Fight for Inclusion into the Top 100: Nicephore Niepce

by Jonathan Hobratsch (with suggestions by Pauly Deathwish)

In my last post, I aimed to narrow my list of influential people from history down to 100. My knowledgeable friend, Pauly Deathwish, offered me some suggestions. I was convinced by about 30 of his suggestions, but I wanted to run some tests with suggestions that I thought were as valid as some that he left off.

As such, I’ve decided to run his contested suggestions through a gauntlet of my devil’s advocated suggestions. The following candidates for inclusion in the Top 100 to run through this gauntlet are Ashoka, Niepce, Suleiman, Giotto, Saladin, Archimedes, Sargon, the Beatles, MLK, Gandhi, Dickens, Robespierre, Calvin, Palladio, Hammurabi, Mao, Keynes, FDR, Picasso, Ataturk, Stalin, Lenin, Le Prince, Whitman, Marx, Lincoln, Bolivar, Napoleon, Washington, Adam Smith, Bach, Leibniz, Shakespeare, Elizabeth I, Machiavelli, Petrarch, Charlemagne, Julius Caesar, Augustus Caesar, Buddha, Socrates, Homer.

The above will run through a gauntlet composed of Cicero, Umar ibn-Al-Khattab, Pizarro, William Harvey, Edward Jenner, Hamilton, Wollstonecraft, Dalton, Gauss, Goodyear, Bessemer, Bazalgette, James Maxwell Clerk, Otto, Pankhurst, Willis Carrier, Sykes and Picot, Goddard, Truman, Farnsworth, Korolev, Perotto, Hill, Wilmut and Campbell, Collins and Venter, Brin and Page.

If the candidate makes it through mostly unscathed, then they will probably be included. If someone within the gauntlet causes much of the damage throughout the contest, they will probably be included.

All influential people will be judged according to these criteria: a) they must have done something to significantly and permanently alter the world, b) left an influence that is still greatly felt in 2016, and c) the influence must be directly or indirectly worldwide, and not just regional or national.


Candidate 1: Nicephore Niepce (1765-1833) invented photography.

Cicero (106bc-43bc) influenced European prose literature and ideas with his humanism and political oratory. The Renaissance and the Enlightenment were a return to his ideas. He was an influence on both the American and French Revolutions and the governments they created.

I think Niepce dodges Cicero’s swing, considering that photography has had a greater worldwide influence. Cicero would top the list if we constrained the boarders to include only Western Civilization, but the larger we increase the area, Niepce steadily gain influence. 

Umar ibn al-Khattab (c.583-644) expanded his Islamic caliphate into an Empire, ensuring the survival and expansion of Islam.

Umar hits Niepce here. I think Islam, a growing major religion, has had more influence on lives worldwide than photography at the moment. Umar ensured that Islam would be the co-major religion with Christianity. Niepce may beat him in a couple hundred years, ultimately, however. In fact, Umar will be included in the top 100. 

Francisco Pizarro (c. 1475-1541) for the conquest of the Inca Empire and for spreading Spanish culture, including the Roman Catholic religion, to Peru and South America.

Pizarro was the most influential figure in establishing the Spanish language, culture and Roman Catholic religion as the language, culture and religion of an entire continent. This helped make Spanish arguably the second major language and increased the strength of the Roman Catholic Church, the largest Church of the largest religion. This is a close one, since one could argue that Niepce has more influence in the Far East than Pizarro. I’ll go with Niepce, but it was close. 

William Harvey (1578-1657) first to discover and detail the circulation of the blood.

Harvey’s influence on the medical field is so crucial, considering previous doctors were completely clueless about blood. His discovery is so essential to nearly all following medical research and for the quest of human longevity or immortality that I will add him to the top 100 right now. Harvey hits Niepce. 

Edward Jenner (1749-1823) is the “Father of Immunology” for his creation of the smallpox vaccine, the world’ first vaccine.

Jenner’s vaccination invention has been considered the most life saving invention in history. Small pox could be eradicated. The entire world uses vaccinations and these have more of an influence on humans worldwide than photography. Jenner hits Niepce. 

Alexander Hamilton (c. 1755-1804) for founding the current dominant nation’s financial system and for founding the world’s first voter-based political party.

This is a close one, when you consider that America’s economy allows it to dominate the world. However, I think one can argue that the landscape of America and its resources would have made America successful even without Hamilton, but then one can always argue that someone would have invented photography if Niepce never had. The first voter-based party is important, since this is mimicked worldwide. I think the combination of Hamilton’s influences barely defeats Niepce. Hamilton hits Niepce. 

Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797) for invigorating first wave feminism.

This is another close one, when you consider Wollstonecraft was the most prominent early feminist (before feminism was a term) to argue that women were rational equals and lacked only education. However, she was one of a few. Likewise, women have yet to reach worldwide equality; whereas, photography is used in every country, and often used to highlight worldwide inequality as well. Thus, Niepce dodges Wollstonecraft here. I expect Pankhurst to have a stronger influence than Wollstonecraft, even though Wollstonecraft is one of many influences on Pankhurst. Thus, Wollstonecraft is going to be removed from this list and placed with the honorable mentions, since she isn’t beating Niepce, who may not even make the list himself. 

John Dalton (1766-1844) developed modern atomic theory.

His influence on atomic theory, including atomic weights, and how one kind of atom influence another, made the best and worst chemical developments of the late 19th century to the present possible, including atomic bombs. Dalton hits Niepce. 

Carl Friedrich Gauss (1777-1855) is considered the greatest mathematician since ancient history. Among his many contributions was the belief that geometry could be non-Euclidean, which freed up later scientists and mathematicians to make discoveries without being tied down by the belief that all geometry must follow Euclidian principals.

My understanding of photography is far greater than my understanding of advanced Mathematics. But upon a brief reading on non-Euclidean geometry, I can see that the advance in geometry is something on par to Copernicus’s influence on astronomy. Gauss showed the geometry is much more elastic, which allowed for greater measurements in geography, astronomy, physics and more. Non-Euclidean geometry, which is used throughout the world by mathematicians has a much more crucial importance and influence on us than photography, even though non-Mathematicians don’t see it, and don’t quite understand it. Gauss hits Niepce. Gauss enters the top 100. 

Charles Goodyear (1800-1860) for vulcanizing rubber.

This again is difficult, since Thomas Hancock may have made the discovery 8 weeks prior, and also because vulcanized rubber has nearly as much influence as photography, if not more. Photography has greater range than rubber products. I’m going to go with Niepce. In fact, Goodyear will be removed as a candidate and will sit with the majority of the list as an honorable mention, since it’s unlikely he can make the list if he can’t beat Niepce. 

Henry Bessemer (1813-1898) for the Bessemer steel-manufacturing process.

His process made steel much cheaper and stronger. Bridge collapses decreased significantly, and its use helped speed up the Age of Rail. However, the process was independently invented (after Bessemer, though), and it may have been in use in Japan before Bessemer invented it. The steel making process went through numerous stages of invention, the first in China. This Bessemer’s process is less influential than Niepce’s invention. In fact, Bessemer will go to the honorable mention list. 

Joseph Bazalgette (1819-1891) for the creation of the first urban sewer system.

I think photography has greater range than Bazalgette’s worthy creation, considering much of the world hasn’t adequate sewage systems. This doesn’t diminish Bazalgette’s accomplishment, but we have at least 100 more people that have contributed more than him, I think. He goes to the honorable mention list. 

James Clerk Maxwell (1831-1879) formulated the classical theory of electromagnetic radiation, which brought together electricity, magnetism and light as part of the same phenomena.

Maxwell ushered in modern physics, which includes allowing for special relativity and quantum physics. He’s generally considered the third greatest physicist behind Newton and Einstein, making the greatest advancement since Newton in physics. This is an area I understand less than photography, but my gut instinct tells me that Maxwell’s influence is more crucial than Niepce’s. Maxwell hits Niepce. 

Nikolaus Otto (1832-1891) invented the internal-combustion engine.

So many impressive figures helped develop the internal-combustion engine and automobiles that they all sort of cancel each other out, rather than help each other float into the top 100. A combination of Karl Benz and Nikolaus Otto would make the list. The thing is that Benz’s modern car was not commercially available for a few decades and was made much more practical by others. While Otto’s internal combustion engine was really a much improved update from an earlier one, but not even the last one. Niepce wins here and Otto will go to the honorable mention list. Yet, I’m going to resurrect Karl Benz, since, now that I think about it. 

Karl Benz (1844-1929) invented the first automobile that used an internal combustion engine.

Benz’s first modern car, showed that cars were the future in private and commercial transportation. More deaths are due to car accidents than many diseases. We spend much more of our lives in traffic. The environment has taken a toll due to this invention. Now that I think about it, Benz will not only be resurrected, but he will be added to the top 100.

Emmeline Pankhurst (1858-1925) arguably the lead activist in fighting for women’s suffrage. Her efforts helped achieve suffrage in her own country of Great Britain, and inspired similar efforts in other countries, including in the United States.

While women have not yet reached equality throughout the globe, Pankhurst, who made it possible in her country, and in others, is also the forerunner for future equality movements and successes. As women make up at least half of the people on the globe, and the equal rights of women are always a major issue, even if they don’t exist in a given country, since 21st century technology and politics allows everyone to get into each other’s business. I give Pankhurst’s influence a slight advantage over the invention of photography. Pankhurst hits Niepce. 

Willis Carrier (1876-1950) invented the air conditioner.

AC has made it possible for large numbers of people to live in areas that would have been difficult to inhabit before. With an increase in the rise in temperatures Carrier’s invention will become more influential, but at this time Niepce is more influential. Carrier will go to the honorable mention list. 

Mark Sykes (1879-1919) and Francois Georges-Picot (1870-1951) for creating the agreement, which redrew the map of the Middle East that is generally considered the catalyst for the conflicts in the region today.

The Sykes-Picot agreement is still playing out today, 100 years later. It has wrecked relationships between countries and religions. This enormous influence is doubtful to be permanent, as permanent as it may seem at the moment, while photography will last, even if it is absorbed in a future technology. 

Robert H. Goddard (1882-1945) invented the first liquid-fueled rocket.

Goddard’s invention allows us to send people and objects into Space and it will eventually allow us to migrate to other planets. He made the Space Age possible. His influence on our future is permanent. Goddard hits Niepce, and jumps into the top 100. 

Harry S. Truman (1884-1972) dropped the atomic bombs, which ended World War II in the pacific. He led the US into the Cold War against the Soviets. He authorized the Marshall Plan and NATO, which established American influence and presence in Europe. He also turned American into a national security state with the authorization of the National Security Act, which laid the foundation for the Patriot Act several decades later.

We can’t predict America’s future; however, if we maintain to be a fear-based national security state, then it will be Truman’s legacy. While Truman ordered the bomb dropped, it most likely would have been ordered by FDR if he had lived. His part in the Cold War was critical, but Communism would have probably failed even without Truman’s leadership. Niepce dodges Truman. Truman is moved to the honorable mention list. 

Philo Farnsworth (1906-1971) invented the first fully functioning television.

Many people attempted to make a television, but Farnsworth was the first to make it successfully. Niepce was certainly more influential before Farnsworth. However, television influences our lives more than photography on most days. Farnsworth hits Niepce. 

Sergei Korolev (1907-1966) is the “Father of Practical Astronautics” for his development of Sputnik.

Korolev, more or less, oversaw numerous Soviet accomplishments in space, including Sputnik and the first human journey into space with Yuri Gagarin. I may attach Gagarin to Korolev. The Soviet Space program beat NASA in reaching space first, both artificially and with humans. Their accomplishment is much more influential than Neil Armstrong and his team’s Moon landing, since the Soviets showed that it would be possible. I think Korolev barely beats out Niepce.

Pier Giorgio Perotto (1930-2002) invented the first personal computer.

I’m writing this on a computer. You are probably reading this on a computer, or on a phone that is very much like a personal computer. The history of computers has a long list of inventors, but Perotto is crucial in that he made it possible for us to take a computer home and put it on a desk. Perotto’s invention will barely edge out the important invention of photography. Perotto hits Niepce. 

Chuck Hull (1939) invented the 3-D printer.

I have a feeling that this could be a top 100 accomplishment fairly soon. However, these printers need time to show their practicality and range. For now, Hull is in the honorable mention list. Niepce dodges Hull. 

Ian Wilmut (1944) and Keith Campbell (1954-2012) for cloning the first mammal.

This is a groundbreaking accomplishment. However, their influence will be reduced until cloning becomes more successful, practical and more common. They move to the honorable mention list. Niepce dodges Dolly. 

Francis Collins (1950) and Craig Venter (1946) for sequencing the human genome.

This could prove to make the list, depending on what is done with their work in the future. For now, I’ll move them to the honorable mention. Niepce barely dodges the Human Genome Project. 

Sergey Brin (1973) and Larry Page (1973) for Google search engine.

This is recent enough that Brin and Page can’t claim influence into the top 100 yet, since we don’t know how this will play out. They’ll go to the honorable mention list. Niepce dodges Google. 



This gauntlet experiment with Niepce has certainly changed the game. Niepce will neither be inducted nor removed at the moment.

Niepce faced the following opponents: Cicero, Umar ibn-Al-Khattab, Pizarro, William Harvey, Edward Jenner, Hamilton, Wollstonecraft, Dalton, Gauss, Goodyear, Bessemer, Bazalgette, James Clerk Maxwell, Otto, Benz (resurrected), Pankhurst, Willis Carrier, Sykes and Picot, Goddard, Truman, Farnsworth, Korolev and Gagarin, Perotto, Hull, Wilmut and Campbell, Collins and Venter, Brin and Page. Of these several were inducted into the top 100, and some were removed from the game. Some are still in play.

Moved to the Top 100: Umar, Harvey, Gauss, Benz, Goddard

Removed from the game: Wollstonecraft, Goodyear, Bessemer, Bazalgette, Otto, Carrier, Truman, Hull, Wilmut and Campbell, Collins and Venter, Brin and Page

Still in play: Cicero, Pizarro, Jenner, Hamilton, Dalton, James Clerk Maxwell, Pankhurst, Sykes and Picot, Farnsworth, Korolev and Gagarin, Perotto

Niepce’s fate: Still undecided.

Updated inductees into the top 100. 61

Updated remaining slots: 39

Remaining candidates for inclusion: 53

Number of candidates to be demoted to the honorable mentions list: 14



3 Comments Add yours

  1. Did I include Gauss? I can’t remember. Does 2 + 2 = 4? Why does Rice play Texas? We choose to go to the Moon and do these other things…not because they are easy, but because they are hard. My name is Jimmy Carter, and I’m running for President.

    I think Gauss is a good choice. I like Niepce! G’uhffaw!! –Paul


    1. historymonocle says:

      Now I know, I think I added Gauss as a devil’s advocate to your choices. Make no mistake about it. — Obama

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Bring the folding chairs…and Joe Biden!


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