Who’s Biggest? The 100 Most Significant Figures in History

A data-driven ranking. Plus, have former TIME People of the Year been predictive?

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Who’s bigger: Washington or Lincoln? Hitler or Napoleon? Charles Dickens or Jane Austen? That depends on how you look at it.

When we set out to rank the significance of historical figures, we decided to not approach the project the way historians might, through a principled assessment of their individual achievements. Instead, we evaluated each person by aggregating millions of traces of opinions into a computational data-centric analysis. We ranked historical figures just as Google ranks web pages, by integrating a diverse set of measurements about their reputation into a single consensus value.

Significance is related to fame but measures something different. Forgotten U.S. President Chester A. Arthur (who we rank as the 499th most significant person in history) is more historically significant than young pop singer Justin Bieber (currently ranked 8633), even though he may have a less devoted following and lower contemporary name recognition. Historically significant figures leave statistical evidence of their presence behind, if one knows where to look for it, and we used several data sources to fuel our ranking algorithms, including Wikipedia, scanned books and Google n-grams.

To fairly compare contemporary figures like Britney Spears against the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle, we adjusted for the fact that today’s stars will fade from living memory over the next several generations. Intuitively it is clear that Britney Spears’ mindshare will decline substantially over the next 100 years, as people who grew up hearing her are replaced by new generations. But Aristotle’s reputation will be much more stable because this transition occurred long ago. The reputation he has now is presumably destined to endure. By analyzing traces left in millions of scanned books, we can measure just how fast this decay occurs, and correct for it.

We don’t expect you will agree with everyone chosen for the top 100, or exactly where they are placed. But we trust you will agree that most selections are reasonable: a quarter of them are philosophers or major religious figures, plus eight scientists/inventors, thirteen giants in literature and music, and three of the greatest artists of all time. We have validated our results by comparing them against several standards: published rankings by historians, public polls, even in predicting the prices of autographs, paintings, and baseball cards. Since we analyzed the English Wikipedia, we admittedly measured the interests and judgments of primarily the Western, English-speaking community. Our algorithms also don’t include many women at the very top: Queen Elizabeth I (1533-1603) [at number 13] is the top ranked woman in history according to our analysis. This is at least partially due to women being underrepresented in Wikipedia.

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Each year since 1927, TIME Magazine has selected an official Person of the Year, recognizing an individual who “has done the most to influence the events of the year.” Our rankings provide a way to see how well these selections have stood up over time. Adolf Hitler [7] proves to be the most significant Person of the Year ever. Albert Einstein [19] was the most significant modern individual never selected for the annual honor, though TIME did name him Person of the Century in 1999. Elvis Presley [69] is the highest ranked figure that has been completely dissed: no author or artist has ever so been honored.

The least significant Person of the Year proves to be Harlow Curtice [224326], the president of General Motors for five years during the 1950s who increased capital spending in a time of recession, which helped spur a recovery of the American economy. Other obscure selections include Hugh Samuel “Iron Pants” Johnson [32927], who Franklin Roosevelt appointed to head the depression-era National Recovery Administration, and fired less than a year later. John Sirica [47053] was the District Court Judge who ordered President Nixon to turn over tape recordings in the Watergate Scandal. David Ho [66267] is credited with developing the combination therapy that provided the first effective treatment for AIDS. His contributions to human health arguably deserve a better significance rank than our algorithms gave him here.

The 100 Most Significant Figures in History

1 Jesus

2 Napoleon

3 Muhammad

4 William Shakespeare

5 Abraham Lincoln

6 George Washington

7 Adolf Hitler

8 Aristotle

9 Alexander the Great

10 Thomas Jefferson

11 Henry VIII of England

12 Charles Darwin

13 Elizabeth I of England

14 Karl Marx

15 Julius Caesar

16 Queen Victoria

17 Martin Luther

18 Joseph Stalin

19 Albert Einstein

20 Christopher Columbus

21 Isaac Newton

22 Charlemagne

23 Theodore Roosevelt

24 Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

25 Plato

26 Louis XIV of France

27 Ludwig van Beethoven

28 Ulysses S. Grant

29 Leonardo da Vinci

30 Augustus

31 Carl Linnaeus

32 Ronald Reagan

33 Charles Dickens

34 Paul the Apostle

35 Benjamin Franklin

36 George W. Bush

37 Winston Churchill

38 Genghis Khan

39 Charles I of England

40 Thomas Edison

41 James I of England

42 Friedrich Nietzsche

43 Franklin D. Roosevelt

44 Sigmund Freud

45 Alexander Hamilton

46 Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi

47 Woodrow Wilson

48 Johann Sebastian Bach

49 Galileo Galilei

50 Oliver Cromwell

51 James Madison

52 Gautama Buddha

53 Mark Twain

54 Edgar Allan Poe

55 Joseph Smith, Jr.

56 Adam Smith

57 David, King of Israel

58 George III of the United Kingdom

59 Immanuel Kant

60 James Cook

61 John Adams

62 Richard Wagner

63 Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

64 Voltaire

65 Saint Peter

66 Andrew Jackson

67 Constantine the Great

68 Socrates

69 Elvis Presley

70 William the Conqueror

71 John F. Kennedy

72 Augustine of Hippo

73 Vincent van Gogh

74 Nicolaus Copernicus

75 Vladimir Lenin

76 Robert E. Lee

77 Oscar Wilde

78 Charles II of England

79 Cicero

80 Jean-Jacques Rousseau

81 Francis Bacon

82 Richard Nixon

83 Louis XVI of France

84 Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor

85 King Arthur

86 Michelangelo

87 Philip II of Spain

88 Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

89 Ali, founder of Sufism

90 Thomas Aquinas

91 Pope John Paul II

92 René Descartes

93 Nikola Tesla

94 Harry S. Truman

95 Joan of Arc

96 Dante Alighieri

97 Otto von Bismarck

98 Grover Cleveland

99 John Calvin

100 John Locke

Steven Skiena and Charles B. Ward are the authors of Who’s Bigger? Where Historical Figures Really Rank, Cambridge University Press, 2013. The views expressed are solely their own. 

179 comments
imrankirmani
imrankirmani

The 100: A Ranking of the Most Influential Persons in History is a 1978 book by Michael H. Hart, reprinted in 1992 with revisions. It is a ranking of the 100 people who, according to Hart, most influenced human history.[1]

The first person on Hart's list is the Prophet of Islam Muhammad,[2] a selection that generated some controversy.[3] Hart asserted that Muhammad was "supremely successful" in both the religious and secular realms. He also believed that Muhammad's role in the development of Islam was far more influential than Jesus' collaboration in the development of Christianity. He attributes the development of Christianity to St. Paul, who played a pivotal role in its dissemination.


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_100:_A_Ranking_of_the_Most_Influential_Persons_in_History

imrankirmani
imrankirmani

In first and correct addition prophet Mohammad PBHM  was at the top the they made amendments  in it as they have done in the bible also in the past idiots simply idiots

hireshkhanna
hireshkhanna

This list is simply biased.The americans and the entire western world wants to make the entire world that they are superior.Thus they only include people of their race.No Ashoka, No Akbar ,No Aryabhatt.

COMPLETE NONSENSE

IshaanBhardwaj
IshaanBhardwaj

Absolutely ridiculous, Shakespeare & Henry VIII so high up when Charles V, who ruled over most of continental europe, Spain, most of Italy, Austria, the holy roman empire incl. the low countries,  and the new world, an empire so vast the French and Turks allied together to stop it. Also I truly cant believe Genghis Khan isn't in the top 5, this list is so biases towards an american perspective.

a.o.barre
a.o.barre

this list is so american!! how the hell abraham lincoln and jefferson are rated above sir İsaac Newton. the most logical and reliable list was made in 1978 by agroup of hitorians and autobiographist(considered to be the greatest of our time inttheir respective fields) led by micheal H. hart and wrote abook called  "the100:A Ranking of the most influential persons in history" you can wiki it and findout more. the top 10 of the list is as follows:


1.Muhammad (p.b.u.h)

2.sir Isaac Newton

3.Jesus (p.b.u.h)

4.Buddha

5.Conficius

6.paul of tarsus(st.paul)

7.Cai luin

8.Johanness Gutenberg

9.Christopher Columbus

10.Albert Einstein

AltanEfendi
AltanEfendi

93. Nikola Tesla? Ok, then somebody should swich off your stream

metternich1815
metternich1815

No Lao Tzu, Buddha, Confucius, Ashoka, Ramesses II, Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell, or Niehls Bohr just to name a few?  George W. Bush?  SERIOUSLY?

te452
te452

I'm not really a fan of Physics, but Isaac Newton should be number 1 or 2 on this list. Thomas Hobbes should be in the top 50 for coming up with the idea of the social contract. I have doubts as to whether Abraham Lincoln and George Washington should even be on here, as men like Jefferson and John Adams should be higher up for actually writing the constitution that made America a world power. 


If Jesus and Muhammad are on here, it makes no sense that they are above Abraham since he founded both religions. 

JohnJohnson11
JohnJohnson11

All those respondents who express outrage about the omissions/presence or order of the above historical figures should settle down a bit!  Admittedly people do like to devise categories of all sorts and it can be intellectually challenging as well as fun. But remember, it is very difficult to distinguish between 'famous' and 'influential'. For example, one website places singer Kylie Minogue as the 'most famous Australian' ever! A bit of a slap in the face to the great artists, leaders and inventors of this country.Wouldn't it be interesting to compile a list ONLY of historical figures whose humanity merits the title of greatness?

nelly2112
nelly2112

Why wouldn't you include Moses? He's the second most important biblical figure.

nelly2112
nelly2112

No Marco Polo? Bad list by the way

Eckbert
Eckbert

that's perhaps the list of the most significant anglophone figures in history, but it's not even close to accuracy in worldwide wise.

JanePearson
JanePearson

WHERE IS MADONNA? SHE IS THE MOST FAMOUS WOMAN TO EVER WALK THE EARTH AND CONTINUES TO INFLUENCE MILLIONS EVEN TODAY.

paulgvanderpost
paulgvanderpost

tooooooo many U.S. presidents to be accurate to all time. Woodrow Wilson, Ronald Reagan AND George Bush!? Come on people! Just because they were leaders of the powerhouse of the world for the last century during some of their historical moments doesnt make them top 100 of the world of all time.

CompaneroTaylor
CompaneroTaylor

Elvis Presley is on the list...but no Mao or Bolivar? Goofy list. Elvis stole everything he knew from Black originators of rock too. Name me something original Elvis brought to music...?

AbhijitGhosh
AbhijitGhosh

No mention of Akbar and Ashoka the Great! Ridiculous!!

AbhijitGhosh
AbhijitGhosh

Undoubtedly the most ridiculous Top 100 list you have compiled! Do you seriously believe that George W Bush precedes Gandhi and Buddha? You ought to be kidding, right??!!

fafoxy11772
fafoxy11772

No Leo Szilard ? !  (He came up with the idea for the nuclear chain reaction, thus leading to both nuclear power plants and nuclear bombs.  No Tim Berners-Lee ? !  (He invented the World Wide Web, without which you would not be reading this article, these comments, nor anything else on the Web, because it wouldn't be here).

bertagna.nicholas
bertagna.nicholas

Not a single American president should be on this list, with the exclusion of Lincoln who actually did something that's universally relevant. I also don't understand how Henry VIII is above Martin Luther, or what really does qualify Mozart as more significant than Beethoven. Mark Twain, E.A. Poe, Elvis, Oscar Wilde should NOT be on the list at all, and I love them. General lack of Asian and African milestones of civilisation. Joseph Smith Sr. influenced like ten people in a single American state. How is he higher than Cicero? Who the hell is Grover Cleveland, really? 


If you ignore religious figures, then it may come to mind that the most significant man in history is Aristotle. But then a guy in China will profoundly disagree with you because they don't care for Western philosophy. I don't think a list like this is conceivable. 

Mr.Moon
Mr.Moon

Jesus, Muhammad o rly? We live in real world not supernatural.

o[egjklnpfogjlnwmer
o[egjklnpfogjlnwmer

this is the worst list i have ever seen in my entire  life. i have never seen a more American biased list anywhere! almost all of it is just American presidants or entertainers, and those who arent are still woefully out of place. i dont think the author of this disgraceful peice understands that some people in the world dont base their lives around America. in fact, i dont think that most people in ANY country could tell you 3 distinctions about Grover Cleavland, and yet he is next to Otto Von Bismark and above guys like Simone Bolivar, the greatest commander in south american history, and Qin Si Huang Di, who FOUNDED CHINA. and yet here we are.

TulgaaEenee
TulgaaEenee

Unbelievable! George Bush is more influential than Genghis Khaan (Chinggis Khaan) and Winston Churchill !!

TulgaaEenee
TulgaaEenee

There are almost all the american presidents and entertainers. Only small portion of the list is given to figures from other parts of the world. I tell you again. Prior to WWII America was not a superpower and before Spanish-American war which occurred in 1898 America was not even a great power. Therefore, before that time all the presidents of America were NOT influential than their counterparts in Europe and Asia. 

And the second thing I am surprised is that Muhammad is placed #3 and Buddha is in 52nd place, while Jesus is named the MOST INFLUENTIAL figure of all time. Western world is not alone. There are Latinos, Mongols, Asians, Arabs, Africans, ... many worlds that are different from Westerners. 

For example, for me, a Mongolian, Chinggis Khaan known as Genghis Khaan must be placed on the top of the list.(He built the greatest empire in history, but I am not ignoring the others. )


So be respectful to others TIME magazine!

felixcarlos
felixcarlos

Simon Jose Antonio de la Santisima Trinidad Bolivar y Palacios Ponte y Blanco, better known as Simon Bolivar (Caracas, Captaincy General of Venezuela, 24 julionota January 3, 1783 - Santa Marta, Gran Colombia, December 17, 1830) was a Venezuelan military and political pre-Republican period of the Captaincy General of Venezuela, founder of the Gran Colombia and one of the leading figures of American emancipation against the Spanish Empire. He contributed decisively to the independence of current Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Panama, Peru and Venezuela manner.

CherylMoulton
CherylMoulton

That is really difficult because there are so many areas of interest Abraham Lincoln was a leader who changed Americas history, George III of the United Kingdom, ruled extremely long and had many conflicts to address, Martin Luther King, was The most instrumental person in American History to demand equal rights for African Americans, and Thomas Jefferson was the Father of modern technology. Each of the other historical greats you have listed are great in their chosen field and for many very important reasons could be name the most influential.

MunawarGhouri
MunawarGhouri

Muhammad (pbuh) must be on the top of the list.

BIGED17
BIGED17

Cyrus The Great Anyone?

SteveBreaks
SteveBreaks

Why is Queen Elizabeth II not on the list? She's the most famous lady in the world today??

polska3562
polska3562

Wow, our great, venerable List tells us that so far, the entire course of human history has produced only 97 individuals who were more significant than... Grover Cleveland.

 Imagine it.... GROVER CLEVELAND!

Kael
Kael

A lot of American presidents.....

"The most powerful weapons on the hands of oppressor is the mind of oppressed"

Stop your stupidity.....Edit your list...they are influential to you.

They get nothing to do with our life

r_cordova22
r_cordova22

@hireshkhanna in no way am i trying to discredit the people you named, but in fact there are people listed who aren't American

metternich1815
metternich1815

Just noticed Edison and Buddha did make the list, the others still stand.  In addition, more non-westerners should be added.  This seems to be pretty euro-American centered.  There definitely are a few people I would switch out.  At the end of the day, not a bad list for an algorithm.  Of course, anyone who really studies history would be able to debate the list.  This is why such lists should be left to historians and such.  

manogodjew
manogodjew

@te452 Abraham did not found the religion. He was merely obeying the voice of God, which is Jesus. St. John the first chapter.

JohnJohnson11
JohnJohnson11

@te452 I certainly agree that Thomas Jefferson should be ranked above the aloof and cold Washington who was more respected than loved by his contemporaries. Jefferson deserves his place on any list of greats. Many Americans consider him their greatest son. Apart from being the chief author of the Declaration of Independence, he was a statesman, inventor, scientist, philosopher and agriculturist (credited with growing the first tomato in the US.)

IshaanBhardwaj
IshaanBhardwaj

@nelly2112  tbh Marco Polo is widely viewed by scholars as a fraud who never actually met Kublai or went to China, due to his apparent lack of description of Chopsticks, the great wall etc. 

PeteyboBeady
PeteyboBeady

@Mr.Moon So if our world is so "real," then why are there 2.2 billion Muslims and 2.18 billion Christians? So I am guessing you think all of those people are fake? It doesn't matter if Jesus or Muhammad were real, they still influenced billions of people worldwide.

TulgaaEenee
TulgaaEenee

@Kael  

Yes, you`re right. American history is way shorter than many countries`. The reason why American figures are considered to be the most famous and influential is that the country is in its peak now. Once it will be no longer super power or great power, people around the world will forget its SMART and SUPER presidents. In fact, American presidents were NOT influential before world war 2 and  its presidents were nothing to the rest of the world for almost 200 years.

JoshLarue
JoshLarue

@PeteyboBeady @Mr.Moon  Influenced yes, but Muhammad, and Jesus did not do anything. They should not  be on that list because all they ever where, and ever will be is just.... HOPE. 

IshaanBhardwaj
IshaanBhardwaj

@SyeediAlBellucci @JoshLarue @PeteyboBeady @Mr.Moon Muhammad founded a huge caliphate, that extended from the borders of the indus, to andalusia at its peak. Muslim dynasties are hugely linked to ottoman incursions in to europe, and the crusades as well, geopolitics has been profoundly influenced by the presence of competing religions throughout history namely christianity and islam founded by two incredibly momentous historical figures no matter the validity of their philosophy.

SyeediAlBellucci
SyeediAlBellucci

@JoshLarue @PeteyboBeady @Mr.Moon  "but Muhammad, and Jesus did not do anything. They should not  be on that list because all they ever where, and ever will be is just.... HOPE." 


Founded a religion, code of ethics etc. 

paulgvanderpost
paulgvanderpost

@JoshLarue @PeteyboBeady @Mr.Moon  Just saying, historically Jesus and Mohammad did exist as REAL LIVING BREATHING human beings that walked the Earth and influenced billions in history and today. To not regard them as two of the most significant people of all time is to disregard many of the great people on this list and those missing which revolutionized the world order under one of the two names.