People who changed the United States

A list of over 50 people who changed America and helped to influence the United States.

18th Century

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) was the principal author of the Declaration of Independence, which asserted rights and freedoms of American citizens. Thomas Jefferson passed the Statue of Religious Liberty for Virginia, which was an early right to give freedom of worship. Jefferson was president 1800-1808 and oversaw the expansion of American territory in the West.

Thomas Paine (1737-1809) was an English-American political writer. His pamphlet Common Sense (1776) helped create public support for the idea of American independence from Great Britain. He wrote many articles in support of political revolution and republican ideals.

Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) played a key role in encouraging the diverse colonies to join together in the war of independence. He later served as American ambassador to France and helped to cement the new U.S foreign status. Franklin was also a polymath, who amongst other achievements showed lightning could conduct electricity.

George_Washington George Washington (1732–1799) served as Commander in Chief of the American forces during the War of Independence. His tactical skills helped the American army defeat the British despite losing some battles. George Washington also served as first US president.

Alexander Hamilton (1755-1804) was a Founding Father, who served as the first United States Secretary of the Treasury. He established a national bank, a taxation system to pay off debt and negotiated trade deals with Great Britain.

James Madison (1751-1836) was the fourth president of the US (1809-1817) and was responsible for drafting the United States Constitution and the United States Bill of Rights. In 1788, along with Hamilton and John Jay, he wrote the Federalist Papers, which strongly advocated support for the US constitution.

Nineteenth Century

Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) was US president 1861-1865. He led the union into a civil war to prevent a split between states in the north and south. During the war, Lincoln also promoted a bill to end slavery in the United States.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803 – 1882) was a leading poet, Transcendentalist and influential philosopher. He espoused no fixed doctrine but expanded on ideas of freedom, nature and the possibilities of man.

Margaret Fuller (1810 – 1850) was a leading proponent of women’s rights. She was the first woman to be editor of New York Tribune and wrote influential articles on books on women’s rights and progressive social policies.

Susan B Anthony. (1820 – 1906) Anthony was a campaigner for civil rights and women’s suffrage. Anthony was one of the most influential women activists who helped secure women the right to vote.

Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811 – 1896) – Author who helped popularise the anti-slavery movement. Her book ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’ depicted life under slavery and helped to mobilise public opinion in the North against slavery.

Walt Whitman (1819 – 1892) – Poet who provided a bridge between Transcendentalism and realism. Considered America’s first great poet.

Harriet_Tubman Harriet Tubman (1822 – 1913) Tubman escaped from slavery but returned on many dangerous missions to Maryland where she helped lead slaves to freedom. She also served as agent and leader during the Civil War. She became a symbol of the abolition movement.

Emily Dickinson (1830 – 1886). One of America’s greatest female poets, Emily Dickinson’s themes of death and immortality became very popular and influenced the development of modern poetry.


booker_t_washington Booker T. Washington (1856 – 1915) Author and orator, Washington was an adviser to the presidents of Roosevelt and Taft. He was the de facto leader of African-Americans. He advocated an incremental approach to improving education and the life prospects of black Americans.

Twentieth Century

Thomas_Edison Thomas Edison (1847 – 1931) Edison was one of the most prolific inventors of all time. He helped to usher in the electricity revolution inventing the electric light bulb and providing one of the first domestic electricity networks in the world.

Woodrow Wilson (1856 – 1924) A president opposed to war; he finally took the US into World War One in 1917. After the war, it was Wilson who sought to establish a League of Nations and provide a framework for resolving international conflict.

Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882 – 1945) US President from 1932 to 1945. F.D.R. was responsible for overseeing an expansion of the federal government has he sought to mitigate the effects of the Great Depression in the 1930s. Initially, he kept America out of World War Two although he supported Great Britain with material help. After Pearl Harbour, F.D.R. took the United States into war against both Germany and Japan.

Henry Ford (1863 – 1947) was a businessman who revolutionised mass car production. His Ford assembly lines were so efficient they reduced the cost of family cars making them available to average workers for the first time.

John Steinbeck (1902 – 1968) was one of the most influential US authors. Steinbeck wrote about the devastation of the Great Depression in novels such as The Grapes of Wrath and Mice and Men.

Rosa Parks (1913 – 2005) In 1955, Rosa Parks became a principal figure in the US civil rights movement. Her refusal to give up her seat on a bus began the hugely influential Alabama bus boycott. She became an important figure in the US civil rights movement.

billy-graham Billy Graham (1918 – 2018) American Christain evangelist. Graham preached the gospel of Jesus Christ to billions of people around the world in live mass meetings and on the tv and radio. He advised many presidents from Truman to Obama.

Martin Luther King (1929 – 1968) was the leading figure in the US civil rights movement during the 1960s. In 1963, his ‘I have a dream’ speech became a clarion call for an end to racism and segregation. He also became involved in opposing the Vietnam war and highlighting issues of poverty.

John F. Kennedy (1917 – 1963) John F. Kennedy was president for three years before his untimely assassination. He stamped his mark on America with his inaugural speech in 1961. He was the first Catholic president and presented a young and liberal face to America.

Malcolm X (1925 – 1965) A radical alternative to Martin Luther King’s approach to civil rights. Malcolm X advocated a segregationist brand of the civil rights struggle.

Lyndon Johnson (1908 – 1973) President from 1963-68. He oversaw the escalation of the Vietnam conflict, which proved very costly. He also implemented and passed civil rights legislation which made segregation illegal.

Ronald Reagan (1911 – 2004) As President he challenged the post-war consensus of Keynesian economics and welfare state, overseeing large tax cuts and a rise in defence spending. Reagan was president during a period of easing in cold war tensions with the Soviet Union.

Bill Clinton (1946 – ) Presided over a period of economic prosperity and relative international calm between 1992-2000.

George W Bush Jr (1946 – ) President from 2000-2008. After 9/11 in 2001, he took the US to war in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Barack Obama (1961- ) The first black US president. After only one year as president, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in the hope he would be able to promote greater international co-operation.

donald_trump Donald Trump (1946 – ) US business magnate, investor, television personality and 45th president of the US. Trump upset political predictions to beat Hilary Clinton. His policies include travel bans from Muslim countries and building a wall between Mexico and the United States.

Other Modern Day Americans who changed the world

  • Jesse Owens – (1935 – 1977) Winning gold medals at ‘Hitler’s’ Olympics in 1936 was an iconic statement against racial prejudice.
  • Dwight Eisenhower – Supreme Allied Commander during D-Day landings and the Allied defeat of Nazi Germany. President from 1952-1960.
  • General Patton – Charismatic General who helped with Allied victory in Europe, in particular turning back the Germans during the Battle of the Bulge.
  • Ernst Hemingway – (1899 – 1961) American author Influential writer during 1920s and 1930s
  • Eleanor Roosevelt (1884 — 1962) – First wife of Franklin D. Roosevelt, who campaigned for human rights.
  • Muhammad Ali – (1942 – ) Boxer and civil rights activist
  • Jacqueline Kennedy – Wife of assassinated JFK, become an iconic figurehead in her own right.
  • Walt Disney (1901 – 1966) American film producer
  • Neil Armstrong (1930 – 2012) US Pilot and first man on the moon
  • Oprah Winfrey (1954 – ) Influential chat show host and media personality.
  • Alfred Hitchcock (1899 – 1980) – Film producer
  • Billie Jean King (1943-) Women’s tennis player. One of the most successful professional players. Billie Jean King helped women gain equal recognition in a male-dominated sporting arena.
  • Hilary Clinton. (1947 – ) Wife of Bill Clinton. Senator and unsuccessfully ran against Barack Obama for Democrat nomination in 2008.
  • Carl Lewis – One of the greatest Olympians
  • Elvis Presley (1935 – 1977) defined the pop age. An icon who epitomised the age of the 50s and 60s.
  • Michael Jackson (1958 – 2009) – American Pop singer
  • Madonna (1958 – ) American Pop singer
  • Bill Gates (1955 – ) Founded Microsoft. Bill Gates became the richest man in the world. His Microsoft operating system has become one of the most widely used products in the computer age.

Citation: Pettinger, Tejvan. “People who changed the US”, Oxford, UK., 23 February 2018.

The Constitution of the United States of America

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The Constitution of the United States of America at Amazon

America – Teacher’s Edition

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America – Teacher’s Edition at Amazon

Tales of Famous Americans

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Tales of Famous Americans at Amazon


Periods in American history

George_Washington-100 People of The American Revolution (1775 – 1783) Leading figures in the American Revolution. Includes military leaders, philosophers, British protagonists and ordinary people. The list includes; George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, George III and Benjamin Franklin.

Lincolnatgettysburg-150 Great Moments in American History – A list of some of the great moments in the history of the United States, by chronological order – from the arrival of Columbus to landing a man on the moon and the end of the Cold War.

lincoln-abraham People of The American Civil War (1861-65) A list of over 20 famous and influential figures in the American Civil War (1861 – 1865) Includes politicians, generals, soldiers, spies and social activists. Including; Abraham Lincoln, Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant.

The Gilded Age (1870 to 1900) A period of rapid expansion in the economy, with growing inequality. Includes the great industrialists, such as J.D. Rockefeller, J.P. Morgan and Andrew Carnegie.

Woodrow_Wilson People of the Progressive Era (1890-1920) A period of increased federal intervention to tackle abuse of monopoly power and inequality. The Progressive Era also saw women gain the vote, and increased efforts to tackle corruption.

Andrew_Carnegie People who built America A look at people who helped build American – from the Founding Fathers of the American Revolution to the modern technological age.

Paul_Revere Facts about the American Revolution. The key events, people and battles which shaped the American War of Independence. Includes principal figures, such as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and King George III.