From U.S. presidents and Wild West outlaws to groundbreaking scientists and brave civil rights campaigners, the 19th century is packed with iconic figures. But how many of those do you think were actually photographed? Well, the answer is more than likely to truly amaze you. Read on to see 40 unexpected images from the dawn of photography that captured iconic figures like you've never seen them before.
1. Calamity Jane
Calamity Jane’s life story is a murky one, and has been very much embroidered over the years — not least by herself. It’s reasonably certain, though, that after a mythically wild life, Jane eventually found a berth with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. Sadly, she passed away in 1903 and was buried next to a fellow legendary figure: Wild Bill Hickok.
2. Vincent van Gogh
If we are to judge artistic merit in dollar terms, Vincent van Gogh is near the very top of the tree. Yet during his lifetime, the artist sold only one of his paintings. And that thing about his ear? In reality, he actually only chopped off a part of his ear lobe. That's not to minimize his mental health struggles, though — they resulted in his death in 1890.
Born in 1829, Geronimo was a legendary leader of the Chiricahua Apache. He stood at the head of his people as they resisted the incursion of settlers onto their ancestral lands. His nemesis was Brigadier General Nelson A. Miles, who induced him to surrender after years of resistance in 1886 with a promise of exile in Florida. Instead, Geronimo and his reduced band of followers were handed a term of forced labor.
4. Edgar Allen Poe
Here we see a somewhat disdainful-looking Edgar Allen Poe in a portrait from 1849. Born 40 years previously in Boston, Massachusetts, the author is best remembered for his spine-chilling short stories which have terrified generations of readers. These include such classics as The Pit and the Pendulum and The Fall of the House of Usher.
5. President Andrew Jackson
You might criticize this photograph of Andrew Jackson for its murkiness, but it’s worth pointing out it was taken in 1844 or 1845! Jackson was 78 years old at the time of this portrait. For a clearer picture of the man, take a look at a $20 bill — they’re graced by his face. He served two terms as president starting in 1829.
6. Susan B. Anthony
Susan Brownwell Anthony was around 28 when this photo was taken. Raised as a quaker, she was born in 1820 in Adams, Massachusetts. Anthony is remembered for her pioneering work on women’s rights and with the temperance movement. Sadly, the activist didn't live to see women attain universal suffrage in 1920.
7. Billy the Kid
Given Billy the Kid’s reputation as a ruthless gunslinger, this 1878 photo of him – he’s on the left – is somewhat confusing. We guess it shows that even murderous outlaws need a bit of downtime! By the way, this photo reportedly turned up in a junk shop for $2 and went on to sell for $2.3 million.
8. Charles Dickens
This photo of the great author was taken in 1867 or 1868, when Charles Dickens had already published such timeless works as Oliver Twist, Great Expectations and A Christmas Carol. Charles John Huffam Dickens was born in Portsmouth, England, in 1812. As a 12-year-old, his father’s financial woes forced Dickens to leave school and work for a time in a factory. This was a harrowing experience which he never forgot, and it colored much of his work’s humanitarianism.
9. John Brown
Ardent anti-slaver John Brown is seen here in a daguerreotype – one of the earliest forms of photograph. Brown led a dramatic armed raid on the federal armory at Harper’s Ferry in 1859 in the hope that his action would trigger a slave uprising. But soldiers attacked the rebels, who were forced to surrender.
10. Belle Starr
Sat on a handsome mount and elegantly kitted out, Belle Starr cuts a dashing figure in this 1886 photograph. Styled as the “Bandit Queen,” Myra Maybelle Shirley was one of the Wild West’s most notorious female outlaws. The man in the photo is believed to be Deputy U.S. Marshal Charles Barnhill — her arresting officer at the time.
11. Sigmund Freud
Sigmund Freud — born in 1856 in what is now the Czech Republic — poses in this 1872 photograph with his mother Amalia. Freud’s known for inventing psychoanalysis, a discipline which has paid for many a modern psychotherapist’s leather chaise longue. He’s perhaps best known for his divise Oedipus complex theory.
12. Wild Bill Hickok
James Butler Hickok is credited with being one of the lawmen who made the Wild West a little tamer. His character is well observed in a scary encounter he had with a bear in 1858. Wild Bill apparently won the battle by drawing his knife and — well, you get the picture. Hickok met his maker during a poker game in 1876.
13. Thomas Edison
In this image, probably taken around 1878, a young Thomas Edison poses next to his prototypical phonograph. The machine was able to record and play back sounds, which at that time was an impressive feat. In fact, the origins of all of our marvelous communication gadgets can be rightfully traced back to Edison’s work on telegraphy and telephony.
14. Emily Dickinson
Taken around 1847, this image is a graceful portrait of renowned American poet Emily Dickinson. Born in 1830 in Amherst, Massachusetts, she is revered for her verse. Yet of the almost 1,800 poems she wrote, only ten were actually published while she was alive. The Encyclopedia Britannica describes her work as being “distinguished by its epigrammatic compression, haunting personal voice, enigmatic brilliance and lack of high polish.”
15. Butch Cassidy
Looking every inch the dapper gent with his bowler and watch chain, Butch Cassidy gazes confidently at us from sometime around 1900. Cassidy went on to become a leading member of the Wild Bunch outlaw gang, who specialized in holding up trains and robbing banks. No one knows for sure when Cassidy died. It might have been in 1909 in Bolivia, 1911 in Uruguay, or 1939 in Nevada or Washington.