Profiles of the Century
Fools Choose the Most Influential People of the 20th Century

(Nov. 18, 1999) -- "Who do you consider the most influential person of the 20th century?"

We asked nearly 200 readers born in 1930 or earlier that very question in our Profiles of the Century questionnaire. What kind of influence were we looking for? The good? The bad? Political? Personal? Someone in business or medicine? The question was left vague. And as you can guess, the answers varied widely. Some were obvious, others surprising.

We tallied up the votes and have highlighted the top 11 below. Click on the names for more information. You'll also find quotes from our readers and some other nominees who didn't quite make the cut. When you're finished reading this article, visit the
Profiles of the Century message board and tell us who you think is the most influential person of the 20th century. Without further ado, Fools...

The Most Influential People of the 20th Century:

  1. Franklin Delano Roosevelt
    32nd President of the United States (1933-1945)
  2. Albert Einstein
  3. Adolf Hitler
    Leader of Nazi Germany (1933-1945)
  4. Ronald Reagan
    40th President of the United States (1981-1989)
    Winston Churchill
    Prime Minister of Great Britain (1940-1945, 1951-1955)
  1. Bill Gates
    Founder and CEO of Microsoft
  2. Henry Ford
    Founder of Ford Motor Company
    Harry Truman
    33rd President of the United States (1945-1953)
  1. Billy Graham
    American Evangelist
  2. Jonas Salk
    Developer of the Polio Vaccine
    Joseph Stalin
    Leader of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) (1922-1953)
Reader's Comments:

"That's a hard question. I would say perhaps Winston Churchill. Most people today do not have any concept of what a threat to the world Nazi Germany was. Early in the war people in the U.S. were afraid of German and Japanese submarine attacks and even troop landings on our shores, and, strange to say, the U.S. didn't have much at that time to stop them if that had occurred. Churchill had the stamina and charisma to unify Great Britain and secure the help of the U.S. and the rest of the world in fighting Germany. If Britain had fallen much of the world would have fallen into political and moral darkness and the U.S. would have been seriously threatened. The course of history would have been very different." -- Paul Johnson

"Hitler, I'm afraid." -- Barbara-Jeanne Graves

"The peacemakers: Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, the Dalai Lama, and Ghandi leave us a lasting legacy of political insight." -- Dorothy

"Eleanor Roosevelt." -- Rona Frank

"No one person for us. There have been a number of giants in many fields that have influenced -- even shaped -- our lives this century. Also a number of men that have ruined lives of millions of people. But we do not feel that any one person stands 'head & shoulders' over everyone." -- Bob and Elaine Earle

"Bill Gates! He came to talk to our first Atari Group when I was teaching elementary school and bought my first computer. His presentation was so vivid that I could go home and actually do what he had presented that day. We had many other speakers monthly but they talked 'over our heads.' Bill Gates came twice before he was well known." -- Bea Beck

"Most influential person. That's an open question. What kind of influence? Hitler's kind. Churchill's? Billy Graham's? Von Braun's? Salk's? Mao's? Stalin's? Maybe I could answer it by saying 'An American.' It truly was an 'American Century.'" -- Alex K.

"My father." -- Robert Armentrout

"Henry Ford, of course. He put America on wheels and what followed is a book in itself." -- Leslie L. Reitz

"Martin Luther King." -- Lois Holt Mallory

"No one person. A dozen maybe." -- Bob Dornbos

"Possibly Einstein, for his theory of relativity and his work that suggested the possibility of atomic weapons." -- George Maranjian

"Franklin D. Roosevelt. He gave the country hope, and followed through on many of his ideas/promises. He changed the nature and perception of government for all time. He put the government into unheard of areas, for good or evil. He truly informed us that we could/should expect the good life as basically outlined by the founding fathers." -- Frank M. Masters

"Susan B. Anthony and the suffragettes." -- Ruth Burns Buck

"Steve Jobs." -- Leslie Grimes

"Most influential person?... I would choose Harry S. Truman -- after he decided to drop the bomb, the world was changed forever." -- Vaughan Graham

"Personally, my wife. For the U.S., I'd vote for JFK. For the world, I feel that World War II was a major event that influenced most civilized countries significantly in various ways -- responsibility for that war goes to Adolf Hitler." -- John Ganoung

"The good: FDR... the bad: Hitler... the ugly: Joe Stalin." -- Nadene

"I believe the most influential person of the 20th century was Winston Churchill. One who has had almost equal influence, only in a totally different way, is Dr. Bill Graham. Politics and religion... probably the two most moving forces of all." -- Ed Thompson

"There is no one most influential person in my opinion. Adolf Hitler certainly had an influence. Mother Teresa certainly had an influence. Fortunately, Hitler's ended in 1945 and Mother Teresa's hopefully will never end." -- Dave B

"Alan Greenspan." -- Raymond H.

"Dr. Fleming and the discoverer of penicillin." -- Oscar

"This is a tough one. Financially: John D. Rockefeller, John Paul Getty; politically FDR, Winston Churchill, and Henry Kissinger." -- Gordon

"John L. Lewis (American Labor Leader). To really appreciate him, you need to find old newsreels of him, and look and watch him in action and manner and looks. I have been waiting all my life to have a president of his stature to lead this country. He has always reminded me of a major stock company's motto -- 'When John L. Lewis spoke, they listened!!!'" -- Don Kirby

Agree? Disagree? Tell us who you think the
Most Influential Person of the 20th Century is on the
Profiles of the Century message board.