Introduction to the List
I can finally present my Top 100 Most Influential People. Originally, my list was close to a thousand names. I find these 100 people (or groups of people) to have had a stronger worldwide influence on the living in 2016 than those who fell short for this list.
I must also clarify that personal accomplishments does not translate to influence. Thus, many were discarded, even though they had multiple personal successes. Also, outstanding fame, name recognition, regional, gender or ethnic influence does not always translate to worldwide influence.
While all people are equal, not all environments are equal. A civilization or country’s society, religion, politics, laws and geography all play a role in maximizing the potential genius of the people that are either benefited or restricted by their society, religion, politics or laws. Closed societies don’t progress, and that includes countries prone to isolationism, since this prevents the spread and exchange of ideas. Likewise, relative tolerance prevails, since immigration works is beneficial in the long run. Failed societies with restrictive laws, or restrictive geography have deprived the geniuses of social and political minorities, women, the poor, racial and ethnic minorities. For all its faults, and their are many, Europe and North America have historically been the most nurturing regions for prospective geniuses in the time of recorded history.
As this is the case, certain regions of the world, and certain groups of people–like women, for instance–will be underrepresented on this list. Many great civilizations and people, such as the Aztecs, Incas, Iroquois, Zulu, Ainu, Mali, Basques, Tamils, Nubians, etc., while having historical prominence, as well as men and women of great genius, were restricted in the range of their influence, either through geographic or socio-political restrictions. Some of these are, of course, restrictions placed on by other people.
No doubt, if we could go back in time, the majority of this list would be individuals from prehistory, such as the inventor of the wheel, a leading figure leading our ancestors out of Africa, the first to foster fire, and so on. Obviously, “Mitochondrial Eve” and “Y-chromosomal Adam”, from whom we all descend, would be at the top of this list purely for having lived at all.
Although some may claim that every generation seems to be waning in sophistication and reason, we are definitely becoming relatively more tolerant and open as time goes on. As such, those underrepresented on this list, such as women and people from countries labeled as “Third World” will definitely see their numbers increase in the future. Perhaps the geniuses from these demographic will find the solutions to all our failings.
Human beings have made a lot of progress, but we have not yet reached the end of history. Our evolved and enhanced descendants will look back on us–they, who will be so advanced that Isaac Newton will seem like a primate–and they will thank in their minds the brilliant and good people of the past that helped them on their way to adding new names to this infinitely changing list.
Influence is not morality or ethics; therefore, there are genuinely terrible people that made this list. Perhaps one day we will have scholars dedicated to research the good that individuals have done throughout history, so that a list of 100 good and honest people can be held with this one. To be placed on both would be a culmination of true genius.
The Unranked List of the Top 100 Influential People of Recorded History
Huangdi (“Yellow Emperor”) (????bc-2598bc) created the first centralized state and initiated Chinese civilization.Additionally, he standardized the written language of China, instituted the first large scale censorship in history, and initiated the Great Wall of China, which is the only human-made object observable from space.
Sargon of Akkad (????bc-2215bc) created the first multiethnic, centrally-ruled empire.
Hammurabi (c.1810bc-1750bc) for the earliest specific code of laws for a large centralized state. Also, the Law of Retaliation (“Eye for an eye”).
Moses (c. 1390bc-c.1270bc) the most important prophet in Judaism. He is also revered in Christianity and in Islam. As such, he is the harmonizing figure for these three major religions. While historical information is scarce, Moses is credited with leading the Jewish people to Israel, and for creating the Mosaic Code, which includes the Ten Commandments. Most scholars believe he did not write all the books of the Bible/Torah that are credited to him, but they mostly believe that he probably wrote some of them. Lastly, he is probably the founder of Jewish monotheism, which influences the monotheism of Christianity and Islam.
Homer (c. 850bc) for the first known literature of Europe and the inspiration for epic poetry. There is a chance that Homer was multiple people, but we are without proof for this claim, I am going to assume, as most scholars do, that he was a single author. His two masterpieces have been required reading in educational institutions for centuries, especially those still adhering to classical education. His influence on literature in Europe and the Western Hemisphere has been profound.
Thales (c.624bc-c.546bc) is considered the founder of Western philosophy. He is also the first known person to use deductive reasoning in geometry. He is the first known person to predict a solar eclipse, an event that is sometimes regarded as the traditional start of Western philosophy; although, philosophy undoubtedly started as soon as humans could reason. Aristotle claims that Thales believed that the principle of nature was water.
Pythagoras (c.570bc-c.495bc) for the Pythagorean theorem, arguably the most influential proof of geometry. Some scholars argue that the Babylonians and Chinese may have known of this proof before Pythagoras. His life is so shrouded in mystery that, similar to Homer, he may have been more than one person, or rather, his accomplishments may have come from more than one person.
Confucius (551bc-479bc) his ideas were developed into a system known as Confucianism, which form the basis of Chinese tradition, culture and belief. He came up with the “Golden Rule” about 500 years before Jesus did. His direct influence is also in Korea and Japan. Indirectly, he influences the world, primarily because of China’s present influence.
Gautama Buddha (c.480bc-c.400bc) is the founder of Buddhism, one of the major religions. While founded in India, his influence is strong in Southeast Asia. Buddha has a strong influence on many religious people and spiritual people, Buddhist or not.
Socrates (c.470bc-399bc) originator the Socratic method, which was an original and crucial development in the art of critical thinking. Socrates was the primary influence of Plato’s ideas.
Plato (c.425bc-c.347bc) founded the Academy of Athens, which was the first Western institution of higher education. He was a teacher and an influence on Aristotle. His philosophy laid the groundwork for Western philosophy, political theory, science, religion and spirituality. Plato influences every constitutional republic, including the United States.
Aristotle (384bc-322bc) created the first comprehensive system of Western philosophy, which also encompassed the fields of political theory, science, logic, linguistics, the arts, ethics and metaphysics. Some consider him to be the first true scientist. He influenced Christian, Islamic, and Jewish religious theory and was arguably the primary inspiration for the Renaissance. He was the tutor of Alexander the Great. He originated the study of formal logic.
Alexander the Great (356bc-323bc) His invasions spread Greek culture (Hellenism) to their greatest extent, which is considered the prime example of cultural diffusion. This would include the Hellenization of Judaism, which is why the New Testament is in Greek, and why many of the concepts of Christianity are Hellenistic, rather than Jewish. Founded Alexandria, Egypt. The areas of his Empire, which spread roughly from Greece to India, were brought in close connection to one another for the first time in history.
Euclid (c.330bc-c.270bc) is the “Father of Geometry.” He founded Euclidean geometry. He also wrote the single most influential mathematical textbook in history. His influence on all mathematicians, scientists, philosophers and any user of geometry is paramount. While the many civilization possessed geometry, it was Euclid’s deductive scheme and theoretical structure of geometry that pushed the Western world (including the Middle East) ahead of China and Japan, which did not received Euclidean geometry until the 17th and 19th centuries, respectively. Geometry is now divided between Euclidean and non-Euclidean geometry.
Archimedes (c.287bc-c.212bc) anticipated modern calculus and analysis. He founded hydrostatics and statics. He is credited with the invention of the screw, block and pully system and the principles of the lever; although, he did not invent the lever itself. Through mathematics, he was able to prove the area of a circle, sphere and parabola.
Julius Caesar (100bc-44bc) brought an end to the Roman Republic, allowing for the rise of the Roman Empire. Also, Julian calendar and the terms Caesar, Czar and Kaiser.
Augustus Caesar (63bc-14ad) founder of the Roman Empire, which has been the model of subsequent centralized states. His Pax Romana (Roman Peace) has been a term and an idea followed by following great powers, either through practice or propaganda.
Jesus (c.4bc-c.30ad) the central figure of Christianity, which is currently the world’s largest religion. Jesus has inspired worldwide charity and tolerance by his followers that know him, and worldwide grief, terror, intolerance and bloodshed among the followers that refuse to listen to him. It’s debatable which followers outnumber the other followers. Jesus’s concept of “love your enemy” is the most often ignored. Much of history’s geopolitical movements have been directly or indirectly influenced by the shadow of Jesus.
Paul of Tarsus (c.5-c.67) developed the ideas of Jesus into what is now called Pauline Christianity, which is the near unanimous interpretation of the concept of Jesus Christ by most Christians. He is also considered the primary figure in spreading the religion outside Palestine and presenting what was a Jewish Christianity in a way that would make it palatable to the Hellenistic world of the early Roman Empire.
Cai Lun (50-120) invented paper. Western Civilization was deprived of this crucial invention until Baghdad started producing its own paper around 751 after a couple of Chinese papermakers were captured. Papermaking didn’t spread to Europe until the 12th century. The combination of Cai Lun’s paper and Gutenberg’s printing press did much to further the progress of human civilization by capturing and distributing the written words of our greatest minds.
Constantine the Great (c.272-337) his conversion to Christianity assured the survival of Christianity and for its dominance in the Western world. It led to the power and influence of the popes, who had very little power previously. Additionally, it was he who called for the Council of Nicaea, which create the Nicene Creed, which was the first major attempt to reach an agreement on Christian theory, including the divinity of Jesus and his relationship with God. Lastly, the Donation of Constantine is the source of the Papal claim to temporal power.
Muhammad (c.570-632) is the founder of Islam, which quickly spread throughout Arabia in his lifetime. As a political leader, he created the first Islamic state, and initiated the first Arab conquests. He was also the author of the Quran. Islam is currently the second largest religion. Like with Jesus and other religious founders, many false believers have carried out atrocities in the name of Muhammad’s religion.
Umar ibn al-Khattab (c.583-644) expanded his Islamic caliphate into an Empire, ensuring the survival and expansion of Islam. Syria, Iraq, Egypt and Iran were converted to Islam, with all but Iran becoming Arabic in culture.
Fatima al-Fihri (c. 859) founded the first university.
Genghis Khan (c.1162-1227) founded the Mongol Empire, which would eventually spread across Asia, displacing populations, altering the continental gene pool and increased global trade from Europe to China.
Giotto (c.1266-1337) for his groundbreaking, solidly three-dimensional artwork and the development of a new realistic visual language. He is considered the first of a long-line of pivotal Renaissance artists.
Petrarch (1304-1374) considered the “Father of Humanism,” and arguably the single most important figure in initiating the Renaissance with his discovery of Cicero’s letters. He also sparked the popularity of sonnet poetry within his own time, and throughout much of Europe after his death.
Johannes Gutenberg (c.1398-1468) for introducing mechanical moving type to Europe with his printing press. While the Chinese invented printing, Gutenberg’s press was the first practical and reliable press that could print with speed and accuracy. Also, Gutenberg was the originator of numerous printing press contributions. He is famous for creating and printing the Gutenberg Bible, the first famous mass-produced book in history. Overall his invention allowed for the mass production and rapid exchange of ideas on paper.
Christopher Columbus (c.1450-1506) for initiating the colonization and migration of Western Civilization onto the Western Hemisphere. It should be emphasized that Columbus’s voyage led to the massive depopulation, and sometimes extinction, of the original inhabitants of the Western Hemisphere. The immediate result of his voyage, also led to the Christianization–Roman Catholicism in particular–of the West Indies. His voyage allowed Spain to dominate the Western Hemisphere, culturally speaking.
Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543) formulated that the Sun was at the center of solar system, rather than the Earth. While Aristarchus of Samos had the idea before Copernicus, he did not describe the theory in detail, nor did he provide evidence for it. In economics, he also came up with the quantity theory of money, which stated that the money supply has a direct and proportional relationship with the price level of goods. Copernicus also showed that the moon revolved around the Earth, and that our planet turns on an axis. He changed how the world looked at the universe.
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.
Ferdinand Magellan (c. 1480-1521) & Juan Sebastian Elcano (1476-1526) for the first circumnavigation of the globe, which inspired explorers and merchants around the world to do the same in order to find new trade routes and navigational channels. The journey proved that an international date line was needed. Magellan led the exploration, and Elcano took over when Magellan was killed in the Philippines.
Martin Luther (1483-1546) is the theologian that most influenced the Protestant Reformation by his aggressive critique of the failings of the Catholic Church. He is also considered the founder of the Lutheran Church; although, he died believing he was still a Catholic. He translated the Bible from Latin to the vernacular, so that ordinary literate people could read the Bible for themselves. Luther-inspired Protestant Reformation led not only to several sects breaking off from Roman Catholicism, but also to numerous religious wars.
Hernan Cortes (1485-1547) for the conquest of the Aztec Empire and for spreading Spanish culture, including the Roman Catholic religion, into Mexico and Central America.
Suleiman the Magnificent (1494-1566) inspired the growth of Ottoman culture and law, including Islam, which expanded into the areas that he conquered. He helped establish Islam as the second major religion in Europe and fixed Ottoman Turkish presence as the pivot between Europe and Asia cultures.
John Calvin (1509-1564) is the founder of Calvinism, which is the chief philosophy of numerous protestant churches, such as Presbyterians, Congregational, Reformed. As such, Calvin has gained many more adherents than Luther. Some scholar give Calvin credit for the rise of Capitalism, since he inspired the “Protestant work ethic” and allowed the charging of interest on loans, which was condemned by other Christians.
Elizabeth I (1533-1603) inspired the flowering of English literature and language, especially drama. Set the foundation for English colonialism, exploration, and the concept of the British Empire. Reestablished England as a protestant state.
Francis Bacon (1561-1626) the philosophical advocate and practitioner of the scientific method. He is also considered the founder of empiricism, the idea that knowledge comes from sensory experience.
William Shakespeare (1564-1616) as the primary figure in the development of the English language into a world language. He also wrote plays that have been translated, spread, and staged across the world, even to the present day.
Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) is the “Father of Observational Astronomy.” He confirmed the phases of Venus, discovered several of Jupiter’s moons, observed and analyzed sunspots. He is arguably the most well-known champion of heliocentrism. Additionally, he uncovered the mechanics of falling objects and discovered the law of inertia.
Johannes Kepler (1571-1630) for his laws of planetary motion.
William Harvey (1578-1657) first to discover and detail the circulation of the blood and the function of the heart.
Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) established social contract theory, which influenced later political theory.
Rene Descartes (1596-1650) is the Father of Modern Western Philosophy and the father of analytical geometry. His contributions to critical thinking have made all universities, more or less, Cartesian institutions.
Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) invented the mechanical calculator. He plays a chief role in probability theory and in projective geometry.
Robert Boyle (1627-1691) for Boyle’s Law, which describes the relationship between absolute pressure and gas.
John Locke (1632-1704) is the father of liberalism. He may be the key philosopher in influencing the American Revolution, including the language of the Declaration of Independence.
Antonie van Leeuwenhoek (1632-1723) is the “father of microbiology.” He was the first to observe and analyze microorganisms.
Isaac Newton (1642-1727) laid the foundation for classical mechanics, developed the field of optics and was one of the two independent inventors of calculus. He formulated the laws of motion and universal gravitation. He also built the first practical refracting telescope.
Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646-1716) is one of the two independent inventors of calculus. He also refined the binary system, which is currently used in computers.
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) arguably the most inventive composer, who also developed the techniques of previous composers. He was a master at counterpoint, harmonics, modulation and contrapuntal motion.
Adam Smith (1723-1790) is the father of modern economics. He laid the foundation for the classical free market economic theory.
Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) is considered the central figure of modern philosophy. He believed reality must conform to the human mind’s active concepts to be conceivable and at all possible for people to be able to experience it. He is known for the categorical imperative
George Washington (1732-1799) first president of the United States, setting the precedents for the most powerful influential position in history. Presided over the Constitutional Convention, which created the oldest active constitution.
James Watt (1736-1819) invented the first practical steam engine and developed the concept of horsepower. He is often considered the primary influence on the Industrial Revolution.
Antoine Lavoisier (1743-1794) is the “Father of Modern Chemistry.” He discovered the role that oxygen plays in combustion. He also recognized and named oxygen and hydrogen. He changed chemistry from a qualitative to a quantitative science.
Alessandro Volta (1745-1827) invented the electric battery and discovered methane.
Edward Jenner (1749-1823) is the “Father of Immunology” for his creation of the smallpox vaccine, the world’s first vaccine.
Nicephore Niepce (1765-1833) invented photography.
John Dalton (1766-1844) developed modern atomic theory.
Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821) Ended the French Revolution and initiated the Napoleonic Wars, which culminated in the European balance of powers. Also, sold the Louisiana territory to the United States, was the inspiration of two of the most important military strategy books (one by Clausewitz and the other by Jomini), initiated modern Egyptology (resulting in the founding of the Rosetta Stone), indirectly sparked the Age of Nationalism, inspired the “Great Man Theory” of German philosophers.
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.
Simon Bolivar (1783-1840) established several South American countries as independent of Spanish rule. This inspired the rest of the Spanish-speaking New World to seek their own countries.
Charles Babbage (1791-1871) originated the concept of the programmable computer.
Charles Darwin (1809-1882) for his contributions to the theory of evolution. He came up with the concept of natural selection.
Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) prevented the breakup of the United States. Laid the foundation for the abolition of slavery in the most powerful republic. Centralized the United States, which made America’s dominance in the 20th century possible.
Karl Marx (1818-1883) founder of Marxism, the most influential variant of Socialism. He was also arguably the most influential critic of capitalism. His writings on class struggles, labor and inequality make him a principle architect in the field of sociology. Much of his work was buttressed by Friedrich Engels. He is considered the father of Socialism, even though the principal ideas of Socialism were expressed by thinkers who are now known as Utopian Socialists, such as Robert Owen.
Gregor Mendel (1822-1884) the founder of the science of genetics.
Louis Pasteur (1822-1895) is the “Father of Microbiology.” He was crucial to the development of immunization,. He also disproved the theory of spontaneous generation. He also invented the process called Pasteurization, which kills bacteria in liquid food.
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.
Louis Le Prince (1841-1890) invented the first movie camera and shot the first movies.
Karl Benz (1844-1929) invented the first automobile that used an internal combustion engine, also known as the first modern car.
Wilhelm Roentgen (1845-1923) discovered X-Rays.
Alexander Graham Bell (1847-1922) invented the first practical telephone.
Thomas Edison (1847-1931) invented the first practical incandescent light bulb and the phonograph.
Henri Becquerel (1852-1908) discovered radioactivity.
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.
Max Planck (1858-1947) is the originator of quantum theory.
Marie Curie (1867-1934) is the pioneering researcher and developer of the theory of radioactivity. She is also the first woman to win the Nobel Prize.
Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948) was the predominant leader of the Indian independence movement. He is probably the most recognized practitioner of nonviolent civil disobedience in history.
Orville Wright (1871-1948) and Wilbur Wright (1867-1912) invented the first successful airplane.
Ernest Rutherford (1871-1937) is the “father of nuclear physics.” He discovered the radioactive half-life and differentiated alpha radiation from beta radiation.
Guglielmo Marconi (1874-1937) invented the radio.
Joseph Stalin (1878-1953) rapidly industrialized Russia into a superpower that both helped end World War II and became one of two major powers during the Cold War. Stalinism has often been used as an example to misrepresent Socialism. Russia’s relative strength today is due in part to Stalin’s regime. Stalin’s strength leading into the Cold War was a major influence for the creation of what became the European Union.
Albert Einstein (1879-1955) for developing the general theory of relativity, which is the current description of gravitation in modern physics. . He is also known for the special theory of relativity, which addresses space and time.
Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) invented assemblage and collage. He also had a profound influence on the foundation of modern art.
Alexander Fleming (1881-1955) for the discovery of penicillin.
Robert H. Goddard (1882-1945) invented the first liquid-fueled rocket.
John Maynard Keynes (1883-1946) the originator of Keynesian economics. He is considered the founder of macroeconomics.
Adolf Hitler (1889-1945) initiated World War II and created the holocaust. WWII led to a weaker, more peaceful Europe. The holocaust led to the creation Israel. Hitler’s Nazism is often used as an example to misrepresent both nationalistic conservatives ideologies and Socialism.
Mao Zedong (1893-1976) founding father of the People’s Republic of China, the most populated Communist government in history. He laid the foundations for China as a world power through modernization policies. His form of communism, known as Maoism, is often an example to misrepresent Socialism.
Enrico Fermi (1901-1954) created the world’s first nuclear reactor.
Werner Heisenberg (1901-1976) for the creation of quantum mechanics.
Philo Farnsworth (1906-1971) invented the first fully functioning television.
Sergei Korolev (1907-1966) and Yuri Gagarin (1934-1968) for the Soviet Space Program. Korolev is the “Father of Practical Astronautics” for his development of Sputnik. Gagarin, who worked for Korolev, was the first human being in space. Their efforts allowed us to know that travel in space was possible, and allowed for the eventual landing on the Moon, as well as in future landings on planets or asteroids.
Rosalind Franklin (1920-1958), James Watson (1928) and Francis Crick (1916-2004) for discovering the structure of DNA.
Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) is the predominant figure in the African-American civil rights movement, and a leading inspiration for the rights of worldwide minorities. He was also, along with Gandhi, a chief practioneer of nonviolent civil disobedience.
Pier Giorgio Perotto (1930-2002) invented the first personal computer.
John Lennon (1940-1980), Paul McCartney (1942), George Harrison (1943-2001), and Ringo Starr (1940) formed the best selling band in world history. Their influence on music is paramount.
Tim Berners-Lee (1955) invented the World Wide Web, which has brought the entire world closer together than it has ever been.
I will rank the above 100 people in a future blog post. Additionally, I’ll list all the honorable mentions. I hope to includes some statistics on the matter, as well as some ideas of what kind of influence may make this list in the future.
3 Comments Add yours
I thought Edward Jenner changed his name to Kaitlyn (which would make him the Mother of Immunology) 🙂
But seriously, great job with your list! I know you’ve worked really hard on it. I like all the science and math focus.
A lot of people have written me to say that they find this list border-line offensive, since it is Western male dominated, and because genius or inventions do not occur in a vacuum. So basically, I think I’m not allowed to make lists like this. I probably should have ranked the ideas/inventions rather than listed people. Perhaps that would have been more harmonious.
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I wonder if the vacuum was invented in a vacuum? 🙂 –Paul