern history and true crime.
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Paoletti, Gabe. "27 Iconic Images That Defined The 1970s." AllThatsInteresting.com, July 24, 2017, https://allthatsinteresting.com/iconic-pictures-1970s. Accessed June 24, 2024.