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.


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. 


Muhammed - Peace be upon him...but no peace by him. He is the killer of killers


Muhammed should be thrown out of the list. It's because of that guy the world is full of terrorism. Throw him out.


Buddha should be higher, Michael Jackson should be somewhere here since he was the most famous man in the world at one time, Martin Luther King, Jr. should DEFINITELY be somewhere here, and Henry VIII should be replaced with Alexander Fleming. 

For those of you that said Muhammad should be 1st, keep in mind that not only are there more Christians in the world than there are Muslims, but also that Jesus is an important figure in Islam. Don't let emotional and spiritual bias cloud your vision of the world. 


As Rij Said, Muhammad Should have to be 1st because he was perfect in all ways of life. Good Son, Good Father, Good Relative, Good Friend, Very Good In all relationship.  A great Conqueror, A Great Leader,  Whatever you see good in the world due to Mohammad. Just Read About his life and you will know Everything.

I Follow him to be successful in all ways of life.


muhammad peace be upon him should be number 1 even michael h. hart said so in his book.HE was illiterate and was able to accomplish so much.He is the reason of thw 1.7 billion muslims today.his sunnahs are backed up with science and show benefits such as sleeping on the right side is good for the heart and fasting on mondays and thursdays balances your cholesterol level.he is also the greatest law giver.


Wow no gandalf. What a joke


There is a major issue when we have Elvis listed, and so many absent Civil Rights leaders.


Wow, Jesus and Muhammad but no Moses? That's just beyond rude IMO.


If Alexander the Great is number 9, why is Cyrus the Great not on this? Cyrus the Great founded the great Achaemenid Persian Empire and introduced revolutionary aspects of Urban planning as well as cultural and religious tolerance. After having conquered the Neo-Babylonian Empire, Cyrus freed the Jews from Babylon and he was the only non-Jew proclaimed Messiah. The size and wealth of the Achaemenid Persian Empire was unmatched until well after the Roman Empire. Not to mention, Alexander the Great was an avid admirer of Cyrus, though unlike him, Alexander's military successes failed to match his ability to consolidate his rule in the lands he conquered.


We all know the Holy Prophet  Muhammad Peace be upon is the most influential man of all time, 


George W. Bush above Genghis Khan... what a joke


WHERE THE HELL IS MICHAEL JACKSON !?!? Elvis shouldnt be on there and you should put MJ in his place because he was more talented, more famous, and more significant than him !!! He broke all of his records and is the best selling artist of ALL time, his "Thriller" album is 7th place for best selling PRODUCTS of all time, the greatest entertainer of ALL TIME, the most charitable artist ever, should i go on or do you get the point ??


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. 

Thats lovely, now can you tell me how many women or blacks or colored people or Hispanics are in this list? 


No.1 Thomas Paine

Human Rights  - Inspired the American War of Independence / Declaration of Independence / Abolition of Slavery  - French Revolution - wanted France to be first country to abolish the death penalty.


if Jesus and Muhammad are on there then where is the Flying Spaghetti Monster? - he ought to rank at least 2nd, there's no evidence of him existing but evidentially, evidence is at a discount and ignorance at a premium.

This list is a compilation of great men yes, however the order is clearly disordered. Re-do it. 


All scientists should at least rank among the top 10, if it weren't for them then technological advances were not able. 


American is still a new country with less than 300 years of history and yet there are so many Americans rank on this list. what a joke


abramham lincoln outranks genghis khan? seriously? 


Napoleon ? Why?  Certainly Julius Caesar ranks above him because there wouldn't be a "France" at all like we know it without him. 


What a complete joke.

Hirohito had no mentionable effect on world history. Nor did Mao Tse Tung, or Yin Zheng for that matter. What's the name of that place.... in Africa, with the pyramids?  I don't suppose anyone there was influential on world events. 

And certainly Joseph Smith influenced world culture more than the Beatles, Charlie Parker, Jimi Hendrix, George Washington Carver, Robert Fulton... Geez. Even Jerry Lewis had more influence than Joseph Smith, I should think.


Heavily favourable to US figures with 3 in the top 10. Surely Da vinci and Newton should be Top 10. Cromwell below Charles I and James I, it was his civil war that placed these 2 in a prominent position in history. Gandhi only just made the top 50, little embarrassing. Final point, How the hell did George W Bush make the list???? Let alone above Churchill!


John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Isaac Newton and Aristotle should be higher.  Washington should be lower, and Marquis LaFayette deserves a place on this list.


NO Confucius, Siddhartha Guatma, Hammurabi, or Nelson Mandela

guess whoever put together the list forgot a significant section of history.

Caesar Augustus #30, really!  His influence on the development of western civilization is immense. He should be in the top 10! 




About painters

You mention Vinci (29) and Michelangelo (86) which makes great sense but it is ridiculous to have Van Gogh (73) before Picasso (>100) or Bacon (81) before Matisse, Cézanne, Renoir ... (all>100)

About writers

It seems deliberate to have all the more or less known American writers and ignore those who cannot even write English like Corneille, Moliere or Hugo

About women

2 English Queens (here thanks to 'being born' and not merit) and Joan of Arc (95)

You probably forgot suffragettes (Pannkhurst...) and could boost Marie Curie (radioactivity) taking into account that it was not so easy to be accepted as a great scientist when you were a woman at that time


1) About French figures

The greatest French figure is undoubtedly Joan of Arc (Jeanne d'Arc). Napoleon should NOT be mentionned and could be replaced by Bonaparte (indeed French people recognize value for him before he started his stupid wars especially against the russians). Charlemagne is overvalued same as Louis XIV (he happened to be the king when France was at its peak but the man himself is ordinary). Why Louis XVI? He was unsignificant and lost his kingdom.

2) About non French

It seems to me that people like Hitler are the contrary of great. If you play that game you should prefer Ben Laden to G Bush

3) About the method

You should pay attention to the legendary aspect of the people which can be objectively identified by the existence of translation to their names (examples : the very legendary Jeanne d'Arc is translated in ALL languages; Leonardo da Vinci is called Léonard de Vinci in French; Columbus becomes Collomb)


@FabrizioMarcés To be frank, Spartacus could hardly even make it in the top 200;  he certainly defied a rising superpower, the Roman Republic, but his actions are not significant enough for him to be one of the most influential people of ALL TIME. Rebellions in Ancient Rome were all too common and crushed by its Legions. Spartacus would simply stand in the shadow of influential people whose ideals are reflected in today's society.


@Timeman123  i agree but muhammad should be number one then jesus then m,oses


@JL125 How is this a joke? Genghis Khan conquered a large portion of Asia, including Russia at one point of time.


Elvis is listed becuase he played a greater role in history, MJ has some pretty slick beats but Elvis broke the cultural barriers between whites and blacks by subjecting the white community to black music and cultural stylings. Personally I dont think he held more significance than; Dante, or Tesla, but he has certianly earned a historical glance larger than that of Michael Jackson.


@LeeCoates there is evidence in the quraan and bible 


@LeeCoates The Flying Spaghetti Monster is in your irrelevant imagination while Jesus and Muhammad were men whose existence were recorded in accounts that have nothing to do with the religions in which they are central figures. And you do not do research based on premeditated bias.


@LeeCoates  Did you even read the title "Most significant figures in history".Wether they existed or not they clearly made an impact,but I guess you are one of those fanatical atheists.I swear some atheists are even more intolerable than fanatical religious people.


@LeeCoates  well good that you mentioned All top 10 scientist of history are theist people too.

1. Albert Einstein

2.Isac Newton

3.Micheal Farady


5.Nicholas Copernicus
Francis Bacon- mentioned above
-Johannes Kepler
8.Galileo Galile
Blaise Pascal
Robert Boyle
also there are thousands more scientist and philosophers that did their research more than you and me and they believed in God, and even in their list Jesus, Mohammad and Moses Peace be up on them would be the top 3 most famous people deserving recognition and respect from all people.


@MarkLeth Which America would you be referring to?? North, Central or South America?? There is a ton of history in all of the Americas and historically significant people to boot.  There is a lot more history in the US than what you would realize....over 500 years since the first non-native person set feet on "new" land...to them it may have seemed new but it was anything but... the people that lived in No. America (Central and South too) had been living here long before anyone else and there are many names that are just as important as any other name on the list, some more so. There are a lot of people I would have liked to have seen on this list...People of the entire world and all of its history. 


@MarkLeth Abraham Lincoln served four terms in America. Genghis Khan conquered all of Asia, including Russia at one point in time. 


John Locke should also be much higher than one-hundredth. 


I agree Augustus should have been higher but Mandella wasnt very significant


@SpecialistElvismaníaco Actually, the biggest selling artist OF ALL TIME is Michael Jackson. If you had bothered to even do your research and not your personal opinion, you would find out that MJ is named the king of pop, the greatest entertainer of ALL TIME, the most charitable artist ever, broke ALL of Elvis' records, the biggest selling artist of all time, has the biggest selling album of all time, his "Thriller" album is 7th place for best selling PRODUCTS of ALL time ..... SHOULD I GO ON OR HAVE YOU HAD ENOUGH ??


@SpecialistElvismaníaco What a great list but Elvis Presley is not a leader. Yes ,maybe a music leader, but not really a leader. A leader is someone that is good, listens to others,  etc... He is not. He use to take drugs and suiced himself. I do not think that those characterisic make a good leader. But it's your opinion so whatever


@suaad.khateeb@gmail.com @Av13
Why does it matter what race or gender they are? Who honestly care, what matters most is what they contributed not their genetic makeup.

Leave your sexism & racism at the door.