Atlantic magazine’s Top 100 most influential figures in American history list is interesting and controversial.
Link: The Top 100
1 Abraham Lincoln
He saved the Union, freed the slaves, and presided over America’s second founding.
2 George Washington
He made the United States possible—not only by defeating a king, but by declining to become one himself.
3 Thomas Jefferson
The author of the five most important words in American history: “All men are created equal.”
4 Franklin Delano Roosevelt
He said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” and then he proved it.
5 Alexander Hamilton
Soldier, banker, and political scientist, he set in motion an agrarian nation’s transformation into an industrial power.
6 Benjamin Franklin
The Founder-of-all-trades— scientist, printer, writer, diplomat, inventor, and more; like his country, he contained multitudes.
7 John Marshall
The defining chief justice, he established the Supreme Court as the equal of the other two federal branches.
8 Martin Luther King Jr.
His dream of racial equality is still elusive, but no one did more to make it real.
9 Thomas Edison
It wasn’t just the lightbulb; the Wizard of Menlo Park was the most prolific inventor in American history.
10 Woodrow Wilson
He made the world safe for U.S. interventionism, if not for democracy.
11 John D. Rockefeller
The man behind Standard Oil set the mold for our tycoons—first by making money, then by giving it away.
12 Ulysses S. Grant
He was a poor president, but he was the general Lincoln needed; he also wrote the greatest political memoir in American history.
13 James Madison
He fathered the Constitution and wrote the Bill of Rights.
14 Henry Ford
He gave us the assembly line and the Model T, and sparked America’s love affair with the automobile.
15 Theodore Roosevelt
Whether busting trusts or building canals, he embodied the “strenuous life” and blazed a trail for twentieth-century America.
16 Mark Twain
Author of our national epic, he was the most unsentimental observer of our national life.
17 Ronald Reagan
The amiable architect of both the conservative realignment and the Cold War’s end.
18 Andrew Jackson
The first great populist: he found America a republic and left it a democracy.
19 Thomas Paine
The voice of the American Revolution, and our first great radical.
20 Andrew Carnegie
The original self-made man forged America’s industrial might and became one of the nation’s greatest philanthropists.
21 Harry Truman
An accidental president, this machine politician ushered in the Atomic Age and then the Cold War.
22 Walt Whitman
He sang of America and shaped the country’s conception of itself.
23 Wright Brothers
They got us all off the ground.
24 Alexander Graham Bell
By inventing the telephone, he opened the age of telecommunications and shrank the world.
25 John Adams
His leadership made the American Revolution possible; his devotion to republicanism made it succeed.