Can You Guess in Which Decade These Iconic Photos Were Taken?
Go ahead and see how many you get right. But be forewarned: Some of these are tricky!
As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words—but some convey so much more than that. That’s the case for these historic images. While you may have seen some of them before, there’s a good chance you might not know exactly when they’re from. Put your knowledge of history to the test and see how many of these iconic photos you can match to their correct decades.
President Thomas Dewey
Wait. President Dewey? If that doesn’t sound familiar, it’s because Thomas Dewey was never actually elected president. In this photo, taken on November 3, 1948, dark-horse president-elect Harry S. Truman holds up a copy of the Chicago Daily Tribune—which had clearly spoken too soon. It wasn’t just the Tribune, however. Everyone had expected Dewey to win, but late into the vote-counting, it turned out that Truman had defeated Dewey on the basis of both electoral votes and the popular vote. Did you get that one right? Try your hand at these U.S. presidential trivia questions everyone gets wrong.
The oldest presidential photograph
So, if you recall from history class that photography was invented in the late 1820s, then you might assume this is a photograph of John Quincy Adams, whose term ran from 1825 through 1829. You would be correct. This is John Quincy Adams…but this photo was actually taken in 1843, long after Adams had left office. The first sitting president to be photographed was apparently taken of William Henry Harrison in 1841, but that image was “lost to history,” according to the Atlantic, making Adams’ image the oldest surviving photograph of an American president. You might be surprised to learn about these other 22 surprising presidential firsts.
Mount Rushmore, under construction
If you know that the construction of Mount Rushmore began in 1927, you might assume that this photograph was taken in the late 1920s. Close, but not correct. This photograph was actually taken in 1932 while workmen were carving the face of George Washington.
The first movie star
The first movie star in history was the woman pictured here in 1911: Florence Lawrence. Her first role was in a movie about Daniel Boone from 1906. In the next year alone, she made 40 more films. Why don’t you know her name? It wasn’t until the 1920s that movies included a credit reel that told you who played which role. Check out these true stories behind 23 of the most iconic photos in American history.
The first phone call
In this photo, Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of the telephone, demonstrates how to make a phone call. “Mr. Watson,” Bell famously said into the phone. “Come here, I want to see you.” The date was March 12, 1876. It’s hard to remember life before smartphones, but this is what phones looked like the decade you were born.
Most popular at her high school
You might recognize the young woman in this photo, taken in 1971, as Oprah Winfrey. It’s from Winfrey’s high school yearbook (she graduated that year), and it shows her with classmate Anthony Otey. Otey and Winfrey had been voted Most Popular at East Nashville High School. Things didn’t always come easily for Oprah, though. Check out the ironic “failures” of wildly successful people, including Lady O.
The first selfie
Nope, this wasn’t a historic first made by a Kardashian. Since you know that the first photograph was taken in the 1820s and that photography had become available to the public in the late 1830s, you might be able to guess when the first selfie, shown here, was taken. The answer? 1839. That’s when Robert Cornelius, an early pioneer of photography, set up a camera to take this picture of himself.
Atlantic City’s beach scene
Here’s a photo of a crowded beach in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Since it’s the middle of summer, the fact that everyone is pretty well covered up should be a clue that this photograph was taken a long time ago. In fact, it was taken at the turn of the 20th century, when it was common for men to wear short sleeves and long shorts, and for women to wear mid-length dresses, when splashing around in the waves. For your own old photos, make sure you know these tips for keeping antique family photos looking their best.
That was the name given to this photograph by its photographer, Dorothea Lange. The subject is Florence Owens Thompson, a 32-year-old mother of seven, struggling to keep her family together and her children fed. Did you guess that this photo was taken during the Great Depression? Then you guessed correctly. The date of the photo is 1936, during those difficult years that began in the wake of the October 1929 stock-market crash.
With those shoulder pads and that big hair, the former Mrs. Donald Trump must have been out for a nibble of truffles and caviar at the Quilted Giraffe circa 1985, right? Nope. This photograph of Ivana Trump was taken at a lunch to benefit City Meals on Wheels in 1997. If you loved the ’80s, you’ll appreciate these 18 pictures that will bring you right back to that memorable decade.
A housewife in her natural habitat
Photos of happy housewives aren’t unique to any particular decade, but this photo, which appears to be an advertisement for the Monarch electric stove, places it solidly in the late 1920s. Another clue, albeit a more subtle one, is the relatively curveless body type of the model. Do you love the decade of Art Deco and The Great Gatsby? Here are 20 things you had no idea happened in 1920.
If you guessed that this photo is of David Bowie, you’re correct so far. Now, the question is which David Bowie? The multitalented artist had many personas that spanned many decades, but the one pictured here is perhaps the least well-known: Davie Jones. Born David Jones, he went by “Davie” when he began his career, and he made his first television appearance shortly after this photo was taken in the summer of 1964.
Millions line up to receive smallpox vaccinations
In this photo, hundreds of New Yorkers are pictured waiting in line for a smallpox vaccination, though ultimately, millions would receive the vaccine. Was this taken in the first days of the smallpox vaccine? Nope. Those days, the early 1800s, predated photography. This image is from April 1947, at the tail end of a smallpox epidemic that had begun a month earlier when a man unwittingly brought the illness back with him from a trip to Mexico.
Annie got her gun
Annie Oakley was quick on the trigger, all right. Born Phoebe Ann Mosey in 1860, she was a talented sharpshooter and performed with Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West show starting in 1885, which is when this photo was taken. Although Oakley is generally portrayed as an icon of women’s rights, and it’s true that she campaigned for “equal pay for equal work,” she was not an advocate of women gaining the right to vote. “She hedged that the concept was acceptable if only the good women voted,” according to History.com. Don’t miss these moments that changed women’s history forever.
Spoiler alert: This one’s a trick!
Here is a photo of an Amish horse and buggy on a snowy day in December. But December of which year? Because the Amish way of life isn’t tied to technological progress, it could just as easily be 1950 as it could be 1890…or 2003, as happens to be the case.