But that still leaves the troublesome word great. There are a handful of American men and women just about everyone would agree deserve to be called great—but probably not a thousand, let alone a thousand and one. Among the people who made America, some were great, some were good, others just lucky, and some downright bad, mistaken, unfortunate, and even evil. But they all merit inclusion in this book because what they did, what they made, what they thought—and what they caused others to do, make, or think—shaped our nation and who we are today.
The makers of America include the roster of notables any schoolteacher would recognize—Jefferson, Lincoln, and the like—but they also take in figures from our cultural and pop-cultural life, from the underworld of crime, from the struggle for civil and minority rights, from politics, business, sports, entertainment, literature, and art. This book is arranged alphabetically rather than chronologically, but, in terms of chronology, you should know that we begin long before there was a United States or even a place called America.
The first figure on our time line is Bjarni Herjulfsson, the first European to lay eyes on the New World, back in He was not an American—How could he have been? And that brings us to another criterion for inclusion. So readers will find a good many outsiders here—explorers, mostly—whose doings were somehow very important to who we are.
And being dead is not necessary for inclusion, either. Readers will find in this book plenty of people who, as of , were very much with us. How did I happen to choose each of the 1, people in this book? First, by reading a lot of history. The majority of people in this book are the people a majority of historians think should be in such a book as this. That is, they are here by consensus. Now, consensus is a valuable tool of knowledge, but, taken alone, it is pretty dull. So I have also looked beyond it to include some people who speak directly to me, who seem to me—as an American—important to America.
First: 1, people in a book the size of your hand leaves precious little space to spend much time with any one person. Second: The alphabet can be an awful tyrant. A to Z, after all, is always A to Z. Go backwards or sideways, if you like. You cannot lose your way. This book is the collective biography of America.
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Dig in where you will. Abbey, Edward — Novelist, journalist, lecturer, and university professor Cactus Ed Abbey wrote about the American West and the environmental problems created by human exploitation of the region. Abbey often called for radical methods to remedy environmental ills. His novel The Monkey Wrench Gang, about a group of environmental vigilantes, inspired the founding of the Earth First! He was the dominant force in shaping the Cold War policy dubbed in the Truman Doctrine, which pledged economic and military assistance to any nation fighting the expansion of Communism.
With Secretary of State George C. As her husband began work with Jefferson on the Declaration of Independence, Abigail asked him to remember the ladies and be more generous and favourable to them than your ancestors. Adams, Henry — Great grandson of John Adams, Henry Adams was a journalist, historian, novelist, and educator whose autobiography, The Education of Henry Adams , presented himself as the typical man of the dawning 20th century, struggling to move from a world defined by faith and custom into one both shaped and torn by science and technology, a world in which absolute certainty had yielded to relativism and doubt.
The book is one of the great spiritual and intellectual testaments of American literature. Adams, John — The son of a shoemaker and farmer, Adams became a highly successful lawyer in Massachusetts and was among the first great champions of American independence. A radical in the Revolution, Adams was a conservative force after it. Adams was a formidable diplomat who, as secretary of state under President James Monroe, formulated the Monroe Doctrine, by which the president served notice on all European powers that any attempt to colonize or interfere with any state in the Western Hemisphere would be treated as an attack on the United States.
As a president, Adams was a visionary, who proposed creating a national university and a national astronomical observatory, creating a federal trust for the western territories, and using federal funds to build national roads. Unique among U. After , Adams was chief architect of intercolonial committees of correspondence, which coordinated the developing revolution, and in , was the prime instigator of the Boston Tea Party.
Adams helped mastermind the Articles of Confederation, precursor of the Constitution. This institution offered hot meals, child care services, tutoring in English, and many classes in vocational and other subjects—all with the goal of tending to the physical and intellectual needs of the community as well as creating a community in which residents themselves worked together to improve their lives.
Adler, Dankmar — Adler immigrated to the United States from Prussia in and settled in Detroit, where he began his study of architecture in He died in their custody of according to them a heart attack. One of the great scientists of the 19th century, Agassiz established a museum of comparative zoology at Harvard and opened the field of ecology to generations of scientists. His teaching method, radical in its day, emphasized personal contact with nature rather than instruction from books and lectures. Agnew, Spiro T. In , he was accused of extortion, bribery, and income-tax evasion while governor of Maryland.
Albright, Madeleine — With her family, Albright fled her native Czechoslovakia after the Nazi occupation she learned late in life that her family was Jewish and earned degrees from Wellesley College and Columbia University M. President Bill Clinton appointed her ambassador to the United Nations in , then secretary of state in This philosophy profoundly influenced American literature and art throughout most of the 19th century.
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Curtis , still unsolved. Responsible for the construction of many roads and bridges, including the Whitehurst Freeway , the Tidal Basin Bridge , and an extension to the Baltimore-Washington Parkway. Ball, Alice Augusta. Extracted chaulmoogra oil for the treatment of Hansen's disease leprosy. Mathematician , astronomer , surveyor , clockmaker , author , farmer.
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Wooden clock ; assisted in survey of the original boundaries of the District of Columbia ; authored almanac and ephemeris — Work on diffeomorphisms and symplectomorphisms. First African-American woman to receive a patent for a web-based software invention, LinkLine, an Equal Employment Opportunity case management and tracking software. First African-American female physician to receive a patent for a medical invention; inventions relate to cataract surgery and include the Laserphaco Probe, which revolutionized the industry in the s, and an ultrasound technique for treatment.
Farmer , carpenter , blacksmith , railroad worker , businessman , inventor. Janney coupler improvements; invented the car device , dated November 23, ; rotary engine patent , dated July 5, Bharucha-Reid, Albert T. Mathematician , statistician. Probability theory and Markov chain theorist. First proposed the Blackwell channel model used in coding theory and information theory ; one of the eponyms of the Rao—Blackwell theorem , which is a process that significantly improves crude statistical estimators.
Silicon retina able to process images in the same manner as a living retina. Ironing board allowing sleeves of women's garments to be ironed more easily. First African-American to receive a Ph. Published three scholarly abstracts in Science ; collaborated on a paper published in the Journal of Industrial and Engineering Chemistry. Inventor [ citation needed ]. Street sweeper truck and a type of paper punch. First US patent for a disposable syringe [ citation needed ]. Brown, Oscar E. Received a patent for an improved horseshoe . Brown, Marie Van Brittan. Rotary-blade lawn mower patent.
Led a group of engineers who developed the Tactical Optical Fiber Connector TOFC , the first fiber optic connector deployed under battlefield conditions, and the ST Connector that helped make fiber optic communications affordable. Cardozo, William Warrick. Sickle cell anemia studies; in October he published "Immunologic Studies in Sickle Cell Anemia" in the Archives of Internal Medicine ; many of the findings are still valid today. Pediatric neurosurgeon. Pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins University ; first surgeon to successfully separate craniopagus twins. Carruthers, George. Carver, George Washington.
Discovered hundreds of uses for previously useless vegetables and fruits, principally the peanut. Scientist and researcher. Valuable contributions to several fields: medicine , biology , food science , and astrochemistry. Curtis, James H Nick. Expert on jellyfish hydrodynamics and designer of a vertical-axis wind farm adapted from schooling fish.
Dean, Mark. Led the team that developed the ISA bus, and led the design team responsible for creating the first one- gigahertz computer processor chip. Zoologist Explorer Anthropologist. Ellis, Clarence "Skip". First African American with a Ph. Automotive engineer. Chemist , educator. Chemistry doctorate, first received , University of California, Berkeley. Fryer, Roland G.
Economist , social scientist , statistician. Theoretical physicist. Work on supersymmetry , supergravity , and superstring theory. The first African-American professor at Harvard , Boston dentist, and inventor of a wooden golf tee. Evolutionary biologist.
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Nuclear engineer. Physical therapist , inventor. Hawkins, Walter Lincoln. His biggest assignment during World War II was as commander of the Fifth Army, the principal force fighting the Italian Campaign, which proved far more costly than anticipated. Army before he was handpicked by Meriwether Lewis in as co-captain of the expedition to explore the Far West. He proved a magnificent choice. Clay, Henry — Clay was born in Virginia, but lived most of his life in Kentucky, which sent him to the House of Representative —, —, — and the Senate —, —, —, — In a struggle to find a compromise on the slavery issue and thereby avoid civil war, Clay became the chief promoter of the Missouri Compromise , the compromise tariff of which ended the Nullification crisis that threatened secession , and the Compromise of , another effort to reconcile the claimed rights of free and slave states.
He won a majority of popular votes for reelection, but came in second to Republican Benjamin Harrison in the Electoral College. As a young man, he deeply admired John F. Kennedy and resolved to embark on a life of public service. He served five two-year terms as Arkansas governor, then survived a sex scandal to win election as president in Voting along party lines, the Senate failed to obtain the two-thirds majority necessary for removal from office, and Clinton was acquitted in He won legislative approval in to finance the canal, and his election as governor in ensured that he would be able to oversee the enormous project personally.
The opening of the canal on October 25, , made New York City a key trading port with the Midwest and opened the American frontier to eastern commerce. She was an active first lady, heading up the Task Force on National Health Care and working on other initiatives. Opinions about her tended to break down along party lines and she was often vilified by members of the conservative press. During the Monica Lewinsky scandal that rocked the Clinton presidency, she remained firmly behind her husband. A great ball player, Cobb was a miserable human being, outspoken in his racism and misogyny and often given to violence.
Cochise d. Feared and respected by all, he was given the posthumous honor of having an Arizona county named for him. Cody, Buffalo Bill — William F. The show dramatized the American West and made an enduring contribution to the image of the West in American history and mythology. Cohan, George M. Before the end of the 19th century, he was writing vaudeville skits and debuted his first full-length play in A ruthless opportunist, Cohn wielded significant power for a time, but was almost universally disdained. This became his base for many painting trips along the Hudson River and its valley.
His romantic sensibility created large canvases that evoke the mystery of the American forestland, and his example inspired a number of followers, who were the first great American landscape painters. Colfax, Schuyler — Colfax was an Indiana newspaper publisher who became a Republican congressman and was in the forefront of Radical Reconstruction after the Civil War, favoring harsh treatment of the former Confederacy. He served as vice president during the first term — of Ulysses S.
Colt, Samuel — Colt was serving as a sailor when, to pass the time, he whittled a wooden model of handgun he later perfected as a revolver. His first practical design was patented in England and France in and in the United States in He was the first white man to see and describe the area. Coltrane, John — As a saxophonist, bandleader, and composer, Coltrane was highly influential on jazz, creating spiritually charged and musically adventurous improvisatory solos of unprecedented length and complexity. More than any musician before him, Coltrane introduced free improvisation into American jazz.
His plan was to sail west to reach spice- and gold-rich Asia; instead, in one of the most famous mistakes in history, he encountered North America. He served in Massachusetts politics, becoming governor in When Harding died in office in , Coolidge stepped in and did much to clean out the corruption that had characterized that administration and rebuilt American confidence in the presidency. He had complained about a British novel he had just read, claiming that he could do better.
The institution continues to thrive today. By the age of 15 he decided to become a composer and in studied with the famed teacher Nadia Boulanger in Paris.
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His early avant-garde, abstract style matured into a vigorously American expression, replete with elements of jazz, folk songs, and spirituals, but also uniquely modernist. For such works as the ballets Billy the Kid and Appalachian Spring —among many others—he gained enduring recognition as a representative American classical composer. Copley, John Singleton — Copley was born in Boston and created his early portraits there, including Boy with Squirrel , which was praised by the great British painter Sir Joshua Reynolds and thus became the first work of American art to be publicly appreciated in Europe.
With opportunities limited in America, Copley settled permanently in London in and turned his attention to painting historical subjects.
1001 People Who Made America
Corbett, Boston —? Like many in that trade who were exposed to high levels of mercury , he suffered symptoms of mental illness, became a religious zealot, wore his hair long in imitation of Jesus, and in castrated himself with scissors in order to avoid the temptations of prostitutes. Corbett and the others ran Booth to ground on April 26 in a Virginia tobacco barn. The soldiers set the barn on fire to smoke Booth out, but when Corbett saw Booth silhouetted by the flames, he shot him with a Colt revolver.
Paralyzed, Booth died within hours.
Corbett was arrested for disobeying orders, but the charges were dropped by Secretary of War Edwin M. Corbett died in obscurity, having suffered from mental illness for the rest of his life. Corey, Giles — Accused during the infamous Salem witch trials of wizardry, Corey defiantly refused to enter a plea.
English common law required a plea before a trial could proceed; to obtain the plea, the law prescribed pressing with weights until it was obtained. Corey, 80 years old at the time of his accusation, endured two days during which more and more rocks were laid on him.
He figures as an early American example of refusal to yield to injustice. Coronado, Francisco — Coronado was a Spanish conquistador who explored the American Southwest in search of the fabled seven cities of gold. These he did not find, but he explored the vast magnificence of the American Southwest and was the first European to behold the Palo Duro Canyon of Texas and the Grand Canyon of Arizona. Costello, Frank — Costello was four years old when his family emigrated from Italy and settled in New York. He became a gang member and, during Prohibition, engaged in bootlegging and gambling in New York, Florida, Louisiana, and elsewhere.
He moved up the syndicate ladder during the s and, after World War II, was instrumental in financing the newly developing Las Vegas casino industry. During this period, he moved freely among New York politicians and legitimate businessmen, whom he variously corrupted. While out on bail in , a rival crime boss shot him, he recovered, served out his sentence, but never regained his power in organized crime.
Coughlin, Charles — Born in Canada, Coughlin was ordained a Catholic priest in Detroit and began in experimenting with radio-broadcast sermons and religious lessons for children. His popularity exploded, and he became the first electronic-media evangelist; however, his shows became increasingly political. Roosevelt, but then turned on Roosevelt with diatribes protesting the New Deal, warning against Communism, and railing against the influence of Jews in government and business.