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The 100 Most Influential Americans of All Time

The Atlantic asked a panel of 10 historians to come up with their own lists of the 100 most influential Americans of all time, then put the lists together to come up with an informative ranking. 

| BY Kent McDill

Ten historians, tasked with naming the 100 most influential Americans of all time, started off exactly where non-historians probably would, with Abraham Lincoln.

After that, the list gets a bit less predictable.

The Atlantic asked 10 historians to create their own lists of the 100 most influential Americans, from 1 to 100. The lists were compiled and averaged, with those on multiple ballots getting extra points.

What resulted was a list that included 17 U.S. Presidents, 10 women, two athletes, and probably a few people you have never heard of.

The Atlantic defined influence in terms as loose as possible, suggesting a person’s impact, for good or ill, both on his or her own era and on modern life as well.

“The results are inevitably unscientific, since whittling down all the influential Americans of the last few centuries to just 100 names, let alone ranking them, is a difficult assignment,’’ the Atlantic stated in its accompanying story. “But the end produce is rewarding and intriguing, offering instances of both consensus and contention, and a snapshot of our national memory early in the third American century.”

Walter McDougall, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, and one of the historians that voted in the topic, noted that the historians had five challenges to coming up with their own lists, including the definition of influence, the collaborative nature of achievement, the influence of pop culture, making value judgements, and the breadth of a single person’s influence.

The entire list can be read here.

The top 10 most influential Americans, according to the Atlantic, are:

1. Abraham Lincoln.

2. George Washington.

3. Thomas Jefferson.

4. Franklin D. Roosevelt.

5. Alexander Hamilton.

6. Benjamin Franklin.

7. John Marshall.

8. Martin Luther King.

9. Thomas Edison.

10. Woodrow Wilson.

The women were led by feminist Elizabeth Cary Stanton, at No. 30. The others were Susan B. Anthony, Rachel Carson, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Eleanor Roosevelt, Margaret Sanger, Jane Addams, Betty Friedan, Margaret Mead and Mary Baker Eddy.

 The two athletes were Jackie Robinson and Babe Ruth.

About the Author

Kent McDill

Kent McDill is a staff writer for Millionaire Corner. McDill spent 30 years as a sports writer, working for United Press International and the Daily Herald of Arlington Heights, Ill. From 1988-1999, he covered the Chicago Bulls for the Daily Herald, traveling with them every day through the nine-month season. He also covered the Bulls for UPI from 1985-88, and currently covers the team for He has written two books on the Bulls, including the new title “100 Things Bulls Fans Should Know And Do Before They Die’, published by Triumph Books. In August 2013, his new book “100 Things Bears Fans Should Know And Do Before They Die” gets published.

In 2008, he resigned from the Herald and became a freelance writer. The Herald hired him to write business features and speeches for the Daily Herald Business Conferences and Awards presentations.

McDill also writes a monthly parenting column for the Herald’s Suburban Parent magazine.

McDill is the father of four children, and an active fan of soccer, Jimmy  Buffett and all things Disney.