From The Arlantic magazine (2006)
100: Herman Melville
Moby Dick was a flop at the time, but Melville is remembered as the American Shakespeare.
99: Richard Nixon
He broke the New Deal majority, and then broke his presidency on a scandal that still haunts America.
98: Booker T. Washington
As an educator and a champion of self-help, he tried to lead black America up from slavery.
97: Stephen Foster
America’s first great songwriter, he brought us “O! Susanna” and “My Old Kentucky Home.”
96: Ralph Nader
He made the cars we drive safer; thirty years later, he made George W. Bush the president.
95: Samuel Goldwyn
A producer for forty years, he was the first great Hollywood mogul.
94: George Eastman
The founder of Kodak democratized photography with his handy rolls of film.
93: Nat Turner
He was the most successful rebel slave; his specter would stalk the white South for a century.
92: John Steinbeck
As the creator of Tom Joad, he chronicled Depression-era misery.
91: Lyman Beecher
Harriet Beecher Stowe’s clergyman father earned fame as an abolitionist and an evangelist.
90: Jonathan Edwards
Forget the fire and brimstone: his subtle eloquence made him the country’s most influential theologian.
89: Walter Lippmann
The last man who could swing an election with a newspaper column.
88: Enrico Fermi
A giant of physics, he helped develop quantum theory and was instrumental in building the atomic bomb.
87: Benjamin Spock
With a single book—and a singular approach—he changed American parenting.
86: Mary Baker Eddy
She got off her sickbed and founded Christian Science, which promised spiritual healing to all.
85: Ernest Hemingway
His spare style defined American modernism, and his life made machismo a cliché.
84: Thurgood Marshall
As a lawyer and a Supreme Court justice, he was the legal architect of the civil-rights revolution.
83: James Fenimore Cooper
The novels are unreadable, but he was the first great mythologizer of the frontier.
82: George Gallup
He asked Americans what they thought, and the politicians listened.
81: Margaret Mead
With Coming of Age in Samoa, she made anthropology relevant—and controversial.
80: William Randolph Hearst
The press baron who perfected yellow journalism and helped start the Spanish-American War.
79: Louis Armstrong
His talent and charisma took jazz from the cathouses of Storyville to Broadway, television, and beyond.
78: John Brown
Whether a hero, a fanatic, or both, he provided the spark for the Civil War.
77: Betty Friedan
She spoke to the discontent of housewives everywhere—and inspired a revolution in gender roles.
76: Frank Lloyd Wright
America’s most significant architect, he was the archetype of the visionary artist at odds with capitalism.
75: Babe Ruth
He saved the national pastime in the wake of the Black Sox scandal—and permanently linked sports and celebrity.
74: Brigham Young
What Joseph Smith founded, Young preserved, leading the Mormons to their promised land.
73: Cyrus McCormick
His mechanical reaper spelled the end of traditional farming, and the beginning of industrial agriculture.
72: Sam Walton
He promised us “Every Day Low Prices,” and we took him up on the offer.
71: Noah Webster
He didn’t create American English, but his dictionary defined it.
70: Meriwether Lewis and William Clark
They went west to explore, and millions followed in their wake.
69: James Gordon Bennett
As the founding publisher of The New York Herald, he invented the modern American newspaper.
68: James D. Watson
He co-discovered DNA’s double helix, revealing the code of life to scientists and entrepreneurs alike.
67: P.T. Barnum
The circus impresario’s taste for spectacle paved the way for blockbuster movies and reality TV.
66: Elvis Presley
The king of rock and roll. Enough said.
65: Henry David Thoreau
The original American dropout, he has inspired seekers of authenticity for 150 years.
64: Jane Addams
The founder of Hull House, she became the secular saint of social work.
63: George Marshall
As a general, he organized the American effort in World War II; as a statesman, he rebuilt Western Europe.
62: William James
The mind behind Pragmatism, America’s most important philosophical school.
61: Samuel Gompers
The country’s greatest labor organizer, he made the golden age of unions possible.
60: William Faulkner
The most gifted chronicler of America’s tormented and fascinating South.
59: Louis Sullivan
The father of architectural modernism, he shaped the defining American building: the skyscraper.
58: John C. Calhoun
The voice of the antebellum South, he was slavery’s most ardent defender.
57: Robert E. Lee
He was a good general but a better symbol, embodying conciliation in defeat.
56: Horace Mann
His tireless advocacy of universal public schooling earned him the title “The Father of American Education.”
55: John Quincy Adams
The Monroe Doctrine’s real author, he set nineteenth-century America’s diplomatic course.
54: Bill Gates
The Rockefeller of the Information Age, in business and philanthropy alike.
53: Oliver Wendell Holmes
Known as “The Great Dissenter,” he wrote Supreme Court opinions that continue to shape American jurisprudence.
52: Joseph Smith
51: Margaret Sanger
The ardent champion of birth control—and of the sexual freedom that came with it.
50: James K. Polk
This one-term president’s Mexican War landgrab gave us California, Texas, and the Southwest.
49: Frederick Law Olmsted
The genius behind New York’s Central Park, he inspired the greening of America’s cities.
48: Robert Oppenheimer
The father of the atomic bomb and the regretful midwife of the nuclear era.
47: Frederick Douglass
After escaping from slavery, he pricked the nation’s conscience with an eloquent accounting of its crimes.
46: William Lloyd Garrison
Through his newspaper, The Liberator, he became the voice of abolition.
45: Samuel F. B. Morse
Before the Internet, there was Morse code.
44: Lyndon B. Johnson
His brilliance gave us civil-rights laws; his stubbornness gave us Vietnam.
43: W.E.B. Du Bois
One of America’s great intellectuals, he made the “problem of the color line” his life’s work.
42: Eleanor Roosevelt
She used the first lady’s office and the mass media to become “first lady of the world.”
41: Harriet Beecher Stowe
Her Uncle Tom’s Cabin inspired a generation of abolitionists and set the stage for civil war.
40: John Dewey
He sought to make the public school a training ground for democratic life.
39: Rachel Carson
The author of Silent Spring was godmother to the environmental movement.
38: Susan B. Anthony
She was the country’s most eloquent voice for women’s equality under the law.
37: J. P. Morgan
The great financier and banker was the prototype for all the Wall Street barons who followed.
36: William Jennings Bryan
“The Great Commoner” lost three presidential elections, but his populism transformed the country.
35: Jackie Robinson
He broke baseball’s color barrier and embodied integration’s promise.
34: Jonas Salk
His vaccine for polio eradicated one of the world’s worst plagues.
33: Ralph Waldo Emerson
The bard of individualism, he relied on himself—and told us all to do the same.
32: Albert Einstein
His greatest scientific work was done in Europe, but his humanity earned him undying fame in America.
31: Henry Clay
One of America’s greatest legislators and orators, he forged compromises that held off civil war for decades.
30: Elizabeth Cady Stanton
One of the first great American feminists, she fought for social reform and women’s right to vote.
29: Earl Warren
His Supreme Court transformed American society and bequeathed to us the culture wars.
28: Dwight D. Eisenhower
He won a war and two elections, and made everybody like Ike.
27: Eli Whitney
His gin made cotton king and sustained an empire for slavery.
26: Walt Disney
The quintessential entertainer-entrepreneur, he wielded unmatched influence over our childhood.
25: John Adams
His leadership made the American Revolution possible; his devotion to republicanism made it succeed.
24: Alexander Graham Bell
By inventing the telephone, he opened the age of telecommunications and shrank the world.
23: Orville and Wilbur Wright
They got us all off the ground.
22: Walt Whitman
He sang of America and shaped the country’s conception of itself.
21: Harry S. Truman
An accidental president, this machine politician ushered in the Atomic Age and then the Cold War.
20: Andrew Carnegie
The original self-made man forged America’s industrial might and became one of the nation’s greatest philanthropists.
19: Thomas Paine
The voice of the American Revolution, and our first great radical.
18: Andrew Jackson
The first great populist: he found America a republic and left it a democracy.
17: Ronald Reagan
The amiable architect of both the conservative realignment and the Cold War’s end.
16: Mark Twain
Author of our national epic, he was the most unsentimental observer of our national life.
15: Theodore Roosevelt
Whether busting trusts or building canals, he embodied the “strenuous life” and blazed a trail for twentieth-century America.
14: Henry Ford
He gave us the assembly line and the Model T, and sparked America’s love affair with the automobile.
13: James Madison
He fathered the Constitution and wrote the Bill of Rights.
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.
11: John D. Rockefeller
The man behind Standard Oil set the mold for our tycoons—first by making money, then by giving it away.
10: Woodrow Wilson
He made the world safe for U.S. interventionism, if not for democracy.
09: Thomas Edison
It wasn’t just the light bulb; the Wizard of Menlo Park was the most prolific inventor in American history.
08: Martin Luther King
His dream of racial equality is still elusive, but no one did more to make it real.
07: John Marshall
The defining chief justice, he established the Supreme Court as the equal of the other two federal branches.
06: Benjamin Franklin
The Founder-of-all-trades— scientist, printer, writer, diplomat, inventor, and more; like his country, he contained multitudes.
05: Alexander Hamilton
Soldier, banker, and political scientist, he set in motion an agrarian nation’s transformation into an industrial power.
04: Franklin D. Roosevelt
He said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” and then he proved it.
03: Thomas Jefferson
The author of the five most important words in American history: “All men are created equal.”
02: George Washington
He made the United States possible—not only by defeating a king, but by declining to become one himself.
01: Abraham Lincoln
He saved the Union, freed the slaves, and presided over America’s second founding.