People who changed the world in the 20th Century

A list of people who were influential in changing the world during the 20th Century.

Top 100

  1. Winston Churchill – Leader of Great Britain during World War Two
  2. Adolf Hitler – Leader of Nazi Germany 1933-45
  3. Nelson Mandela – First President of post-apartheid South Africa
  4. Joseph Stalin – Leader of Soviet Union from 1924 to 1953
  5. Martin Luther King – Prominent Civil rights activist in the US
  6. Queen Elizabeth II – British monarch from 1950s onwards.
  7. Mikhail Gorbachev – Leader of Soviet Union from 1985-91. Oversaw transition to democracy and collapse of Berlin Wall.
  8. Woodrow Wilson – US President during First World War and supporter of The League of Nations.
  9. Chairman Mao – Leader of Communist China and instigator of Cultural Revolution.
  10. Mother Teresa – Humanitarian and charity worker
  11. Bill Gates – Founder of Microsoft
  12. Nikola Tesla (1856 –1943) Serbian/American physicist – Prolific inventor and developed AC electric current.
  13. Tim Berners Lee – Inventor of the world wide web
  14. Princess Diana – Wife of Prince Charles and noted humanitarian worker.
  15. Alexander Fleming (1881-1955) Scottish biologist who discovered penicillin.
  16. Boris Yeltsin – First Russian leader of the post-Communist era.
  17. Margaret Thatcher First female Prime Minister of UK during 1980s
  18. Charles de Gaulle – Leader of Free French forces in WWII and President in 1960s.
  19. George Orwell – Political writer. Famous for Animal Farm and 1984.
  20. John M Keynes – Revolutionary economist advocating government intervention to end depressions.
  21. Steve Jobs (1955 – 2011)The co-founder of Apple Computers, and a leading exponent of the personal computer revolution.
  22. Konrad Adenauer – First leader of Germany after fall of Hitler’s regime.
  23. Mahatma Gandhi – Leader of Indian independence movement.
  24. Albert Einstein – Scientist whose theory of relativity paved the way for the atomic bomb.
  25. Ataturk – Father of modern Turkey.
  26. Pablo Picasso – Influential twentieth-century artists.
  27. Franklin D. Roosevelt – US President during 1930s and WWII
  28. Pope John Paul II – High profile pope during 1980s and 1990s.
  29. Mohammed Ali – Boxer and figure for civil rights movement.
  30. Ronald Reagan (1911 – 2004) – US President ’80 – ’88.
  31. Aung San Suu Kyi – Leader of Burmese opposition.
  32. John F. Kennedy – US president 1961-63 until his assassination.
  33. Wright Brothers – made first aeroplane flight in 1903.
  34. Lyndon Johnson – US president 1963-68 introduced civil rights legislation.
  35. Indira Gandhi – Indian female Prime Minister
  36. Eva Peron – First lady of Argentina
  37. Dwight D. Eisenhower (1890 – 1969) – Allied commander, and US President
  38. Benazir Bhutto – Pakistan PM
  39. Theodore Roosevelt (1858 – 1919) US President during ‘Progressive Era ’01-’09.
  40. Desmond Tutu – South African apartheid campaigner
  41. Kofi Annan – United Nations secretary general
  42. Dalai Lama – 14th Dalai Lama. The political and spiritual leader of Tibet.
  43. Barack Obama – US president.
  44. Milton Friedman (1912 – 2006) American free-market economist.
  45. Albert Schweitzer – humanitarian and philosopher
  46. Otto Hahn (1879-1968)German chemist who discovered nuclear fission
  47. Malcolm X – Black power activist
  48. Neil Armstrong (1930 – 2012) US astronaut. First man to walk on moon.
  49. Lech Walesa – Leader of Solidarity movement in Poland during 1980s /90s
  50. Benito Mussolini (1883-1945) Fascist dictator of Italy.
  51. Marie Curie – Nobel prize winning scientist
  52. Stephen Hawking (1942 – ) English theoretical physicist, and author polarising scientific theories.
  53. Elvis Presley – Pop star
  54. John Logie Baird (1888–1946) Scottish inventor of the television.
  55. Rosa Parks – Civil rights campaigner, fighting against segregation in the deep south of America
  56. Emile Zatopek – Olympic athlete
  57. Rachel Carson (1907 – 1964) American conservationist and pioneering environmentalist.
  58. Pele – Greatest footballer of century
  59. Jesse Owens – Iconic 100 meter runner, who upset Hitler’s Olympic games.
  60. Rosalind Franklin (1920 – 1958) Discovering DNA
  61. John Lennon – Musician and member of the Beatles
  62. Henry Ford – Businessman who developed mass production.
  63. Tsar Nicholas II (1868 – 1918) The last Russian Emperor
  64. General Patton – US General
  65. Haile Selassie – Leader of Ethiopia
  66. Madonna – Pop idol
  67. Oprah Winfrey – chat show host and influential US TV presenter.
  68. David Lloyd George (1863 – 1945) Prime Minister of the UK from 1916 to the end of the war.
  69. Billie Jean King – US tennis player and campaigner for equal rights for women
  70. Richard Branson – UK entrepreneur
  71. Anne Frank – Wrote an influential diary about hiding from Nazi persecution.
  72. Marilyn Monroe – Movie star
  73. Sri Aurobindo – Early political leader of India and later spiritual philosopher.
  74. Maharishi Mahesh Yogi – Advocate of meditation.
  75. Tony Blair – UK Prime Minister
  76. Hilary Clinton – US Foreign secretary of state.
  77. Coco Chanel – Fashion designer
  78. Virginia Woolf – Author
  79. Germaine Greer – Author
  80. Kaiser Wilhelm II (1859-1941) The last German Emperor;
  81. Paul McCartney – Musician
  82. J. Nehru – Indian Politician and first Prime Minister of Independent India
  83. Gavrilo Princep (1894- 1918) Bosnian Serb who assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife.
  84. Vladimir Putin – Russian politician
  85. Lawrence of Arabia – British officer and supporter of the Arabs
  86. J. Robert Oppenheimer (1904–1967), American physicist who worked on the development of the Atomic bomb.
  87. Golda Meir (1898–1978)  Israeli leader.
  88. Bernard Montgomery – British general during WWII
  89. Salvidor Dali – modern artist
  90. Harry Truman (1884 – 1972) American President from January 1945
  91. Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis (1929–1994 ) Wife of John F. Kennedy. Cultural and fashion icon of the 1960s.
  92. Audrey Hepburn (1929–1993) Actress. Voted greatest female screen legend of all time.
  93. Dag Hammarskjöld (1905–1961), Second Secretary-General of the United Nations from 1953-61.
  94. Emmeline Pankhurst (1858–1928) British suffragette. Pankhurst was one of the most high profile campaigners for women’s suffrage.
  95. Lord Baden Powell (1857 – 1941) Founder of the Scouting movement
  96. Alexander Bell (1847 – 1922) – Scottish inventor of the telephone.
  97. Muhammad Yunus (1940 – ) Bangladeshi banker and economist
  98. Paul Samuelson (1915 – 2009) American economist, who popularised Keynesian theory.
  99. Emperor Hirohito (1901 – 1989) Japanese Emperor during Second World War.
  100. J.K.Rowling – Author of Harry Potter series


Citation: Pettinger, Tejvan. “People who changed the world in the Twentieth Century”, Oxford, UK – Last updated 2 March 2018.

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