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. 



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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.


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)


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.


Nelson Mondella? Chè Guevara? Gerry Adams? Hello? Have you ever watched a television or seen a tshirt?


what?! no john lennon and the beatles? Score another for JESUS! John lennon, history's greatest douschbag! You're less popular than grover Cleveland now!





 Abraham Lincoln

 George Washington

 Adolf Hitler


 Alexander the Great

 Thomas Jefferson

 Henry VIII of England

 Charles Darwin

 Karl Marx

Julius Caesar

 Martin Luther

 Joseph Stalin

 Albert Einstein

 Christopher Columbus

 Isaac Newton


 Theodore Roosevelt

 Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart


 Ludwig van Beethoven

 Leonardo da Vinci


 Paul the Apostle

 Benjamin Franklin

 Genghis Khan

 Thomas Edison

 Friedrich Nietzsche

 Franklin D. Roosevelt

 Sigmund Freud

 Alexander Hamilton

 Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi

 Johann Sebastian Bach

 Galileo Galilei

 Oliver Cromwell

 James Madison

 Gautama Buddha

 Adam Smith

 George III of the United Kingdom

 Immanuel Kant

 John Adams

 Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

 Saint Peter

 Andrew Jackson

 Constantine the Great


 William the Conqueror

 Augustine of Hippo

 Vincent van Gogh

 Nicolaus Copernicus

 Vladimir Lenin


 Jean-Jacques Rousseau

 Francis Bacon

 King Arthur


 Philip II of Spain

 Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Ali, founder of Sufism

Thomas Aquinas

 Pope John Paul II

René Descartes

 Nikola Tesla

Joan of Arc

 Dante Alighieri

 Otto von Bismarck

John Locke

Somewhat better but arghhhh


Wait where's Hilary Clinton? This list is sexist.


ELVIS  PRESLEY = THE KING OF ROCK AND MUSIC !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


  You forgot ME and I'm only the one you should consider!!!   Jesus .... but you said he is not a person yet he is?  Wow, oh ya .... I got you he is the father, he also the son, and he is also the holy spirit and now he is also a person also!  So now how will you say it the son, the father, the holy spirit, and the person>?< right?

I'm lost please help me, I'd like to be only two person and they called me crazy???  And you believe one is three or now four?  

Calling from Israel rulers of your world!


Just write "ahmed deedat" on YouTube and watch his debates brother. And do you know what, to get clear and detailed answers about the "trinity" the only source I have come to is this person on Internet.


@Gabriel_Harris You really need to learn a bit of real history, anyone who told you that Jesus never existed either lied to you or they just deceived you. There is more than sufficient evidence for Jesus (the man) without going into the whole bible thing even outside of the bible there is sufficient evidence. 


hahahahahahaha MUHAMMAD (S.A) is after nipolin and JESUS are you mad he is the most influentiol personality in world where are the caliphs of islam who ruled more than half world


@HassanKhan Jesus is the son of God. Sorry, Mohammed has to ride back of the bus on this one.