Since the invention of photography, images of the famous and infamous have enchanted the viewing public. A visual memorial of a high-profile celebrity or historical figure always proves engrossing – and what's more fascinating than seeing some of the last photos of historical figures? They bring the past to life in a way that text alone simply can't match.
Some of these photographs are absolutely chilling: the last photo of Hitler, for instance – it's dated just days before he took his life. A final image of Diana, Princess of Wales shows her hiding from the camera in the backseat of her car shortly before her final accident. And then there are the last photos of presidents; Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant, John F. Kennedy, and Franklin D. Roosevelt all appeared on film shortly before passing away.
While the dates of some of these photos are dubious, these last – or near last – photographs of historical figures capture fleeting moments in time, from the famous to the seemingly insignificant.
Photo details: 1943
Nikola Tesla was a Serbian American inventor best known for creating the first alternating current (AC) motor. He and Thomas Edison were rivals, and though they both made accomplished discoveries, Tesla did not match Edison's financial success. Tesla immigrated to the US in 1884 where he secured a job as an engineer at Edison’s Manhattan headquarters. There Tesla improved the design for Edison's DC dynamos for which he expected payment. When he did not receive the compensation Edison had promised, he quit.
After years of diligent work, in 1887-1888 Tesla received 30 patents and was invited to address the American Institute of Electrical Engineers. There the man who launched the first AC power system, George Westinghouse, took note of Tesla and invited him to work with him on his AC system. The 1890s warranted much of Tesla and Westinghouse's success. Tesla invented electric oscillators, meters, and the Tesla coil. He became one of the first people to experiment with X-rays and short-range radio communication. Tesla, Westinghouse, and General Electric created the first modern power station by installing AC generators at Niagara Falls.
Tesla's health declined in his final years and he became obsessed with the number three as well the pigeons we would feed. He lived out the rest of his life in a New York Hotel and continued to work on new inventions for as long as he could.
Age: Dec. at 87 (1856-1943)
Photo details: April 1910
Samuel Clemens, also known as Mark Twain, was a popular novelist, humorist, and journalist. He is known for his novels, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, as well as narratives such as Life on the Mississippi and The Innocents Abroad. Like his most famous characters, Clemens is said to have been quite the mischief maker as a child. In fact, the events of his childhood, growing up in Missouri in the 19th century, heavily influenced the content of his later novels.
For example, though he was taught that slavery was a social right and was approved of by God, he was naturally disheartened by the institution, something he reflects upon in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. He also witnessed several traumatizing events involving the deceased which take shape in his novels.
Clemens matured under the instruction of Joseph P. Ament’s Missouri Courier, and later published occasional works in his brother Orion Clemens' weekly newspaper. Eventually he established his own journal in Iowa called the Muscatine before setting up a print shop which he abandoned when he moved to Ohio. He spent some time learning from riverboat captain Horace Bixby, earning adventures that also made it into his later works.
By 1865, Clemens had gained literary notoriety and the name Mark Twain became famous.
Age: Dec. at 75 (1835-1910)
Photo details: June 27, 1885
Ulysses S. Grant is best know as the 18th president of the US and commander of the Union army during the Civil War. He spearheaded reconstruction in the late 1860s and was a strong advocate for civil rights. Grant wanted to bring reconciliation to the separated states as well as protect the Black Americans who had been freed.
Grant was born Jesse Grant, but while attending the US Military Academy at West Point, a congressman mistook his name as Ulysses and he never corrected it. He served in the Mexican-American War before resigning his post and taking on life as a civilian. Several years later, he volunteered as a colonel at the start of civil unrest in America and was was appointed as general later that summer.
Grant was a national hero after the success of the Union army and was later voted as the republican candidate for president against Schuyler Colfax. Grant received more than 52% of the popular vote and by 46 he became the youngest US president to serve at the time.
Age: Dec. at 63 (1822-1885)
Photo details: Princeton, NJ, March 1955
Albert Einstein spent the years leading up to and throughout WWII earning his education and building his reputation as a notable professor at several prestigious universities across continental lines. After the war, he became a leading figure in the World Government Movement, declined Presidency over the State of Israel, and he worked with Dr. Chaim Weizmann to establish the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Einstein is well known for his 1905 paper on the photon theory of light in which he used what he discovered about the inadequacies of Newtonian mechanics to determine that E=mc². A few years later, in 1916, he wrote about another revelation which hypothesized his theory of gravitation.
Einstein is a Nobel Prize winner who spent his life studying quantum theory as a professor, ambassador, and clerk. He made discoveries which have since influenced the modern understanding of physics and relativity.
Age: Dec. at 76 (1879-1955)