Kids who changed the world: Childhood photos of famous people

Goran Blazeski
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We sometimes forget that all those great inventors, scientists, writers, actors, actresses, musicians, world leaders, athletes, and artists who influenced the world we live in and deeply affected our lives, were once kids just like we were.

From Charlie Chaplin, Billie Holiday, and Albert Einstein to Mahatma Gandhi, Elizabeth Taylor, Frida Kahlo and many others, here are some of the most adorable photographs of the kids who went on to leave a lasting mark on our society and shape the world we live in today

Charlie Chaplin

A teenage Chaplin in the play “Sherlock Holmes,” in which he appeared between 1903 and 1906

Born on April 16, 1889, in London, England, to parents who worked as London music hall entertainers, Charles Spencer Chaplin would go on to become a worldwide icon of the silent-film era and one of the biggest stars of the 20th century.

The death of his alcoholic father and the nervous breakdown of his mother made it necessary for him to start performing at an early age so he could help make ends meet.

Even in his early years, Chaplin knew that show business was what he truly loved and he was determined to succeed at it. And he did. At the age of 19, Chaplin arrived in the United States, where he developed the Tramp persona and by 1918 he was already one of the most recognizable figures in the film industry.

Gary Cooper

Cooper dressed as a cowboy, 1903

The little cowboy in the picture would become one of the most popular American actors and a true Hollywood icon. Frank James Cooper, better known as Gary Cooper, was born on May 7, 1901, in Helena, Montana, to an English immigrant family. It was his mother’s desire for him to receive an English education, so she accompanied him to England where he enrolled in Dunstable Grammar School.

His childhood dream was to become an illustrator, but after he moved to L.A. he started working as an extra in cowboy movies. After his appearance in The Winning of Barbara Worth, his acting career began to take off and Cooper eventually won two Academy Awards, forever cementing his name as one of the best actors in western movies.

Albert Einstein

Einstein at the age of 3 in 1882

Albert Einstein was born in Ulm, Württemberg, Germany, on March 14, 1879, to Hermann and Pauline Einstein. About a month after he was born, his parents moved to Munich where he would attend elementary school at the Luitpold Gymnasium.

In his early years, there were no signs on display that he would eventually win the Nobel Prize and although he was particularly interested in science and mathematics he was considered an average student. However, he would go on to become the father of modern physics and the man who revolutionized the way we look at the world.

Ernest Hemingway

Hemingway was the second child and first son born to Clarence and Grace Hemingway.

Who would guess that macho author Ernest Hemingway is the baby in the picture above? Apparently, it wasn’t his choice and it was actually his mother who insisted on dressing him as a girl until about age five.

Nevertheless, Ernest Miller Hemingway was born on July 21, 1898, in Oak Park, Illinois, to Grace Hall and Clarence Edmonds Hemingway. He was raised in Chicago, but what influenced his life the most was the time he spent on Walloon Lake in northern Michigan, where his father owned a cabin and taught young Ernest to hunt, fish, and camp.

Hemingway loved sports and often played football during his high school years. However, his career went in another direction when he started writing for the school newspaper, The Trapeze. His next stop was The Kansas City Star where he worked for around six months but gained enough writing experience that would help him become one of the great authors of the 20th century.

Billie Holiday

Holiday aged 2 in 1917

Eleanora Fagan, better known as Billie Holiday was born on April 7, 1915, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to Sarah Julia “Sadie” Fagan and Clarence Holiday. Her father chose his musical career over his wife and daughter and decided to abandon his family. Childhood was tough for Billie and she spent her early years in extreme poverty, dropping out of school in the fifth grade.

She was about 12 when she moved to Harlem together with her mother and started working as a dancer and occasionally auditioned as a singer. By the beginning of the 1930s, she started singing regularly in local clubs and renamed herself “Billie.”

However, it wasn’t until producer John Hammond saw her performing in a local club that she made her first major breakthrough. With Hammond’s support, Holiday would go on to become one the most influential jazz singers of all time.

 Marilyn Monroe

Marilyn Monroe as an infant. Photo Credit

Norma Jeane Mortenson, better known as Marilyn Monroe, was born on June 1, 1926, in Los Angeles, California. Just like Billie Holiday, Monroe also experienced a difficult childhood and even had to spend two years in an orphanage.

Growing up was quite traumatic for Norma Jeane, as she never saw her father and her mother was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic and eventually placed in a mental institution. She spent her early years in foster care and in an orphanage where she was sexually assaulted on several occasions. This is probably a factor in why she decided to get married at the age of 16.

During World War II she worked in a California munitions factory where she was discovered by a photographer and soon started a career in modeling. Hollywood was her next destination and there was nothing that could stop her from becoming one of the most famous women and a sex symbol of the twentieth century.

Mahatma Gandhi

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi in his earliest known photo, aged 7, c. 1876

Born on October 2, 1869, in Porbandar, India, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, more commonly known as Mahatma Gandhi, would become the symbol of India’s independence movement and the man behind the doctrine of nonviolent protest.

Born to an upper-class family, Gandhi displayed no signs of leadership as he was a very shy young man. He was able to study law in England at the University College of London and upon returning to India he was sent to South Africa to practice law. While there he faced racial discrimination and injustice and this shaped his doctrine of nonviolent protest.

He spent 21 years in South Africa and returned to India in 1915. Gandhi became the leader of the Indian nationalist movement and after many years of nonviolent protest he led India to independence and inspired many others to fight for their civil rights and freedom.

Pablo Picasso

Pablo Picasso with his sister Lola, 1889

Baptized Pablo Diego José Francisco de Paula Juan Nepomuceno María de los Remedios Cipriano de la Santísima Trinidad Martyr Patricio Clito Ruiz y Picasso, better known as Pablo Picasso, he was arguably the greatest artist of the 20th century.

Born on October 25, 1881, in Málaga, Spain, to Don José Ruiz y Blasco, and María Picasso y López, Pablo Picasso was not among the best students at school, but there was no other student who could match his talent for drawing.

His father was an art teacher and taught him to draw and paint, but by the age of 13 he was way better than him and only one year later he was accepted at Barcelona’s prestigious School of Fine Arts. He is credited for co-founding the Cubist movement and for his major contributions to Symbolism and Surrealism.

Rudolph Valentino

Rudolph Valentino

Rudolph Valentino was born Rodolfo Guglielmi in Castellaneta on May 6, 1895, in Castellaneta, Apulia, Kingdom of Italy. Born into a middle-class family, Rudolph started his education at the Venice Military Academy, but he left school at the age of 13 and eventually enrolled in agricultural school at Genoa, where he received a diploma.

His childhood was deeply influenced by the sudden death of his father when Rodolfo was only 11 years old. He was not able to find employment in Italy and thought that moving to Paris would solve his problem, but he was wrong. He also failed to find work there and was forced to leave Paris and headed to New York, United States. This time he had made the right decision.

He faced some difficulties at the beginning and changed jobs frequently before becoming a nightclub dancer. He soon began dancing in musical productions and toured all over the United States with a musical comedy troupe.

Arriving in Los Angeles would change his life forever. He was determined to become a movie star and started seeking screen roles. Valentino appeared as a dancer in the movie Alimony, and by 1920 he had appeared in 17 films. However, it was the role of Julio Desnoyers in The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse that would make him an instant star and a sex symbol of the 1920s.

Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis

Six-year-old Bouvier in 1935.

Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis was the elder of two daughters of John Bouvier, a wealthy New York stockbroker, and socialite Janet Norton Lee. Born on July 28, 1929, in Southampton, New York, Jacqueline spent her childhood in Manhattan, where she attended school. She was an unusually bright student, particularly interested in writing and painting, but often misbehaved and one of her teachers described her as “a darling child, the prettiest little girl, very clever, very artistic, and full of the devil.”

Her parents’ marriage was not an ideal one, and they divorced when she was 10 years old. Their decision deeply affected the little girl as divorces were not that common at the time, but she also learned early in her life what it means to be strong and independent.

The little girl grew to be a beautiful and elegant young woman and in 1952 caught the attention of a young congressman named John F. Kennedy. The couple got married a year later and in less than 10 years her husband would become the 35th president of the United States and Jacqueline Kennedy the first lady.

She had a historic role while serving as the first lady. Jacqueline Kennedy restored the White House, supported the arts, and established the White House Historical Association. She will be remembered as a strong, independent woman, cultural guru, and style icon.

Buster Keaton

Six year old Buster Keaton with his parents Myra and Joe Keaton during a vaudeville act

It’s been over half century since Joseph Frank “Buster” Keaton left this world, but he is still considered to be one of the greatest comic actors of all time. Born on October 4, 1895, in Piqua, Kansas, to Joe and Myra Keaton, veteran vaudevillian actors, little Joseph began performing with his parents at the age of three.

Keaton did not go to school and was taught to read and write by his mother at home. The boy was destined for show business, so he moved to Hollywood in 1917. Thanks to Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, former vaudevillian and famous comic actor of the time, he was introduced to the movie industry and would go on to become one of the most famous silent film comic actors and filmmakers.

Elizabeth Taylor

Taylor as a child

Dame Elizabeth Rosemond Taylor, commonly known as Elizabeth Taylor, was born on February 27, 1932, in London to American parents Francis, an art dealer, and Sara Taylor, actress. The outbreak of World War II drove the Taylors back to the United States. where they settled in Los Angeles.

The little girl was destined to become an actress. She started dancing at the age of three and even gave a recital for Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret. Upon arriving in the United States she took her first screen test and at the age of 10 she made her debut in There’s One Born Every Minute. 

However, it took two more years before Elizabeth got her major breakthrough and became a huge star appearing in National Velvet. In the following years, she gave powerful performances in a great number of movies and established herself as one of the most talented young actresses of the day. In a career that spanned over six decades, Elizabeth Taylor would become one of the most iconic actresses of classical Hollywood cinema.

John F. Kennedy

The Kennedy family at Hyannis Port Massachusetts in 1931 with Jack at top left in white shirt.

About 31 years after the picture above was taken, the boy at top left would deliver a stirring speech at the football stadium at Rice University in Houston and here is part of the Rice address:

“We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.” 

That boy would become the 35th president of the United States. John Fitzgerald Kennedy was born on May 29, 1917, in Brookline, Massachusetts. He enjoyed a privileged childhood and graduated from Harvard with honors in 1940.

He enlisted in the Navy in 1943 and commanded the Motor Torpedo Boat PT-109 and later PT-59. He was awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Medal for “…extremely heroic conduct as Commanding Officer of Motor Torpedo Boat 109…”

In March 1945, Kennedy left the Navy on physical disability and began his political career. He became a Democratic Congressman in 1953 and in 1960 he became the 35th president of the United States and the first Roman Catholic President.

Theodore Roosevelt

Theodore Roosevelt at age 11

Here is another boy who would go on to become an important part of American history, serving as the 26th president of the United States. Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt was born on October 27, 1858, in New York City, into a Dutch family.

Although he suffered debilitating asthma and was in poor health for a large part of his early years, Theodore enjoyed an active childhood. He showed particular interest in reading and nature in his early years and that interest would shape the rest of his life.

Just like John F. Kennedy, Roosevelt also graduated from Harvard College back in 1880 and started his political career two years later when he became a member of the New York State Assembly.

He was among the heroes of the Spanish-American War as a lieutenant colonel of the Rough Rider Regiment and after the war, he ran for governor and won. However, it was the year of 1901 that changed his life and cemented his place in the history of the United States. Roosevelt became president of the United States at age 42 and to this day he remains the youngest president. He is considered by many historians and experts to be among the five best presidents of the United States.

Natalie Wood

Wood as Susan Walker in “Miracle on 34th Street,” 1947.

Natalia Nikolaevna Zakharenko, professionally known as Natalie Wood, was already a movie star by the age of eight and in her teenage years, she earned a nomination for Best Supporting Actress for her performance in Rebel Without a Cause.

Natalie Wood was born in San Francisco on July 20, 1938, to Russian immigrant parents – Nikolai Stepanovich Zakharenko and Maria Stepanovna. Her mother, who always dreamed of becoming an actress, encouraged Natalie to pursue a career in the performing arts and by the age of four, she appeared in the movie titled Happy Land.

By the age of eight, she became a star after her performance in the classic Christmas film Miracle on 34th Street. A successful career followed for the young actress and by the age of 25 Wood had received three Academy Award nominations.

Frida Khalo

Kahlo (on the right) and her sisters Cristina, Matilde, and Adriana, photographed by their father, 1916

Magdalena Carmen Frida Kahlo y Calderón, known simply as Frida Kahlo, was born on July 6, 1907, in Coyocoán, Mexico City, Mexico. Her father, Wilhelm, was a German-born photographer who had immigrated to Mexico in the late 1930s and met Frida’s mother Matilde Calderón y González.

Childhood was tough for Frida as she contracted polio at age six and additionally her parents’ marriage was falling apart. For months, she had been isolated from her peers due to polio and had to start school later than the others. This would deeply affect her childhood years and would shape the rest of her life.

In 1922, Kahlo was enrolled in the elite National Preparatory School, where she was one of only 35 girls out of 2,000 students.

As a result of an accident that occurred in 1925, Frida suffered nearly fatal injuries and spent the next three months recovering. This event would change her life as she began a full-time painting career. Developing her own style, painting mostly self-portraits, she would go on to become one of Mexico’s greatest artists.

Babe Ruth

Babe Ruth, age seven (at right)

George Herman Ruth Jr., more commonly known as Babe Ruth, is still considered by many to be the greatest baseball player of all time. Born on February 6, 1895, in Baltimore, Maryland, to Kate Schamberger-Ruth and George Herman Ruth Sr., Babe Ruth was sent to St. Mary’s Industrial School for Boys when he was seven years old.

Babe was introduced to baseball at school and soon showed that he was a pure talent and had great potential. This didn’t go unnoticed and by 1914 he signed a professional baseball contract with Jack Dunn, owner of the Baltimore Orioles. The same year he was nearly sold to the Philadelphia Athletics but eventually ended up playing for the Boston Red Sox.

In the next five years, Babe led the Boston Red Sox to three championships before he became part of the New York Yankees, back in 1919, for a sum of $100,000. He led the Yankees to four World Series titles over the next 15 seasons and forever cemented his place as the most dominant player in the history of baseball.

Franklin D. Roosevelt

A young, unbreeched Roosevelt in 1884, 2 years old

Born on January 30, 1882, in the Hudson Valley town of Hyde Park, New York, to James Roosevelt I and Sara Ann Delano. He was the only child the couple had and enjoyed a privileged childhood as both his parents were from wealthy families.

Just like his fifth cousin, President Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin also attended Harvard University and graduated in 1903 with an A.B. in history. He was a great admirer of President Theodore Roosevelt and decided to enter politics. In 1910, he won election to the New York Senate and was later appointed Assistant Secretary of the Navy by President Wilson.

FDR almost put an end to his political career when he was stricken with poliomyelitis, but he bravely fought to regain the use of his legs and eventually resumed his political career. In 1932, FDR was elected as the 32nd president of the United States and in the following years, he became the only president to be elected four times. FDR led the country throughout the Great Depression and World War II and helped many Americans to regain faith in themselves.

Winston Churchill

Churchill, aged seven, in 1881.

Few are those who haven’t heard the name Winston Churchill, Britain’s prime minister for most of World War II. Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill was born on November 30, 1874, at Blenheim Palace, Woodstock, Oxfordshire, to an aristocratic family.

He spent his early years in Dublin and received his education at Harrow and Sandhurst. He was a rebellious student and only a few weeks after he was enrolled in Harrow School, he joined the Harrow Rifle Corps, hoping to start a military career. And he did start a brief but eventful military career before he entered politics and became a Conservative member of Parliament in 1900.

Over the next 40 years, he would hold various offices in the government, but what marked his career as a politician was serving as the prime minister and minister of defence during World War II.

His strong character and refusal to surrender to Nazi Germany served as an inspiration not just for the British people, but for all those who fought for freedom and defended their countries. His inspiring speeches and determination made him the most famous British prime minister.

Wyatt Earp

Wyatt Earp with his mother Virginia Ann Cooksey Earp c. 1856.

About 25 years after the picture above was taken, this harmless little boy would take part in the gunfight at the O.K. Corral, one of the most famous shootouts in the history of the American West.

Wyatt Berry Stapp Earp was born on March 19, 1848, in Monmouth, Illinois, to Nicholas and Virginia Ann Earp. His family moved frequently, but Wyatt spent most of his early years in Iowa. He was 13 years old when the Civil War broke out and tried to join the Union Army on several occasions, but was always caught by his father.

He left his family in his teenage years and soon became a notorious gambler and was arrested on several occasions, including for acting as a pimp. His past didn’t stop him from becoming deputy town marshal of Dodge City and later deputy sheriff for the eastern part of Pima County. His reputation grew very fast and Earp went on to become one of the most famous lawmen of the American West

Amelia Earhart

Amelia Earhart as a child

Born on July 24, 1897, in Atchison, Kansas, Amelia Mary Earhart would eventually become the world’s best-known woman pilot and the first female pilot to fly across the Atlantic Ocean.

Her parents separated, so Amelia and her younger sister Muriel spent most of their childhood living with their maternal grandparents in Atchison, Kansas. The little girls enjoyed their childhood as it was full of adventures, freedom, and excitement.

Her family reunited when Amelia was 10 years old but often moved from one place to another as her father struggled to find work.

She attended several schools and eventually ended up enrolling in Hyde Park High School. Upon graduation, in 1917 Amelia went to visit her sister in Toronto. While there she was able to witness the horrors of war volunteering at a military hospital.

In 1919, she enrolled as a pre-med student at Columbia University, but left after one year so she could be with her parents. This proved to be the best decision in her life as her father took her to an aerial show, where she took a plane ride that forever changed her life and made her an integral part of the 20th-century history.

Thomas Edison

Edison as a boy

There is no other inventor in American history who was anywhere near as productive as Thomas Alva Edison. With over 1,000 patents behind his name, Edison secured himself a place in the annals of history as one the most prolific inventors in the world.

Thomas Alva Edison was born on February 11, 1847, in Milan, Ohio, to Samuel and Nancy Edison. He attended school for several months only and was mainly taught by his mother. However, that didn’t stop him from developing a love of reading books on a wide range of subjects.

Edison was only 12 years old when he started selling newspapers on the Grand Trunk Railroad, where he once saved a child from a runaway train. By doing this, he earned himself a training as a telegraph operator and became particularly interested in communications, which would later become one of his main fields of interest and innovations.

Bruce Lee

Bruce Lee as a baby with his parents

Lee Jun-fan, more commonly known as Bruce Lee, is the man who revolutionized martial arts and went on to become a pop culture icon of the 20th century.

He was born on November 27, 1940, in San Francisco, California, to Lee Hoi-Chuen and Grace Ho. His father was an opera singer who was on a tour in the United States when Bruce Lee was born. About three months later, they returned to Hong Kong where Bruce Lee spent his childhood.

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He started learning kung fu under the tutelage of Master Yip Man early in his life so he could defend himself from street gangs. He eventually went back to the United States and developed a new fighting style called jeet kune do and opened a martial-arts school.

He went back to Hong Kong to make a feature film and established himself as a star. The Big Boss was released in 1971 and about a year later The Way of the Dragon followed. Hollywood studio Warner Brothers released his next film, Enter the Dragon, in 1973. Tragically, Bruce Lee died one month before the release under mysterious circumstances.