40+ Historical Figures Who Were Actually Super Attractive In Their Prime
Do good looks help people win fame, fortune, and power? Well, you might think so by looking at these historical titans! And yet many of these men and women are hardly remembered for their appearances. Think of people like Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, or Rosa Parks; we're mostly familiar with images of them from later in their lives. But if you dig through the archives, you’ll find that some of the most influential people in history were actually pretty dashing in their hay days. Ready to find out your ultimate historical crush?
1. Hermann Rorschach
No, this isn't a photo of Hollywood icon Brad Pitt in costume for a period drama. It's Hermann Rorschach, the inventor of the inkblot test used in psychological evaluations. Historians speculate that his father, who painted and taught art, inspired young Rorschach to examine the influence of art on the human mind. Though many experts of his day dismissed his inkblots as quackery, today Rorschach is hailed as a scientific pioneer. Sadly, a sudden illness took Rorschach's life when he was just 37 years old. Who knows what else he might have accomplished with some more time?
2. Princess Fawzia Fuad of Egypt
If you want to see elegance personified, look no further. Princess Fawzia Fuad of Egypt is a picture of regal serenity. This scion of the Egyptian royal family – her brother was King Farouk – married Iran’s Crown Prince Muhammad Reza Pahlavi in 1939 when she was 17. He became the Shah two years later and she took on the title of Empress. Yet it was not a happy marriage that they shared, and so divorce came in 1948. Fawzia subsequently returned to Egypt, remarried, and lived on until 2013. Now that is quite a life!
3. Joseph Stalin
It may surprise you to see that the ruthless Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin once sported debonair good looks. You can see them in this police mugshot of the 23-year-old firebrand revolutionary from 1902 — this was before he shaved his beard into his trademark curled mustache. Apart from the appalling persecution of his own people, particularly during his subjugation of Eastern Europe, the diehard Communist is best remembered for his part in the defeat of the Germans in World War II. However, his autocratic ways also sparked the start of the Cold War in the middle of the 20th century.
4. Charlie Chaplin
Charlie Chaplin is, of course, most famed for his clown-like hobo character in the many silent films he made in the early days of Hollywood. But his strangely baggy pants, battered bowler hat, and unflattering toothbrush mustache actually disguised his notably handsome looks. Chaplin was born in the U.K. capital of London in 1889 and made his first visit to America 21 years later with a touring vaudeville company. Success came quickly after his first silver screen appearance in 1914. The comic tramp persona that brought him worldwide fame first appeared later that year in a short titled Kid Auto Races at Venice.
5. Winston Churchill
Your mental image of Winston Churchill probably comes from photos taken while he led Britain against Hitler during World War II. In those pictures, the elder statesman bears more than a passing resemblance to a bulldog. To many, the canine's appearance – and Churchill’s – represented the dogged resistance of the British to the German threat. But it was not always so. In his youth, Churchill cut a dashing and debonair figure as you can see from this 1895 portrait of him wearing the full dress uniform of the 4th Hussars when he was a strapping 21-year-old.
6. Abraham Lincoln
Although always distinguished in appearance, it would be an exaggeration to say that Abraham Lincoln was a looker in his later years. But as a young man, his high cheekbones, strong chin, and open, honest eyes made him surprisingly attractive. It’s hardly his appearance that counts towards his place in history. Leading the Union forces in the Civil War which ended with the emancipation of African-Americans is his enduring contribution to America’s story. Interestingly, Lincoln debuted his signature beard after an 11-year-old named Grace Bedell wrote him a letter promising that she'd get her brothers to vote for him if he grew some facial hair.
7. Frederick Douglass
A legendary and revered figure in U.S. history, Fredrick Douglass cuts a striking figure in this 1848 photograph. In that year, multitudes of African-Americans still suffered under the cruel yoke of enslavement. In fact, Douglass himself had escaped from it in 1838 and found freedom in New York City. He subsequently campaigned vigorously against slavery and lived to see its abolition – thanks in part to his persistent efforts. Douglass was a reformer who recognized the immense power of photography, and he posed for many sittings — to the point where historians believe he is the most photographed man of the 1800s.
8. Wilma Rudolph
Wilma Rudolph’s outstanding achievement was winning three gold medals at the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome, Italy. Her wins came in the four times 100-meter relay race and the 200 and 100-meter sprints. In fact, she was the first American woman to take such a haul of Olympic golds, earning her the nicknames "The Tornado" and "The Black Gazelle." Her feat was made all the more remarkable by the fact that as a young child, she’d had to wear orthopedic footwear up to the age of 11. And Rudolph’s good looks were matched by her perseverance in the face of disadvantage.
9. Bonnie and Clyde
Notorious outlaws and lovers Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow might have been ruthless killers, but there’s no denying that they had style and looks. Much of the American public eagerly followed their criminal exploits, as their rise from total obscurity was like something straight out of a movie. Their campaign of crime rampaged across the U.S. and, according to the FBI, they were suspected of 13 homicides – including the gunning down of two cops in Joplin, Missouri. The duo couldn't escape justice forever, though. Just after sunrise on a May morning in 1934, the deviant duo met their end in a hail of police bullets near Sailes, Louisiana.
10. Buster Keaton
You might not recognize this icon right away, but we bet you've seen at least one of his classic films. Slapstick comic Buster Keaton is best known for his silent movies in which he appears with a pasty-white, impassive face. His look is completed by a flattened pork-pie hat that looks a couple of sizes too small. His deadpan look was actually a key part of his comedy. But underneath his clownish trappings and expressionless façade lurked a notably handsome man. Fun fact: according to legend, he was given the nickname "Buster" by none other than Harry Houdini, who was impressed by the young boy's physicality.
11. Lillie Langtry
In this 1885 portrait, the winsome-looking British actress Lillie Langtry gives a clear idea of what attracted her lover at the time: the Prince of Wales. He went on to become King Edward VII despite having scandalized the Victorians with his philandering. The besotted prince even built a house for Langtry in the south coast resort of Bournemouth – a handily discreet getaway for the couple. Today, that house is the Langtry Manor Hotel and, fittingly, the former master bedroom acts as the honeymoon suite. Their relationship was a dangerous one, but doesn't Langtry look like a woman worth building a manor for?
12. Jesse James
Jesse James might have been gifted with film star looks and a dash of Hollywood bravado, but there’s no getting away from the fact that he was a murderous criminal. Over a 12-year period from 1869, James participated in 19 railroad, stagecoach, and bank hold-ups, according to National Geographic. His crimes resulted in the deaths of nearly 20 other people. In the end, he was treacherously shot to death at the age of 34 by one Robert Ford – a member of his own gang. It seems that crime never pays in the end, not even for celebrity thieves.
13. Emmeline Pankhurst
Born in 1858, Emmeline Pankhurst is remembered as the most prominent of the Suffragettes – the women who tirelessly campaigned for the right to vote in British elections. Don't let her beauty fool you: Pankhurst was no delicate flower. She was arrested countless times and was subjected to force-feeding while imprisoned and on hunger strike. World War I brought a temporary halt to the Suffragettes’ campaigning. But eventually, women won their hard-fought battle for the right to vote on the same basis as men in 1928. Sadly, the law guaranteeing this was passed 18 days after Pankhurst’s death.
14. General George Patton
The swashbuckling General George Patton is principally remembered for his bullish advances across World War II Europe in the face of bitter opposition from diehard Axis troops. By all accounts, his nickname “Old Blood and Guts” was well-earned. This photo shows a handsome young Patton while he was attending the Virginia Military Institute in 1907. Many years fighting on the battlefield eventually took their toll on his boyish good looks, but Patton was more than willing to make that sacrifice. It was his unorthodox approach to military tactics and his unrelenting will that drove the Germans back across Western Europe.
15. Amelia Earhart
We see Amelia Earhart at age 40 in this 1937 shot, and her youthful smile and twinkling eyes shine from the portrait. She’s standing in front of her Lockheed 10-E Electra plane, which is the very aircraft she made her last flight aboard in the same year as this photograph. Her plan was to circumnavigate the world – a journey of some 29,000 miles. Though Earhart’s twin-engined plane fell from the sky somewhere in the region of Howland Island – a coral atoll in the southwestern Pacific. Sadly, neither the wreckage nor her remains have ever been found.
16. Coretta Scott King
Coretta Scott King’s marriage to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. ended in tragedy in 1968 when her husband was cruelly gunned down in Memphis, Tennessee. The former played her part in the civil rights movement and participated in key campaigns such as the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott. After her husband’s death, she continued her civil rights activism and published a memoir in 1969 called My Life with Martin Luther King, Jr. In addition to her activism, Scott King had a lovely soprano voice that won her a scholarship to the New England Conservatory of Music. She sadly died in 2006.
17. Mao Zedong
Born in 1893, Communist dictator Mao Zedong led his nation from the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949 until his death in 1976. This picture of a handsome young Mao from 1925 is a stark contrast to the portly older man whose image is much more familiar. Although still revered by many in China today, in the West he’s probably best remembered for his Cultural Revolution which convulsed China from 1966 through 1976. Estimates vary, but as many as two million may have died as a result of the ten-year program, according to The Guardian.
18. Harriet Beecher Stowe
Harriet Beecher Stowe is remembered for her 1852 novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which portrayed the lives of African-American slaves. Encyclopedia Britannica notes that the book sold 300,000 copies in its first year, and it has been credited with helping to sway public opinion against slavery. This 1850 daguerreotype of Beecher Stowe was captured just two years before the book came out when she was in her early 40s. Her massive hit led to a meeting with President Abraham Lincoln. Word has it that he greeted her by saying, "So you're the little lady who started this great war!"
19. Theodore Roosevelt
Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt served as president of the U.S. for two terms from 1901. Before that, he had cultivated a public image as a heroic soldier and dashing adventurer. He was fascinated by the life of the Wild West and often dressed in buckskins as he’s seen in this image taken in 1885. There is no doubt about his courage – he led soldiers of the Rough Riders in the Spanish-American War, after all. Though his image-making was calculated. The fact that this photograph was actually taken in a New York studio is a testament to that.
20. Rosa Parks
The brave Rosa Parks took her place in history by defying the discriminatory laws of Montgomery, Alabama. One of these racist Jim Crow regulations stated that African-Americans must vacate places at the front of public buses for white passengers. In 1955 Parks deliberately sat in a segregated seat and was subsequently arrested when she failed to give it to a white man. That sparked a legal battle for the ages, with Parks suddenly becoming a household name. Not long after, the Supreme Court declared Montgomery’s bus regulation unconstitutional. And Parks’ defiance earned her the title of “mother of the civil rights movement.”
21. Rupert Brooke
This soulful image of a young Rupert Brooke seems about as far away as you could get from active service during World War I. In fact, he had something of a gilded youth. Brooke was educated at a top English private school called Rugby and later graduated from the University of Cambridge. He then went on to become a successful poet – writing sonnets during the conflict while serving in the Royal Navy. Though he was bitten by a mosquito as his ship sailed to Turkey in 1915. Sadly, the resulting septicemia killed him at the age of 27.
22. Prince Albert
Francis Albert Augustus Charles Emmanuel, Prince of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha wed Queen Victoria in 1840. Despite being married to a queen, he was not a king and instead received the title of Prince Consort. It’s said that the British public did not take to him with enthusiasm – regarding him as a foreigner. But Victoria was deeply in love with her husband (who was also a cousin). And his early death at 42 in 1861 left the monarch devastated. Despite his short life, Albert made a big impact, especially in pushing his wife to open up reforms that turned Britain into a constitutional monarchy.
23. Queen Liliʻuokalani
It makes sense that this historical beauty is a literal monarch. When Queen Liliʻuokalani ascended to the throne in 1891, she was recognized as the first female ruler of the Kingdom of Hawaii. She was a fair, loyal queen...but she had no idea that she would serve as Hawaii's very last monarch. Imperialist American leaders, eager to annex the island chain, booted her from power in an 1893 coup. Some of her supporters launched a doomed rebellion a couple of years later, and Liliʻuokalani was swiftly imprisoned by American authorities. In turn, she had to officially abdicate to regain her freedom.
24. Pablo Picasso
Pablo Picasso – seen here in 1908 – was born in Spain in 1881 and transformed the world of art in the 20th century perhaps more than anyone else. His talent for drawing emerged when he was as young as ten under the tutelage of his father. Picasso’s long and highly productive career embraced a bewildering variety of styles – the most famous of which is probably Cubism. He continued to work right up until within hours of his death at 91 from a heart attack in 1973. Picasso memorably said, "The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls."
25. Tenzing Norgay
During his lifetime, this handsome fellow reached unparalleled heights — literally. Tenzing Norgay took part in many Everest expeditions at a time when no one had ever reached the peak of the world’s tallest mountain. He and New Zealander Edmund Hillary broke that barrier in 1953 when they became the first men to conquer Everest’s summit. This mountaineering feat made Norgay a household name around the world. In his later years, with his climbing days behind him, he ran the Indian government-funded Field Training Himalayan Mountaineering Institute. He has gone down as one of the most influential Sherpas in history.
26. Indira Gandhi
Photographs of Indira Gandhi tend to show her in the later period of her life when she was prime minister of India. But here, we see her dazzling smile in an attractive portrait from 1953 when she was in her mid-thirties. Gandhi served as prime minister of the world’s largest democracy for three terms from 1966 to 1977. She went on to win a fourth term in 1980, but that ended in tragedy with her assassination four years later. Gandhi didn't have time to achieve all of her goals, but is still considered among the best female heads of state of the modern era.
27. Virginia Woolf
Groundbreaking British novelist Virginia Woolf – seen here in a pensive mood – is remembered for her unorthodox approach to narrative. The way she fractured and distorted the structures of her novels has had a lasting effect on serious literature. Born in 1882, Woolf was also a prolific essayist – tackling everything from politics to art. In addition, she was a leading member of the bohemian group of artists, intellectuals, and writers known as the Bloomsbury Group, after the London district they frequented. With good looks like hers, there's really no reason to be afraid of Virginia Woolf.
28. Ernest Hemingway
Writer and adventurer Ernest Hemingway is seen here in 1918 in the uniform of an American Red Cross ambulance driver. He was wounded during World War I on the Austro-Italian front and decorated as a war hero. He’s recognized as one of America’s leading literary figures and won the Nobel Prize in 1954. When he wasn’t writing his novels, he spent time as a journalist covering conflicts such as the Spanish Civil War and World War II – often acting more like a fighter than a reporter. Hemingway was the rare man who had brawn and brains!
29. Marie Antoinette
Apart from her legendary beauty, if there is one thing everybody knows about Marie Antoinette, it’s that the French queen suggested that the peasants should eat cake if they had no bread. Though this great story entirely lacks historical evidence, according to Encyclopedia Britannica. In any case, the poor royal lost her head to the guillotine a few years after the French Revolution of 1789. The monarch's final written words were these: "I am calm, as people are whose conscience is clear. My deepest regret is having to abandon our poor children… I only lived for them."
30. Harriet Tubman
Harriet Tubman looks a little strained in this 1868 portrait – taken at a time when photography required absolute stillness on the part of the subject. Nevertheless, her pleasing good looks are apparent. Tubman was born into forced servitude around 1820 but escaped to the North in 1849 where she spent the rest of her life vigorously campaigning against slavery. She also helped many of her fellow African-Americans to escape from bondage in the South via the Underground Railway. Tubman memorably quipped, "I was the conductor of the Underground Railroad for eight years, and I can say what most conductors can't say; I never ran my train off the track and I never lost a passenger."
31. Nikola Tesla
Nikola Tesla’s surname is best known today as the brand name selected by Elon Musk for his automobile company. It was no accidental choice – the Serbian-American Tesla was a brilliant scientist who discovered the rotating magnetic field. This underpins machinery and equipment which is dependent on alternating current such as the power distribution grid. And an electric car needs a dependable power supply to charge its batteries. Sadly, later in life he became increasingly eccentric and died penniless. Among his stranger habits, Tesla became obsessed with pigeons. He spent much of his day feeding the birds in the park, and he personally nursed any injured pigeons he found back to full health inside his own home.
32. Nelson Mandela
Few early pictures of Nelson Mandela exist, but this image from 1937 when he was 19 shows that the young man cut a handsome figure. He finally emerged from captivity in 1990 after being imprisoned by the racist South African regime for decades. The crusader spent 27 years behind bars, where he tirelessly wrote letters to loved ones and compatriots, urging them to not give up the fight. Mandela went on to lead the opposition against the government until apartheid was eventually dismantled. In the country’s first free elections in 1994, Mandela’s African National Congress emerged as the winner, and he became president for five years.
33. Lord Byron
George Gordon Byron, 6th Baron Byron – better known as the feted poet Lord Byron – had smoldering, romantic looks which were well-matched to his intensely romantic verse. Byron came into the world in 1788, and he had a definite touch of eccentricity. While attending the University of Cambridge he was told that pet dogs were banned so instead, it’s said, Byron acquired a bear. After fighting with the Greeks in their war of independence against the Ottoman Empire, he died of a fever in the Grecian city of Missolonghi in 1824 at the age of 36.
34. Vladimir Lenin
Russian revolutionary leader Vladimir Lenin – pictured here in 1917 – is better known from photographs of him as an older bald man with his characteristic mustache and goatee beard. The revolutionary had spent three long years of exile in Siberia prior to this portrait, but that sentence did not break his spirit. In the following years, Lenin founded the Russian Communist Party, led the bloody Bolshevik Revolution in 1917, and presided over the new state until his death in 1924. He was also a noted political philosopher who refined a new communist doctrine known as Marxism-Leninism.
35. Anne of Cleves
Anne of Cleves was the fourth of Henry VIII’s six wives and they married in 1540. It’s said that the king deemed her unattractive. Yet this portrait from around 1539 seems to belie his judgment – showing as it does a fair-faced young woman. Though there is some suggestion that portraits of Anne were unduly flattering. Whatever the truth, Henry divorced her after only six months, and the marriage was almost certainly unconsummated. Though she got off lightly compared to some of Henry’s other ex-wives. Yep, Anne was allowed to live in peace for the rest of her life with an ample settlement.
36. Emiliano Zapata
Brandishing a rifle, grasping a cutlass, and sporting a luxuriant mustache, Emilio Zapata looks like the archetypal revolutionary beneath his extravagant sombrero. Though this is hardly surprising, since that is exactly what he was. The Mexican was a key – and sometimes ruthless – player in the revolutionary unrest that swept his country in the decade from 1910 onward. The military leader brokered political deals and held huge tracts of land under his personal control, but his reign would not last for too long. Zapata met his violent end when he was gunned down by Mexican government soldiers in 1919.
37. Queen Nefertiti
Queen Nefertiti ruled Egypt nearly 3,400 years ago with her husband Pharaoh Akhenaten, and she may have reigned alone after his death. This exquisite 20-inch-tall stone bust of her – made during her lifetime but only discovered in 1913 – shows a startlingly beautiful woman with high cheekbones and perfect features. Other images of her painted on temple and tomb walls often show her in powerful poses – riding a chariot or vanquishing enemies. We can only imagine what an actual photograph of the mighty ruler might have looked like, but fortunately these artistic representations capture her beauty and grace.
38. Toussaint Louverture
This painting from the early years of the 19th century shows an imperious Toussaint Louverture. He led a Haitian independence movement comprised of former slaves against France at the time of the French Revolution. He succeeded in getting the island protectorate status and his followers essentially took power. Eventually, the French seized it back in 1802, and Louverture was imprisoned. He died the following year aged about 59. Though the leader is remembered as a hero of African resistance to slavery.
39. Mary, Queen of Scots
Mary, Queen of Scots had the misfortune to have a claim to the English throne as well as the Scottish crown. This was unlucky because the English queen was Elizabeth I, and she had no intention of relinquishing her title in favor of Mary. After a childhood in France and a tempestuous few years in Scotland, politics there resulted in her abdicating and fleeing to England. Eventually, she was accused by Elizabeth of plotting to take the crown, and Mary was beheaded in 1587. Mary's son James did succeed Elizabeth following the queen's demise, but he had few links to his mother, as they were separated not long after his birth.
40. Mary Eliza Mahoney
In 1879, Mary Eliza Mahoney became the first professionally qualified African-American nurse in the U.S. The Boston-born trailblazer trained at New England’s Hospital for Women and Children where she had originally worked as a cook. After qualifying, Mahoney worked in her chosen profession for more than 40 years. She also found time to act as one of the founders of the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses. Plus, Mahoney campaigned tirelessly for the rights of African-American health workers. Always striving to give it her all, the nurse urged her colleagues, "Work more and better the coming year than the previous year."
41. Johannes Brahms
You may not recognize the names of this German composer's best works — "Academic Festival Overture" and "German Requiem" to name a few — but you would definitely know the sounds. While he grew up to look a little gruff and grizzled thanks to a long beard, the young Johannes brought the fire. He was also a child prodigy who started financially supporting his entire family from a young age.
42. Catherine Parr
Henry VIII’s sixth and final wife Catherine Parr managed to outlive her husband – unlike some of her predecessors who fell victim to the executioner’s axe or died in childbirth. In this painting, we see an image of queenly grace and beauty. Already twice widowed, she married Henry in 1543 when she was 30 or 31. The marriage ended with Henry’s death in 1547, but Catherine obviously had a taste for matrimony since she married again – this time to Thomas, Lord Seymour of Sudeley. Sadly, she died in 1548 not long after giving birth to a daughter.
43. Franklin D. Roosevelt
One thing’s for sure: a young Franklin Delano Roosevelt knew how to rock a suit. Known affectionately as FDR, this dashing youngster went on to become America’s 32nd president. He won four presidential elections, too – that’s a record – and strengthened the U.S. economy during the dark days of the Depression and war.
44. Che Guevara
With his Cuban cigar and chill expression, Che Guevara looks effortlessly cool here. Sometimes known as “El Che,” the Argentine was a Marxist revolutionary who played a decisive role in the Cuban Revolution. He then became the Minister of Industries. But he was way too cool for that, so he headed back to the jungle in Bolivia for more guerrilla warfare.
45. Lucian Freud
Lucian Freud posing here on a Dublin street in a very sharp suit and tie shows just how stylish he was back in the day. And that bedhead hair and sideburns? Effortlessly cool. The Berlin-born British artist, and grandson of Sigmund, is known as having been among the top realist painters of the 20th century.
46. Dylan Thomas
Dylan Thomas was rocking the chunky-knit cardigan look before modern-day hipsters even knew what the word ironic meant. The Welsh poet had a reputation for being “drunken and doomed,” though – and he died in New York City at the age of just 39.