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Some Of The Last Known Photos Taken Of 17 Legendary Historical Figures

Updated December 29, 2020 105.9k votes 21.6k voters 2.4m views17 items

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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: 1937

    Amelia Earhart was a revolutionary pilot at a time when aviation was a male-dominated field. She was the first woman to cross the Atlantic, the first person to fly solo from Hawaii to California across the Pacific, and was the first woman to reach 18,415 feet. Her ultimate goal was to fly around the world, and with her navigator, Fred Noonan, she began the 29,000-mile flight in Miami on June 1, 1937. 

    On July 2, Earhart and Noonan, with 7,000 miles left in their excursion around the world, took off toward Howland Island, a small island in the Pacific, and Earhart's next stop. Do to unpredictable cloudy weather, inaccurate maps, and shoddy radio communications, Earhart was unable to locate the island and disappeared over the Pacific. Rescue efforts began immediately, but no evidence of her fate was ever found. 

    Earhart was an accomplished pilot and revolutionary for feminism at a time when men dominated the social, political, domestic, and business worlds. She worked as a nurses aid during WWI, a social worker, and an aviation pioneer.

    • Gender: Female
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  • 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)
    • Gender: Male
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  • Photo: Alexander Gardner / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Photo details: February 5, 1865

    Abraham Lincoln was the 16th president of the US and is responsible for enacting the Emancipation Proclamation which began America's progression toward the abolition of slavery. He was a vocal advocate for freedom during civil unrest among the states and as the war was ending, in 1865, Lincoln's life was taken by Confederate sympathizer John Wilkes Booth.

    Lincoln was not only an advocate for civil rights, but he was a self-taught lawyer known for his honesty and his indiscriminate clientele. He and his wife, Mary Todd, had four children, two of whom passed before their father. He began serving in the US House of Representatives in 1847 and was notably controversial because he opposed the Mexican-American War. 

    Lincoln's Gettysburg address legendarily explained the purpose for the civil war and is famously studied to this day. He also advocated for the 13th amendment, which outlaws slavery, and which was passed after his untimely demise. 

    • Age: Dec. at 56 (1809-1865)
    • Gender: Male
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  • Photo: N.Y. Howe / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    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)
    • Gender: Male
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