"Follow-Up, The Atlantic 100" (January/February 2006)
Readers' top 10, influentials contest results, and selected comments.
For the December issue, we asked ten prominent historians to select and rank the 100 most influential Americans throughout history. We then asked readers to give us their feedback and submit their own nominations. Below, see a selection of reader comments, along with listings of all names nominated during the first 10 days after the list was posted online.
From Abigail Adams to Vladimir Zworkin
Note: Due to the sheer volume of the entries we received, these comments have not been edited or copy edited. They are reprinted with their original spelling, grammar, and punctuation intact.
The dominant spectator sport in America has been pro football for at least thirty years. You have two Major League baseball players but no one representing pro football. Laughable.
—Bert Bell, Bedford, TX
Interesting project, but a very East Coast list. I'm from the West, and though your historians gave a nod to African-American history, the list reads as if not a single Mexican-American or Native American did anything of significance in this country's history. Where is the worker and the labor movement reflected in this list? The natives who lived here before the U.S. was founded? We have Hemingway and not Steinbeck? And why Joseph Smith and Brigham Young? It's very strange that these two Mormon leaders are almost your sole representatives of the West, and of religious innovation, which has been rampant in American history. Why the focus on Mormons?
—Molly Lanzarotta, Brookline, MA
I suppose I would have understood if Edgar Allan Poe's name was not placed in the top 100 (although I would not have agreed). However, to withhold his name while including that of the "Knickerbocker hack," James Fenimore Cooper, seems misguided. Although Cooper used scenes and characters from the new America, his stories were European in themes, styles, and treatments. On the other hand, many of Poe's stories were a unique look at the workings of individual imagination (both of the rational and irrational variety). His stories of the horrors of unfettered imagination speak to Americans of this and previous ages.
—Glenn Zuroski, Haddonfield, NJ
No athlete has ever had to perform under such hostile conditions, and under intense pressure, as Jesse Owens during the Olympic Games in Berlin. Many future African American athletes, Jackie Robinson included (who you have on your top-100 list), feel that Jesse Owens paved the way for all African American athletes, and as such, is their hero as well. There has been no greater feat than Jesse Owens winning those 4 gold medals in sports before or since, and his influence on future Blacks definitely warrants him to be on the top-100 most influential Americans.
—Adam Thomas, AZ
This list is a lot of fun. I'm using it with my 5 grandkids as a way to engage them in American history. It makes for great quizzes with them... e.g. "which writers do you think made the list?" ... "what women made the list?"... and so on.
—Art Sandeen, Gainesville, FL
From the current list, one would think the pulpits of the country had no measurable impact on how America became what it is.
—Eric Mawhinney, Fombell, PA
The 100 list, a silly undertaking, included too many religious figures and not enough musicians, especially those who excelled in America's classical music: jazz.
—David Southern, Canonsburg, PA
Whoever invented spell check should be on the list too.
—Bob Rodecker, Sharon, MA
You cannot include Elvis without mentioning Johnny Cash. Cash was a huge influence on Elvis. Johnny Cash was spokesman for the working class America. He appealed to people of all generations and of all musical and political backgrounds. I'd like to see Elvis try that.
Elvis is NOT the king of rock and roll. The real king is Little Richard. Elvis stole almost everything he did from African Americans like Little Richard and others. Because of the serious racial climate of the U.S. during this time, America was not going to accept any African American heros.
—Kim G. Minor, New Orleans, LA
I cannot believe that you chose Ronald Reagan and overlooked JFK. Ronald Reagan was abominable, saying poor children can survive on catsup and relish as vegetables and "if you've seen one redwood tree, you've seen them all."
—Adell Wyckoff, CA
Why both Brigham Young and Joseph Smith on your list? Why either? Surely not having JFK on the list was an oversight.
—Stafford Clarry, Hilo, HI
You put BOTH Joseph Smith and Brigham Young in the top 100? As a former Mormon, even I can't see that they were more important than many of the missing names.
—Scott Orme, Madison, WI
Good list! I believe Brigham Young should have been a little higher on the list. Not only was he a religious leader, but was instrumental in colonizing much of the west.
Shirley Rothas, Orlando, FL
I am very happy that you recognized Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of Christian Science. The revolution in human thought has just begun as the result of her inspired teachings and it will result in spiritual healing by the power of God for everyone.
—Geneneiva Pearson, Kodiak, Aalaska
Mary Baker Eddy was a lunatic. Using the word influence with her is appropriate but it is not influence for the good it is influence for the bad. Associating her with the many good people on that list is most unfortunate. Same goes for Joseph Smith. And Ronald Reagan more influential than Albert Einstein? you don't have to be an Einstein to see the stupidity of that!
—Bill Finch, Bridgeport, CT
Very interesting read. Glad to see Mary Baker Eddy included, although I think she should have been in the Top 10 for her amazing insight into Scripture, and her practical suggestions for well-being.
—Aileen Cord, Sun City West AZ
Your list is short on people who were important in the way West, the manifest destiny that was so important in the formation of U.S. character and history. Where's an Indian? Where's a frontiersmen? These people are our heritage. More movies have been made about Wyatt Earp than all the US presidents combined and if there is a more potent symbol of America than an Indian on horseback I don't know what it is. The people and the enduring myths of the frontier should be recognized on your list.
—Larry Thompson, Greensboro, NC
You have done an unbelievable job with your list!
—Mark Stahl, IL
It is a disgrace to leave a worldwide figure like Billy Graham off the list - he should easily be in the top 10. It is a blatant indication of bias against mainstream Christianity by these 10 historians, though they included founders of Christian Science and the Latter Day Saints.
The clear personal liberal bias is also obvious against George W Bush - this list's criteria is supposed to be influence (not personal bias) - and he is the most influential world figure (not just American) alive, love him or hate him. I also rate him in the top 10.
—Bob Chang, Chula Vista, CA
The idea that the author of the words "all men are created equal" is listed as one of the top five is frightening. What about women? Are you kidding me? In 2006 we still pretend as though 1/2 (statistically more than 1/2) of the population is not included? Don't delude yourself into thinking that "men" actually means "people." It didn't (and still doesn't). When they wrote those words, they gave the power of vote to only white wealthy (free) heterosexual MEN. That does not equal all people. I'm guessing that those who put this list together also fit these criteria.
—Kendra, Tempe, AZ
Mostly your list is lopsidedly PC and has persons who ought not to be on it. First 2 of which, are Robert Oppenheimer and Earl Warren. There are several others,like: The Stowes, several of the women, and religionists, possibly Horace Mann , Wm James and Ben Spock. The most glaring errors are ranking Sullivan and Olmstead above Frank Llyod Wright and the inclusion of Elvis.
—Richard Prentice, McKinleyville, CA
A good list, all in all (with my additions [Irving Berlin, Robert Sarnoff, Eugene O'Neill, William Wyler, George Gershwin], of course)
—Eric Levin, Alexandria, VA
Just a comment about your rankings of Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright. The disparity between their rankings (59 and 76 respectively) does not do justice to Wright's contribution to society over his long life--not just in architecture but in art and design as well. Wright's body of work in architecture as well as other media including stained glass, sculpture, and even furniture design, have left a legacy that no other architect living or dead can match. Undoubtedly, Louis Sullivan belongs on the list, but few people remember his name; Wright, on the other hand, is a household name because of the vast contributions he made to society that touched so many.
—Mark Lynch, Pittsburgh PA
Apparently, the visual arts weren't considered when making up the list of "100 greatest".
—Francis Sullivan, Bowie, MD
I just wanted to say that I LOVE that you put Louis Armstrong on the list.
—Teresa Stockdale, Eugne, OR
Thanks for not including either of the Kennedy brothers, JFK or Robert.
—Tim Chatard, San Francisco, CA
I was surprised to see Teddy Roosevelt so far down your list. He de-politicised the Federal bureaucracy, making hiring on merit rather than politics the law; he made America a recognized world power; he was responsible for the most beautiful coinage that this nation has ever seen, and the list goes on and on. With his Presidency America was forever changed. He should be elevated to the top eight most influential Americans.
—Art, Titrusville, FL
Thank you for spurring thought and discussion regarding the power of each individual to have a lasting influence on humanity. I was glad to see Mary Baker Eddy in the top 100. The writings and ideas of that revolutionary thinker of the late 1800's and early 1900's have blessed and helped me immeasurably in my life. I would have ranked her higher, but I'm grateful that others recognize her contribution to the world.
—Mary Alice Rose, Brookeville, MD
The academics who made up the list don't know a thing about "anatomy" - and ignored the vast Kingdom of Sex; hence they ignored Heffner and M. Monroe. Obsessions have shaped Americans as much as ideas. Vide: Bill Clinton.
Religious life did not stop with Jonathan Edwards. Billy Graham influenced many millions and gave American Evangelism its face. Billy Graham is a defining figure for America. Secularist academics may not like Billy Graham - but that does not diminish his influence by one iota.
I simply find it implausible that you left either John F Kennedy (or his father Joe Kennedy) for one of the most influential Presidents and Political families in the 20th Century... Can you Say Cuban Missile Crisis? Can you say Camelot - This was the first Post WWII election that brought the changing of the guard in politics and opened the door for the freedoms of the '60's and the Man on the Moon!!!
Wow this is a tremendous oversight! Ronald Reagan at 17 is a total joke! The end of the cold war and the fall of the Sovier Union was NOT due to Reagan - but the financial collapse of the Soviet Union due to Afganistan and the opposition of Poland, et al. Reagan just happened to be president!
The Kennedy Omission is irresponsible!
—Kevin Soss, Streamwood, IL
I am pleased to see the inclusion of James Fenimore Cooper on the list of the 100 influential Americans but wonder why you persist in repeating the canard that his novels are "unreadable." Mark Twain's animosity has persisted far too long.
—Keith Morgan, Raleigh, NC
Would remove Richard Nixon from the list as well as Ralph Nader and Sam Walton. Would add Rosa Parks somewhere near MLK's ranking, Henry Ford somewhere around the Wright Bros.' ranking and Tiger Woods near the bottom of the list.
—Mark Gurchiek, Clinton Twp, MI
Ronald Reagan in the top 20??? Ahead of Jackson, Adams, etc., was there a Hollywood group in on this???? Kept from answering any direct questions in the last 2 years of his presidency??? Iran/Contra??
—Joseph Herpers, Clarkston, MI
Lincoln did NOT free the slaves, the 13th Amendment did. Lincoln only freed slaves in areas in open revolt. This left slavery legal in several places in the US, including New Orleans (under union occupation when the Emanc. Proc. was issued) and Washington DC.
—Jeff Corkill, Atlanta, GA
Overall a great list and a tough job.
Clara Barton is my first choice, and there is a reason why she is one of the most celebrated women in American history. Her most lasting impact is pushing the U.S. Govt. (successfully) to sign the Geneva Conventions, and as founder and first president of the American Red Cross she adopted the European model of the Red Cross as a war time relief agency for wounded soldiers (what she did independantly during the Civil War) and transformed it into a peacetime disaster relief agency. She was also the first to advocate first aid training and assembled the first first aid kits. The impact of her creation - The American Red Cross - has run deep through American History, from the First World War, the 1917 Flu Pandemic, water safety and swimming lessons, to the creation of blood banking as part of the war effort of WWII.
—Gregg Tubbs, Columbia, MD
Ronald Reagan. At # 17. The collapse of the Soviet Union brought about the Cold War's end. Not this amiable dunce. George Bush's Pet Goat could have been in charge and got the same results. Giving Reagan credit is the same as crediting a rooster for the morning sunrise.
And no place for JFK? You people are nuts.
—Jim Davis, Azle, TX
I would never have rated R. Reagan ahead of John Adams. Not that Adams was one of the great Presidents but his unwavering efforts in forming this country rank well ahead of Reagans accomplishments.
—John Friend, Temperance, MI
American Indians are Americans, as are African Americans, Latino Americans and Asian Americans. And there are some figures who are plenty more influential in some respects than some of your other nominees. After all, where would James Fenimore Cooper be without his epic tales of Native Americans? Think outside the white male box.
—M, Providence, RI
George Washington clearly deserves to be #1, and above Abraham Lincoln. The more historical research you do, the more it becomes clear: As James Flexner writes, George Washington is definitely the "indispensable man" when it comes to America. Also, John Adams should have been rated much higher then #25. He was a key proponent for independence and worked his entire life maintaining that spirit. I'd personally rank him in the top ten.
—Al Gross, Burke, VA
Ronald Reagan needs to come off the list. He was a good actor even a better actor as president. The "great communicator" certainly could influence the masses with his trained and passionate monologues. The content of communications were shallow but he had the gift to sell them to anyone listening. He took much of the credit for the downfall of the Soviet Union. What he didn't say is that it was on the way down long before he moved into the white House. I believe that time will test President Reagan's influence on America. A look back now will reveal that it is fading fast.
—Terry J. Jensen
The founder of Christian scientists? That must be the worst choice on here.
I think it's unfair to say Nader made Bush president, that honor goes to former Chief Justice Rehnquist.
Woodrow Wilson, while important, was listed way too high.
I like the idea of now adding 100 hundred more names—the influential but less well known.... Advisors of presidents, they create the policies Their Bosses flaunt. Musicians who birthed Rock and Roll, not the ones who stole it. And foreign Nationals who influenced our country before it was ever codified into a single nation. "The 100 most influential people in American History you have never heard of."
—Mike, Okemos, MI
Woodrow Wilson should certainly be further down this list - his presidency, and indeed the quality of his character (not to mention his views on Americans, African Americans, and his distorted understanding of American History) must not have been considered when he was placed on this list. Please do additional research - I don't think that you can honestly prove with historical facts that he "He made the world safe for U.S. interventionism, if not for democracy." If anything, he may have created the idea of American intervetionism, but certainly he did NOT create better democracy. He resisted the Women's Rights movement bitterly, allowing the imprisonment of protesting women. He also remarked on the film "Birth of a Nation" saying that its contents were "sadly true." I think modern history has come to understand both that film and that comment to be completely false.
—James Cousins, Venetia, PA