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

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

  • Share
  • Read Later
Getty Images

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. 


Waldo? Gutenberg? 


King Arthur is a fictional character. 


how is abraham ahead of julius caesa????? fail time fail!!


Budhha is at 52 hehehehe. And Nepolean is above Muhammad. List is funny itself.who created it must be a fuuny character


@rks_212 Napoleon is above Muhammad because his invasion of Europe led to the rise of nationalism in European states and destroyed the old balance of power, which led to all of the greatest wars of the last 200 years (World Wars I and II, Franco-Prussian War, Cold War, etc.)


This list is for western




The fact that they've left out Niccolo Machiavelli hints at a serious lack of research for this list. Darwin should've been top 10, Machiavelli top 50. These two men educated the human race about themselves like no others in history.


Haha haha.....Are you kidding me..... I laughed so much at this list thanks TIME magazine!! Clueless Omg....still laughing........


P.S. George Bush......pufffffff. Hahaha at I think 38 ranking......hahaha.... I had too much fun with this who are these people that ranked this? Unbelievable.....


@BrettKarst an algorithm sorted it out, not people. It might not have gotten it all right though...


Why muhammad salallah ho aliehe waalihi wasalam is on 3rd .he is Allah  friend and greatest m.   an of all time. He should be on 1.please give no. One position to muhammad s w s.


@m.usmanghani  oh for Allah's sake, for God's sake, and for heavens sake don't make fun of all Muslims because of your ignorance and illiteracy Usman. When you don't know anything clearly even about Islam, why you Muslims continuously making fun of all of us in front of the others? Are You asking why Prophet Muhammad is not ranked # 1 in the list? I tell you. Because this is a Christian run website and religion comes to them as the very least thing in this world. Plus, the image of our Prophet Muhammad is completely destroyed by our own ignorance and stubbornness to embrace modernism and scientific advances in the world today; this is the only way with which any society, nation, or individual can get respect and it is indeed the right way. 

Religion is between you & god, and you don't need to show or impose it on others that how much you love or like it. Well, logically, if you love Prophet Muhammad, then it certainly does not mean that every human on this planet Earth must love him as well. You have your own choice, other's are also free to pursue their own choices as well and if they don't like or hate your Prophet, then you can only do one thing: show goodness in your actions and character and it will change their perception of your Prophet. 

Otherwise, if you keep blabbering again and again that "Our prophet is the greatest, he is # 1, he is this, he is that" then no one will believe you and instead make a fun out of you and your prophet. My friend, this is  not the way to obtain respect. This is, in fact, extremism which is plaguing our very good religion of Islam so don't spread it or it will react in hatred against you and your prophet. Show kindness, goodwill, care, and love for education, progress, science in your actions, help the world prosper and grow, your prophet will automatically be ranked as # 1. 

I am a Muslim and you are my fellow-men and do you know I myself don't see Prophet Muhammad as the number 1 men, I like some other people more than him, even greater is God, to me he belongs to the number 1 spot. So, it is normal, accept it and act like an adult, not like a child crying for his wish. Thank you and I hope you do understand! 


@dak_ahmed @m.usmanghani Nicely stated Dak but until the extreme radicals that have perverted your religion are stopped. There will never be any peace between the Eastern and Western societies. Different cultures can live together in peace and harmony like in the United States. Jews, Christians, Native Americans, Asians, Africans, white, black, brown, and yellow. All living under the law of the country, in peace, where each person worships their deity in the safety of their home and church. Without trying to change others religion and without trying to imposing our own personal views of what the law should be. 

Can the entire Middle East as a whole learn to compromise and live peacefully with others who do not believe in their religion? 

As long as there are radicals in any religion, there will never be peace. It is like mixing oil and water. For peace, to humble one's self, and set aside our ego's, I believe all religious deities and leaders should not be placed on this list. If they are, they should all be equally placed last. And leave this list to humans and their skills as inventors, artists, writers, humanitarians, musicians, and movie stars. Leaving politics and religion out of it. 


Why is Tesla so far behind Edison? The fk?



Any problem you have,getting ex back, marriage problem, relationship problem,love spell, you can contact this man for help he is always there in his temple to help you solve your problem Contact Email is (obasispelltemple@gmail.com ) or cal +2348071223911.


As a student reading this list to see how historical figures influence our lives, I am quite concerned that a number of people did not make this list and that others did. What happened to Martin Luther King Jr.? Is he not "significant" enough to make the list? Why are Hitler and Andrew Jackson part of this list rather than him? I understand that they are significant historical figures as well, but why are they given more of a "significance" than people who have done good things for the world? Hitler is responsible for the death of millions of innocent lives, and although we may not like to think about it or acknowledge this, but Native Americans were victims of what could be considered a genocide. Jackson was a main catalyst for their death during the Trail of Tears. I do not see Rosa Parks on this list, I do not see Malcolm X on this list, and I do not see any other Asian figures other than Mahatma Gandhi. What happened to Ramachandran or Chandrasekhar, or Bose for that matter? Isn't Bose just as important as Einstein for his work on the so called "Bose-Einstein condensate"? And if other American presidents are on this list, why isn't President Obama on this list either? I imagine that he can be considered quite significant considering he has a Nobel Peace prize and he is the first African-American president of the United States. Where is Nelson Mandela? Where are other great thinkers and achievers? I strongly believe that although people who have done terrible things should be considered significant historical figures, people who have contributed to the benefit of the human race and who have achieved great things are constantly being undermined and ignored in the grand scheme of things. And the fact that there are only three women on this list when I know of so many more amazing women who have contributed and influenced society in wonderful ways is deplorable. I am disappointed to see that some people I consider to be my role models are not on this list, and I hope that a new list of significant historical figures will be created to account for the people who have dedicated their lives to helping the human race rather than harming it.


Why is Joan of Arc on this list? She is not a man


lol.. wheres michael jackson


@haa516 true without MJ list is not complete. he is atleast 100 times more influential than Elvis Presley.


@SrikanthKalleda, Why? Cause you like watching Michael grab his crotch and get kids drunk on jesus juice?

Elvis purely had more talent is why!


I'm not usually one to point out when there isn't ethnic diversity in these type of lists, but in showing this list to my white girlfriend she pointed out that there was no Black presence on this list. "This list is kind of racist," says my girlfriend. Why do you not have?

1. Martin Luther King Jr.

2. Nelson Mandela 

3. Michael Jackson

4. Oprah Winfrey 

5. Barack Obama

6. Jackie Robinson 

7. Ghandi (brown, but close enough)


@JavierMcIntosh Brother, you are mistaken. First of all there are NO races. You didn't come from a monkey that came from a rock. The Evolution religion has been destroyed by science. The only reason it is still here is because secular "scientist" don't have a replacement. There are many creationist scientist by the way. The Jews also accepted the pagan idea of evolution in the times of Jeremiah the prophet (Jeremiah 2:27) in your Bible. Also, Kent Hovind slaughters all the top evolution college professors. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=szBTl3S24MY . There is one race, the human race. Also, white people don't exist. If someone is white they might be dead. There is lighter and darker shades of brown. Now that you bring this up, those people you listed aren't even black. They are brown. Jesus Christ was almond brown because he was a Jew. Not that fake, blasphemous depiction of a girly Caucasian man. The Catholic cult started that. Also, who cares what skin color anyone is. That is just as foolish as a worrying about hair color. My brother, trust in the Lord Jesus Christ and he will save your soul. Mark 1:15 "And saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel." Jesus Christ is God in the flesh. He made you and designed people to have variety. Jesus Christ knew we are all sinners and fall short of hid Holy law (Exodus 20:1-17) and just like if you break a law in a country, a price must be paid. No works or church can save us (Ephesians 2:8-9). In order for a man to go to Heaven he must be sinless and we all have sinned (Romans 3:23). God had a plan and had sent his only begotten son who was innocent but for our sake he was beaten, mocked, whipped, hated by all, and agonizingly crucified. We have all failed at keeping the law and we need a savior. Jesus Christ is the only one who is perfect and can pay for your sins (John 14:6). If you go in prayer and confess your sins to God and trust on Jesus Christ as your savior and beg for forgiveness you will be saved. Luke 19:10 "For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost." My dear brother, Jesus saves and he's coming soon. :)


Eleanor Roosevelt

Rosa Parks

Mother Teresa

Margaret Thatcher

Gloria Steinem

Margaret Sanger

... Just to name a couple.

Shame on you TIME for leaving some of the MOST history changing people of your list.


the only way to measure a person's greatness is through the long lasting difference they have made in the world to make it a better place for all who inhabit it, to further elaborate, i would name a few, Rosa Park, Nelson Mandela, Che Guevara. By the way author may you please help me understand this, how did George W Bush make it to this list while Nelson Mandela did not. In your opening statements you mentioned "people's memory"  as one of your measuring instrument, clearly those people's memories are filled with the information of the books written by the Americans which explains the biasness. If Hitler's brutality could be recognized then perhaps we should also recognize Osama Bin Laden, but we will not, will we? no we will not, because he killed Americans, had Hitler killed Americans he would not have received such recognition. My opinion is intended to be constructive i hope it is received in the same manner.


Obviously this list was developed by Americans. Can't see anything past their own backyard. 12% of the list is comprised of American Presidents. Please.


so you really put king arthur on this list. hahahahahahahaha

you are foolish foolish people


@BenjaminClarke That's because women were rarely recognized for the vast majority of human history.