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100 Most Influential Figures in American History

The Atlantic magazine assembled a group of scholars to list the 100 most influential figures in U.S. history. How many can you name?
Quiz by Kestrana
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Last updated: October 6, 2016
First submittedDecember 22, 2015
Times taken21,099
Rating4.11
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Rank
Known For
Answer
1
Emancipation
Abraham Lincoln
2
American Revolution
George Washington
3
Declaration of Indep.
Thomas Jefferson
4
Depression & WWII
Franklin D. Roosevelt
5
Treasury Dept
Alexander Hamilton
6
Diplomacy
Benjamin Franklin
7
Judicial Review
John Marshall
8
Having a Dream
Martin Luther King
9
Lightbulbs
Thomas Edison
10
Fourteen Points
Woodrow Wilson
11
Standard Oil
John D. Rockefeller
12
Union General
Ulysses S. Grant
13
Bill of Rights
James Madison
14
Model T
Henry Ford
15
Bull Moose Party
Theodore Roosevelt
16
Huckleberry Finn
Mark Twain
17
Cold War Ender
Ronald Reagan
18
Trail of Tears
Andrew Jackson
19
Common Sense
Thomas Paine
20
Philanthropy
Andrew Carnegie
21
WWII President
Harry S. Truman
22
American Poetry
Walt Whitman
23
Flight
Wilbur Wright
Orville Wright
24
Telephone
Alexander Graham Bell
25
Founding Father
John Adams
26
Mickey Mouse
Walt Disney
27
Cotton Gin
Eli Whitney
28
WWII & President
Dwight D. Eisenhower
29
Culture Wars
Earl Warren
30
Feminism
Elizabeth Cady Stanton
31
Political Compromise
Henry Clay
32
Relativity
Albert Einstein
33
Individualist Poetry
Ralph Waldo Emerson
34
Polio Vaccine
Jonas Salk
35
Baseball Integration
Jackie Robinson
36
Cross of Gold
William Jennings Bryan
37
Wall St. Banker
J. P. Morgan
38
Women's Suffrage
Susan B. Anthony
39
Silent Spring
Rachel Carson
40
Pragmatic Philosophy
John Dewey
41
Uncle Tom's Cabin
Harriet Beecher Stowe
42
First Lady
Eleanor Roosevelt
43
Civil Rights Author
W.E.B. Du Bois
44
Civil Rights/Vietnam
Lyndon B. Johnson
45
Telegraph Code
Samuel F.B. Morse
46
"The Liberator"
William Lloyd Garrison
47
Abolitionist/Slave
Frederick Douglass
48
Atomic Bomb
Robert Oppenheimer
49
Central Park
Frederick Law Olmstead
50
Mexican War
James K. Polk
Rank
Known For
Answer
51
Birth Control
Margaret Sanger
52
Mormonism
Joseph Smith
53
Supreme Court
Oliver Wendell Holmes
54
Microsoft
Bill Gates
55
6th President
John Quincy Adams
56
Education Reform
Horace Mann
57
US Civil War
Robert E. Lee
58
Southern Politics
John C. Calhoun
59
Skyscrapers
Louis Sullivan
60
Southern Novels
William Faulkner
61
Unions
Samuel Gompers
62
Pragmatism
William James
63
Rebuilding Europe
George Marshall
64
Hull House
Jane Addams
65
Civil Disobedience
Henry David Thoreau
66
Rock & Roll
Elvis Presley
67
Circus
P.T. Barnum
68
DNA
James D. Watson
69
Newspapers
James Gordon Bennett
70
Explorer
Meriwether Lewis
William Clark
71
Dictionaries
Noah Webster
72
Wal-Mart
Sam Walton
73
Reaper
Cyrus McCormick
74
Mormonism
Brigham Young
75
Home Runs
Babe Ruth
76
Architecture
Frank Lloyd Wright
77
Feminism
Betty Friedan
78
Harper's Ferry
John Brown
79
Trumpet
Louis Armstrong
80
Yellow Journalism
William Randolph Hearst
81
Anthropology
Margaret Mead
82
Opinion Polls
George Gallup
83
Mohicans
James Fenimore Cooper
84
Supreme Court
Thurgood Marshall
85
A Farewell to Arms
Ernest Hemingway
86
Christian Science
Mary Baker Eddy
87
Baby Advice
Benjamin Spock
88
Physics
Enrico Fermi
89
Opinions
Walter Lippmann
90
Fiery Sermons
Jonathan Edwards
91
Abolitionist
Lyman Beecher
92
Grapes of Wrath
John Steinbeck
93
Slave Uprising
Nat Turner
94
Kodak
George Eastman
95
MGM
Samuel Goldwyn
96
Green Party
Ralph Nader
97
O Susanna
Stephen Foster
98
Tuskegee
Booker T. Washington
99
Watergate
Richard Nixon
100
Moby Dick
Herman Melville
+1
level 47
Dec 22, 2015
I tried Kennedy right after Lincoln.
+6
level 75
Dec 22, 2015
Reagan didn't end the cold war -- Gorbachev did. When I saw Culture Wars as a clue I thought of Buchanan or Falwell not Warren. Perhaps Brown vs Board would've been a better clue.
+1
level 77
Oct 5, 2016
I agree with you, but the clue doesn't say "what they did," the clue says "known for." Reagan is known for ending the cold war, the same way Al Gore is known for claiming to invent the Internet, even if neither did those things.
+7
level 77
Oct 5, 2016
If we wanted to make the clues about what impact these people *actually* had I would list for Reagan "selling out the United States to Wall Street and corporations, paving the way for the ultimate end of American Democracy sometimes around March, 2017 or TBD."
+2
level 77
Oct 11, 2016
Do you actually believe that? Ronald Reagan was an actor and then a corporate spokesman before getting into politics. He was good at *acting* like a strong and competent and in-control leader... that's what he trained to do... but Wall Street had him on a very short leash.
+2
level 77
Oct 11, 2016
and I am not disputing that the Bushes and Clintons were also very Wall St friendly but they just continued the dismantling of Theodore Roosevelt's legacy that Reagan started.
+1
level 58
Sep 4, 2018
For Pete's sake, CAN the practice of partisanship. Geez...
+3
level 54
Oct 5, 2016
I knew the correct answer was Gorbachev, but that the quiz was wanting Reagan.
+1
level 56
Mar 4, 2018
I agree that "culture war" doesn't make sense. It's not a term commonly associated with Warren so I feel like it's misleading. Maybe using "Brown v. Board of Education" or even just "Supreme Court" would be a better clue?
+1
level 65
Feb 13, 2019
Yes he did! If Gorbachev ended the the Cold War Russia would still be the USSR and Eastern Europe would be under communist control. Talk to anyone who lived in Eastern Europe or the USSR under communism. Today Reagan is a folk hero to them. Unless of course you are implying that Gorbachev ended the Cold War by losing to Reagan's strategy? But that would be like saying the South is responsible for ending slavery by losing to the North.
+5
level 74
Dec 22, 2015
Fun quiz. But I assume the group of scholars assembled to create the list was mostly white men? Very few women or people of colour, no Native Americans on this list.
+6
level 60
Aug 8, 2016
Yes, it's basically "US Presidents plus Some other people"
+1
level 64
Aug 11, 2016
I wouldn't have a source for it, but it might be fun to make my own "100 Most Influential Minorities in American History".
+3
level 43
May 6, 2017
You wouldn't expect many Africans to show up in a "100 most influential people in Chinese history" would you?
+5
level 67
May 16, 2018
Africans in China are a vanishingly small percentage of the population. Racial or ethnic minorities in the United States are at least one third of the population. Are you honestly comparing the two?
+2
level 71
Oct 5, 2016
I think it's pretty obvious with the anthropologist and the christian scientist that the makers of this list were obviously reaching pretty hard already just to find some women that could possibly rank among the 100. No list is going to be perfectly representative of the population, trying to make it so is equally bigoted as a purposely whitewashed one.
+1
level 71
Oct 5, 2016
It's hard to determine who should be in the list from different disciplines, but it's fairly easy to compare people in the exact same disciplines. In each case, I've come up with a more influential male that isn't on this list as well. The people you listed aren't the creme of the crop, they just happen to be famous because they're well known *and* they're women. If they weren't women, they'd be a whole lot less famous. Rosa Parks - Malcom X Amelia Earhart - Charles Lindberg Maya Angelou - TS Eliot Zaharios - Phelps, Lewis, etc. Oprah - no comment.
+1
level 70
Apr 10, 2017
they were reaching hard, but didn't reach Emily Dickinson? Hardly.
+1
level 59
Jul 31, 2017
Yeah, but the ones of color are high-ranking. Example: MLK Jr and Frederick Douglas. Also, what influential Natives are there in American history? The only one I can think of is Geronimo, and I don't know what he influenced.
+2
level 72
Aug 7, 2016
No Muhammad Ali - astonishing.
+2
level 66
Aug 27, 2016
He was the first person I thought of. Was absolutely shocked he wasn't on here. Rosa Parks was another. Who made this list?
+4
level 73
Oct 5, 2016
I tried Harriet Tubman as well, and Clara Barton.
+2
level 62
Oct 6, 2016
Pretty low on people of color in general, actually. Of course, that is the fault of the Atlantic, not the Quizmaster. No George Washington Carver? And, for music, Louie Armstrong seems like a pretty random pick. And, of course,they didn't deem that guy that showed people of color that they could also become president to be list worthy either.
+2
level 59
Jul 31, 2017
It doesn't matter what race or gender the people are, it's how they influenced the United States.
+1
level 75
Oct 11, 2019
Louis Armstrong was hugely influential on music the world over.
+1
level 77
Aug 8, 2016
The Dewey Decimal system was invented by Melvil Dewey, not John Dewey.
+1
level 67
Oct 5, 2016
... and he invented the Dewey Decimal Classification (DDC) scheme for libraries not the 'decimal system' which has been around for centuries as a counting system.
+1
level 58
Oct 5, 2016
Neither of which did "John Dewey" invent.
+1
level 58
Oct 5, 2016
Right, but if it said "Dewey Decimal System" it would have kind of given it away.
+1
level 72
Aug 8, 2016
A list that has Ralph Nader as the 96th most important American is of questionable validity...
+2
level 54
Oct 5, 2016
if you look at Nader's impact on the consumer advocacy movement, with Deadly at any speed, there is validity to that.
+1
level 77
Aug 13, 2017
yeah I'm sure he's not on here for his presidential campaign, if that's what you were thinking. Though I'm not sure I'd put him in the top 100, either.
+2
level 79
Aug 8, 2016
I was surprised no Ali, Hank Aaron, Harriet Tubman (why are we putting her picture on the $20 bill?), Duke Ellington, Quincy Jones, Frank Sinatra, John F. Kennedy, Paul Revere (we give him so much credit in history class, but his situation was more serendipity that I still though he would make the list), Clarence Thomas, Ruth Bader Ginsburg...and the list goes on.
+1
level 64
Aug 11, 2016
There's arguments to be made for many people but I would caution against conflating fame with influence. Sinatra, for example, was extraordinarily popular and famous, but he was not a musical ground breaker like Louis Armstrong - he sang popular music in a style that had already been developed, although he did it extremely well. YMMV of course, but I know some people like Jane Addams' Hull House still operating today and still working to develop new ways of helping people today could be seen as more "influential" than Sinatra's music, despite its continued popularity.
+1
level 77
Aug 17, 2016
Why Ginsburg and not Sandra Day O'Connor out of curiosity?
+1
level 71
Sep 2, 2016
Clarence Thomas? His appointment was polarizing to be sure, but his tenure not particularly influential. He has, when not napping ;-), spoken during SCOTUS oral arguments only once in the last decade, and I can't think of any earth-shaking decisions he authored, or any with much originality for that matter. He's not exactly gonna be remembered as a mover and shaker. If we're talking SCOTUS justices definitely missing from this list, I think I'd nominate Brandeis and Holmes over most anyone else.
+2
level 77
Oct 5, 2016
Agree with Kestrana and Sami re: Sinatra and Thomas. Though re: Kennedy, while I objected to his inclusion on the most influential people in world history quiz, I think he might deserve a spot here.
+2
level 77
Aug 13, 2017
and re: why they are putting Harriet Tubman on money: mostly because of her color and gender. Not to say that all the paler people with more external genitalia currently on money necessarily made larger contributions to American history (some of them undoubtedly did, a couple maybe did not)- the change to Tubman was clearly, obviously, and openly agenda driven.
+3
level 76
Oct 5, 2016
No Neil Armstrong. Really? What do you have to do to make this list -- go to the moon? Oh, wait.
+1
level 23
Jan 13, 2019
Why would he be on the list? For hopping around a movie set in Nevada, and then lying to everyone?
+1
level 77
Oct 5, 2016
Sanger > Pincus. Better than the people in world history quiz.
+1
level 77
Oct 5, 2016
Another interesting quirk: Kennedy shows up on the important people in world history list, but not here.
+1
level 63
Oct 5, 2016
Alexander Graham Bell was a British citizen, only taking up US citizenship some 6 years after patenting the telephone. Of course, both the UK, USA and Canada claim him as their own, but after living the first 23 years of his life in the UK, it would be hard to call him an American.
+1
level 77
Oct 5, 2016
Maybe it's hard for you. But to an American, anyone born in the country regardless of parentage; anyone born to an American parent, regardless of their place of birth; and anyone who becomes a naturalized citizen by choice is definitely and wholly American! In reality, Bell was American. It's not so hard to accept reality if you just give it a shot.

Also, the guy lived to be 75. You're really going to discount the last 52 years?
+2
level 45
Oct 5, 2016
Alexander Graham Bell was a Scotsman. Even said so himself.
+2
level 77
Oct 5, 2016
and George Washington was an Englishman. What's your point? Having one nationality or one ethnic heritage does not preclude having a second.
+2
level 63
Oct 5, 2016
I suspect being 'Chief Electrician' of the Bell Telephone Company it would be easier if he became a US citizen. For most rational people, Einstein will always be German, Rupert Murdoch will always be Australian, and Jim Carrey will always be Canadian. While it makes more sense to become a citizen of the country your main business is based in (Bell, Murdoch etc), it does not alter your place of birth and upbringing which correctly defines your nationality.
+2
level 77
Oct 11, 2016
So "rational" people are oblivious to facts and reality? Nationality definition 1: citizenship. Definition 2: ethnicity, if you believe in the concept of nation states. You are skipping over the first and primary definition, and also demeaning the struggles many went through to attain citizenship in a place they chose to call home.
+1
level 58
Oct 6, 2018
@Bonzo, so the correct definition of nationality is where you were born and brought up - what if those are different places? Einstein was never a citizen of Germany because German citizenship didn't exist at that point - you had to be a citizen of a German kingdom. Einstein sometimes described himself as Swiss, and didn't agree with the concept of nationalism. He changed nationality six times. It makes sense to describe Einstein as any of the following: German, Swiss, American, Austro-Hungarian, subject of the Kingdom of Prussia, citizen of the Free State of Prussia, subject of the Kingdom of Württemberg, stateless, or of multiple nationalities. There are rational arguments for any of these, though some make more sense than others.
+2
level 49
Oct 5, 2016
This quiz is too USA-centric.
+1
level 39
Oct 5, 2016
It's called, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. NOT mormonism!! Please switch it the the correct way, thank you. Great quiz otherwise.
+3
level 77
Oct 5, 2016
it's called both. and it's only called the CoJCoLDS by Mormons. If they cared so much about everyone calling their church by the "correct" name then they should have picked a shorter name, and they probably also should have put that name on the front of all the books they distribute instead of "the Book of Mormon." This is Marketing 101, guys.
+2
level 45
Oct 5, 2016
So many non americans
+1
level 77
Oct 5, 2016
There's not a single non-American on this quiz. There are quite a few making ignorant comments below the quiz, though. So depending on what you mean you could be wrong or right.
+1
level 59
Oct 5, 2016
The link to your source is broken.
+2
level ∞
Oct 5, 2016
Removed the link. They removed their list and replaced it with a slideshow (shudder).
+1
level 73
Jul 25, 2018
Oh the humanity
+1
level 66
Oct 5, 2016
I think Supreme Court clues could be better (though keep them short). Also, isn't this quiz too US-based?
+1
level 67
Oct 5, 2016
As others have mentioned, John Dewey did not invent the Dewey Decimal System. That was Melvil Dewey. John Dewey is a completely different person: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Dewey
+2
level 67
Oct 5, 2016
Makes sense. You need a good classification system when a white whale keeps eating your books.
+2
level ∞
Oct 6, 2016
Haha. Fixed this error
+1
level 41
Oct 5, 2016
Only 3 :(
+1
level 51
Oct 5, 2016
I understand that the clues might come from the Atlantic as well but the clue for Wilson is hilariously bad. No one knows the man who brought the US into the first world war and attempted to get in involved in the League of Nations afterwards as an isolationist
+1
level 43
Oct 6, 2016
Thank you! I was going to say the same thing about Wilson! I know that the list was picked by Atlantic Magazine, so most of my issues with this quiz (which I DID very much enjoy and rated quite highly) are with them - leaving off JFK or any Kennedy, leaving off Barack Obama as the nation's first Black president, etc. - but some of the hints written below are really bad. Reagan was known by enough things that he should not be given as politically charged a clue as being said to have won the Cold War. And Woodrow Wilson, he of the Fourteen Points and Wilsonian democracy, is said to be known for isolationism? He was the OPPOSITE of an isolationist! Are any of the other people linked to clues that are literally the opposite of what we know about them? If not, Wilson's MUST be changed and is by far the most inaccurate hint on the whole quiz.
+2
level 64
Oct 6, 2016
Actually, I do know the president who used the slogan "He kept us out of war" for his 1916 election, and who, upon entering the war due to Congressional pressure, immediately brought up the 14 points as the solution to end it, as an isolationist. If you read the 14 points, the league of nations is almost an afterthought, and it's primary purpose was to preserve free trade, an extremely important concern for the US at that time.
+1
level 43
Oct 6, 2016
I loved this quiz, but you BADLY need to fix the 'hint' for Woodrow Wilson, since that is the OPPOSITE of what he did and is known for. Say 'Fourteen Points,' or World War I, ANYTHING but 'isolationism.' If you're going to stick with that, why not call Eisenhower a pacifist, Edison a luddite, Franklin Delano Roosevelt a marathon enthusiast, and Ronald Reagan an intellectual.
+1
level ∞
Oct 6, 2016
I changed the clue to Fourteen Points, since Wilson was only a sometimes isolationist.
+1
level 65
Oct 6, 2016
Having Watson and omitting Crick is pretty unfair. Guys from the Atlantic magazine could have done a little more research
+2
level ∞
Oct 6, 2016
Crick was British
+2
level 34
Oct 6, 2016
That didn't stop Einstein or Alexander Graham Bell. Not that Einstein was British, but you get what I mean.
+1
level 77
Oct 22, 2016
They were both American.
+2
level 58
Oct 6, 2016
Malcolm X? Rosa Parks? Stunned....but then again.....
+1
level 67
Oct 6, 2016
Interesting quiz. As a Brit there are a lot of people on there i've never heard of, but that's to be expected. I'd love to see a split of how Americans and non Americans scored, as I suspect the average is dragged down by us non Americans.
+1
level 34
Oct 6, 2016
Angry Scot here... Since when was A.G Bell American??? Born: March 3, 1847, Edinburgh. Unless Scotland is now part of the USA I am quite confused to see how he got on this list... Did he get American citizenship in later life? Am I missing something here?
+2
level 34
Oct 6, 2016
Saw Einstein, read title carefully. Taking it back. Remember kids, always read the title carefully.
+2
level 77
Oct 11, 2016
Bell and Einstein were both naturalized American citizens.
+1
level 77
Oct 11, 2016
In the case of Bell, in 1882 he gave up his British citizenship and became American. He was 35 years old.
+1
level 23
Jan 13, 2019
Don't blame him for where he was born. He couldn't control that. He chose to improve himself.
+1
level 75
Oct 11, 2019
Bell Telephone Company, Boston, Massachusetts, U.
.
.
.
. S.A., not K.
+1
level 67
Oct 9, 2016
It's not Myanmar. It's BURMA ;)
+1
level 57
Oct 9, 2016
I was expecting some variety in race and gender. This was "Some presidents, and other famous white people"
+1
level 77
Oct 11, 2016
Who do you feel was overlooked? Or do you think the list makers should have ignored a person's influence on history in favor of focusing on what "race" they were when devising a list of most influential figures?
+1
level 46
Dec 30, 2016
What about JFK and Rosa Parks
+1
level 38
Mar 8, 2017
Though I believe that Bobby and Teddy Kennedy deserve the accolades more so than JFK (He is revered as an assassinated President, but what exactly did he accomplish as Presidents?) I much rather have JFK here than Clarence Thomas. PLEASE! The man is an affront to humanity.
+1
level 67
Nov 2, 2017
@divantilya Well, JFK successfully backed the US and Soviet Union down from the brink of nuclear war during the Cuban Missile Crisis, so there's that.
+1
level 29
Mar 21, 2017
All Rosa Parks did was say no
+2
level 51
May 1, 2017
First, if Lewis and Clark are on this list, Sacagawea certainly should as well.
+1
level 23
Jan 13, 2019
Who?
+1
level 59
May 22, 2017
Though Samuel Goldwyn co-founded both Paramount and MGM, he left the latter rather quickly and spent the rest of his career as an independent producer. Louis B. Mayer would be a much more appropriate representative for MGM.
+1
level 66
Jul 6, 2017
I don't get sometimes how people can put Thomas Edison so high up but not include Nikola Tesla at all. Wasn't it Tesla who improved Edison's lacking product?. Edison caused more trouble than he did good from the documentaries I've seen. JFK should also be on this list.
+1
level 77
Aug 13, 2017
You've probably seen some documentaries with questionable historical accuracy. Tesla was a cool guy but the Edison v. Tesla meme has really taken on a life of its own in the last decade or so since it was born.
+1
level 59
Aug 13, 2017
Both Frederick Law Olmstead and Calvert Vaux designed Central Park. Both made different but equally invaluable contributions. Also, while Samuel Goldwyn helped start MGM pictures he was only involved at the very begining. He also helped start Paramount back when he was known as Saumuel Goldfish. Most of his career he was an independent producer, one of the most successful in Hollywood history.
+1
level 60
Oct 9, 2017
I stopped taking this quiz because Kennedy is not in it. I think he should.
+1
level 62
Jan 19, 2018
Margaret Sanger believed in eugenics.
+2
level 43
Mar 16, 2018
Okay, maybe all Rosa Parks did was say no, but she set off a major movement that changed the the whole course of civil rights in the USA. She was brave to say it, a lot of us would have been too intimidated.
+1
level 54
Aug 23, 2018
JFK?
+1
level 55
Feb 9, 2019
Important to emphasize this is from the Atlantic. Many authors, activists, social justice figures, etc... I did not do well on this quiz, but the Atlantic has a much different world view of American History than I do. 1/3 of the list is authors. Many are civil rights leaders, feminists, political activists, and cultural figures, musicians, etc... And Ralf Nader? Seriously? Top 100 in USA history? But few civil war leaders, few inventors, few military figures, and plays to a very partisan mindset of American History. Not criticizing the quiz author, just the Atlantic. It's a big, fat polito-pop-fest of a publication.
+1
level 56
Aug 20, 2019
While I do have a few small disagreements with this quiz, it's really not fair to blame The Atlantic. The Atlantic outlines incredibly interesting and insightful analytical pieces in an era where news is often catered to be partisan and shallow, perpetuating clickbait culture and keeping the American public uninformed. Civil rights leaders and activists have been incredibly important to the expansion of democracy in America, while literary figures and musicians helped America create a national culture. In contrast, military leaders haven't done anything that constructive for America. Also remember these are just opinions. We can't expect the person who made this poll to have the same world view as us and thus we have to tolerate discrepancies between our personal list and this list. Considering the difficulty of compiling such a list, I applaud the writers who made this.
+1
level 52
Mar 11, 2019
I can assure you Kennedy had a bigger influence than Jane Addams
+1
level 43
Nov 6, 2019
I know you didn't make this I'm shocked that Harriet Tubman wasn't on here
+1
level 46
Nov 21, 2019
I know you didn't make this list, but as far as Americans from the 20th century, I would have included: Margaret Mitchell Billy Graham Gene Roddenberry Leon Uris and toss up between George and Ira Gershwin/Aaron Copeland