20 Most Influential People of the 20th Century

Most Influential People of 20th Century
Most Influential People of 20th Century (Source: Amazon.com)

Most Influential People of the 20th Century!!

Who are the 20 most influential people of the 20th century? Before answering this question right away, let’s begin with whom do we consider the “influential people.”

Being influential generally incorporates the work of a person that influences others in some way. Mostly, it comprises positive influence, and it is acknowledged by a mass of people.

Marilyn Monroe with the President John F. Kennedy (Source: ABC News)
Marilyn Monroe with President John F. Kennedy (Source: ABC News)

Furthermore, the world characterizes influential people in five categories; Leaders and Pioneers, Innovators and Scientists, Titans, Artists and Entertainers, and Icons.

Regarding all these aforementioned categories, we have created a list of the top 20 people from the 20th century who have left their marks on the betterment of our world.

Quick Overview

S.No Influential People Nationality
1. Winston Churchill British
2. Franklin D Roosevelt American
3. Nelson Mandela South African
4. Neil Armstrong American
5. Gertrude Bell British
6. Albert Einstein German
7. Marie Curie Polish
8. Tu Youyou Chinese
9. Alan Turing British
10. Marilyn Monroe American
11. Charlie Chaplin British
12. David Bowie British
13. Mahatma Gandhi Indian
14. Helen Keller American
15. Martin Luther King Jr. American
16. Alfred Hitchcock British
17. Pablo Picasso Spanish
18. Virginia Woolf British
19. Pele Brazilian
20. Muhammad Ali American

Most Influential People of the 20th Century

The following great names and their details has been backed by sources including TIME, BBC, and Biography.

#01. Winston Churchill

Winston Churchill (1874- 1965) was the former British Prime minister. He belonged to the Conservative Party and served twice, i.e., from 1940 to 1945 and 1951 to 1955.

The honorable British statesman looked after other things influencing world affairs in between those six years when he was not in the post of PM.

Winston Churchill
Sir Winston Churchill (Source: Wikipedia)

Along with serving the nation, he was also a writer and orator and associated with several notable titles such as KG, OM, FRS, RA, CH, DL, and so on.

The world remembers him as the greatest leader of all time. Not only that, but he is undoubtedly the most well-known British prime minister.

To illustrate, he always motivated others with his speeches and had the quality of never giving up no matter how hard things went.

Churchill is best known for leading the United Kingdom during World War II.

#02. Franklin D. Roosevelt

Franklin Delano Roosevelt ( 1882-1945) was the 32nd president of the United States. To highlight, he is the first president who was elected four times in his lifespan.

Starting from being a law clerk in a Wall Street law firm to becoming a president in 1932, Roosevelt served the nation during the Great Depression.

Franklin D Roosevelt
Franklin D Roosevelt (Source: Wikipedia)

Talking about his work, he established the New Deal Coalition, which supported the Democratic Party. Furthermore, it characterized modern liberalism in America.

Notably remembered for guiding the nation through two of the twentieth century’s most serious events, Franklin Roosevelt was shot in the chest during his campaign speech in Wisconsin.

#03. Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela (1918-2013) was a South African nationalist recognized by everyone for being the first black president of the nation. He served as the president of South Africa from 1994 to 1999.

He is extensively regarded as the founding father of democratic South Africa. For raising his voice against the Apartheid system, Mandela was also sentenced to jail for 27 years.

Nelson Mandela
Nelson Mandela (Source: Wikipedia)

However, this man did not accept failure and successfully overthrew the Apartheid regime.

To add further, Mandela received the Nobel Peace Prize (1993) for ending the tyrannical dictatorship and establishing democracy which is evident in modern South Africa.

#04. Neil Armstrong

The first man to walk on the moon, Neil Armstrong, is another most influential person of the 20th century.

It was July 20, 1969, when this brave man left his footprints on the moon, which was unquestionably a huge leap for mankind.

Neil Armstrong
Neil Armstrong (Source: Wikipedia)

About the details, he was a member of the Apollo 11 space mission, whose success opened the door for space exploration.

Moreover, Neil was honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom for creating such a great history. However, he left NASA in 1971 and went on to become an aerospace engineering professor at the University of Cincinnati.

#05. Gertrude Bell

Gertrude Bell (1868-1926) was a British author, traveler, archaeologist, and political officer counted in the list of important people of the 20th century.

She is readily recognized for her role in establishing modern Iraq after the 1st World War. Bell wrote several official reports on Mesopotamia’s governance which helped a lot in the uprising of Iraq.

Gertrude Bell (Source: Alchetron)
Gertrude Bell (Source: Alchetron)

Talking briefly about her, Bell completed her History majors at Oxford and then traveled to Palestine and Syria in 1899. Not only that, but she learned the dialects from these places and published poetry of five volumes.

Afterward, she also went on an Arabian tour in 1913. Gertrude was the second woman to visit Ha’il in Saudi Arabia.

She died on July 12, 1926, due to an overdose of sleeping pills.

#06. Albert Einstein

Albert Einstein (1879-1955) is, without a question, the greatest scientist of all time. It is, therefore, no surprise to have his name as the most influential person of the 20th century.

The German-born physicist is remembered for several notable works, primarily for developing the theory of relativity, i.e., E= mc^2. This very equation changed the way we used to think about space and time.

Albert Einstein
Albert Einstein (Source: Caltech)

Furthermore, he also discovered the photoelectric effect and has done an excellent job in the field of quantum mechanics.

In 1921, Einstein was honored with the Nobel Prize in Physics.

Did you know? The brain of Albert Einstein is preserved in the Mutter Museum of Philadelphia!

#07. Marie Curie

Marie Salomea Curie (1867-1934) was a Polish scientist known widely for her discovery of radium and polonium. In 1888 Curie discovered these radioactive materials along with her husband, Pierre Curie.

In detail, the Curie couple was honored with Nobel Prize in Physics in 1903 for this big discovery. Nonetheless, in the year 1911, Marie bagged another Nobel Prize in Chemistry for isolating pure radium.

Marie Curie (Source: Encyclopedia Britannica)
Marie Curie (Source: Encyclopedia Britannica)

She is the first woman to receive two Nobel honors as well as the first woman to teach at Sorbonne University.

Along with finding the aforementioned compounds, Marie Curie also pioneered the development of X-rays. Unfortunately, this great woman died due to the same radioactive exposure.

A little extra fact: Even today after, more than 80 years of her death, her body still remains radioactive!

#08. Tu Youyou

The woman who changed science- Tu Youyou, was born in 1930 in China. Youyou is a pharmaceutical chemist and malarial expert who had her education at the Peking University in Beijing.

Now the reason why she is regarded as one of the most influential people of the 20th-century is that she discovered the drug for malaria.

Tu Youyou (Source: Wikipedia)
Tu Youyou (Source: Wikipedia)

Malaria was a big threat in the 20th century, which took the lives of so many people, and with Tu Youyou’s discovery, a lot of lives were saved.

Talking precisely, Tu Youyou discovered artemisinin and dihydroartemisinin, the major compound used for developing the drug of malaria.

Adding a bit more, she identified the plants with her group of researchers, which ultimately helped in creating a malaria medication. In 2015, Tu was honored with a Nobel Prize in the category of Physiology/Medicine.

#09. Alan Turing

Alan Turing (1912-1954) was an English mathematician, cryptanalyst, and computer scientist. He was also a theoretical biologist and a philosopher who had garnered some honorable titles like OBE and FRS for serving his country.

Turing is also regarded as the founder of modern computer science. His major contribution includes deciphering the encryption of German Enigma machines during World War II.

Alan Turing
Alan Turing (Source: The New York Times)

Furthermore, the brilliant scientist developed a technique called Turing Test, which worked as a pioneer for Artificial Intelligence (A.I).

With his contribution to contemporary science and technology, he led his nation to acquire triumph over Nazi Germany.

#10. Marilyn Monroe

We have this evergreen beauty in our list of the most-influencing people of the 20th century. Marilyn Monroe was born Norma Jeane Mortenson on June 1, 1926.

The American actress and singer appeared in almost 30 movies and was ranked as the sixth greatest film star at that time. To illustrate, her 23 movies collected more than $200 million during their initial runs.

Marilyn Manroe
Marilyn Monroe (Source: Vanity Fair)

Monroe was globally famous for playing “blonde bombshell” characters, and a couple of her best works can be considered “Some like It Hot (1959)” and “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953).”

In the 1950s, the actress established herself as the most prominent sex symbol and represented the sexual revolution.

#11. Charlie Chaplin

The worldwide icon known for his silent acting, Charlie Chaplin, was the film industry’s one of the most important figure.

Chaplin was an English actor, director, and comedian prominently known for his role in “The Tramp (1915).”

Most Influential People- Charlie Chaplin
Charlie Chaplin (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Charlie Chaplin made his stage debut at the age of five and gave more than 95 movies. Along with the silent acting, he is also known for the toothbrush mustache he always kept.

The actor died in Switzerland at the age of 88. And, if you did not know this before, his body was stolen from his tomb.

#12. David Bowie

One more name from the genre of artists and entertainers! David Bowie is certainly one of the influencing people of the 20th century.

Bowie (1947-2016) is a significant figure in the music industry whose real name was David Robert Jones. Born in London, David played for several bands like The King Bees, the Mannish Boys, The Kon-Rads, and so on.

Most Influential People- David Bowie
David Bowie (Source: Twitter)

David lost his life to liver cancer which he suffered for 18 months. Throughout his lifetime, he sold more than 140 million copies of his work. Moreover, he gave ten platinum-certified albums.

Even though we can’t possibly single out one of his best but “Space Oddity” has to be one of his best creations.

#13. Mahatma Gandhi

Now, let’s talk about the famous activists of the 20th century. One of the most influential activists from the past century is the Indian nationalist Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, globally known as Mahatma Gandhi.

Gandhi was a lawyer and a political ethicist. Likewise, he led the independence campaign for his country India against the British.

Most Influential People- Mahatma Gandhi
Mahatma Gandhi (Source: Wikipedia)

Making it more clear, he guided the nation toward civil rights with his nonviolence ideology.

This very work of Gandhi influenced several civil rights leaders around the world, and he was able to conduct worldwide campaigns. Sadly, the true activist was assassinated at the age of 78.

#14. Helen Keller

Yet another great personality whom the world recognizes with respect, Helen Keller (1880-1968), was an American activist, author, and lecturer. Moreover, she was also a disability rights activist.

Helen was the first deaf-blind person who received a bachelor’s degree in the US. To detail, she acquired her degree in arts from Radcliffe College.

Most Influential People- Helen Keller
Helen Keller (Source: Wikipedia)

Born in Alabama, Helen Keller lost her sight and hearing when she was just 19 months.

The activist has penned down several publications on the benefit of the disabled community. Furthermore, she contributed to the formation of blind commissions in 30 states of America.

#15. Martin Luther King Jr.

Martin Luther King Jr. was the American civil rights legend remembered for his movement to end the racial disparity in the United States.

Luther was a spokesperson in the civil rights movement, and with the help of peaceful/non-violent protest, he dreamed of ending segregation.

Most Influential People- Martin Luther King Jr.
Martin Luther King Jr. (Source: The New York Times)

Martin was able to create a tremendous impact on the national psyche until he was assassinated in 1968.

One of his most famous speeches is “I Have a Dream,” which he delivered in 1963. Moreover, he was the youngest man to be honored with Nobel Peace Prize at the age of 35.

#16. Alfred Hitchcock

Sir Alfred Joseph Hitchcock is one of the influential personalities of the 20th century. He was a great director who made almost 50 movies during the 60 years of his life he invested in cinema.

Most Influential People- Alfred Hitchcock
Alfred Hitchcock (Source: The Lancet)

You will find an unusual sense of humor and kind of pessimistic viewpoint in his movies. Likewise, Hitchcock worked with the same actors in his films.

The English director/producer is also a KBE. He is one of the most significant filmmakers, and some of his notable include Psycho, Vertigo, and Rear Window.

Talking about the honors, Hitchcock received the Life Achievement Award by AFI in the year 1979. Moreover, this title also gave him a nickname- “Master of Suspense.”

Read About Alfred Hitchcock in the 15 Oscar Snubs You Totally Missed…!

#17. Pablo Picasso

Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) was a Spanish artist who spent most of his adult life in France.

Well, he was a lot of things, i.e., a painter, a poet, a sculptor, a ceramicist, a dramatist, and many more.

Most Influential People- Pablo Picasso
Pablo Picasso (Source: Encyclopedia Britannica)

Picasso is known for his unique style in his art. In his long career, he conducted several experiments on different topics, “Cubism” being the most famous one.

Likewise, his painting “Guernica” is another masterpiece. 

Did you know one of the paintings, Women of Algiers (Version O),” sold at auction in New York for a staggering $179,365,000?

#18. Virginia Woolf

Another important personality on our list is Virginia Woolf, the English writer very widely popular for her works like Mrs. Dalloway (1925) and To the Lighthouse (1927).

Virginia Woolf (1882-1941) is one of the most prominent modern authors of the 20th century.

Most Influential People- Virginia Woolf (Source: Wikipedia)
Virginia Woolf (Source: Wikipedia)

Likewise, she is a pioneer to use consciousness as a literary device which made her the century’s most inventive writer.

Woolf belonged to a rich family in London, and throughout her life, she compiled a lot of correspondences, essays, and biographies.

#19. Pele

Coming to sports, Pele or Edson Arantes do Nascimento is a notable personality of the 20th century who inspired the world with his soccer skill.

The retired professional player originates from Brazil and is one of the most successful stars of the last century. Moreover, he is also known as “The Greatest” by FIFA.

Most Influential People- Pele (Source: Encyclopedia Britannica)
Pele (Source: Encyclopedia Britannica)

The all-time best forward goal scorer has a history of scoring 77 goals in 92 appearances. While Pele was in the team, Brazil successfully won three World Cup titles in the year 1958, 1962, and 1970.

#20. Muhammad Ali

The American professional boxer Muhammad Ali (1942-2016) is another influential person of the 20th century.

Most Influential People- Muhammad Ali (Source: RecentlyHeard)
Muhammad Ali (Source: RecentlyHeard)

He was the first man to win the world heavyweight title thrice, consecutively. Moreover, he defended it 19 times. This is the reason he is one of the greatest boxers of all time.

Ali was also an activist and philanthropist. He was a social zealot of black pride. Ali refused induction into the U.S Army during the Vietnam War.

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