These Are The Most Influential People Of The 20th Century

The 20th century was undoubtedly wrought with tragic events. The Holocaust claimed the lives of millions, the atomic bombing of Hiroshima changed the way we think about war, and the assassination of President Kennedy was a profoundly somber moment in history. But the 20th century was also full of hope, promise, and progress. Women gained the right to vote in 1920, man landed on the moon in 1969, and the Civil Rights Act was a step towards a more equal world. Through the good and the bad, the 20th century was influenced by many people — but some stand out more than others. From painters and career criminals to musicians and political leaders, the following individuals shaped the 20th century.

Can you imagine what the world might be like without Walt Disney?

Pablo Picasso Produced Over 50,000 Pieces Of Work During His Life


When it comes to influential artists of the 20th-century, Pablo Picasso is the gold standard. Born on October 25, 1881, Picasso showed extraordinary artistic talent from a young age. Throughout the 20th century, he experimented with different ideas, theories, and techniques but was always exceptionally prolific. In fact, it’s estimated that Picasso produced nearly 50,000 pieces of work during his life.

This includes some 1,900 paintings, 1,200 sculptures, 12,000 drawings, thousands of prints, and various tapestries and rugs. He died on April 8, 1973, at the age of 91. Here he is at a party with his wife, Jacqueline, although he was known to have numerous mistresses throughout his life.

Al Capone Was Dubbed Public Enemy No.1

Bettmann / Contributor

Known by his nickname "Scarface," Al Capone was a gangster and businessman who gained notoriety during the Prohibition era. A member of the Five Points Gang, Capone became a bouncer in organized crime premises before moving to Chicago.

It was here that Capone founded and became crime boss of the Chicago Outfit — an Italian-American organized crime syndicate. He was dubbed "Public Enemy No.1" until he was convicted and sentenced to 11 years in federal prison for tax evasion. These photos of Al Capone were taken by the Bureau of identification of the Chicago police department, immediately after his arrest.

Walt Disney Won 22 Oscars

Earl Theisen Collection / Contributor

It’s hard to imagine what the world might be like if it weren’t for Walt Disney. Disney was more than just an animator, voice actor, and film producer — he was a true pioneer of the American animation industry. Moreover, he taught us all what can happen when you wish upon a star…metaphorically speaking.

Disney was born in 1901 and passed away in 1966 at just 65 years old, but lived a life so incredibl imaginative, it truly can’t be condensed. And although he’s been gone for more than 50 years, Disney continues to be an important figure in both the history of animation as well as in the cultural history of the United States and beyond.

Up next: she’s still one of the top-selling musicians in the U.S…even decades after her passing.

Janis Joplin Is Still One Of The Top-Selling Musicians In The U.S.

Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

Janis Joplin was a force to be reckoned with when she hit the music scene at the Monterrey Pop Festival in 1967. At the time, Joplin was the lead singer of the San Francisco psychedelic rock band Big Brother and the Holding Company. She released two albums with the group before going solo.

Joplin quickly proved she could shine on her own as five of her singles reached the Billboard Hot 100. Fans came from far and wide to catch a glimpse of Joplin’s charismatic performing ability, and they were shocked when she died of a heroin overdose in 1970. She was just 27 years old. Today, Joplin remains one of the top-selling musicians in the U.S. and was ranked No. 46 on Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Artists of All Time list in 2004.

Neil Armstrong Famously Said, “That’s One Small Step For Man, One Giant Leap For Mankind”

ullstein bild Dtl. / Contributor

Neil Armstrong solidified his place in history on July 21, 1969, when he and Buzz Aldrin made the first manned moon landing. The astronauts spent two and a half hours outside the Apollo 11 spacecraft while fellow astronaut, Michale Collins, remained in orbit. When Armstrong stepped onto the moon he said the now famous words: "That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind." Following the successful mission, Armstrong, Aldrin, and Collins were awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Richard Nixon.

Armstrong retired from NASA in 1971 but continued to do commission-based projects for the civilian space program for much of his life. After he passed away in 2012, the White House issued a statement in which they called him one of the "greatest of American heroes—not just of his time, but of all time."

Coco Chanel Redefined The Post-WWI Fashionable Woman

Evening Standard / Stringer

You know the iconic interlocked-CC monogram, but what about the woman behind Chanel? Coco Chanel founded the eponymous brand in 1910 in Paris, but before that, she was a young girl living in an orphanage. Coco was placed there after her mother died of tuberculosis in 1895. Although this wasn’t ideal, this was where she learned to sew.

Coco would go on to create one of the most iconic and influential fashion brands of the 20th century. Her designs were considered the official deathblow to the corseted female silhouette. She died in 1971, but the brand lives on, with 310 brick and mortar locations worldwide.

Michael Jackson Was Dubbed The “King of Pop”

Michael Ochs Archives / Stringer

When Michael Jackson made his professional debut in 1964, no one could have imagined what he would accomplish over the next 50 years. In that time he transcended the title of singer, songwriter, and dancer, becoming one of the greatest entertainers in history as well as one of the most significant cultural icons of the 20th century.

Jackson is one of the most-awarded music artists in history. He’s been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame — twice. He received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and today, remains the third best-selling music artist of all time, only behind The Beatles and Elvis. And that’s just scratching the surface.

In two slides, see which President redefined the purpose of government.

Mother Teresa Never Wanted Recognition For Her Work

Santosh BASAK/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

Mother Teresa was admired by many for her charitable work. She was famous for humbly aiding the homeless, lepers, and impoverished citizens in Calcutta, India and beyond. Although she never wanted recognition for her work, she won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979.

By 1996, she operated an incredible 517 mission in over 100 countries. Although she passed away in 1997, today, Mother Teresa is commemorated all over the world. Her name is on buildings, complexes, museums, and roads, as well as Albania’s international airport, where she also has a national holiday in her honor.

Ronald Reagan Redefined The Purpose Of Government

Mark Reinstein/Corbis via Getty Images

Born in 1911, Ronald Reagan was raised in a poor family in a small Illinois town. After graduating from college, he moved to California to try his hand at acting. He appeared in more than 50 films and served as president of the Screen Actor’s Guild. As it turns out, this wouldn’t be the first presidential position that Reagan would hold.

He served as governor of California for two terms before being elected President of the United States. Serving from 1967 to 1975, Reagan redefined the purpose of government. While in office, he pressured the Soviet Union to end the Cold War. From domestic matters to foreign affairs, Reagan boosted the conservative agenda for decades to come.

When you think of the greatest basketball player, he probably comes to mind.

Michael Jordan Is The First Billionaire Player In NBA History

The Sporting News / Contributor

Michael Jordan played 15 seasons in the NBA, splitting his time between the Chicago Bulls and the Washington Wizards. At 6′ 6" and 216 pounds, he entertained crowds far and wide with his bountiful scoring, animated slam dunks, and impressive defense. He rounded out his career with the highest scoring average the NBA has ever seen (30.12 points per game!). But Jordan wasn’t done with the NBA once he retired.

The basketball legend is as equally known for his moves on the court as he is for his endorsement deals. Nike’s Air Jordan’s debuted in 1984 and remain popular today. Thanks to his numerous product endorsements and stellar entrepreneurship, Jordan has a cool $1.7 billion in the bank. Above all, we have Jordan to thank for popularizing the NBA around the world.

After A Successful Acting Career, Audrey Hepburn Devoted Her Life to UNICEF

Archive Photos/Getty Images

Audrey Hepburn was an actress, dancer, model, and philanthropist whose legacy has endured long after her passing. Hepburn starred in numerous successful films including Breakfast at Tiffany’s, My Fair Lady, and Wait Until Dark. For her performances, she won an Academy Award, a Golden Globe, and a BAFTA. The American Film Institute ranked her the third-greatest female screen legend of the Golden Age.

As she aged, Hepburn appeared in fewer films and instead, devoted much of time to UNICEF. She joined the organization in 1954 and worked in some of the most impoverished communities of Africa, South America, and Asia. For her work with UNICEF, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1992. She passed away a month later but remains an influential figure.

It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood.

Mr. Rogers Wasn’t Afraid To Talk About Complex Social Issues

Fotos International / Contributor

Mr. Rogers (and his iconic sweater) influenced children and adults alike during the 1960s and beyond. The educational children’s program, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, aired in 1968 and ran for 895 episodes. Viewers couldn’t wait to tune in to see what Mister Rogers had in store for that day.

Mister Rogers explored a new theme each episode, teaching kids valuable lessons. He wasn’t afraid to tackle complex social issues, including divorce and racism. At 74 years old, he passed away from stomach cancer with his wife by his side. Rogers’ passing was so significant that the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette placed him on the cover and included an entire section devoted to his life.

O.J. Simpson Is Famous For More Than One Reason

Ted Soqui/Sygma via Getty Images

O.J. Simpson is known for being a former NFL running back. The only player to ever rush for over 2,000 yards, Simpson’s athletic future seemed promising. Unfortunately, his football career is grossly overshadowed by his criminal record.

In the ’90s, Simpson went on trial for the murder of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ron Goldman. He was eventually cleared of the charges but wouldn’t stay out of prison forever. In 2007, he was arrested and charged with armed robbery and kidnapping. He was convicted and sentenced to 33 years in prison but ended up serving less than a decade. He was released on October 1, 2017

Kirk Douglas Is One Of The Last Remaining Actors From Hollywood’s Golden Age

Bettmann / Contributor

At 102 years old, Kirk Douglas is one of the last remaining actors from the Golden Age of the film industry. Born to impoverished immigrant parents, Douglas rose the ranks of Hollywood’s elite, becoming a leading box-office star in the ’50s.

Douglas was known for his roles in serious dramas, as well as in war movies and westerns. He’s earned an Academy Award for Best Actor along with an Oscar for Lifetime Achievement and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. In addition to acting, Douglas is a philanthropist and has donated more than $40 million to Harry’s Haven — an Alzheimer’s treatment facility in California.

Stan Lee Was More Than An Artist and Writer

David Pokress/Newsday via Getty Images

Stan Lee was an artist and writer, but he was so much more too. Without Lee, Marvel Comics might not exist. As the primary creative leader for Marvel Comics, Lee led its expansion from a small publishing company to the powerhouse the corporation is today.

Lee co-created some of the most popular fictional characters of our time. From Spider-Man and the X-Men to Iron Man and Thor, Lee was a pioneer of the comics industry and left a lasting legacy. He passed away in 2018 at 95 years old.

Elton John Has Sold More Than 300 Million Records

Bob King / Contributor

Elton John is more than just one of the best-selling musicians in the world — he’s in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, he’s been knighted by Queen Elizabeth II herself, and he’s been a standout figure in the fight against AIDS for decades.

Sir Elton John’s list of accolades is long. He’s won five Grammys, five Brit Awards, an Academy Award, a Golden Globe, and a Tony Award for starters. There’s no doubt that his music has touched many throughout the years, but we’d be remiss if we overlooked his activism efforts. Through his AIDS foundation, he’s raised an incredible $200 million. In January 2018, he announced he would be retiring from touring following a three-year farewell tour. At 71 years old, we think he’s earned it!

Frida Kahlo Shifted The Idea Of What Beauty Meant


Frida Kahlo was a Mexican artist known for her self-portraits and works inspired by artifacts of Mexico. Born in Coyoacán, Mexico, Kahlo was inspired by her deep-rooted culture as well as the concept of self-identity.

To say Kahlo was radical would be an understatement. She forged her own path throughout her life, purposely darkening her facial hair and refusing to tame her eyebrows. She was unapologetically bisexual and unafraid to explore class, gender, and race. Kahlo wasn’t interested in conforming and subsequently shifted the idea of what beauty and femininity meant.

J.R.R. Tolkien Wrote Some Of The Most Groundbreaking Novels Of Our Time

Haywood Magee / Stringer

Can you imagine a world without The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings? Neither can we. Thankfully we’ve been lucky enough to exist at the same time as J.R.R. Tolkien (or at least his work). Born in 1892, Tolkien joined the army when he was barely an adult. After leaving, he went on to work at the Oxford English Dictionary before becoming an English language professional at the University of Leeds.

It was during this time that Tolkien produced his first literary works. The Hobbit was published on September 21, 1937, while The Lord of the Rings came out in 1955. Today, Tolkien’s work continues to be popular and had led to a resurgence of the genre. He’s widely considered one of the greatest literary figures of the twentieth century.

Frank Sinatra Has Sold More Than 150 Million Records

Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

Our list would be incomplete without mentioning Ol’ Blue Eyes. Frank Sinatra started his career in the swing era but found success as a solo artist when he signed with Columbia Records. Although his career stalled, he found success in the ’50s after joining the Rat Pack and starring in the successful film From Here to Eternity. Sinatra proved he belonged both in a recording studio and on the silver screen.

Throughout his career, he was known for his multiple marriages, but even his turbulent personal life couldn’t overshadow his natural talent. Sinatra won 11 Grammys including the Grammy Legend Award and the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. Today, he’s widely considered one of the most influential people of the 20th century.

George S. Patton Inspired Troops With His Controversial Speeches

Silver Screen Collection / Contributor

Known by his nicknames "Bandito" and "Old Blood and Guts," George S. Patton was a General of the United States Army. Altogether he served his country from 1909 to 1945, when he passed away at age 60 following a car accident.

Patton commanded the U.S. Seventh Army in the Mediterranean theater of World War I, the U.S. Third Army in France and Germany, as well as during the Allied invasion of Normandy. His decisive leadership set him apart and he inspired troops with controversial speeches. Although not everyone was a fan of his leadership style, Patton’s tactics proved effective and today, he is an American folk hero.