Weird History
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Historical Figures We Didn't Realize Lived Long Enough To Be Photographed

October 23, 2020 1.5m views40 items

There are certain figures that every school child has heard of but few have ever seen. The earliest presidents of the United States, the most daring abolitionists, even semi-mythical figures like Johnny Appleseed (real name John Chapman), can easily become nothing more than names on a page. Seeing them in the flesh can be oddly affecting - not only to the young but also to adults. 

The thing is, photography has existed in one form or another since the late 1820s. It's strange to think that humans have a photographic record that stretches back nearly two centuries - to a time before electric lights, women's suffrage, or modern industry. You may be surprised which historic figures had their photos taken, and this list aims to highlight the oldest and most famous of them all. Vote up the ones that give you a new perspective on history.

  • Photo: Nicholas H. Shepherd / Wikimedia Commons / No known copyright restrictions

    Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) is perhaps the most celebrated figure in American history. He was elected President of the United States during its most tumultuous era, presided over its dissolution and reunification, and ended the practice of slavery. 

    According to the Library of Congress, "This daguerreotype is the earliest-known photograph of Abraham Lincoln, taken at age 37 when he was a frontier lawyer in Springfield and Congressman-elect from Illinois." It is believed to have been taken by Nicholas H. Shepherd, "based on the recollections of Gibson W. Harris, a law student in Lincoln's office from 1845 to 1847."

  • Photo: Edward Anthony / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    A controversial figure if there ever was one, Andrew Jackson (1767-1845) was born to a poor family but grew into a successful lawyer, war hero, and eventually President of the United States. While he styled himself a man of the people, his critics accused him of being a tyrant. 

    His treatment of the Native Americans is abysmal. He looked the other way when Georgia seized land granted to the Cherokee by the US Supreme Court, and his actions led directly to the Trail of Tears, during which thousands of Cherokee perished. 

    This daguerreotype is believed to have been taken by Edward Anthony between 1844 and 1845, and produced by the Mathew Brady studio.

  • Though her name wasn't really Annie Oakley (1860-1926), by all accounts she really was an incredible marskwoman. When she was 15 years old, she outgunned professional sharpshooter Frank Butler. Butler ended up marrying Oakley and employing her as his assistant and then partner on the road. However, when Oakley's fame outmatched his own, Butler supported his wife and became her assistant instead

    Oakley gained worldwide acclaim as part of Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show, where she would demonstrate her accuracy by firing at glass balls as they flew through the air, playing cards, and even knock a cigarette out of Butler's mouth. Chief Sitting Bull called her "Little Sure Shot," and Queen Victoria called her a "very clever little girl."

  • Photo: Antoine Claudet / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Arthur Wellesley (1769-1852) was the 1st duke of Wellington (among many formal titles) and commander of the British army during the Napoleonic Wars.

    Britannica writes that his victory at the Battle of Waterloo "established the duke as Europe’s most renowned... hero." Wellesley later served as prime minister of Britain from 1828 to 1830.