back to top

30 Powerful Pictures That Defined American History

A look back at the iconic images of Life magazine, presented by Getty Images.

Posted on

This year marks the 80th anniversary of Life magazine's inaugural issue in 1936. Over the course of its 36 years in print as a weekly publication, Life captured the sights and stories the helped defined the 20th century. Their images are seared into America's collective memory and chronicled our nation's progress and struggles during an era of rapid change.

To celebrate Life's accomplishments in photography and storytelling, BuzzFeed and Getty Images have brought together some of the most powerful pictures to have graced the pages of America's most beloved magazine.

Alfred Eisenstaedt / Getty Images

A jubilant American sailor grabs and kisses a white-uniformed nurse while thousands jam Times Square to celebrate the long awaited-victory over Japan in 1945.

Ed Clark / Getty Images

Navy CPO Graham Jackson cries as he plays "Goin' Home" on the accordion while President Franklin D. Roosevelt's body is carried from the Warm Springs Foundation where he died in 1945.

George Rodger / Getty Images

A young boy walks on a dirt road lined with the corpses of hundreds of prisoners who died at the Bergen-Belsen extermination camp, near the towns of Bergen and Celle, Germany on April 20, 1945.

Gordon Parks / Getty Images

Black cleaning woman Ella Watson stands with broom and mop in front of an American flag, reinterpreting Grant Wood's "American Gothic" painting in 1942.

Larry Burrows / Getty Images

Wounded Jeremiah Purdie is led past stricken comrades during the fierce firefight for control of Hill 484 just south of the DMZ during the Vietnam War in 1966.

Larry Burrows / Getty Images

A grieving widow cries over the plastic bag containing the remains of her husband found in a mass grave of civilians killed by the Viet Cong during the Tet Offensive, February 1968.

Time Life Pictures / Getty Images

Kent State University student Joe Cullum and others kneel beside wounded student John Cleary after members of the National Guard opened fire on protesters on May 4, 1970.

Paul Schutzer / Getty Images

Freedom Riders Julia Aaron and David Dennis along with 25 others are escorted by two Mississippi National Guardsmen from Montgomery, Alabama, to Jackson, Mississippi, in 1961.

W. Eugene Smith / Getty Images

Country Dr. Ernest Ceriani takes a break in the hospital kitchen at 2 a.m. after performing a cesarean section where the baby and the mother died due to complications in 1948.

Ralph Morse / Getty Images

The wives of NASA's Project Mercury astronauts in 1959 (from top right to bottom left): Jo Schirra, Louise Shepard, Annie Glenn, Rene Carpenter, Marjorie Slayton, Trudy Cooper, and Betty Grissom.

J. R. Eyerman / Getty Images

An audience sports 3D glasses during the opening-night screening of Bwana Devil, the first full-length color 3D motion picture, at Paramount Theater in 1952.

Leonard Mccombe / Getty Images

American actress Kim Novak sits down and removes her coat while a line of seated men in the dining car of the New York–bound 20th Century Limited train watch her every move, April 1956.

See more from the Time & Life Pictures collection at Getty Images.

Every. Tasty. Video. EVER. The new Tasty app is here!