The first great populist: he found America a republic and left it a democracy.
16 Mark Twain
His dream of racial equality is still elusive, but no one did more to make it real.
10 Woodrow Wilson
25 John Adams
20 Andrew Carnegie
He saved the Union, freed the slaves, and presided over America’s second founding.
21 Harry Truman
3 Thomas Jefferson
4 Franklin Delano Roosevelt
24 Alexander Graham Bell
He was a poor president, but he was the general Lincoln needed; he also wrote the greatest political memoir in American history.
He fathered the Constitution and wrote the Bill of Rights.
It wasn’t just the lightbulb; the Wizard of Menlo Park was the most prolific inventor in American history.
He won a war and two elections, and made everybody like Ike.
They got us all off the ground.
8 Martin Luther King Jr.
14 Henry Ford
He gave us the assembly line and the Model T, and sparked America’s love affair with the automobile.
The Founder-of-all-trades— scientist, printer, writer, diplomat, inventor, and more; like his country, he contained multitudes.
19 Thomas Paine
His Supreme Court transformed American society and bequeathed to us the culture wars.
He made the United States possible—not only by defeating a king, but by declining to become one himself.
18 Andrew Jackson
Of the 50 Americans selected by our panel of historians, thirty-one contributed to The Atlantic. Browse a selection of their writings.
By inventing the telephone, he opened the age of telecommunications and shrank the world.
One of the first great American feminists, she fought for social reform and women’s right to vote.
The defining chief justice, he established the Supreme Court as the equal of the other two federal branches.
Author of our national epic, he was the most unsentimental observer of our national life.
13 James Madison
9 Thomas Edison
Whether busting trusts or building canals, he embodied the “strenuous life” and blazed a trail for twentieth-century America.
In Their Own Words
He made the world safe for U.S. interventionism, if not for democracy.
His leadership made the American Revolution possible; his devotion to republicanism made it succeed.
11 John D. Rockefeller
22 Walt Whitman
1 Abraham Lincoln
The man behind Standard Oil set the mold for our tycoons—first by making money, then by giving it away.
7 John Marshall
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29 Earl Warren
12 Ulysses S. Grant
6 Benjamin Franklin
The author of the five most important words in American history: “All men are created equal.”
23 Wright Brothers
28 Dwight Eisenhower
2 George Washington
He said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” and then he proved it.
27 Eli Whitney
An accidental president, this machine politician ushered in the Atomic Age and then the Cold War.
The quintessential entertainer-entrepreneur, he wielded unmatched influence over our childhood.
Soldier, banker, and political scientist, he set in motion an agrarian nation’s transformation into an industrial power.
15 Theodore Roosevelt
5 Alexander Hamilton
The amiable architect of both the conservative realignment and the Cold War’s end.
26 Walt Disney
His gin made cotton king and sustained an empire for slavery.
The original self-made man forged America’s industrial might and became one of the nation’s greatest philanthropists.
17 Ronald Reagan
50 Elizabeth Cady Stanton
He sang of America and shaped the country’s conception of itself.
The voice of the American Revolution, and our first great radical.