Astrophysicist Michael H. Hart, 46, is a man whose hobby became a preoccupation. The result, published in April, was The 100: A Ranking of the Most Influential Persons in History (Hart, $12.50). His list, ranging over 5,000 years, is heavily weighted toward science, as might be expected from a man who, in addition to a B.S. in mathematics from Cornell and a degree from the New York Law School, has a master’s in physics from Adelphi and a Ph.D. from Princeton. In deciding upon the top 100 historical figures, Hart says, “The criterion was neither fame nor talent nor nobility of character, but actual personal influence on the course of human history and the everyday lives of individuals.” His first five, Muhammad, followed by Isaac Newton, Jesus, Buddha and Confucius, have already sparked controversy. So has the scarcity of native Americans, who number only seven: George Washington (No. 27); the Wright Brothers, considered as a single entry (30); Thomas Edison (38); William T. G. Morton, who introduced anesthesia into surgery (56); Thomas Jefferson (70); John F. Kennedy, for starting the Apollo Space Program (80); and Gregory Pincus, inventor of the birth control pill (81). German-born Albert Einstein (10) and Scottish-born Alexander Graham Bell (44) were not counted as Americans although they became citizens. PEOPLE asked Hart, now teaching physics at Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas, whom he would add to bring the roster of Americans, native and naturalized, to 25. His nominations and reasons:
Betty Friedan (1921-) was born Betty Naomi Goldstein in Peoria, graduated from Smith College at 21, married Carl Friedan five years later and had three children by him. Outwardly it seemed a comfortable life, but she was profoundly dissatisfied with the role that society had assigned her. In 1963 she expressed this dissatisfaction in The Feminine Mystique, the widely translated book that touched off a social revolution. Earlier women’s rights movements had generally concentrated on specific demands such as voting rights or “equal pay for equal work.” But the modern movement seeks a fundamental change in the way society views women and the way they view themselves. So much has already been changed as a result of women’s liberation that it is hard to recall the movement is only 15 years old.
Henry Ford (1863-1947). No, Ford did not invent the automobile. No, Ford did not invent the assembly line. No, the Model T was not the first inexpensive, mass-marketed car. (Both the 1901 Olds and 1903 Cadillac were cheaper.) But the 1908 Model T—designed to be low-priced, rugged and easy to maintain—really ushered in the age of the automobile. And Ford’s wholehearted adoption of the most efficient techniques of industrial production (including the assembly line) enabled him to cut his costs to the bone. His spectacular success helped convince manufacturers worldwide to adopt similar methods.
Har Gobind Khorana (1922-). In 1976 a team of MIT scientists led by Har Gobind Khorana succeeded in constructing an artificial gene—the basic unit of heredity—and implanting it in a living bacterium. Surely here was the beginning of the coming Age of Genetics, with all the potentialities—for good and evil—which genetic engineering may entail. Born 56 years ago in a small village in what is now Pakistan, he earned his Ph.D. in England and came to the United States in 1960. (He has been a citizen since 1966.) A leading expert in biochemistry, he shared a Nobel Prize in 1968 for his part in deciphering the so-called “genetic code”—the precise relation between the structure of a DNA molecule and the particular protein it produces.
Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865), the 16th President of the United States, is one of the most admirable political figures this country—or any other—has ever produced. If the criterion had been greatness, he surely would have been included in the 100. But his freeing of the slaves in 11 rural states was only a minor incident in world history. Lincoln’s most important accomplishment was probably in holding the United States together. I suspect, though, that even if a weaker President had permitted the U.S. to split in half in the 1860s, the North and the South would eventually have reunited. In my estimation, Lincoln’s influence was largely confined to a single country and a single century, and he was not quite as important a figure as, say, William T. G. Morton or Samuel F. B. Morse, whose innovations affected the entire earth.
Vladimir Zworykin (1889- ). So many people contributed to the development of television that no one man can rightly be called its inventor. However, the one who comes closest is Vladimir Zworykin, for many years director of RCA’s electronic research laboratories. Zworykin was born in Russia, graduated in electrical engineering from St. Petersburg Institute of Technology and came to the U.S. in 1919. (He has been a citizen since 1924.) In 1923 he developed the iconoscope, the first device able to transmit TV images. A year later he also filed a patent application for a TV receiver. The essence of a complete TV system was now at hand, but a practical model based on his tubes was not in use until the late 1930s.
James Madison (1751-1836) is called “the Father of the Constitution.” While the title is a bit of an exaggeration, he surely did more to determine the form of that document than any other man. In the mid-1780s, Madison urged a constitutional convention to replace the earlier, unworkable Articles of Confederation. He came to the convention itself prepared with a well-thought-out set of proposals, many of which were adopted. Later, in the first Congress, he insisted on the adoption of the Bill of Rights, drafting several amendments himself and guiding them all through Congress. He lacked great administrative ability and was only an indifferent President. But the enduring success of the Constitution he did so much to frame could easily qualify him for the world 100.
Eli Whitney (1765-1825). An ingenious inventor and manufacturer, Whitney is often credited with introducing into manufacturing the concept of standardized interchangeable parts, which could be easily and cheaply assembled into the finished product. Several other manufacturers also hit upon this idea—in a few cases, substantially earlier. But Whitney certainly did far more than anyone else to popularize it. Whitney, of course, was also the man who in 1793 invented the first practical cotton gin.
Samuel F. B. Morse (1791-1872) was not a great inventor himself, and he seems to have obtained many of the key ideas for his telegraph from the eminent scientist Joseph Henry. But Morse did possess the initiative, energy and driving ambition to make the telegraph a practical reality and commercial success. He built his first model in 1835, applied for a patent in 1837 and completed a telegraph line from Baltimore to Washington in 1844. Today the telegraph has been largely superseded, but it could be argued that Morse was really more important than either Alexander Graham Bell or Marconi. The invention of the telegraph represented a bigger break with the past than did the telephone in 1876 or radio in 1895.
Martin Luther King Jr. (1929-1968) was an obscure young minister when, in December 1955, he organized a boycott of the Montgomery, Ala. bus line to protest its policy of segregating blacks. The boycott lasted for over a year, during which time he was repeatedly threatened. Finally the bus lines were desegregated. His courage, combined with his insistence that his followers refrain from violence regardless of the provocation, brought him national attention. In 1957 he was elected president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and for the next 11 years (until his assassination in Memphis in April 1968) he engaged in a long series of campaigns to gain American Negroes full equality. Awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, King is considered by many to be perhaps the greatest American of the 20th century.
Howard H. Aiken (1900-1973). A scant 34 years ago, this New Jersey-born mathematician designed MARK I, the first general-purpose digital computing machine. Today the descendants of MARK I are to be found everywhere, and their use is still spreading rapidly. In 1939 Aiken, a Harvard graduate student, began working on his invention, and IBM cooperated in its actual construction. In designing the machine, he was stimulated by the ideas of the English inventor Charles Babbage (1792-1871). The computer revolution he began has transformed the world, yet Aiken’s name remains strangely unknown to the general public.
Mary Baker Eddy (1821-1910) was so badly injured in a fall on an icy sidewalk in 1866, when she was 44, that it seemed unlikely she would regain her health. Instead, she made a swift and truly astonishing recovery that she attributed to her religious faith. Following this extraordinary experience, she devoted her remarkable energies to developing her religious ideas, and in 1875 wrote Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, the standard text of the Christian Science movement. In 1879 she organized the First Church of Christ, Scientist. By the time she died in 1910 it had nearly 100,000 adherents, and today it probably has double that number worldwide.
Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790), probably the most versatile genius in history, had successful careers in at least four separate areas: business, science, literature and politics. Among his inventions were bifocal lenses and the lightning rod. His Poor Richard’s Almanack is widely quoted today, and his autobiography is a classic. He also spent many years in the Pennsylvania legislature and was a successful ambassador to France during a crucial period of American history. Perhaps his most remarkable achievement came as Postmaster General: Under his administration, the postal service showed a profit!
Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1882-1945), perhaps our most controversial President, first took office in the worst days of the Great Depression. During his 12 years in the White House, he was the architect of the New Deal, the most sweeping transformation of American law, government and economic structure since the Constitution was adopted. An ambitious man (no other President had even sought a third term in office, much less a fourth), politically clever, sometimes devious, FDR was hated by his enemies as few Presidents have been. Yet all sides agree that Roosevelt is one of the great pivotal figures in history. He was one of the first U.S. leaders to recognize the menace of Hitler, though later he was not as shrewd in his judgment of Stalin. And, of course, he made the fateful decision to build the first atomic bomb.
Edward Teller (1908- ), the brilliant atomic scientist often referred to as “the Father of the Hydrogen Bomb,” has been criticized for his role in the creation of that fearsome weapon. In fact, President Truman’s original decision to build it was highly controversial. But no adequate answer was found to the question: “If we don’t build the H-bomb, and Stalin does, what happens then?” Should there ever be thermonuclear war, the survivors (if any) may consider the Hungarian-born physicist one of the 10 or 20 most important figures in history. If not, future historians may credit the “balance of terror” inspired by Teller’s invention with a major role in preventing World War III.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815-1902), although not as famous today as her ally, Susan B. Anthony (1820-1906), was an even more important figure in the women’s suffrage movement. She was the person most responsible for getting it started. Elizabeth Cady was born in Johnstown, N.Y. in 1815. At 24 she married Henry Stanton, a lawyer and prominent abolitionist, and bore him seven children. Though her own marriage appears to have been happy, she was aware of how badly mistreated many wives were, and of how the laws discriminated against women. In 1848 she, along with Lucretia Mott, organized the first women’s rights convention and became the first president of the National Woman Suffrage Association. Although only four states had granted women the vote when she died in 1902, her cause triumphed in 1920 with the adoption of the 19th Amendment.
Joseph Smith (1805-1844). As founder of the Mormon Church (properly called the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints), Smith was probably the most influential religious leader in American history. Born in Vermont, he was only 24 when he published Book of Mormon, the central holy book of the faith. That same year, in Fayette, N.Y., he founded the church. The new religion met with serious opposition, and Smith was forced to move on to Ohio, then Missouri and finally to Illinois, where he was arrested but killed by a mob before his trial. After his death the new sect finally found a haven in Utah. Worldwide, the religion now has over 2,000,000 members.