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. 


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!


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.


There should be more women on this list, despite the belief that women in the past had little influence. You can throw 12 of the American Presidents off this list (leave on Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln) and put notable ladies such as Isabella I of Castile or Catherine de' Medici on here. The fact that Reagan, Cleveland, Nixon, Bush, Wilson, Grant and these American politicians are on here is almost laughable. It must be a joke, right? It beggars belief. You guys must have known how ridiculous this list would turn out while you were collecting this internet "data". Are we expected to see Barack Obama and Sarah Palin in the top 30 on the next poll?

As great men as Lincoln, Jefferson and Washington were...they are still too high. Isaac Newton is top 10 without question. And where in gods name is Homer? His influence on the Western Canon of literature for almost 3000 years is far reaching. Plato should be higher....I don't see James Watt or Johannes Gutenberg anywhere.....Da Vinci should be higher.....Cai Lun, the inventor of paper, where is he? Why isn't he on here? Ashoka? C'mon guys, what drugs were you on to even consider passing off this crap as the "100 Most Significant Figures in History"?

It's cringeworthy enough for me to look at this as a Westerner, I can't even begin to imagine how cringeworthy it is for someone who isn't from the West.


@Michael-G Homer Simpson is a popular figure in culture today but nowhere near top 100 in history lol get educated


@blaisem You are talking about the wrong Homer. The Homer that @Michael-G is talking about is the author of the Iliad and the Odyssey. He is extremely important to Greek culture.


I love how there are exactly THREE women on this list. Not.


"Since we analyzed the English Wikipedia, we admittedly measured the interests and judgments of primarily the Western, English-speaking community. "

Should have been reflected in the title, no?


Maybe the people that have no evidence to support they actually existed should have been left for a myth list.


u really think that 

5 Abraham Lincoln 

6 George Washington 

had more impact on history than 

56 Adam Smith 

14 Karl Marx


@Abanoub I know right, Adam Smith lead the basis for Capitalist foundational economy and Karl Marx not only revealed problems with it he proposed, what he saw as solutions. The two man literally are responsible much of what transpired since 1850 in a great respect. 


True list
1. Prophet Muhammad
3. Jesus Christ (No proof of existence)


Prophet mohammed existed.

And jesus existed.

My friend one day please read the HOLY quran and u will know many many things and u will know more about prophet jesus and prophet muhammed