The Top 100
1 Abraham Lincoln-He saved the Union, freed the slaves, and presided over America’s second founding.
2 George Washington-He made the United States possible—not only by defeating a king, but by
declining to become one himself.
3 Thomas Jefferson-The author of the five most important words in American history: “All men are created equal.”
4 Franklin Delano Roosevelt-He said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” and then he proved it.
5 Alexander Hamilton-Soldier, banker, and political scientist, he set in motion an agrarian nation’s transformation into an industrial power.
6 Benjamin Franklin-The Founder-of-all-trades— scientist, printer, writer, diplomat, inventor, and more; like his country, he contained multitudes.
7 John Marshall-The defining c8 Martin Luther King Jr.
His dream of racial equality is still elusive, but no one did more to make it real. 9 Thomas Edison-It wasn’t just the lightbulb; the Wizard of Menlo Park was the most prolific inventor in American history.
10 Woodrow Wilson -He made the world safe for U.S. interventionism, if not for democracy. 11 John D. Rockefeller-The man behind Standard Oil set the mold for our tycoons—first by
making money, then by giving it away.
12 Ulysses S. Grant-He was a poor president, but he was the general Lincoln needed; he also wrote the greatest political memoir in American history.
13 James Madison-He fathered the Constitution and wrote the Bill of Rights. 14 Henry Ford-He gave us the assembly line and the Model T, and sparked America’s love affair
with the automobile.
15 Theodore Roosevelt-Whether busting trusts or building canals, he embodied the “strenuous life” and blazed a trail for twentieth-century America.
16 Mark Twain-Author of our national epic, he was the most unsentimental observer of our national life.
17 Ronald Reagan-The amiable architect of both the conservative realignment and the Cold War’s
18 Andrew Jackson -The first great populist: he found America a republic and left it a democracy. 19 Thomas Paine-The voice of the American Revolution, and our first great radical. 20 Andrew Carnegie-The original self-made man forged America’s industrial might and became one of the nation’s greatest philanthropists.
21 Harry Truman-An accidental president, this machine politician ushered in the Atomic Age and then the Cold War.
22 Walt Whitman-He sang of America and shaped the country’s conception of itself.
23 Wright Brothers-They got us all off the ground.
24 Alexander Graham Bell- By inventing the telephone, he opened the age of telecommunications and shrank the world.
25 John Adams-His leadership made the American Revolution possible; his devotion to republicanism made it succeed.
26 Walt Disney-
The quintessential entertainer-entrepreneur, he wielded unmatched influence over our childhood. 27 Eli Whitney-His gin made cotton king and sustained an empire for slavery. 28 Dwight Eisenhower-He won a war and two elections, and made everybody like Ike. 29 Earl Warren-His Supreme Court transformed American society and bequeathed to us the culture wars.
30 Elizabeth Cady Stanton-one of the first great American feminists, she fought for social reform and women’s right to vote.
31 Henry Clay-One of America’s greatest legislators and orators, he forged compromises that held
off civil war for decades.
32 Albert Einstein-His greatest scientific work was done in Europe, but his humanity earned him undying fame in America.
33 Ralph Waldo Emersot-he bard of individualism, he relied on himself—and told us all to do the
34 Jonas Salk-His vaccine for polio eradicated one of the world’s worst plagues.
35 Jackie Robinson ---He broke baseball’s color barrier and embodied integration’s promise.
36 William Jennings Bryan
“The Great Commoner” lost three presidential elections, but his populism transformed the country. 37 J. P. Morgan-The great financier and banker was the prototype for all the Wall Street barons who followed.
38 Susan B. Anthony-She was the country’s most eloquent voice for women’s equality under the
39 Rachel Carson-The author of Silent Spring was godmother to the environmental movement. 40 John Dewey-He sought to make the public school a training ground for democratic life. 41 Harriet Beecher Stowe -Her Uncle Tom’s Cabin inspired a generation of abolitionists and set
the stage for civil war.
42 Eleanor Roosevelt -She used the first lady’s office and the mass media to become “first lady of the world.”
43 W. E. B. DuBois-One of America’s great intellectuals, he made the “problem of the color line” his life’s work.
44 Lyndon Baines Johnson-His brilliance gave us civil-rights laws; his stubbornness gave us Vietnam.
45 Samuel F. B. Morse-Before the Internet, there was Morse code.
46 William Lloyd Garrison-Through his newspaper, The Liberator, he became the voice of abolition.
47 Frederick Douglass-After escaping from slavery, he pricked the nation’s conscience with an eloquent accounting of its crimes.
48 Robert Oppenheimer-The father of the atomic bomb and the regretful midwife of the nuclear era.
49 Frederick Law Olmsted-The genius behind New York’s Central Park, he inspired the greening of America’s cities.
50 James K. Polk-This one-term president’s Mexican War landgrab gave us California, Texas, and the Southwest.
51 Margaret Sanger-The ardent champion of birth control—and of the sexual freedom that came
52 Joseph Smith-The founder of Mormonism, America’s most famous homegrown faith.
53 Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.-Known as “The Great Dissenter,” he wrote Supreme Court opinions that continue to shape American jurisprudence.
54 Bill Gates-The Rockefeller of the Information Age, in business and philanthropy alike. 55 John Quincy Adams-The Monroe Doctrine’s real author, he set nineteenth-century America’s
56 Horace Mann-His tireless advocacy of universal public schooling earned him the title “The Father of American Education.”
57 Robert E. Lee-He was a good general but a better symbol, embodying conciliation in defeat. 58 John C. Calhoun-The voice of the antebellum South, he was slavery’s most ardent defender.
59 Louis Sullivan-The father of architectural modernism, he shaped the defining American building: the skyscraper.
60 William Faulkner-The most gifted chronicler of America’s tormented and fascinating South.
61 Samuel Gompers-The country’s greatest labor organizer, he made the golden age of unions
62 William James-The mind behind Pragmatism, America’s most important philosophical school.
63 George Marshall -As a general, he organized the American effort in World War II; as a statesman, he rebuilt Western Europe.
64 Jane Addams-The founder of Hull House, she became the secular saint of social work. 65 Henry David Thoreau-The original American dropout, he has inspired seekers of authenticity for 150 years.
66 Elvis Presley-the king of rock and roll. Enough said.
67 P. T. Barnum-The circus impresario’s taste for spectacle paved the way for blockbuster movies and reality TV.
68 James D. Watson-He co discovered DNA’s double helix, revealing the code of life to scientists
and entrepreneurs alike.
69 James Gordon Bennett -As the founding publisher of The New York Herald, he invented the modern American newspaper.
70 Lewis and Clark-They went west to explore, and millions followed in their wake. 71 Noah Webster-He didn’t create American English, but his dictionary defined it.
72 Sam Walton--He promised us “Every Day Low Prices,” and we took him up on the offer.
73 Cyrus McCormick-His mechanical reaper spelled the end of traditional farming, and the beginning of industrial agriculture.
74 Brigham Young-What Joseph Smith founded, Young preserved, leading the Mormons to their promised land.
75 George Herman “Babe” Ruth -He saved the national pastime in the wake of the Black Sox scandal—and permanently linked sports and celebrity.
76 Frank Lloyd Wright-America’s most significant architect, he was the archetype of the visionary artist at odds with capitalism.
77 Betty Friedan-She spoke to the discontent of housewives everywhere—and inspired a
revolution in gender roles.
78 John Brown-Whether a hero, a fanatic, or both, he provided the spark for the Civil War. 79 Louis Armstrong-His talent and charisma took jazz from the cathouses of Storyville to Broadway, television, and beyond.
80 William Randolph Hearst -The press baron who perfected yellow journalism and helped start the Spanish-American War.
81 Margaret Mead-With Coming of Age in Samoa, she made anthropology relevant—and
82 George Gallup-He asked Americans what they thought, and the politicians listened. 83 James Fenimore Cooper-The novels are unreadable, but he was the first great mythologizer of the frontier.
84 Thurgood Marshall-As a lawyer and a Supreme Court justice, he was the legal architect of the civil-rights revolution.
85 Ernest Hemingway-His spare style defined American modernism, and his life made machismo a cliché.
86 Mary Baker Eddy-She got off her sickbed and founded Christian Science, which promised spiritual healing to all.
87 Benjamin Spock-With a single book—and a singular approach—he changed American
88 Enrico Fermi-A giant of physics, he helped develop quantum theory and was instrumental in building the atomic bomb.
89 Walter Lippmann-The last man who could swing an election with a newspaper column. 90 Jonathan Edwards-Forget the fire and brimstone: his subtle eloquence made him the country’s most influential theologian.
91 Lyman Beecher-Harriet Beecher Stowe’s clergyman father earned fame as an abolitionist and an evangelist.
92 John Steinbeck-As the creator of Tom Joad, he chronicled Depression-era misery. 93 Nat Turner
He was the most successful rebel slave; his specter would stalk the white South for a century. 94 George Eastman-The founder of Kodak democratized photography with his handy rolls of film. 95 Sam Goldwyn-A producer for forty years, he was the first great Hollywood mogul. 96 Ralph Nader-He made the cars we drive safer; thirty years later, he made George W. Bush the president.
97 Stephen Foster-America’s first great songwriter, he brought us “O! Susanna” and “My Old Kentucky Home.”
98 Booker T. Washington-As an educator and a champion of self-help, he tried to lead black America up from slavery.
99 Richard Nixon-He broke the New Deal majority, and then broke his presidency on a scandal that still haunts America.
100 Herman Melville-Moby Dick was a flop at the time, but Melville is remembered as the American Shakespeare.