RELIGION

Photos Of Billy Graham Through The Years Show How He Became 'America's Pastor'

The famous evangelist died on Wednesday at the age of 99.
Then vice president Richard Nixon chats with evangelist Billy Graham before a massive Christian rally at Yankee Stadium.
Then vice president Richard Nixon chats with evangelist Billy Graham before a massive Christian rally at Yankee Stadium.

Billy Graham, the charismatic evangelist who came to be known as “America’s pastor,” started his life milking cows on his parents’ farm in North Carolina.

After his death at the age of 99 on Wednesday, Christians around the country are remembering the son of a dairy farmer who grew up to become the towering figure in American evangelicalism. 

Graham was born on Nov. 7, 1918, to Reformed Presbyterian parents who raised him on their farm near Charlotte, North Carolina. His life changed in the fall of 1934, when he said he was saved during a revival meeting led by an itinerant preacher. 

He soon felt that God was calling him to become a preacher. At Bible school, Graham would often close himself up in a tool shed and preach “to oil cans and lawnmowers,” according to his biographer, William C. Martin, who noted he would also preach to animals and trees while on solo canoe trips.  

Graham graduated from Wheaton College in Illinois in 1943, where he received a degree in anthropology and met his future wife, Ruth. He tried leading a Baptist congregation in a Chicago suburb for a few years, but soon realized he wanted to reach a much larger audience. 

He began preaching on a Chicago radio station and at Christian youth rallies. His life took a turn in 1949, when his electric personality and stage presence drew national media attention during a series of well-attended “Canvas Cathedral” rallies in Los Angeles. 

Graham’s career quickly took off after that. His meetings started to attract hundreds of thousands of people. He served as an adviser to U.S. presidents and began preaching to audiences in more than 185 countries.

Billy Graham preaches at Madison Square Garden in New York on May 20, 1957.
Billy Graham preaches at Madison Square Garden in New York on May 20, 1957.

But his career also drew a fair share of controversy. Graham was not a vocal and active supporter of the civil rights movement. And he condemned queer relationships throughout his life.

He also held conservative views about women. His name is tied to the “Billy Graham” rule. These were loose guidelines he reportedly gave pastors working in his ministries instructing men not to travel, meet or eat alone with women other than their wives, under the presumption that simply being alone with women in this way would lead to sexual temptation. 

Graham was also sharply criticized in 2002, after the release of a 1972 audiotape conversation he had with President Richard Nixon, in which he shared anti-Semitic views about Jews. He later issued a written apology.

To both his critics and admirers, Graham’s six decades as one of America’s best-known evangelists left an indelible mark on American society as a whole. For Christians, and particularly evangelical Christians, Graham’s death is an occasion to remember how his fiery preaching and religious convictions helped spark a spiritual revival in the hearts of thousands.

Scroll through the photos below to see glimpses of Graham’s career as an evangelist.

  • Future evangelist Billy Graham at six months old in this photograph with his mother, Mrs. Morrow Graham. He was born on 
    Bettmann via Getty Images
    Future evangelist Billy Graham at six months old in this photograph with his mother, Mrs. Morrow Graham. He was born on Nov. 7, 1918, and christened William Franklin Graham, Jr.
  • Graham wears a cap and gown at age 17 on his graduation from Charlotte High School. Shortly before this date, Billy had embra
    Bettmann via Getty Images
    Graham wears a cap and gown at age 17 on his graduation from Charlotte High School. Shortly before this date, Billy had embraced a charismatic, evangelical form of Christianity at a local revival meeting.
  • As a young Baptist evangelist, Graham preaches to a large crowd in Los Angeles, California, in 1949. The event drew thou
    Loomis Dean via Getty Images
    As a young Baptist evangelist, Graham preaches to a large crowd in Los Angeles, California, in 1949. The event drew thousands and helped to kickstart his career as a preacher.
  • A canvas tent, seating over 6,000, was erected for Graham's revival in Los Angeles, California, in 1949.
    Loomis Dean via Getty Images
    A canvas tent, seating over 6,000, was erected for Graham's revival in Los Angeles, California, in 1949.
  • About 4,000 students and faculty members listen to Graham at MIT on April 21, 1950.
    Boston Globe via Getty Images
    About 4,000 students and faculty members listen to Graham at MIT on April 21, 1950.
  • Graham at home with his wife on March 13, 1952.
    Frank Lilley via Getty Images
    Graham at home with his wife on March 13, 1952.
  • Kneeling in prayer on the White House lawn after their meeting with President Harry Truman are left to right: Jerry Beaver; C
    Bettmann via Getty Images
    Kneeling in prayer on the White House lawn after their meeting with President Harry Truman are left to right: Jerry Beaver; Cliff Barrow; Dr. Billy Graham, and Grady Wilson. The Baptist clergymen prayed with Truman for aid in the Korean War.
  • Graham addresses an estimated crowd of 30,000 people at the U.S. Capitol, calling on Truman to proclaim a day of nationa
    Bettmann via Getty Images
    Graham addresses an estimated crowd of 30,000 people at the U.S. Capitol, calling on Truman to proclaim a day of national prayer in the U.S.
  • Then-Vice President Richard Nixon sits with Graham, left, and National Commander Merton B. Rice, at a memorial service during
    Boston Globe via Getty Images
    Then-Vice President Richard Nixon sits with Graham, left, and National Commander Merton B. Rice, at a memorial service during the Veterans of Foreign Wars Convention at Boston University on Aug. 28, 1955.
  • A 35-year-old Graham with a smile upon his arrival in Southampton, England.
    Bettmann via Getty Images
    A 35-year-old Graham with a smile upon his arrival in Southampton, England.
  • Graham addresses a crowd in Trafalgar Square in London.
    Fred Ramage via Getty Images
    Graham addresses a crowd in Trafalgar Square in London.
  • Crowds listen with rapt attention to a Graham sermon at Wembley Stadium in London on May 16, 1955.
    Powell via Getty Images
    Crowds listen with rapt attention to a Graham sermon at Wembley Stadium in London on May 16, 1955.
  • Nixon chats with Graham at a huge Yankee Stadium rally arranged by the minister to cap a six-week tour in New York.
    Bettmann via Getty Images
    Nixon chats with Graham at a huge Yankee Stadium rally arranged by the minister to cap a six-week tour in New York. Nixon flew in from Washington, D.C., to appear beside him and lend his personal support to the campaign.
  • More than 30,000 people jammed Wall Street to hear Graham preach what he termed his 'greatest service' of his New York Crusad
    Bettmann via Getty Images
    More than 30,000 people jammed Wall Street to hear Graham preach what he termed his 'greatest service' of his New York Crusade. The evangelist gave a 20-minute extemporaneous sermon from an improvised pulpit on the steps of the Federal Hall Memorial. In the foreground of the picture is the foot of the George Washington Statue. At rear is the New York Stock Exchange.
  • Graham raises his fist as he speaks to members of the 24th Infantry Division in Korea in February 1956.
    PhotoQuest via Getty Images
    Graham raises his fist as he speaks to members of the 24th Infantry Division in Korea in February 1956.
  • Graham, wearing a garland presented to him by welcomers in New Delhi, raises his hands in Indian greetings to crowds on hand
    Bettmann via Getty Images
    Graham, wearing a garland presented to him by welcomers in New Delhi, raises his hands in Indian greetings to crowds on hand for his arrival.
  • Graham meets former Japanese Prime Minister Tchiro Hatoyama in the latter's office.
    Bettmann via Getty Images
    Graham meets former Japanese Prime Minister Tchiro Hatoyama in the latter's office.
  • Graham embraces his family upon his return from his 'Crusade for Christ' tour in the mid-1950s. Clockwise from left: His
    Hulton Archive via Getty Images
    Graham embraces his family upon his return from his 'Crusade for Christ' tour in the mid-1950s. Clockwise from left: His wife Ruth, daughter Anne, Graham, daughter Ruth, and daughter Virginia.
  • In spite of the 90-degree-plus heat, 100,000 people packed Yankee Stadium to hear Graham warn that America 'is facing it
    New York Daily News Archive via Getty Images
    In spite of the 90-degree-plus heat, 100,000 people packed Yankee Stadium to hear Graham warn that America 'is facing its gravest crisis in history.' Police reportedly turned thousands away. The Graham organization requested that planes departing from Laguardia Field avoid flying over the ball park.
  • Graham preaches on May 20, 1957, at Madison Square Garden in New York.
    AFP via Getty Images
    Graham preaches on May 20, 1957, at Madison Square Garden in New York.
  • Graham and U.S. President Lyndon B Johnson talk together at the Annual Presidential Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C., on&
    PhotoQuest via Getty Images
    Graham and U.S. President Lyndon B Johnson talk together at the Annual Presidential Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C., on Feb. 5, 1964.
  • President Ronald Reagan presents the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Graham at the White House.
    Bettmann via Getty Images
    President Ronald Reagan presents the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Graham at the White House.
  • Graham with his four children and wife at his home in North Carolina.
    Ed Clark via Getty Images
    Graham with his four children and wife at his home in North Carolina.
  • Graham looks at some racy magazines and books in a bookstore during a stroll through New York's Times Square. "Anyone walking
    Bettmann via Getty Images
    Graham looks at some racy magazines and books in a bookstore during a stroll through New York's Times Square. "Anyone walking down Times Square can see why New York is in need of a great spiritual and moral awakening," he said.
  • Graham unveils the plaque commemorating the site of his first crusade that launched his career. At the ceremonies, he preache
    Bettmann via Getty Images
    Graham unveils the plaque commemorating the site of his first crusade that launched his career. At the ceremonies, he preached part of the same sermon that he gave in 1949, warning that America must repent of its sins or face the judgement of God.
  • Graham meets privately with Texas Governor and Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush, on Nov. 5, 2000, in Jac
    Charles Ommanney via Getty Images
    Graham meets privately with Texas Governor and Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush, on Nov. 5, 2000, in Jacksonville, Florida.
  • Graham (second left) with his wife Ruth and the Queen, Prince Philip and the Queen Mother, when he preached at Sandringham Pa
    PA Images via Getty Images
    Graham (second left) with his wife Ruth and the Queen, Prince Philip and the Queen Mother, when he preached at Sandringham Parish Church. The Rector of Sandringham, Rev. Gerry Murphy, is on the right.
  • Graham delivers a message on Sept. 20, 1986, in Paris, France.
    Francois LOCHON via Getty Images
    Graham delivers a message on Sept. 20, 1986, in Paris, France.
  • Graham gives the invocation at the beginning of the inauguration ceremony for Bill Clinton's second term as president.
    LUKE FRAZZA via Getty Images
    Graham gives the invocation at the beginning of the inauguration ceremony for Bill Clinton's second term as president.
  • Graham (left) is joined by His Eminence William Cardinal Keeler, Archbishop of Baltimore (center) and Orthodox Church of Amer
    Reuters Photographer / Reuters
    Graham (left) is joined by His Eminence William Cardinal Keeler, Archbishop of Baltimore (center) and Orthodox Church of America Archbishop of Washington, Metropolitan Herman, during the 55th Presidential Inaugural Prayer Service at the National Cathedral in Washington on Jan. 21, 2005.

CORRECTION: A wire photo caption in a previous version of this story misstated a London venue in which Graham was preaching in 1955. It was Wembley Stadium, not Wembley Arena.

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