Take a Visual Tour of the 20th Century

Although we try to grasp the full meaning of the past, sometimes we come to understand our history through snapshots. By looking at pictures, we can be in the room with Franklin D. Roosevelt or on the battlefield with a soldier during the Vietnam War. We can observe an unemployed man standing in line at a soup kitchen during the Great Depression or witness a pile of dead bodies in the aftermath of the Holocaust. Pictures capture a single fleeting moment, which we hope will illustrate so much more. Browse through these collections of pictures to better understand the history of the 20th century.

Landing Craft
6th June 1944: US troops in landing craft, during the D-Day landings. Keystone / Stringer/ Hulton Archives/ Getty Images

This collection of D-Day pictures includes images capturing the preparation needed for the operation, the actual crossing of the English Channel, soldiers and supplies landing on the beaches at Normandy, the many wounded during the fighting, and men and women on the homefront supporting the troops.

The most famous picture of the Great Depression - a mother of seven children by Dorthea Lange.
Farm Security Administration: Destitute pea pickers in California. Mother of seven children. (Circa February 1936). Picture from the FDR, courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration.

Through pictures, you can be a witness to the devastation caused by such a severe economic crisis as the Great Depression. This collection of Great Depression pictures includes images of the dust storms, farm foreclosures, migrant workers, families on the road, soup kitchens, and workers in the CCC.

Adolf Hitler poses with a group of Nazis soon after his appointment as Chancellor.
Adolf Hitler poses with a group of Nazis soon after his appointment as Chancellor. (February 1933). Picture courtesy of USHMM Photo Archives.)

A large collection of pictures of Hitler, including pictures of Hitler giving the Nazi salute, as a soldier in World War I, official portraits, standing with other Nazi officials, wielding an axe, attending Nazi Party rallies, and much more.

Former prisoners of Buchenwald staring out from their wooden bunks.
Former prisoners of the "little camp" in Buchenwald stare out from the wooden bunks in which they slept three to a "bed." Elie Wiesel is pictured in the second row of bunks, seventh from the left, next to the vertical beam. (April 16, 1945). Picture from the National Archives, courtesy of USHMM Photo Archives.

The horrors of the Holocaust were so immense that many have found them to be nearly unbelievable. Can there really be that much evil in the world? Discover for yourself as you witness some of the atrocities committed by the Nazis through these pictures of the Holocaust, including pictures of the concentration camps, death camps, prisoners, children, ghettos, displaced persons, Einsatzgruppen (mobile killing squads), Hitler, and other Nazi officials.

Pearl Harbor, taken by surprise, during the Japanese aerial attack.
Pearl Harbor, taken by surprise, during the Japanese aerial attack. Wreckage at Naval Air Station, Pearl Harbor. (December 7, 1941). Picture courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration.

On the morning of December 7, 1941, Japanese forces attacked the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The surprise attack destroyed much of the United States' fleet, especially the battleships. This collection of pictures captures the attack on Pearl Harbor, including pictures of planes caught on the ground, battleships burning and sinking, explosions, and bomb damage.

Ronald Reagan and Nancy Reagan in an official portrait at the White House.
Official portrait of the Reagans on the White House grounds. (November 16, 1988). Picture from the Ronald Reagan Library.

Have you ever wondered what President Ronald Reagan looked like as a child? Or been interested in seeing his engagement picture with Nancy? Or have been curious to see pictures of the assassination attempt on him? You will see all this and more in this collection of pictures of Ronald Reagan, which captures Reagan from his youth to his later years.

Eleanor Roosevelt in a black dress with a long necklace.
Eleanor Roosevelt (1943). Picture from the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library.
Eleanor Roosevelt, the wife of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, was an amazing and fascinating woman in her own right. Learn more through these pictures of Eleanor Roosevelt as a young girl, in her wedding dress, sitting with Franklin, visiting troops, and so much more.
Franklin D. Roosevelt in New York.
Franklin D. Roosevelt at Ft. Ontario, New York (July 22, 1929). Picture from the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library.
Franklin D. Roosevelt, the 32nd President of the United States and the only U.S. President elected to more than two terms, overcame the handicap of being paralyzed from a bout of polio to become one of the most popular U.S. Presidents in history. Learn more about this charismatic man through this large collection of pictures of Franklin D. Roosevelt, which includes pictures of FDR as a young boy, on a boat, spending time with Eleanor, sitting at his desk, giving speeches, and talking with Winston Churchill.
A young Marine private waits on the beach during the Marine landing in Vietnam.
Da Nang, Vietnam. A young Marine private waits on the beach during the Marine landing. (August 3, 1965). Picture courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration.

The Vietnam War (1959-1975) was bloody, dirty, and very unpopular. In Vietnam, U.S. soldiers found themselves fighting against an enemy they rarely saw, in a jungle they couldn't master, for a cause they barely understood. These pictures of the Vietnam War offer a brief glimpse into life during the war.

A tank in World War I going over the top in 1918.
Tank going over the top. (1918). Picture from the National Archives and Records Administration.
World War I, originally called the Great War, raged from 1914 to 1918. Mostly fought in western Europe in muddy, bloody trenches, WWI saw the introduction of the machine gun and poison gas into battle. Learn more about the war through these pictures of World War I, which include pictures of soldiers in combat, destruction, and injured soldiers.

World War II Posters

World War II Poster: Button Your Lip, Loose Talk Can Cost Lives (1941-1945)
Button Your Lip, Loose Talk Can Cost Lives (1941-1945). Picture courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration.

Propaganda during wartime is used to garner public support for one side and to turn public support away from the other. Oftentimes, this turns into extremes such as ours vs. yours, friend vs. enemy, good vs. evil. During World War II, propaganda posters urged the average American citizen to do all sorts of things, like not to talk about military secrets, volunteer to serve in the military, conserve supplies, learn to spot the enemy, buy war bonds, avoid sickness, and so much more. Learn more about propaganda through this collection of World War II posters.