15 of the Most Iconic Newspaper Headlines Ever Printed

Iconic Headlines leader
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These shocking and occasionally uplifting headlines summarise but a few of the major historic events that have occurred since newspapers became popular and accessible to people worldwide. Extraordinary headlines such as these are incredibly powerful, thanks in large part to their brevity: in just a few short words, each conveys a message of history-changing significance to a potentially huge audience. Reading these headlines today, we are emotionally transported back to how we felt when we first heard this news.

It’s a sad reality of the human condition that big news is usually bad news: only five of the headlines we explore here accompany positive stories. Headlines are there to sell papers, and it seems that death is more profitable to the press than hope or success. Nevertheless, alongside headlines of war, natural disasters and murders, below you’ll find headlines of hope and the overcoming of adversity.

New York Times: “Titanic Sinks Four Hours After Hitting Iceberg” [16th April 1912]

Titanic - New York Times

This was one of the few accurate headlines printed on the day following the sinking of the Titanic. Journalists at some other papers were still in denial that a ship thought to be unsinkable could have failed so catastrophically: The Daily Mirror reported, “Everyone safe”, and the Daily Mail, “No lives lost”.

Daily Mail: “Greatest Crash in Wall Street’s History” [25th October 1929]

The Wall Street Crash of 1929, fuelled by uncertainty following an artificial share price boom, was the worst in U.S. history. On 24th October, panicked investors traded an astonishing 12.9 million shares.

The News Chronicle: “Hitler Dead” [2nd May 1945]

On 2nd May 1945, The News Chronicle, which later became the Daily Mail, published this bold headline. At the time, nobody could be sure if this news was true. The accompanying article claimed that Hitler had been killed in action, although it later transpired he had committed suicide in a bunker under Chancery in Berlin.

Daily Mail: “VE Day- It’s All Over” [8th May 1945]

Daily Mail - VE Day

This headline appeared on the day the World War II Allies accepted Nazi Germany’s surrender. It marked the end of the War and Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich.

Chicago Tribune: “Assassin Kills Kennedy: Lyndon Johnson Sworn In” [22nd November 1963]

Chicago Tribune - JFK Assassination

John F. Kennedy, the 35th President of the United States, was assassinated in Dallas, Texas. Five years later, his brother Robert Kennedy was shot dead in a Los Angeles Hotel. The headline in the Daily Mirror following that event was simply: “God! Not Again!”

Daily News: “Martin King Shot to Death: Gunned Down in Memphis” [5th April 1968]

Daily News - Martin King Shot

This shocking headline was printed the day after Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot and killed on the second floor lobby of the Lorraine Motel, Memphis, Tennessee. He was 39-years-old.

Evening Standard: “The First Footstep” [21st July 1969]

Evening Standard - Moon Landing

Neil Armstrong became the first man to step foot on the moon. As he touched the ground he famously declared: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

The New York Times: “Nixon Resigns” [9th August 1974]

The New York Times - Nixon Resigns

President Richard Nixon, fearing impeachment following the Watergate scandal, became the only President to ever resign from office. Gerald Ford later pardoned him, but he was never truly forgiven.

The Sun: “King Elvis Dead” [17th August 1977]

On 16th August 1977, “The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll” was found dead on his bathroom floor. As the subheading in the accompanying article reads: “He was 42 and alone”. He had been using the toilet at the time of his death.

Los Angeles Times: “Beatle John Lennon Slain” [9th December 1980]

Los Angeles Times - John Lennon Slain

At 10.49pm, on the day prior to this headline running, John Lennon was shot in the back four times by Mark David Chapman, a fan who had been stalking him for 3 months.

City Press: “Mandela Goes Free Today” [11th February 1990]

City Press - Mandela Goes Free Today

State President F.W. de Klerk reversed the ban on the ANC on 2nd February 1990. Shortly thereafter, Nelson Mandela was freed from prison, where he had languished for 20 years. On 27th April 1994, Mandela and the ANC won South Africa’s first multi-racial election.

The Daily News: “Diana Dead” [31st August 1997]

Newspaper Headlines - Diana Dead

Princess Diana died after her Mercedes Benz S280 crashed into a pillar in the Pont de l’Alma tunnel, Paris. She was just 36. Her friend Dodi Al-Fayed was also killed in the collision.

The Daily Telegraph: “War on America” [12th September 2001]

On 12th September 2001, there was, of course, only one story dominating the headlines. On the previous day, terrorists had hijacked four commercial passenger jet airliners, crashing two of them into the Twin Towers and a third into the Pentagon. “War on America” was voted the most memorable headline of the last 100 years.

The Times Of India: “We saw the sea coming, we all ran. But God saves little” [28th December 2004]

The Times Of India - Tsunami

Just after midnight on 26th December 2004, an earthquake off the west coast of Sumatra, Indonesia, triggered a huge tsunami, which killed over 225,000 people in 11 countries.

New York Times: “Obama: Racial Barrier Falls in Decisive Victory” [5th November 2008]

The New York Times - Obama

Barack Obama, promising change for the USA, defeated John McCain in the 2008 presidential election to become the non-white President of the United States. He was later inaugurated on 20th January 2009.

About the author:

Tom is a freelance writer, living and working in North London. Fascinated by art, design and gadgets, he spends much of his time writing and blogging on these subjects. His other interests lie in music, film, fashion, football and generally enjoying life!

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  • User Gravatar B. Michael Payne
    October 5th, 2009 at 6:55 pm

    The Onion’s post-9/11 “Holy ****ing Shit – Attack On America” is, to me, the most iconic headline of my generation–a) It was the first notable Internet headline; and b) it used some genius admixture of black humor and genuine horror to express what everyone was feeling.

  • User Gravatar RaulJones
    October 6th, 2009 at 3:57 pm

    Nothing on the “Hindenburg”? One of the greatest album cover shots of all time?

  • User Gravatar micol
    October 6th, 2009 at 6:19 pm

    I think Michael Jackson headlines topped Obama headlines…. Not that I’m especially a fanatic of MJ, but his headlines blurred my eyes for much much longer. Obama being elected wasn’t much of a surprise.

  • User Gravatar Joe
    October 6th, 2009 at 6:23 pm

    Obama?!? Really? This is hardly iconic. The peaceful transfer of power in the United States is and has been a hallmark of democracy. “Dewey Defeats Truman” is clearly more in keeping with this article.

  • User Gravatar Peter
    October 6th, 2009 at 8:02 pm

    “Man Walks on Moon” is way more famous than “The First Footstep.” Otherwise, very cool to see all these together.

  • User Gravatar Kun
    October 7th, 2009 at 1:12 pm

    And the fall of the Berlin Wall?

  • User Gravatar Chip
    October 7th, 2009 at 1:52 pm

    It’s strange that Michael Jackson’s death wasn’t even mentioned.

  • User Gravatar Jean-Pierre Merlet
    October 7th, 2009 at 4:18 pm

    And where is the greatest headline of all times : Headless body found in topless bar (from the New York Post) ?

  • User Gravatar Julie
    October 8th, 2009 at 6:11 pm

    One of the most often misquoted statements: “That’s one small step for _A_ man, one giant leap for mankind.”

    The transmission was garbled at that point which resulted in the misquote. Mr. Armstrong has repeatedly tried to correct this error, as he spent quite some time deliberating over what to say.

    And this is one rockin’ list. I plan on showing it to my 5th grader to see what’s he’s learned about each event.

  • User Gravatar Adam
    October 9th, 2009 at 9:16 pm

    I would have included Pearl Harbor — WAR! — and if Elvis and John Lennon make it, then Michael Jackson should have as well.

    But a good collection here nonetheless!

  • User Gravatar Juancho
    October 9th, 2009 at 9:29 pm

    Some that were notable in the US were:

    “Ford to City: Drop Dead” in the NY Daily News after Pres. Ford refused to bail out the city’s finances around 1975.

    “Men Walk on Moon”: New York Times

    “Dead!” above an illegally-taken full-page photo of Ruth Snyder being electrocuted for murder in the NY Daily News in the late 20s. The News reporter strapped a camera to his ankle under his trousers and crossed his legs just before the switch was thrown. This case was the basis for Double Indemnity and The Postman Always Rings Twice,

    “Armistice Signed: End of the War! Defeated Kaiser Flees to Holland; Revolutionaries Take Over Berlin” from the NY Times.

    And, yes, the NY Post actually did run a front-page story headlined “Headless Body in Topless Bar.”

  • User Gravatar William Laing
    October 9th, 2009 at 10:30 pm

    I liked the Obama one. “Racial barrier falls”. Good. Now we can all get on with our lives.

  • User Gravatar Laya Quest
    March 10th, 2010 at 12:52 am

    How could you leave out “SPACE AGE HERE: USSR SENDS SPUTNIK AROUND THE WORLD”?

  • User Gravatar Eva Cacers
    July 11th, 2010 at 12:03 am

    I can’t believed you did not mention Michael Jackson, people around the world still crying about him… In second thoughts maybe he really is not gone? And if he really is dead, then you media really don’t have values neither ethic, and everething you have saying about Michael are LIES, Michael always was innocent and all of you media knows it was everything about money and extorsion, good news don’t sell and you destroyed Michael’s reputation with your evil lies. You will never regret all the damage and pain the media created about Mr. Jackson.

  • User Gravatar Larry Slaughter
    August 14th, 2013 at 6:23 pm

    Although VE Day was important, the war in the Pacific raged on until The US developed the atomic bomb, the decision was made to use it saving many allied lives and initiating the nuclear age. This is a good list and should be used by educators for discussion among young and old.

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