I collected 24 lists of “Most Important People”, “Most Important Historical Figures”, “Most Influential People” or “People Who Changed the World” from the Internet and books and combined them into one list. The results are below – every person on at least three of the original source lists, organized by rank (i.e., with the people on the most lists at the top). People on the same number of lists are organized chronologically by date of birth. Each entry includes: (1) name; (2) birth and death dates; (3) country; and (4) a brief description of the person and their accomplishments. As usual, you can click on most of the images to enlarge them.
On 20 Lists
ALBERT EINSTEIN (1879-1955) Germany/US. Theoretical physicist. Developed special and general theories of relativity. E = mc2. Nobel Prize in Physics (1921).
Albert Einstein in Vienna in 1921. Photo by F. Schmutzer.
On 18 Lists
KARL MARX (1818-1883) Germany/UK. Political philosopher and economist. Originator of Marxism and communism. The Communist Manifesto (1848) (with Frederick Engels). Das Kapital (1867).
A photograph of Karl Marx, taken about 1875. It is now at the International Institute of Social History in Amsterdam.
MOHANDAS K. GANDHI (Mahatma Gandhi) (1869-1948) India. Leader of Indian independence movement. Advocate of non-violent resistance. The Salt March (1930). Assassinated.
Mohandas Gandhi (right) with Muhammad Ali Jinnah in 1944.
JESUS OF NAZARETH (c. 3 BCE-30 CE) Judea/Roman Empire (now Israel/Palestine). Central figure of Christianity. The New Testament. Crucified by the Romans.
Mosaic of Jesus Christ from the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, from the late 13th Century.
WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE (1564-1616) England (now UK: England). Playwright and poet. Hamlet (1600). King Lear (1603-1606). The Sonnets (1609)
A 1610 portrait of a man many believe to be William Shakespeare, probably painted by John Taylor. It is located in the National Portrait Gallery, London.
ISAAC NEWTON (1643-1727) England (now UK: England). Mathematician, physicist and inventor. Established basic principles of Newtonian physics. Laws of motion. Theory of universal gravitation. Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy (1687).
This portrait of Sir Isaac Newton was painted by Sir Godfrey Kneller in 1689, when Newton was 46. It is on display at Farleigh House, Somerset, UK.
NAPOLEON BONAPARTE (1769-1821) France. Military and political leader. After military successes as general, became First Consul, then Emperor of France (1799-1815).
Napoleon Crossing the Alps, by Jacques-Louis David (1801). The painting is located at the Château de Malmaison in Rueil-Malmaison, France.
CHARLES DARWIN (1809-1882) UK. Naturalist and biologist. Developed theory of evolution by natural selection. The Origin of Species (1859).
A photograph of Charles Darwin by Henry Maull and John Fox, probably taken in 1854.
ADOLF HITLER (1889-1945) Austria/Germany. Founder of National Socialist movement (Nazis). Chancellor, then dictator of Germany during Third Reich (1933-1945). Invaded Austria, Czechoslovakia. Invasion of Poland in September 1939 started World War II (1939-1945). Architect of Jewish genocide (the Holocaust). Mein Kampf (1925-1926). Committed suicide at the time of German defeat (April 1945).
Adolf Hitler in 1937.
ARISTOTLE (384-322 BCE) Ancient Greece. Philosopher and scientist. Created comprehensive system of Western philosophy. Nicomachean Ethics. Poetics. Metaphysics. Politics.
Bust of Aristotle in National Museum of Rome. Roman marble copy of Greek bronze original by Lysippos from 330 BCE. The alabaster mantle is a more recent addition.
ALEXANDER THE GREAT (356-323 BCE) Macedon (now in Greece). Military general and political leader of vast empire. Defeated Persian Empire.
Portrait of Alexander the Great from floor mosaic found in Pompeii, Italy, dating from 100 BCE. Now in Naples National Archaeological Museum.
CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS (1451-1506) Italy. Explorer. First European to reach the West Indies, leading to lasting contact between Europe and the Americas.
Posthumous portrait of Christopher Columbus by Sebastiano del Piombo in 1519, now at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
LEONARDO DA VINCI (1452-519) Italy. Artist, inventor & scientist. The Last Supper (1494-1498). Mona Lisa (1503-1506).
A portrait of Leonardo da Vinci by Francesco Melzi, from after 1510. It is located in the Royal Library at Windsor, UK.
ABRAHAM LINCOLN (1809-1865) US. Political leader. 16th US president (Republican: 1861-1865). Led North during US Civil War. Preserved Union. Emancipated enslaved Americans. Assassinated.
A daguerreotype of Abraham Lincoln in 1863, taken by Alexander Gardner.
THOMAS EDISON (1847-1931) US. Inventor, researcher and entrepreneur. Inventions include phonograph, movie camera, light bulb, stock ticker, vote tabulator and carbon microphone. Began first large-scale electrical power distribution system (1882).
A 1922 photograph of Thomas Edison by Louis Bachrach.
MARIE CURIE (1867-1934) Poland/France. Scientist. Discovered radioactive elements radium and polonium. Coined term radioactivity. Developed methods for isolating radioactive isotopes. Nobel Prizes in Physics (1903) and Chemistry (1911).
Marie Curie in 1920.
CONFUCIUS (551-479 BCE) China. Philosopher. Founder of Confucianism, the dominant ethical and philosophical ideology of China for much of its history.
Tang Dynasty painting of Confucius by Wu Daozi (c. 618-907).
PLATO (428-347 BCE) Ancient Greece. Philosopher and writer. Founded and taught at The Academy in Athens. The Republic. The Symposium.
Bust of Plato in the Centrale Montemartini, Vatican City. Roman copy of a Greek original by Silanion from 428 BCE.
GALILEO GALILEI (1564-1642) Italy. Physicist, mathematician, astronomer and philosopher. Promoted scientific experimentation. Supported Copernicus’s heliocentric model through astronomical observations. Derived laws of falling bodies. Persecuted by Roman Catholic Church. Sidereus Nuncius (Starry Messenger) (1610). Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems (1632).
Portrait of Galileo Galilei by Justus Sustermans, from 1636. It is located in the National Maritime Museum, London.
GEORGE WASHINGTON (1732-1799) US. Military and political leader. Led US armies to victory in American Revolution (1775-1783). Presided over Convention that drafted U.S. Constitution. 1st US president (1789-1796).
Gilbert Stuart’s 1797 portrait of George Washington, which can be seen in the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas.
MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR. (1929-1968) US. Minister and leader of US civil rights movement. I Have a Dream speech (1963). Letter from Birmingham Jail (1963). Nobel Peace Prize (1964). Assassinated.
Martin Luther King in 1964.
THE BUDDHA (Gautama Buddha; Siddhartha Gautama) (c. 563-483 BCE) Nepal/India. Philosopher and religious leader. Founder of Buddhism.
A statue of the Buddha preaching the law, from Sarnath, India (4th Century CE).
MARTIN LUTHER (1483-1546) Germany. Theologian. Leader of Protestant Reformation against the Roman Catholic Church. The Ninety-Five Theses (1517).
A portrait of Martin Luther by Lucas Cranach the Elder from around 1530. It is located in the Uffizi Gallery, Florence.
WINSTON CHURCHILL (1874-1965) UK. Political leader and historian. British Prime Minister during World War II (1940-1945). A History of the English-Speaking Peoples (1956-1958). Nobel Prize in Literature (1953).
Winston Churchill giving the “V for Victory” sign in 1940.
NELSON MANDELA (1918-2013 ) South Africa. Political leader. Anti-apartheid activist jailed by government. First democratically-elected president of post-apartheid South Africa. Long Walk to Freedom (1994). Nobel Peace Prize (1993).
Nelson Mandela casting his ballot for president of South Africa in 1994.
JULIUS CAESAR (100-44 BCE) Ancient Rome. Political and military leader. Conquered Gaul. Established dynasty that ruled for the next century. Instrumental in Rome’s change from republic to empire. Assassinated.
Bust of Julius Caesar in the National Archaeological Museum of Naples. It is a 110 CE copy of a 50 BCE original.
GENGHIS KAHN (Temujin) (c. 1162-1227) Mongolia. Political and military leader. Founder of Mongol Empire. Conquered portions of China. Probably died in battle.
Genghis Khan, as depicted in a 14th Century album of Yuan emperors, which is now in the National Palace Museum of Taipei.
JOHANNES GUTENBERG (c. 1395-1468) Germany. Printer and publisher. Invented the printing press and movable type printing. The Gutenberg Bible (1455?).
A portrait of Johannes Gutenberg made shortly after his death in 1468.
ELIZABETH I (1533-1603) UK. Protestant Queen of England (1558-1603). Final Tudor monarch. Expanded British power. Defeated Spanish Armada.
Portrait of Elizabeth I from 1575, known as The Darnley Portrait. It is located in the National Portrait Gallery, London.
BENJAMIN FRANKLIN (1706-1790) US. Revolutionary leader, diplomat, scientist, inventor, publisher and writer. Poor Richard’s Almanack (1732-1758). Invented bifocals, Franklin stove, lightning rod. Made discoveries about electricity and lightning. Co-founder, The Academy and College of Philadelphia (later University of Pennsylvania) (1749). First U.S. Postmaster General (1775). Envoy/Ambassador to France (1776-1785). Governor of Pennsylvania (1785-1788). Delegate, Constitutional Convention (1787). Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin (1791).
A portrait of Benjamin Franklin by Joseph-Siffrein Duplessis from about 1785. It is now in the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C.
LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN (1770-1827) Germany. Composer and musician. Moonlight Sonata (1801). Fifth Symphony (1808). Ninth Symphony “Choral” (1824). Late String Quartets and Grosse Fuge (1824-1826).
Portrait of Beethoven composing the Missa Solemnis, by Joseph Karl Stieler, from 1820. It may be seen at Beethoven-Haus, in Bonn, Germany.
LOUIS PASTEUR (1822-1895) France. Chemist and biologist. Proved germ theory of disease. Disproved spontaneous generation of life. Improved vaccination techniques. Invented pasteurization.
An undated photograph of Louis Pasteur, taken by Nadar.
VLADIMIR LENIN (born Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov) (1870-1924) Russia/USSR. Revolutionary. Developed theoretical basis for Marxist-Leninist Communism. Led Bolshevik uprising. First leader of the Soviet Union. What Is To Be Done? (1902).
Vladimir Lenin in 1920.
JOSEPH STALIN (1879-1953) USSR. Political leader. Led Soviet Union to victory over Germany in World War II. Conducted the Great Purge of political enemies. Collectivized farming, leading to famine.
Joseph Stalin in 1943.
MAO ZEDONG (1893-1976) China. Military and political leader. Led Communist Revolution against Nationalist China (1927-1949). Joined with Nationalists to fight Japan in World War II. First leader of People’s Republic of China (1949-1976). Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-tung (1964-1976).
The large portrait of Mao Zedong by Ge Xioguang in Beijing’s Tianenmen Square is 15 feet wide and 20 feet tall.
SOCRATES (c. 470-399 BCE) Ancient Greece. Skeptical philosopher known mostly through the writings of his student Plato. “All I know is that I know nothing.” His trial and death sentence are described in Plato’s Apology.
Bust of Socrates in the Louvre, Paris. Probably a 1st Century CE Roman marble copy of Greek bronze original by Lysippos.
JOAN OF ARC (Jeanne d’Arc) (1412-1431) France. Military leader and religious figure. Led France to numerous victories during Hundred Years War. Burned at the stake for heresy.
A portrait of Joan of Arc taken from a 1505 illustrated manuscript.
MICHELANGELO BUONARROTI (1475-1564) Italy. Renaissance sculptor, painter and architect. Pieta (1498-1499). David (1501-1504). Sistine Chapel Ceiling (1508-1512).
Portrait of Michelangelo Buonarroti by Jacopino del Conte from 1535. It is now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
ORVILLE (1871-1948) & WILBUR (1867-1912) WRIGHT: US. Inventors and pioneer aviators. First to achieve sustained, powered heavier-than-air flight.
Wilbur Wright in 1905.
PABLO PICASSO (1881-1973) Spain/France. Innovative modernist painter and sculptor. Developed Cubism with Georges Braque. Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907). Guernica (1937).
Pablo Picasso in 1908 or 1909.
AUGUSTUS CAESAR (formerly Octavian) (63 BCE-14 CE) Ancient Rome. Military and political leader. First Roman Emperor. Instituted Pax Romana.
A statue of Augustus from the 1st Century CE, known as the Augustus of Prima Porta. It is now in the Chiaramonti Museum, Vatican City.
NICOLAUS COPERNICUS (1473-1543) Poland. Astronomer. Developed heliocentric model of the universe. On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres (1543).
A 1580 posthumous portrait of Nicolaus Copernicus. It is located in the Town Hall of Toruń, Poland.
ALEXANDER GRAHAM BELL (1847-1922) UK: Scotland/Canada/US. Scientist, inventor and engineer. Credited with inventing first practical telephone.
A photograph of Alexander Graham Bell taken at Moffett Studio between 1914 and 1919. It is now part of the Library and Archives of Canada in Ottawa.
FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT (1882-1945) US. Statesman and politician. Longest serving US president, through Great Depression and World War II. The New Deal.
Franklin D. Roosevelt signing the Lend-Lease Act in 1941.
ELVIS PRESLEY (1935-1977) US. Musician, performer and actor. Popularized rock and roll music. Mystery Train (1955). Heartbreak Hotel (1956). Don’t Be Cruel (1956).
Elvis Presley at his 1968 “comeback” concert.
CLEOPATRA (Cleopatra VII Philopator) (c. 69-30 BCE) Ancient Egypt. Political leader. Last Pharoah of the Ptolemy Dynasty. Used relationships with Roman leaders Julius Caesar and Marc Antony to solidify her grip on the throne and strengthen Egyptian empire.
A 1663 depiction of Cleopatra committing suicide with an asp, by Cesare Gennari.
PAUL THE APOSTLE (formerly Saul of Tarsus) (c. 5-67 CE) Asia Minor (now Turkey). Early Christian leader and missionary. Letters of Paul.
A portrait of Paul the Apostle by Bartolomeo Montagna, from 1482. It is now in the Museo Poldi Pezzoli in Milan.
CONSTANTINE THE GREAT (272-337 CE) Roman Empire. Military and political leader. Roman Emperor. Converted to Christianity. Founded Constantinople.
A bust of Constantine the Great from the 4th Century CE. It is now in the Museo Chiaramonti, Vatican City.
THOMAS JEFFERSON (1743-1826) US. American revolutionary, diplomat, political leader, inventor, and architect. Principal author of the Declaration of Independence (1776). First U.S. Secretary of State (1790-1793). 3rd U.S. president (1801-1808). Authorized Louisiana Purchase (1803). Founded University of Virginia (1819).
This 1800 portrait of Thomas Jefferson by Rembrandt Peale hangs in the White House, Washington, D.C.
HOMER (c. 750-650 BC) Ancient Greece. Poet. Traditional author of the epic poems The Iliad and The Odyssey.
Statue of Homer outside Bavarian Museum in Munich.
ARCHIMEDES (c. 287-212 BCE) Ancient Greece. Philosopher, mathematician, scientist, engineer and inventor. Developed hydrostatics, statics and the lever principle. Invented siege engines and screw pump.
A painting of Archimedes by Domenico Fetti, from 1620.
WILLIAM THE CONQUEROR (c. 1028-1087) Normandy (now France)/England (now UK: England). Military and political leader. Led Norman invasion of Anglo-Saxon England and became first Norman king of England. Possibly killed in battle.
A depiction of William the Conqueror in battle, lifting his helmet to show he was still alive, part of the Bayeaux Tapestry, from the late 11th Century.
MARCO POLO (c. 1254-1324) Venice (now Italy). Explorer. Improved trade between Europe and the Far East. Spread knowledge of Asia. The Travels of Marco Polo (c. 1300).
Portrait of Marco Polo, possibly from the 16th Century.
RENÉ DESCARTES (1596-1650) France/Dutch Republic. Philosopher, mathematician and writer. “I think, therefore I am.” Meditations on First Philosophy (1641).
A late 17th Century copy of Franz Hals’ 1649 portrait of René Descartes. It is located in the Louvre, Paris.
VOLTAIRE (pen name of François-Marie Arouet) (1694–1778) France. Enlightenment writer, historian and philosopher. Candide (1759).
A portrait of Voltaire by Nicolas de Largillière from 1724-1725. It is located at the Palace of Versailles in France.
JEAN-JACQUES ROUSSEAU (1712-1778) Switzerland/France. Enlightenment author, philosopher and social reformer. The Social Contract (1762). Confessions (1782, 1789).
A portrait of Jean-Jacques Rousseau by Maurice Quentin de la Tour between 1750 and 1775. It is located in the Musée Antoine Lécuyer in Saint Germaine, France.
ADAM SMITH (1723-1790) Scotland (now UK: Scotland). Philosopher and political economist. The Wealth of Nations (1776).
A portrait of Adam Smith. This is a 19th Century etching based on a 1787 medallion by James Tassie.
CATHERINE THE GREAT (1729–1796) Russia. Political leader. Empress of Russia (1762-1796). Made Russia stronger and larger.
A portrait of Catherine the Great by Fyodor Rokotov in 1763. It is now in the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow.
WOLFGANG AMADEUS MOZART (1756-1791) Austria. Musician and composer. Piano Concerto No. 20 (1785). The Marriage of Figaro (1786). Eine Kleine Nachtmusik (1787). Symphony No. 40 (1788).
This portrait of Mozart is taken from a group portrait of his family, painted by Johann Nepomuk Della Croce in 1780 or 1781. The painting hangs in the Stiftung Mozarteum in Salzburg, Austria.
SIMÓN BOLÍVAR (1783-1830) Venezuela. Military and political leader in struggle for Latin American independence. President, Gran Columbia (now Venezuela, Colombia, Panamá and Ecuador) (1819-1830). First president of Peru (1824).
A portrait of Simón Bolívar. This is a late 19th or early 20th Century copy of an original work made before 1830.
VICTORIA I (1819-1901) UK. Political leader and queen of United Kingdom. Longest reigning British monarch (1837-1901) until surpassed by Elizabeth II in 2015.
A photograph of Queen Victoria from 1887, by Alexander Bassano.
JOHN F. KENNEDY (1917-1963) US. 35th US president (1961-1963). Engaged in Cold War with USSR, including Cuban missile crisis (1962). Set goal for man to walk on the Moon. Started Peace Corps. Assassinated.
John F. Kennedy speaking to Congress in 1961.
MARGARET THATCHER (1925-2013) UK. Conservative British prime minister from 1979-1990.
Margaret Thatcher in 1983.
MOSES (c. 1500-1400 BCE) Egypt/Judea. Legendary religious leader and prophet of the Israelites. Book of Exodus.
Rembrandt’s Moses with the Ten Commandments (1659).
CHARLEMAGNE (c. 747-814) Frankish Kingdom (now France). Military and political leader. King of the Franks, King of the Lombards and first Holy Roman Emperor.
A depiction of Charlemagne and his illegitimate son, Pippin the Hunchback. This is a 10th Century copy of an early 9th Century original.
OLIVER CROMWELL (1599-1658) UK. Military and political leader. After winning civil war, helped overthrow and execute English king Charles I. Became Lord Protector of Puritan Commonwealth until his death.
A 1656 portrait of Oliver Cromwell by Samuel Cooper. It is located in the National Portrait Gallery, London.
JOHANN SEBASTIAN BACH (1685-1750) Germany. Baroque composer and musician. Brandenburg Concertos (1721). The Well-Tempered Clavier (1722, 1742). Mass in B Minor (1749).
A portrait of Johann Sebastian Bach. This is a 1748 copy of Elias Haussmann’s 1746 original, which hangs in the Old Town Hall in Leipzig, Germany.
WOODROW WILSON (1856-1924) US. Statesman and scholar. 28th US president (1913-1920). Sponsored reform legislation. Led US into World War I. Sparked creation of the League of Nations. Nobel Peace Prize (1919).
A photograph of Woodrow Wilson taken in December 1912 by Pach Brothers.
JAWAHARLAL NEHRU (1889-1964) India. Statesman and independence activist. First prime minister of independent India. Architect of the modern socialist, secular democratic India.
Jawaharlal Nehru in 1959.
JOHN LENNON (1940–1980) UK/US. Musician, songwriter, performer, political activist and writer. Member of The Beatles. In My Life (1965). All You Need Is Love (1967). Revolution (1968). Imagine (1971). Murdered by Mark David Chapman.
John Lennon and Yoko Ono in 1980. Photo by Jack Mitchell.
BILL GATES (1955- ) US. Business owner, inventor, computer programmer and philanthropist. Co-founded Microsoft.
Bill Gates in 2012.
ASHOKA THE GREAT (Ashoka Maurya) (304-232 BCE) India. Military leader and Emperor of Maurya empire on Indian subcontinent. Encouraged spread of Buddhism.
A relief sculpture of Ashoka the Great (left) found at Gulbarga stupa in southern India and dating from 100-200 CE.
SALADIN (1138–1193) Mesopotamia (now Iraq)/Syria. Political and military leader. First Sultan of Egypt and Syria and the founder of the Ayyubid dynasty. Led Arabs to victory over the Crusaders.
Saladin the Victorious, a 19th Century engraving by Gustave Doré.
NICCOLÒ MACHIAVELLI (1469-1527) Italy. Historian, politician, diplomat and philosopher. The Prince (1532).
Posthumous portrait of Niccolò Machiavelli by Santi di Tito between 1550 and 1600. It can be found in the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence, Italy.
JOHN LOCKE (1632-1704) England (now UK: England). Enlightenment philosopher and physician. Two Treatises of Government (1689). An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1689).
A 1697 portrait of John Locke by Sir Godfrey Kneller. It is located in the State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg.
JAMES WATT (1736-1819) UK: Scotland. Inventor and engineer. Pioneer of steam technology; improved the steam engine.
A portrait of James Watt by Carl Frederik von Breda in 1792. It can be seen in the National Portrait Gallery, London.
OTTO VON BISMARCK (1815-1898) Germany. Political leader and diplomat. First chancellor of united Germany. Practitioner of realpolitik diplomacy.
A photograph of Otto von Bismarck from about 1875. It is located in the German Federal Archives, Koblenz.
FLORENCE NIGHTINGALE (1820-1910) UK. Social reformer and statistician. Helped popularize the use of statistical data. Founder of modern professional nursing.
A photograph of Florence Nightingale taken about 1860. This is a 1920 print from the original negative.
VINCENT VAN GOGH (1853-1890) The Netherlands/France. Post-Impressionist painter. The Night Café (1888). The Starry Night (1889).
Self-Portrait by Vincent Van Gogh in 1889. It is now at the Musée d’Orsay, Paris.
OSCAR WILDE (1854-1900) Ireland/UK. Writer, poet and playwright. Persecuted for his homosexuality. The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890). The Importance of Being Earnest (1895).
A photograph of Oscar Wilde by Napoleon Sarony, taken in 1882.
MUSTAFA KEMAL ATATÜRK (1881-1938) Salonica/Turkey. Military and political leader. Founder and first president of Republic of Turkey (1923-1938).
Mustafa Kemal Atatürk in 1931.
CHARLES CHAPLIN (1889-1977) UK/US/Switzerland. Comic actor and filmmaker. The Gold Rush (1925). City Lights (1931). Modern Times (1936).
Charlie Chaplin in 1920.
INDIRA GANDHI (1917–1984) India. Political leader. Third Prime Minister of India. Strengthened Indian economy and military, and secured status as regional power. Ruled by decree during 1975-1977 state of emergency. Assassinated.
RAMESSES THE GREAT (Ramesses II) (c. 1303-1213 BCE) Ancient Egypt. Pharaoh of 19th Dynasty in the New Kingdom. Led Egyptian armies to many victories and greatly expanded territory. Built many cities, temples and monuments.
Statue of Ramesses the Great.
ZOROASTER (Zarathustra) (c. 11th-10th Century BCE) Persia (now Iran). Philosopher, religious figure and writer. Founder of Zoroastrianism. The Gathas.
Zoroaster (with globe) in detail from Raphael’s The School of Athens (1509).
LAO TZU (Laozi) (fl. 6th Century BCE) China. Philosopher and writer. Traditional founder of Taoism. Tao Te Ching.
Stone sculpture of Laozi at the foot of Mount Qingyuan dating to the Song Dynasty (960-1279).
QIN SHI HUANG (Zhao Zheng) (259-210 BCE) China. Military and political leader. First emperor of unified China. Undertook major economic and political reforms and building projects. The Great Wall.
A portrait of Qin Shi Huang.
ATTILA THE HUN (c. 410-453 CE) Hunnic Empire (centered in what is now Hungary). Political and military leader of Hunnic Empire. Led many invasions against Western and Eastern Roman Empires. Battle of the Catalaunian Plains (451 CE).
The Feast of Attila, an 1870 painting by Mór Than. Now in the Hungarian National Gallery.
ISABELLA OF SPAIN (Isabella I of Castile) (1451-1504) Spain. Monarch of Spain with Ferdinand II of Aragon. Persecuted Jews and Muslims. Sponsored voyages of Columbus.
A 1520 portrait of Isabella of Spain.
FERDINAND MAGELLAN (Fernão de Magalhãesze) (1480-1521) Portugal. Explorer. First European to cross the Pacific. Led first expedition to circumnavigate the globe. Killed in a battle with Philippine Islanders.
A portrait of Ferdinand Magellan from the 16th or 17th Century. It may be found in the Mariner’s Museum Collection, Newport News, Virginia.
ANTONIE VAN LEEUWENHOEK (1632-1723) The Netherlands. Scientist and tradesman. Pioneer of microbiology. Improved accuracy of microscopes.
A portrait of Antonie van Leeuwenhoek by Jan Verkolje from between 1670 and 1693. It is located in the Museum Boerhaave in Leiden.
PETER THE GREAT (1672-1725) Russia. Romanov Tsar and Emperor of Russia (1721-1725). Instituted many Europe-oriented reforms.
A portrait of Peter the Great by Paul Delaroche in 1838. It is located in the Hamburg Kunsthalle.
MARY WOLLSTONECRAFT (1759-1797) UK. Writer, philosopher and women’s rights advocate. A Vindication of the Rights of Women (1792).
John Opie’s portrait of Mary Wollstonecraft, from about 1797, is now in the National Portrait Gallery, London.
CHARLES DICKENS (1812-1870) UK. Writer and social critic. Oliver Twist (1838). David Copperfield (1850). Great Expectations (1860-1861).
A photograph of Charles Dickens by Herbert Watkins, dated 1858. It is now in the National Portrait Gallery, London.
ELEANOR ROOSEVELT (1884-1962) US. Politician, activist and reformer. Outspoken First Lady. United Nations delegate. Co-drafter of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948). Chair of Presidential Commission on the Status of Women.
Eleanor Roosevelt speaking at the United Nations in 1947.
EUCLID (fl. 300 BCE) Ancient Greece. Mathematician. Developed principles of Euclidean geometry. Elements.
Statue of Euclid at Oxford University Museum of Natural History, UK. Created by Joseph Durham between 1835 and 1877.
AUGUSTINE OF HIPPO (354-430 CE) Hippo Regius, Roman Empire (now Algeria). Christian theologian and author. Confessions (397-400 CE). City of God (426 CE).
Portrait of St. Augustine by Peter Paul Rubens, from 1636-1638. It is now in the National Gallery of Prague.
THOMAS AQUINAS (1225-1274) Italy. Catholic priest, theologian and philosopher. Summa Theologica (1265-1274).
Thomas Aquinas, as depicted by Gentile da Fabriano in a 1400 painting, now in the Pinacoteca di Brera, in Milan.
GEOFFREY CHAUCER (c.1343-1400) England (now UK: England). Writer and poet. Troilus and Criseyde (c. 1390). The Canterbury Tales (c. 1400).
A portrait of Geoffrey Chaucer by Thomas Hoccleve in his 1412 book, Regiment of Princes.
HENRY VIII (1491-1547) England (now UK: England). Tudor king of England. Initiated English Reformation.
A portrait of Henry VIII painted by the workshop of Hans Holbein the Younger between 1537 and 1547. It is located in the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, UK.
FRANCIS BACON (1561-1626) England (now UK: England). Philosopher, statesman, scientist and writer. Promoted the scientific method. Essays (1597). Novum Organum (1620). The New Atlantis (1623).
A 1617 portrait of Francis Bacon by Frans Pourbus the Younger. It is located in the Palace on the Water, Warsaw.
JOHN ADAMS (1735-1826) US. Lawyer, statesman, diplomat and revolutionary. Leader in American Revolution. Primary drafter of Massachusetts Constitution. 2nd US president (1797-1800).
Official Presidential portrait of John Adams by John Trumbull, from 1792 or 1793. Now located in the White House, Washington, D.C.
LOUIS DAGUERRE (1787-1851) France. Artist and physicist. Invented daguerreotype photographic process.
Daguerreotype of Louis Daguerre in 1844, taken by Jean-Baptiste Sabatier-Blot. On display at the George Eastman House, Rochester, New York.
MICHAEL FARADAY (1791-1867) UK. Scientist and inventor. Discovered electromagnetic induction, diamagnetism and electrolysis.
Photograph of Michael Faraday from about 1861, probably taken by John Watkins.
LEO TOLSTOY (1828-1910) Russia. Author and philosopher. War and Peace (1869). Anna Karenina (1877).
A photograph of Leo Tolstoy taken between 1880 and 1886. It is in the Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.
FRIEDRICH NIETZSCHE (1844-1900) Germany. Philosopher, philologist, critic, poet and composer. Thus Spake Zarathustra (1883-1885). Beyond Good and Evil (1886).
A photograph of Friedrich Nietzsche from about 1875, taken by F. Hartmann.
NIKOLA TESLA (1856-1943) Serbia/US. Inventor, engineer and physicist. Contributed to development of alternating current (AC) electricity system and radio.
An 1890 photograph of Nicolas Tesla by Napoleon Sarony.
THEODORE ROOSEVELT (1858-1919) US. Politician, military leader, naturalist and explorer. 26th US president (1901-1908). Led Progressive Movement. Completed Panama Canal. Nobel Peace Prize (1906).
A photograph of Theodore Roosevelt from about 1902, by M.P. Rice.
BENITO MUSSOLINI (1883-1945) Italy. Military and political leader. Fascist dictator of Italy from 1922-1943. Joined Hitler and Hirohito in Axis during World War II. Executed after trying to escape.
Benito Mussolini in Germany in 1938.
HARRY S TRUMAN (1884-1972) US. Businessman and politician. 33rd US president (Dem: 1945-1952). Used atomic bombs on Japan to end World War II.
Harry S. Truman after winning election in November 1948. Associated Press photo by Rollins.
HO CHI MINH (1890-1969) Vietnam. Revolutionary, military and political leader. Led communist revolution for Vietnamese independence and unification. Founder and first leader of of North Vietnam.
Ho Chi Minh in 1946.
ERNEST HEMINGWAY (1899–1961) US. Writer and sportsman. Known for his spare writing style. The Sun Also Rises (1926). For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940). The Old Man and the Sea (1952). Nobel Prize in Literature (1954).
Ernest Hemingway in 1958. Photo by Yousef Karsh.
RICHARD NIXON (1913-1994) US. 37th US president (1969-1974). Improved US relations with Communist China and USSR. Implemented new environmental legislation. Resigned amid Watergate scandal.
Richard Nixon announcing the release of edited White House transcripts in 1974.
LECH WAŁĘSA (1943- ) Poland. Politician, union organizer and human rights activist. Leader of independent trade union Solidarity. President of Poland from 1990-1995. Nobel Peace Prize (1983).
Lech Wałęsa in 1980.
GEORGE W. BUSH (1946- ) US. 43rd President of US (2001-2009). Started wars against Afghanistan and Iraq after terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.
George W. Bush shortly after the terrorist attacks of 2001.
IMHOTEP (c. 2650-2600 BCE) Ancient Egypt. Architect, engineer and physician. Served as chancellor and high priest under Pharoah Djoser. Designed the Step Pyramid of Djoser – the first known pyramid.
Bronze statue of Imhotep in the Louvre (c. 330 BCE).
HAMMURABI (c. 1792-1750 BCE) Babylon (now Iraq). Military and political leader. King of Babylon. Established one of the earliest known law codes. Code of Hammurabi (c. 1772 BCE).
Bas relief of Hammurabi receiving the law code from the god Shamash (c. 1750 BCE).
PYTHAGORAS (c. 570-495 BCE) Ancient Greece. Mathematician and philosopher. Founder of Pythagoreanism (religious movement).
Bust of Pythagoras from Musei Capitolini, Rome. Marble Roman copy of a 5th Century BCE Greek bronze original.
PERICLES (c. 495-429 BCE) Ancient Greece. Military and political leader. Led Athens to victory in war. Created Athenian Empire.
Bust of Pericles in the Museo Pio Clementino, Vatican City. It is a Roman-made marble copy of a Greek original by Cresilas dating from around 430 BCE.
EURIPIDES (c. 480–406 BCE) Ancient Greece. Prolific Athenian author of tragic plays. Medea. The Bacchae. Electra.
Bust of Euripides in the Museo Pio Clementino. It is a Roman marble copy of a 4th Century BCE Greek original.
CATHERINE DE’ MEDICI (1519–1589) Italy/France. Noblewoman and French monarch. Queen consort of King Henry II until his death and powerful leader during reigns of her children Francis II, Charles IX and Henry III.
A portrait of Catherine de’ Medici from between 1547 and 1559. It is located in the Uffizi Gallery, Florence.
WILLIAM HARVEY (1578-1657) England (now UK: England). Physician. First described circulation system and properties of blood.
Portrait of William Harvey from 1627, attributed to Daniel Mytens. It is located in the National Portrait Gallery. Used by permission.
THOMAS HOBBES (1588-1679) England (now UK: England). Political philosopher. Leviathan (1651).
A 17th Century portrait of Thomas Hobbes by John Michael Wright. It is located in the National Portrait Gallery, London.
REMBRANDT VAN RIJN (1606-1669) The Netherlands. Dutch Golden Age painter and printmaker. The Night Watch (1654). The Jewish Bride (1665). Self-Portrait with Beret and Turned-Up Collar (1659).
Rembrandt’s Self-Portrait of 1658. It is located in the Frick Collection, New York.
WILLIAM WILBERFORCE (1759-1833) UK. Politician and philanthropist. Leader of British anti-slavery movement.
A 1794 portrait of William Wilberforce by Anton Hickel. It may be found at Wilberforce House, Kingston upon Hull, UK.
SAMUEL MORSE (1791-1872) US. Inventor and painter. Developed single-wire telegraph. Invented Morse code.
An 1840 photograph of Samuel Morse, which is kept in the Archives of American Art, Washington, D.C.
JOHN MAYNARD KEYNES (1883-1946) UK. Economist. Developed Keynesian economics, which emphasized government spending. The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money (1936).
John Maynard Keynes (right) with painter Duncan Grant.
FRANCIS CRICK (1916-2004) UK. Molecular biologist, biophysicist and neuroscientist. Co-discoverer of structure of DNA. Nobel Prize in Physiology/Medicine (1962).
Francis Crick (right) and James Watson with DNA model.
ELIZABETH II (1926-) UK. Constitutional monarch of 16 Commonwealth realms, including the United Kingdom of Great Britian and Northern Ireland from 1952 to present. Became longest reigning British monarch in 2015.
Elizabeth II after her coronation in 1953.
STEPHEN HAWKING (1942- ) UK. Theoretical physicist, cosmologist, and author. Developed theories regarding gravitational singularities and black hole radiation. A Brief History of Time (1988).
Stephen Hawking during a visit to NASA in the 1980s.
AUNG SAN SUU KYI (1945- ) Burma/Myanmar. Politician. Leader of opposition party, National League for Democracy. Under house arrest for nearly 15 years between 1989 and 2010. Nobel Peace Prize (1991).
Aung San Suu Kyi in 2011.
BENAZIR BHUTTO (1953–2007) Pakistan. Politician and stateswoman. Held many public offices, including prime minister (1988-1990; 1993-1996). First woman to lead Pakistan or any other Muslim state. Assassinated.
Benazir Bhutto in 2004.
DARIUS THE GREAT (Darius I) (558-486 BCE) Persia (now Iran). Military and political leader. King of Persia. Expanded Persian Empire.
Relief sculpture of Darius the Great (center) receiving tribute at Persepolis, c. 500 BCE.
BOUDICA (Boadicea) (died c. 60 CE) Britannia (now UK). Queen of Celtic tribe, the Iceni. Led rebellion against Roman occupation.
Boadicea Haranguing the Britons, from 1793. Original engraving by John Opie; print by William Sharp.
MURASAKI SHIKIBU (c. 978-1025 CE) Japan. Novelist and poet. Lady-in-waiting at Japanese Imperial Court during Heian period. The Tale of Genji.
A portrait of Murasaki Shikibu writing at her desk, by Suzuki Harunobu about 1767. This Edo period woodblock in the ukiyo-e style is now at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
POPE URBAN II (c. 1042-1099) France/Vatican. Roman Catholic religious leader. Initiated the First Crusade to Jerusalem and Palestine (1096-1099).
Statue of Pope Urban II in Clermont-Ferrand, France by Henri Gourgouillon, in 1898.
SULEIMAN THE MAGNIFICENT (1494-1566) Ottoman Empire (centered in what is now Turkey). Military and political leader. Sultan of Ottoman Empire from 1520 to 1566. Greatly enlarged and strengthened empire.
A copy of Titian’s portrait of Suleiman the Magnificent from about 1530-1540.
ANDREAS VESALIUS (1514-1564) Brabant (now Belgium). Anatomist, physician and author. Father of modern human anatomy. On the Fabric of the Human Body (1543).
This portrait of Andreas Vesalius was included as an illustration in his 1543 book about the human body.
MIGUEL DE CERVANTES (1547-1616) Spain. Novelist, poet and playwright. Don Quixote (1605, 1615).
A 1600 portrait purported to be Miguel de Cervantes, possibly by Juan de Jauregui. It is located at the Real Academia de
EDWARD JENNER (1749-1823) UK: England. Physician and scientist. Pioneer of vaccination and immunology.
A portrait of Edward Jenner by James Northcote, from between 1803 and 1823. It is now in the National Portrait Gallery, London.
ADMIRAL HORATIO NELSON (Lord Nelson) (1758-1805) UK: England. Naval commander. Led British fleet to victories, especially during Napoleonic Wars. Killed at Battle of Trafalgar (1805).
A 1799 portrait of Horatio Nelson by Lemuel Francis Abbott. It is now in the National Maritime Museum in London.
FREDERICK DOUGLASS (1818-1895) US. Social reformer, author and orator. Leader in US abolitionist movement.
A photograph of Frederick Douglas from 1856. It is now in the National Portrait Gallery, Washington, D.C.
GEORGE ELIOT (pen name of Mary Anne Evans) (1819-1880) UK. Novelist, journalist and translator. The Mill on the Floss (1860). Middlemarch (1871-1872).
A photograph of George Eliot from about 1865. It is now in the National Library of France.
HARRIET TUBMAN (1820-1913) US. Abolitionist, humanitarian and spy. Instrumental in creating Underground Railroad to rescue enlaved Americans.
A photograph of Harriet Tubman by H. Seymour Squyer, taken about 1885.
EMILY DICKINSON (1830-1886) US. Reclusive but prolific poet. Because I could Not Stop for Death. I Heard a Fly Buzz – When I Died.
The only known photograph (actually a daguerreotype) of Emily Dickinson as an adult. It was taken between 1846 and 1848.
JAMES CLERK MAXWELL (1831-1879) UK: Scotland. Theoretical physicist. First described electromagnetic radiation.
An undated portrait of James Clerk Maxwell. This is an engraving by G. J. Stodart, based on a photograph by Fergus of Greenock.
JANE ADDAMS (1860-1935) US. Progressive Era social worker, sociologist, author and advocate for women’s suffrage and world peace. Co-founded Hull House, first settlement house in US. Nobel Peace Prize (1931).
Jane Addams in 1915.
SUN YAT-SEN (1866-1925) China. Revolutionary. Led overthrow of Qing dynasty and founded Republic of China (Nationalist China), becoming its first president.
Colorized photographic portrait of Sun Yat-sen.
KONRAD ADENAUER (1876-1967) Germany/West Germany. Political leader. First post-war Chancellor of West Germany. Restored Germany’s economy and international relations.
Konrad Adenauer in 1955 speaking to the Bundestag.
DAVID BEN-GURION (1886-1973) Israel. Political and military leader. Led successful movement for independent state of Israel. Co-founded State of Israel and became its first Prime Minister.
David Ben-Gurion in 1960.
HAILE SELASSIE I (formerly Tafari Makonnen) (1892-1975) Ethiopia. Political leader. Leader of Ethiopia from 1916-1974 including five years in exile after Italy (under Mussolini) invaded and occupied Ethiopia.
Haile Selassie in 1923.
LYNDON B. JOHNSON (1908-1973) US. Political leader. 36th US president (1964-1968). Sponsored Great Society programs and civil rights legislation. Increased US involvement in Vietnam War.
Lyndon Johnson taking the oath of office on Air Force One, shortly after the assassination of President Kennedy, November 22, 1963.
BILL CLINTON (1946- ) US. 42nd president of US (1993-2001). Known for signing NAFTA, DOMA and welfare reform. Military interventions in Bosnia and Kosovo.
Official Presidential portrait of Bill Clinton in 1993.
OSAMA BIN LADEN (1957-2011) Saudi Arabia. Leader of Islamic Fundamentalist Al Qaeda terrorist organization, responsible for many civilian deaths around the globe. Killed in Navy Seal ambush.
Osama bin Laden in 1998.