Images from Martin Kemp’s book Christ to Coke: How does an image become an icon?

The 11 most famous images in the world, and how they became ubiquitous.

Beards, Theft, and Other Peculiar Factors That…

Collected images.
Nov. 8 2011 10:12 AM

Beards, Theft, and Other Peculiar Factors That Turn Images Into Icons

A new book traces how images become universally recognized icons.

Jesus Christ was originally depicted without a beard. The heart symbol didn’t get its two round lobes until the 1400s, and the Coca-Cola bottle hasn’t changed in almost a century.

These are just a few of the interesting facts that Oxford University professor Martin Kemp encountered in the process of researching his latest project, Christ to Coke: How Image Becomes Icon. The book, which will be released Nov. 10, examines the stories behind the most famous pictures in the world.

"Where does the notion of an iconic image come from?" is the driving question behind this work. To find out, Kemp chose 11 of the world's most recognizable images in areas as distinct as biology and product design. The slide show above reveals his 11 picks, and a few of the most interesting factors that propelled their rise from obscurity to fame.

Elizabeth Weingarten is the associate editor at New America and the associate director of its Global Gender Parity Initiative.