Great Men Who Changed the World

Important and influential men who changed the world. These powerful men had a major influence on the world, not necessarily in a good way. Including great men from the fields of politics, military, art, music, religion, science and sport.

Political leaders

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) Founding Father and author of The Declaration of Independence (1776). “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,” Third President of the US.

Nelson Mandela (1918–2013) South African Anti-apartheid leader. Elected the first President of democratic South Africa in 1994.

Martin Luther King (1929–1968) Non-violent civil rights leader. Inspired American civil rights movement to achieve greater equality.

Mikhail Gorbachev (1931– ) Leader of the Soviet Union who oversaw the transition from Communism to democracy in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe allowing the Berlin Wall to fall.

George_Washington-100 George Washington (1732–1799) Led America to independence from Great Britain. Commander of American forces during the War of Independence. First President of the United States. (1789-1797)

Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) 16th President of the US from 1861-1865. Led the Union forces during the American civil war. Issued Emancipation Proclamation 1862 to end slavery in the US.

Woodrow Wilson (1856 – 1924) Wilson was President during the First World War. His idealistic 14 points formed the basis for the League of Nations.

Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882 – 1945) – US President 1932 – 1945, Roosevelt expanded federal government to deal with the Great Depression and oversaw the US entry into the Second World War.

theodore_roosevelt-150 Theodore Roosevelt (1858 – 1919) President Roosevelt (1901-09) was a leading political figure of the Progressive Era – increasing the size of US federal government.

John F. Kennedy (1917 – 1963) US President elected in 1960. Played a role in diffusing the Cuban missile crisis and the threat of nuclear war.

Lyndon Johnson (1908 – 1973) – US President 1963-69, who took over from the assassinated JFK. He expanded America’s role in Vietnam, and domestically introduced civil rights legislation.

Ronald Reagan (1911 – 2004) – US President (1980 – 1988) Reagan sought to roll back the frontiers of the state and pursued an aggressive anti-Communist foreign policy.

Barack Obama (1961- ) US President 2008-2016. Obama was the first black President and influential liberal politician.

Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658) Cromwell led the Parliamentarians during the English civil war. After the defeat of the monarchy, Cromwell became Lord Protector.

Winston Churchill (1874 – 1965) Churchill was Prime Minister 1940-45, successfully leading Great Britain against Nazi Germany.

Alexander the Great (356 – 323 BC) As King of Macedonia, Alexander the Great established an Empire from the Ionian Sea to the Himalayas in India.

constantine Constantine the Great (272 – 337) Constantine consolidated Roman Empire and became the first Roman Emperor to convert to Christianity.

Saladin (1138 – 1193) Saladin led the Islamic opposition to Christian crusades. He recaptured the city of Jerusalem and took control of Palestine.

Akbar (1542 – 1605) Third Mogul Emperor, Akbar consolidated his Empire across India, through a series of striking military victories. Also practised religious tolerance.

Napoleon Bonaparte (1769 – 1821) Emperor of France 1804-1815, Napoleon’s forces swept across Europe, gaining hegemony over most of Europe. Spreading some of the principles of French Revolution.

Ataturk (1881-1938) Military officer in the Turkish army. Ataturk led the Turkish independence struggle and founded the Turkish Republic.

Dwight Eisenhower (1890 – 1969) Eisenhower was Supreme Allied Commander for the D-Day invasion of occupied Europe (1944-45). Later became president of US.



philosopherSocrates (469 – 399 BC) Athenian philosopher, famous for the Socratic method of questioning every preconception. Calmly accepted his own death.

historicalPlato (424 – 348 BC) – Greek philosopher. His writings, such as ‘The Republic’ form a basis of early Western philosophy. He also wrote on religion, politics and mathematics.

William Shakespeare (1564-1616) The foremost writer and poet of the English language. His plays have had a huge impact on culture, language and literature around the world.

Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712 – 1778) Rousseau was a Swiss-born French philosopher, who developed the notion of a social contract – important for the ‘Era of Revolution’.

Thomas Paine (1737-1809) English-American writer and political activist. In 1776, he wrote the best selling pamphlet Common Sense. This advocated America seeking independence from Great Britain.

philosopher Karl Marx (1818 – 1883) German Marxist philosopher. Author of Das Kapital and The Communist Manifesto which promoted the idea of a Communist Revolution.

John M Keynes (1883 – 1946) Economist, born Cambridge. Keynes was the outstanding economist of his generation helping to create a new way of looking at macroeconomics.

writer Leo Tolstoy (1828 – 1910) Russian novelist and moral philosopher. Famous works include the epic novels – War and Peace (1869) and Anna Karenina (1877).

writer George Orwell (1903 – 1950) – English author. Famous works include Animal Farm, and 1984. – Both stark warnings about the dangers of totalitarian states.

William Penn (1644 – 1718) Wrote Pennsylvania Frame of Government (1682), including democratic principles and the principle of religious tolerance.

Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) Author, politician, diplomat, scientist and statesman. Franklin supported the idea of a United States.

Mahatma Gandhi (1869 – 1948) – Indian nationalist and politician. Gandhi led the Indian Independence Movement, which achieved its goal in 1947.


Spiritual figures

Jesus Christ (0 AD – 32 AD) – Jesus taught a gospel of love and forgiveness. His philosophy and spirit inspired the creation of the Christian religion.

muhammad Prophet Muhammad (570-632) Muhammad was a prophet and messenger of God. The revelations he shared became the foundation of the Qu’ran and the Muslim religion.

moses Moses (1391 BC – 1271 BC) Moses was a key prophet of the Old Testament. He received the Torah (law) on Mount Sinai, which include the Ten Commandments.

Sri Krishna Hindu avatar.Sri Krishna gave the teaching of the Bhagavad Gita on the battlefield of Kurukshetra.

Confucius (551 BC – ) Chinese sage, who wrote The Dialects. Became influential philosopher for China.

lao-tzu Laozi (Lao Tsu) (c 571 BC) Laozi was a Chinese poet and philosopher. He was the author of the Tao Te Ching and the founder of philosophical Taoism. Also important figure in traditional Chinese religions.

Zarthushtra Zoroaster / Zarathustra (c 550-523 BC) A prophet and spiritual teacher who founded the religion of Zoroastrianism.

mahaviraMahavira (540 BCE–468 BCE) Mahavira was an important propagator and reformer of the new religion of Jainism.

buddha Buddha (c 560BC – c 460BC) Siddharta the Buddha attained nirvana and spent many years teaching his philosophy of enlightenment. His teachings led to the creation of Buddhism.

St Paul (c.5 – c. 67) – Missionary and influential early Christian. The letters of St Paul form a significant part of the New Testament. St Paul is responsible for the growth and development of Christianity as a modern religion.

Rumi (1207 – 1273) Rumi was a Sufi mystic and poet. One of the most popular modern poets.

wycliffe John Wycliffe (1330 -1384) Translated some of the first versions of the Bible into English. Wycliffe was an early critic of the Papacy and clerical power.

Martin Luther (1483-1546) – Sought to reform the Roman Catholic Church. A key figure in the Protestant Reformation.

William Tyndale (1494–1536 ) One of the first persons to print the Bible in English. Executed for blasphemy after years of avoiding capture.

guru_nanak-cropped Guru Nanak (1469-1539) Spiritual Guru and founder of the Sikh religion.

John Wesley (1703-1791) – Anglican preacher and evangelist. Wesley is credited with founding the Anglican tradition of Methodism.

Swami Vivekananda (1863 – 1902 ) Vivekananda brought Eastern Yoga to the West and spoke on the ideal of religious tolerance at the World Parliament of Religions 1893.

Sri Aurobindo (1872 – 1950 ) Early Indian nationalist leader. Later a spiritual Teacher, philosopher and poet. He taught an integral yoga.

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (1918- 2008) Indian spiritual Teacher, who founded the popular Transcendental meditation movement.

Pope John Paul II (1920 – 2005) Oversaw changes to papacy and figure in the transition from Communism to democracy in Eastern Europe.

Pope Francis (1936 – ) The first Jesuit Pope and the first Pope from the Americas. Pope Francis has been credited with revitalising the Catholic Church by concentrating on the basic message of the Gospels, ‘selflessness, humility, charity and faith.’

Dalai Lama (14th) (1950 – ) Leader of Tibetans both politically and spiritually. The Dalai Lama has practised non-violent opposition to Chinese rule, while maintaining Buddhist principles of compassion and forgiveness.


Marco Polo (1254 – 1324) Polo was a Venetian traveller and explorer who made ground-breaking journeys to Asia and China.

Christopher_Columbus Christopher Columbus (1451 – 1506) An Italian born explorer, Columbus made four ground-breaking voyages to the Americas.

Neil Armstrong (1930 – 2012) US Pilot and astronaut. The first man to walk on the moon “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”



Aristotle Aristotle (384 – 322 BC) Greek scientist who made investigations and discoveries in the natural sciences including botany, zoology, physics, astronomy, chemistry, meteorology and geometry.

copernicusNicholaus Copernicus (1473- 1543) Polish scientist. A Renaissance mathematician and astronomer who formulated a heliocentric view of the universe.

Francis_Bacon Francis Bacon (1561 – 1626) English philosopher, statesman and scientist. Bacon is considered the father of empiricism for his work and advocacy of scientific method.

Galileo Galileo (1564 – 1642) Italian scientist. Galileo revolutionised our understanding of the world supporting the work of Copernicus. He developed the science of Kinetics and materials.

Sir Isaac Newton (1642–1727) Physicist, mathematician, alchemist, and philosopher. Newton discovered laws of gravity and motion.

Edward Jenner (1749 – 1823) Jenner was the pioneer of a smallpox vaccine. Jenner’s breakthrough also enabled many other vaccines to be developed.

Charles Babbage (1791 – 1871) – English inventor of the first mechanical computers. Babbage is considered the ‘father of computers’ for his pioneering work.

Michael Faraday (1791 – 1867) – English scientist who contributed to the development of electricity.

Charles Darwin (1809 – 1882) Naturalist and geologist. Darwin wrote ‘On the Origin of Species‘ (1859) known as the theory of evolution and natural selection.

Louis Pasteur (1822 – 1895) French biologist. Contributed substantially towards the advancement of medical sciences developing cures for rabies, anthrax and other infectious diseases

Sigmund_Freud Sigmund Freud (1885 – 1939) Austrian physician – the leading figure in the new science of psychoanalysis. Freud made an extensive study of dreams and the subconscious.

Nikola Tesla (1856 –1943) Serbian/American – Worked on electromagnetism and AC. Credited with many patents from electricity to radio transmission.

Albert Einstein (1879 – 1955) German/US physicist. Einstein revolutionised modern physics with his general theory of relativity, and work on the basis of Quantum Theory.

Niels_Bohr Niels Bohr (1885 – 1962) Danish physicist. Bohr developed a structure of the atom, recognising electrons revolving around a stable nucleus. His work was important for atomic structure and quantum physics.

Tim Berners-Lee (1955 – ) Berners-Lee is credited with the creation of the world wide web (WWW) which enabled transfer of documents across the internet.



j.s.bach Bach (1685 – 1750) German composer of the Baroque period. One of the most prolific composers of all time. Bach composed sacred and classical masterpieces.

mozart Mozart (1756 – 1791) Austrian classical composer. Mozart’s repertoire varied from light waltzes and dances to the spiritual elevating choral music of Missa Brevis and Mass in C minor.

Ludwig_van_Beethoven Beethoven (1770 – 1827) German composer and pianist of the classical and romantic period. A prodigious genius, Beethoven’s compositions had a lasting influence on western classical music.

Elvis Presley (1935 – 1977) American pop singer. Elvis Presley helped to revolutionise American pop music becoming an idol for millions in the 1950s and 1960s.

john-lennon John Lennon (1940 – 1980) English musician from Liverpool. Member of Beatles and also distinguished solo career.

Michael Jackson (1958 – 2009) American pop singer. Initially starting off with the Jackson Five, Michael pursued his own solo career.



artist Leonardo Da Vinci (1452 – 1519) Italian Renaissance painter, scientist, inventor, and polymath. Da Vinci is one of most famous painters for his iconic Mona Lisa and Last Supper.

michelangelo Michelangelo (1475 – 1564) Renaissance sculptor, painter and architect. Famous works include the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and the statue of David.

Rembrandt Rembrandt (1606 – 1669) Dutch Master from the Dutch Golden Age. One of greatest painters, admired for his vivid realism and empathy with the human condition.

monet Claude Monet (1840 – 1926) French impressionist painter. Monet’s painting – Impression, Soleil Levant (Impression, Sunrise), led to the title of the Impressionist Movement.

artist Vincent Van Gogh (1853 – 1890). Dutch post-impressionist painter, who spent many years in France. Van Gogh produced some of the greatest artworks of all time.

Picasso Pablo Picasso (1881 – 1973) Spanish, modern ‘cubist’ painter. Also, a peace activist who used art as a form of political expression.



Bill Gates (1955 – ) American businessman, founder of Microsoft, a leading force in the development of home computer revolution. Gates became one of richest men in the world.

Henry Ford (1864-1947) Ford pioneered the use of assembly lines and mass production of motor cars, helping to make cars affordable for the average American consumer.



Jesse Owens (1913-1980) Jesse Owens won four gold medals at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Stood as a rebuff to the racism of Hitler.

Emil_Zatopek_ Emil Zatopek (1922 – ) (Czechoslovakia, athletics) Won four Olympic gold medals, including three gold in the 1952 games. Activist in Prague Spring of 1969.

Muhammad Ali (1942 – ) American Boxer and civil rights campaigner. His refusal to fight in Vietnam caused him to be banned from the sport. But, he came back, reclaiming his title and becoming a global icon.

Other men who changed the world

Citation: Pettinger, Tejvan “Men who changed the World”, Oxford, UK. – 10th March 2015. Last updated 5 March 2018.

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People who changed the World at Amazon

See also

Sir_Winston_S_Churchill People who changed the world – Famous people who changed the course of history including Socrates, Newton, Jesus Christ, Muhammad, Queen Victoria, Catherine the Great, Einstein and Gandhi.

Mariecurie Women who changed the world – Famous women who changed the world. Features female Prime Ministers, scientists, cultural figures, authors and royalty. Includes; Cleopatra, Princess Diana, Marie Curie, Queen Victoria, and Joan of Arc.

IsaacNewton- 100 most influential people – A list of 100 most influential people as chosen by Michael H. Hast, from his book 100 most influential people in the world. Includes; Muhammad, Jesus Christ, Lord Buddha, Confucius, St Paul and Johann Gutenberg.

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