Influentials: Reader Response

Your nominations and comments

I would put nominees in a different order. I would put Harry Truman in the No. 10 spot. He stepped into Roosevelt's shoes and carried out his wishes marvelously well. He saved Europe. He dropped the bomb both for better and worse. Better because it ended the war and persuaded people never to drop another until now. He was there at the instigation of the United Nations. How you could rate Reagan above him is unbelievable. Gorbachev was the chief instrument of that. And I'm beginning to miss the Cold War. It was safer then than it is now.

And I would certainly put Melville before Hefner.
—Caroline Luckie, Tucson AZ

I would have placed John Adams higher, I think he's underappreciated. After all, Adams appointed John Marshall, and Adams believed in and fought for a balance between the three branches of government. Jefferson may have written that all men are created equal, but he owned over a hunderd slaves. Adams never owned slaves and considered slavery the root of this country's problems. I prefer to honor men who are able to live by their ideals.
—Peter Eddy, Boston, MA

Einstein should be above Edison. Sure, lightbulbs are great, but for America, nuclear weapons are more important- it ended WWII and began the Cold War, it lets us stay as a nation in face of opposition because we have a weapon that can prevent wars, or start them. Einstein should at least be in the top 15, although I believe he should be in the top 10. He most definitely did more for us than Rockefeller.
—John Doe, Dallas, TX

"All men are created equal."

Yes, Thomas Jefferson may have written these words, but he certainly didn't believe them. He owned slaves. Washington owned slaves, too. And Lincoln? His Emancipation Proclamation freed ZERO slaves. Many historians believe Lincoln supported and was a member of the Free Soil movement, which wanted the slaves out of the territories because they didn't like blacks. "If we get them out of the territories, then we can get rid of them."There is little historical evidence that Lincoln freed any slaves or that he publicly opposed south ownership of human beings for the sheer immorality. The proclamation and reconstruction was a punishment to the South, a political not a moral move.These three men were great figureheads and I agree they deserve high spots on this list, but let's not celebrate things about them that aren't true.
—Robert Kleeman, Houston, TX

Einstein, Oppenheimer, and Fermi are inarguable members of the list. Without Admiral Rickover, the Cold War would have been lost before it even started. Try to imagine the second half of the 20th century without the deterrent influence of the U.S. Strategic Nuclear Submarine Force. He is, possibly, the most influential American nobody ever heard off.
—Mike McEahern, Knoxville, TN

Ronald Reagan??? I can't even remember anything noteable he did during his governorship of California or during his presidency? It's embarrassing to find his name on this list
—Teddy Goodrich, Gilroy, CA

It is a mistake that Rosa Parks isn't at the top of the list. I so believe in this that anybody else for me to mention would be ludicrous.
—Aaron, PA

I was suprised not to see JFK on the list. His call to put a man on the moon sparked technical revolutions in almost every aspect of our lives. For expamle electronics miniaturization, food prepration & storage, synthetic materials development, just to name a few. Politically his record is unremarkable but the effect of his presidency on the American Psyche can not be denied.

I was disappointed to see that John Jay did not make your list of the 100 most important Americans. After Washington, Franklin, Adams, Jefferson, Madison and Hamilton, Jay was the most important of the Founding Fathers. Jay negotiated the treaties that ended the war with Britain in 1782 and averted another war with Britain in 1794; he was an author and architect of the New York State and federal constitutions; he was our Secretary for Foreign Affairs (before there was a Secretary of State) and first Chief Justice of the United States.

I am of course, a biased observer, as the author of a recent book on Jay, so do not take my word on this; take the word of Gordon Wood, the leading historian of the period. “Stahr has succeeded splendidly in his aim of recovering the reputation of John Jay as a major founder. His biography . . . makes a persuasive case for including Jay among the first rank of Revolutionary leaders.”
—Walter Stahr, Vienna VA

Eli Whitney should share his spot with Catherine Greene who originated the idea, but in her era, as a woman, was unable to gain a patent for it. Lewis & Clark should share their spot with Sacagawea.

-Andrea Shreve, COThomas Nast was a bigot, but he's still the father of American political cartooning. John Wilkes Booth is a household name.

How would reconstruction have occurred under Abraham Lincoln, instead of the radical Republicans? We'll never know. Jefferson Davis may not seem as influential as some of the abolitionists on the list, but as the President of Confederate States of America, he could have done a lot more desperate acts to keep the Confederacy alive. Imagine if a different president were chosen (perhaps a "fire-eater" that hadn't attended West Point and known the horrors of war first-hand).

Clara Barton is not only famous for organizing the American Red Cross, but for influencing America in conforming to the Geneva Conventions. It seems as though her work aiding the wounded on battlefields was neverending from the American Civil War, to the Franco-Prussion War (received the Iron Cross from Prussia), to the Spanish-American War. She was even recognized by Czar Nicholas II with the Silver Imperial Cross of Russia, and she received the Augusta Medal from Empress Augusta of Germany.

How can you put Ralph Nader in the list for helping George W. Bush win an election, without putting Ross Perot in for helping William J. Clinton defeat the incumbent George H. Bush?

Remove Lyman Beecher. At what point is he brought up in history books? Too obscure a reference; Not a top 100.

I would recommend changing your discription of John Brown. He provided "a" spark for the civil war...not "the" spark. Otherwise, the civil war would have started in 1856 in Kansas or 1859 in Harper's Ferry...instead of 1861 at Fort Sumter.
—Mike Filler, PA

As Executive Director of the National Women's Hall of Fame in Seneca Falls NY, I was delighted to see 9 outstanding women among the 100 Most Influential Americans List - and all are National Women's Hall of Fame Inductees. I submit the above list of 5 under-recognized but enormously influential and extraordinary women.

I regret having to point out that in the Hall of Fame of Great Americans in NYC, only 8 women were represented among the 110 Great Americans when the National Women's Hall of Fame founders visited it in the late 1960s, and conceived the idea of a women's recognition institution that would in perpetuity celebrate the living and the dead among great American women.

The current Atlantic list still does not reflect the monumental contributions of American women to the development of our nation, not even Dr. Barbara McClintock - Nobel prize winning geneticist made it into the top 100. Please visit us at www.greatwomen.org to find the untold story of the women who wove the fabric of our America.

—Billie Luisi-Potts, Seneca, NY

You have Jackie Robinson on the list but no JFK. There were plenty of great negro league players that could have broken the color barrier. However, when the world was as close as its ever been to ending during the Cuban Missle Crisis, it took a great man to stand his ground and still manage to avoid a war of truly epic proportions.
—Rayn, Houston, TX

What was this, the feel good edition of American history? Are you guys even including actual influence or just relative fame?

The idea that Elvis Presley was more influential than Joe McCarthy or J. Edgar Hoover is just preposterous. After he died, Congress had to introduce legislation to make sure no one ever became as powerful as Hoover!

If you really want to include Rock and Rollers, Chuck Berry virtually invented the art form. Just ask Lennon (I know he's dead) and McCartney, Richards and Jagger, who they got their acts from.

As for Geronimo, this guy made bin Laden seem like a soft wanker. With a band of 40 men, women, and children, he, at once, evaded and fought one quarter of the American army at the time (about 5000 men) and a whole chunk of the Mexican Army too, for one whole year.

Thank God you included at least Liz Stanton from the Women's suffrage movement, though Grace Wilbur Trout was just as important and perhaps more effective.

—Payman Khodabandehloo, Boston, MA

I am really shocked and disappointed by the number of great women and people of color that you left off your list! While I understand there are so many influential Americans to highlight, I was really surprised at who you did not include. Yikes.

As a former student of history at the University of Michigan (graduated in 2001), I would have definitely included the above four women because of the tremendous contributions they have made to American history and culture. I hope your next list will be more inclusive.
—Kathryn Davenport, MI

How can Bill Gates be rated #54, he did more to change our everday lives than 70% of the people on that list.
—JP, TX

I think Thomas Jefferson is overrated and that John Adams or Ben Franklin should rank higher. My reasons follow:

1) Both John and Ben were senior to Thomas during the drafting of the Declaration Of Independance and more than likely had greater influence on the contents. Yes, Jefferson wrote it - but only after meeting with John and Ben to agree to the content. Many believe that Jefferson took a crack at it, then reviewed it with John and Ben. This was not the case, they discussed it's contents before Jefferson wrote the draft.

2) John Adams and Ben Franklin were Insturmental in making things happen that lead up to the Declaration of Independance. This list is long and includes the work with France, Sam Adams, etc.

3) Jefferson's real accomplishments were as President and in particular sending Lewis and Clark west. Otherwise, he was very political to a fault.
—Kevin, Marietta, GA

I would like to see someone on the list taken off! How in God's name can you put Ronald Reagan in the top ten, let alone the list. When it's known that he spent most of his presidency suffering from alzhiemers????? HE didn't do anything other than smile, wave and lean back to have "Mother" tell him where the hell he was and who he was talking to!!!!!!!
—Lynn Martello, Cleveland, Ohio

I mostly agree with you list. However, I am confused as to why John Adams is ranked 25 while Thomas Jefferson is ranked number 4. It is well known that while Thomas Jefferson wrote the actual words "All men are created equal" it was John Adams who put forth the ideas. It was also John Adams who founded the Navy, established the three branches of government and convinced the Dutch to give the United States a loan to keep the country operating. All in all John Adams deserves a spot on the list equal to that of the other founding fathers.

—Rich, Brookline, MA

Reagan doesn't belong on there. I think future historians will put the effect of his administration in a more proper perspective, likely somewhere near his hero, Calvin Coolidge. A divorced, cold parent who's outward politics espoused family values and encouraged the rising influence of religion upon state without a real spiritual center of his own? A former New Deal democrat turned conservative opportunist, who despite his fiscal pledges, and decrying of the Carter administration's deficit and economic failures, proceeded to created a far more enormous national debt and recession, rationalizing the spending cuts to programs for the poor and disenfranchised with corrupt arms spending and illegally funded coups in struggling nations?

The selection is very ethnocentric--all nominees are white and a few blacks. Does this mean that other ethnic groups contributed nothing of importance to the history of this country? Come on, get with the modern program, you can do better.

—Guadalupe Gamboa, Seattle, WA

I do not think John C. Calhoun should have been on this list, for obvious reasons. Inhumanity to man. He held America back for financial gain to the South. America still thinks the Southern people are ignorant for this kind of prejudice, and all too often it's true. I'm from the South, myself. I am sure there have been far more important people who have been beneficial to America, than the leader of the Mormons, or the Scientology movement. I will let it go, about the Christian on this list, because he helped free slaves, so he did something humane. What good does religion do for mankind in this world if it is not compassionate and humane to others, instead of prejudice to others not of that faith?

—Lola, Lincoln Park, MI

The list is sadly lacking African-American, Native American and other ethnic names. It was obviously made up by predominantly white men. It reflects the way we teach history - in a very slanted manner. Why names like Brigham Young and Joseph Smith are on the list, I'll never understand. They were influential to a very small group of people.

—Margaret Wilson, Green Bay, WI

The mind boggles - this reads like a People magazine sexiest people! I really expected more from Atlantic. Your choices are obvious, sentimental favorites that are not well thought out and you are VERY low on women. It is supposed to be influential Americans not popular / favorites. C'mon, lift your game; surely you could do better than this.

Tesla gave use polyphase electrical distribution and his theories on electricity and magnatism gave birth to the AC motor without which the second industrial revolution would have never been possible. I do not have the time to fully elaborate on his accomplishments and influences on our present day life, but you should look him up and give him a little credit.
—Jeremiah Rushing, IA

I think your selection is obviously skewed toward white men. Though you do have a selection of people of color, your selection of women is rather limited.
—Linda Phillips, Asbury Park, NJ

Thomas Edison should have been ranked much lower. He is noted as being the most prolific inventor in America. Well, yes and no. Most of his inventions early in his career were succcessful and most of his inventions later in his career were flops. In addition, he had a large staff at his East Orange factory / labs whose job it was to develop new inventions, many of which Edison never had a hand in. He took only a hand-on approach with those staff inventions he thought most worthwhile. As his staff of inventors worked for Edison, Edison's name went on the patents (rightly so), not the names of the staff who actually developed these inventions. He is more correctly described, in my opinion, as the man whose name appears on most U.S. patents.
—Mark, Geneva IL

The influence of religious men and women has been largely overlooked on your list
—Grayson Carter, Phoenix, AZ

The list seems lacking in the humanities, artists, authors, artors, directors, etc.
—John Stonely, Provo, UT

Less than 10 women nominated- and none made the top 30. Considering the changes that have taken place in our country in regards to how we treat women, more women should be recognized for their role in shaping our country. In a time where women are coming closer than ever before to gaining the seat of power in a male-dominated society, recognizing this acheivement is extremely important.
—Janelle Sharer, Washington, DC

Brigham Young and Joseph Smith over the Kennedy Brothers? Mary Baker Eddy? OK, Why? For the most part, the choices were inspired, especially U S Grant. The majority of the individuals were essentially good people; so why Nixon? Where was Carl Sanburg? General MacArthur? And yes, Sandra Day O'Conner...the first woman to sit on the greatest court in the world...a woman who grew in the job...a huge, huge influence on so many, many women! The voice of reason! At any rate, a great article! Thank you.
—Mary Dickinson, Alta Loma, CA

Too bad you're lefties - it shows. At least you could have made the list without bias. Socialism doesn't work, there's irrefutable evidence in today's Europe, and millions of deaths before that. Why do you persist in inflating a punctured balloon?
—Alan Anderson, Barrington, NH

What a great concept, not a single American Indian in the list or mentioned in the text. American Indians are not only shunned to invisibility in their own land but now have the questionable pleasure of having absolutely zero influence in the relegated category of "identity politics". At least the mention of Tecumseh, Crazy Horse or countless other noteworthy American Indians seem at least worth a footnote, but apparently not. The Indian world we used to live in is now only used to name cars and the blood and graves of our ancestors is now driven over by Dakotas, Winnebago's and aging Pontiac's. Appalling. And I need not mention the irony of the title "the 100 Most Influential Americans of All Time." I nominate Vine Deloria Jr., who needs no introduction to American Indians, but is certainly, and sadly, an invisible Indian to historians, just as invisible as the rest of us Indians.
—John Petoskey, Peshawbestown, MI

To list Ronald Reagan as the 17th most influential American is, I think, highly inflated. To say he was the architect of the demise of the Soviet Union (cold war ended on his watch) sounds like Rush Limbaugh and Bill O'Reilly were amongst the panelists who made the selections.
—Gary Roseman, Decatur, GA

Your article's observation that "In a sense, perhaps, the final list is a testament to the absence of true villains from the American past" is abominable. It serves as proof that your selection panel as well as the magazine's editors are more interested in offering paeans to the myth of "American Exceptionalism" and in lionizing men and women who were human. As such, many of the individuals on your list participated in commendable AND reprehensible activities during their lifetimes. In the future, I hope you'll acknowledge their complexity and, in turn, our appreciation for the complicated history we've inherited.
—V. R. S., Wooster, OH

Too many Mormons on the list. Take either Smith or Young as Mormonism is not a dominant religious experience in the country
—C.R. Hopins, Salem, MA

Remove Ronald Reagan; he was amiable, I grant you; he was also responsible for illegally selling weapons to Iran in order to illegally help the Contras. And I doubt he should get much credit for ending the Cold War; there were many other dynamics at work in the USSR and in other countries, such as Poland, who deserve that credit.
—Patricia Callaghan, Sunburst, MT

Gordon Woods is incorrect when he says no historians have made the list. W. E. B. DuBois is more responsible than any other person for changing our perception of Reconstruction and the contributions of African Americans to our history. He has refuted the contentions of another great historian, Woodrow Wilson, who made his first reputation with the book "Congressional Government" decrying Congressional attempts to diminish the power of the Presidency during Reconstruction. Also, the influence of Theodore Roosevelt as historian, especially his volumes on "The Winning of the West", is very great, and possibly did as much as Owen Wister or John Ford to shape our understanding of the West as fact and legend. I would argue that historians such as Frederick Jackson Turner, Alfred Thayer Mahan, Francis Parkman, and quite a few others have done as much as many persons on your list to influence American history.
—J. Quinn Brisben, Chicago IL

The five I would remove: Stephen Foster, Herman Melville, Samuel Goldwyn, Alexander Graham Bell (because someone else was about to invent the telephone), and The Wright Brothers (because someone else would have invented the airplane).
—Steve Casburn, Portland, OR

Generally, a well done list. I particularly liked the one sentence summaries.
—Barbara Adams, Albany, OR

Lincoln #1? No way. He trampled the Constitution (refusing to believe that powers not specifically granted to the Federal government were reserved to the States), manipulated the slavery issue for political gain (his Emancipation Proclamation was a red herring), and refused prisoner exchanges during the War, thereby condemning thousands of POW's to death on both sides. He was no more than a rank political opportunist, whose reputation profited by victory in war.
—Keith Simpson, Richmond, TX

Lincoln in no way deserves to be Number one on the list. His place there verifies the present uneducated fascination with power-hungry dictators. How many Americans know he locked up 10000 citizens for protesting? Tried to arrest Supreme Court Justice Taney for dissenting with his removal of Habeus Corpus? (Which was later confirmed as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court) Advocated the removal of blacks back to Africa more than any politician of the day? Didnt believe in equal rights for blacks and only consented to the Emancipation Proclamation for military purposes? Furthermore the implications of his invasion of the south, so he could maintain his tariff revenue to build the railroad, were no less than the loss of state power to the federal. Lincoln did not save the union, he forcibly created a new one at gunpoint; in total defiance of the spririt of the Declaration of Independence.
—Scott Theisen, IL

Regarding #17: Call Reagan amiable. Credit him with the conservative realignment. But please do not call him the "architect of ... the Cold War's end." His swaggering stance and Neanderthal rhetoric may have rallied American confidence, but it is difficult to conceive any connection between the man and the rise of Mikhail Gorbachev, quagmire in Afghanistan, labor unrest in Eastern Europe and the sheer weight of a crumbling system that collapsed on itself. If any president contributed to the end of the Cold War, it was Richard Nixon, whose detente initiatives cast upon the Soviet Union the one thing it could not withstand: light. Once the windows were open, the Communist Party could not hide the real world from its subjects, nor longer manipulate them with fear of the West. If anything, Reagan prolonged the Cold War by playing the very heavy the Party needed.
—Dean Meservy, APO (Europe)

At first when I heard Elvis was #66, I went what??!!?? Then I read the list. I'm very impressed, even with the fact that Ralph Nader was on the list. I never even thought about it, the presidental election, that he would be one deciding factor in electing George Bush. I wonder what Ralph is saying about his byline in your list. Also, thank you SO very much for not having Oprah Winfrey on this list. It nearly killed me when VH-1 had her as the top icon a year or so back. I think she is overrated and overexposed.
—Angela Farris, New Haven, KY

I am personally outraged to see the name of Ronald Reagan even on this list, let alone so high up (#17). In the future, he'll be remembered only as the opening act to the worst presidency in all of American history.
—Glenn Pfeifer, North Las Vegas, NV

What a wonderful stepping stone to discussion! I would humbly submit Mary Baker Eddy, discoverer and founder of Christian Science, be rated higher than 86, clearly above Barnum, Elvis, perhaps in tandem with Martin Luther King. She shared with humanity the spiritual insights that we all, regardless of color, race, religion or creed, are beloved children of God, with the grace given us because we reflect God and His qualities of Love, Truth, Life, and Spirit. As you mentioned, she had the revelation after a lifetime of health challenges and went on to found a church, write several books, and heal, as we are instructed by our example, Jesus Christ.

Warmly,
—Tawny Cleveland, Chico, CA

I'm surprised that there is nothing that refers to television, an ever more influential presence in American life during the past fifty years. It's more life-like than life itself!
—Anne Peramaki, Cambridge, MA

I would remove President Johnson. He failed presidency is most remembered for Vietnam. The legislation that you credit him for was really the work of Kennedy.
—John Nielson, Cedar Rapids, IA

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