9 Historic Magazine Covers

If you've ever glanced at the magazines in a bookstore, airport, or grocery store, you know that it's rare to find a cover that really grabs you. Most are filled with smiling models, six-pack abs, and the promise of 101 tips to please your man. Every once in a while, though, magazine editors give us something unforgettable with serious meaning. These covers not only draw you in, but stay with you for the rest of your life. You don't have to be a subscriber (or even alive when these issues came out) to remember these incredible front-page images.

  1. The Afghan girl on National Geographic

    You may not know her name or even her nationality, but there's no doubt that you've seen the photo of the girl with sea-green eyes blazing from the cover of National Geographic. The image appeared on the front of the publication in 1985 and 25 years later, we still remember her. It turns out her name is Sharbata Gula and a photographer snapped the photo when she was in a refugee camp in Pakistan after Soviet bombs had killed her parents. Her image told the story of countless Afghan people who were terrorized by war for decades yet often forgotten by the Western world.

  2. Black-on-black Twin Towers on The New Yorker

    Immediately after the immense tragedy of 9/11, the media had a hard time walking the line between giving the public essential information and sensationalizing the event. Many people felt that images showing victims or the explosions were too graphic and insensitive in the wake of the event. When The New Yorker editors were trying to find the appropriate cover image for their issue after 9/11, they felt that all the photographs out there weren't contributing to the public's understanding and were becoming white noise. Their first idea was to publish an all-black cover; then it evolved into showing the outline of the towers in black on the black cover. What they ended up with is a powerful image that evokes the loss and tragedy without offending.

  3. "Is God Dead?" on Time

    This incredibly controversial 1966 cover was the first Time cover to use only text with no image. The article that the cover referred to discussed the increasingly secular nature of the U.S., including the "God Is Dead" movement. Science was becoming more important than religion in explaining natural phenomena and some theologians were including God less in their studies. The cover enraged many members of the public and the clergy, and newspapers all over the country received letters for their opinion sections from angry Americans who believed Time was promoting a secular agenda.

  4. Yoko Ono and a naked John Lennon on Rolling Stone

    The undeniably odd image on a 1981 cover of the music mag was made even more unique by its eerie timing. Legendary celebrity photographer Annie Leibovitz had arranged to photograph Lennon and Ono and both were originally supposed to appear nude. Right before the shoot, however, Ono chickened out and she remained fully clothed next to the bare Lennon. The photo session was on Dec. 8, 1980 — the same day that Lennon was fatally shot by a fan. The cover serves as a glimpse into the musician's last hours alive.

  5. Muhammad Ali as St. Sebastian on Esquire

    Boxing legend Ali made a strong political statement in this photo where he was mimicking a painting of St. Sebastian, a Roman soldier who was killed for converting to Christianity. After converting to Islam, Ali refused the draft in 1967 for religious reasons and was thus sentenced to five years in prison and stripped of his heavyweight title. His reputation was destroyed as many saw him as a traitor and he wasn't allowed to box. The Esquire image shows Ali with arrows in him, displaying him as a martyr for the cause of peace. After the cover's release in '68, the photo could be found in dorm rooms across the country as a sort of stand against the Vietnam War, touching on the important issues of the draft, race, and religion.

  6. Katiti Kironde on Glamour

    You may not recognize this cover image, but it's certainly one for the books. In 1968, Katiti Kironde, an African-American college student, entered Glamour's contest to find the 10 best-dressed college girls. She won and was placed on the cover, becoming the first black woman to be featured on the front of a women's magazine. This cover paved the way for the appearance of all the black models, celebrities, and inspiring women we love.

  7. The camels merger on The Economist

    The normally dry and serious Economist gave a new meaning to business mergers in 1994 when they depicted two camels having, ahem, a merger of their own on the cover. The accompanying article was titled "The Trouble With Mergers," and was meant to highlight the downsides of the onslaught of predicted mergers at the time. The animal sex act was only on the cover of the North American version, but it got attention all over the world. And you can bet you won't think of a merger without picturing a couple of camels bumping uglies from now on.

  8. Ellen DeGeneres comes out on Time

    It's hard to believe that 15 years ago, there weren't any openly gay TV stars in the U.S. But DeGeneres changed all that in 1997 when she confirmed her homosexuality on the cover of Time. The title next to her photo said, "Yep, I'm Gay," and the issue came out just slightly before DeGeneres' character on her prime-time sitcom Ellen did the same. As society has become more accepting and tolerant of homosexuality, many more celebrities and actors have felt comfortable revealing that they are gay, but none sent shock waves through the acting world and the American public like DeGeneres' cover confession.

  9. "Living" fetus on Life

    The image of "Life Before Birth" on a 1965 issue of Life Magazine is breath-taking. A fetus in its amniotic sac is set against a space-like background in full color. Before this amazing photo by Swedish photographer Lennart Nilsson, most photos of fetuses were grainy, black-and-white images. The accompanying article educated the public on the development of fetuses by depicting various stages and body parts. Though the photos presented as living embryos and fetuses were actually dead, this magazine cover emphasized the importance of knowledge in reducing the deaths of infants and mothers, and many also took it as a symbol of the anti-abortion movement.

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