Photos of iconic figures are available with a couple of clicks. The existence of cameraphones and the like means that, if someone notable is around, chances are they’ll get snapped.
It was different back in history, of course, with painted portraits and sculptures revealing those who existed before the modern camera was invented.
When photography came about, it changed how we saw well-known people forever. Here are some who were caught on camera during these exciting decades.
Frederick Douglass told the world about the horrors of slavery, based on first-hand experience. Hailing from Maryland, he escaped his fate to push for abolition, traveling across the Atlantic to spread the word. He supported a range of causes, including women’s rights.
He passed away from a heart attack at the age of 77. Douglass “remained an active speaker, writer and activist until his death,” writes History.
American abolitionist and former slave Frederick Douglass, who helped recruit African-American regiments during the Civil War, ca. 1879. (Photo Credit: © CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)
Born in Poland in 1867 as Maria Salomea Skłodowska, Marie and her husband Pierre Curie blazed a trail through the fields of psychics and chemistry. Their efforts in establishing the idea of radioactivity earned them the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1903, alongside fellow physicist Henri Becquerel.
Marie won her own Nobel Prize in 1911 for chemistry. Tragically, she died due to a disease of the blood, contracted after exposure to radiation.
Madame Curie noted physical chemist, poses in her Paris laboratory. Undated photograph. (Photo Credit: Bettmann / Contributor)
Born in Maryland in the early 19th century, and the subject of an Oscar-nominated movie, Tubman ran unimaginable risks by fleeing her enslavement.
“I grew up like a neglected weed,” she told Benjamin Drew in 1855, “ignorant of liberty, having no experience of it.”
She became associated with the Underground Railroad, a secret network that enabled others to do the same. In 1913 she passed away and received military honors at Fort Hill Cemetery, New York.
Harriet Tubman, American born in slavery, escaped 1849, and became leading Abolitionist. Active as a ‘conductor’ in the Underground Railroad. Photograph (Photo Credit: Universal History Archive/Getty Images)
While a 1970s disco classic immortalized Grigori Rasputin, his life and legacy were far from the realm of good times. A fixture at the court of Czar Nicholas II, he achieved a mystical status as a spiritual advisor.
Born in 1869, this Russian convinced people he had powers beyond their wildest imaginations. It all came crashing down in 1916, when he was shot as part of a conspiracy to remove him from his influential position.
Rasputin (1871-1916), Russian adventurer healer of czarevitch , protege of the czarina, he was murdered by prince Ioussoupov here in 1908 colorized document (Photo Credit: Apic/Getty Images)
Born in Utah, Robert Leroy Parker – or “Butch” Cassidy, through his role as a butcher – passed into Wild West history. He was in charge of the legendary gang of thieves called the Wild Bunch. Cassidy shared that responsibility with The Sundance Kid.
Raindrops probably fell on his head, however when he reportedly died it was in Bolivia, via a hail of bullets. His death there in 1908 was never confirmed.
Portrait of Butch Cassidy, one of the most famous and friendliest western outlaws, taken in prison in 1894. (Photo Credit: Jonathan Blair/Corbis via Getty Images)
The movie starring Doris Day is a firm favorite. But of course the real Calamity Jane – Martha Jane Canary – was somewhat different from her Hollywood counterpart. Entering this world in the 1850s, she went on to become part of the fabric of the Old West.
Not that she was a stranger to fictionalized exploits. It’s thought her 1896 autobiography strayed a bit from what actually happened. Canary died in 1903 from a combination of pneumonia and inflammation of the bowels.
1901-Calamity Jane on horseback. (Photo Credit:
Bettmann / Contributor)
Martin Van Buren
He may have had the nickname “The Little Magician,” yet Van Buren’s box of tricks didn’t help him during his time in office as 8th President of the United States. Starting off as Vice President in the 1830s, he reached the White House and ran the show during a period of instability.
He said: “As to the presidency, the two happiest days of my life were those of my entrance upon the office and my surrender of it.”
Born Maarten Van Buren in New York (1782), he worked as a lawyer and statesman. In the late 1840s, he tried for the Oval Office again, unsuccessfully. This time he represented the coalition Free Soil Party. He also helped found the Democrats. Van Buren died in 1862 aged 79 as a result of bronchial asthma and heart failure.
Martin Van Buren, the 8th President of the United States of America (Photo Credit: Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Harriet Beecher Stowe
The author of the game-changing novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852), Stowe was born in 1811 in Connecticut.
Her powerful story of African American slaves hasn’t aged brilliantly – namely, its stereotypical portrayals of Black people – but is still regarded as an important work. Stowe passed away in the late 19th century, aged 85.
Portrait of author Harriet Beecher Stowe. Undated photograph. (Photo Credit:
Bettmann / Contributor)
George Armstrong Custer
He was the American cavalry commander who went down in history for the wrong reasons, after his catastrophic defeat and death at the Battle of the Little Bighorn in 1876. Over 200 men died on Custer’s watch during the Great Sioux War of that year.
Born in Ohio in 1839, his tactical errors are held up as a classic example of military mismanagement. At one point he confessed that while he “must wish for peace” he added: “if I answer for myself alone, I must say that I shall regret to see the war end.” Custer’s war finished prematurely after he was shot twice.
A seated right-profile of George Armstrong Custer in major general’s uniform, sometime after October 19, 1864. (Photo Credit: George L. Andrews / CORBIS / Corbis via Getty Images)
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The legendary leader of the Apache may have ended his days as a prisoner. But his resistance to hostile forces trying to take Native American land made him a true hero in the eyes of many.
Starting out in what is now New Mexico in 1829, Geronimo got his famous name through conflict. His actual name was Goyahkla, “the one who yawns.” In 1909 he contracted pneumonia following a riding accident and passed away the same year.
Studio portrait of Native American Apache Indian chief and warrior Geronimo (c.1829 – 1909) wearing an honorary medallion and Western clothes. (Photo Credit: Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
“I was born where there were no enclosures,” he said. Though sadly that didn’t continue for the last decades of his life.