Nearly Forgotten Americans We Didn't Realize Dramatically Shaped History

List Rules
Vote up the nearly-forgotten individuals who have had the biggest impact on history.

We know the names of all of those historic big shots standing in the middle of the spotlight. But what about those huge contributors standing up there on the stage of history with them, but just out of the spotlight's reach? It's about time we move that light around the stage.

It has taken a lot to get to where we are at this point in time, for better or worse. The importance of the contributions made by those before us is near impossible to measure. But what we can do is remember the people that made them, especially the ones on the verge of being forgotten. These are the nearly forgotten Americans that changed history and the way we experience our world today.


  • Maurice Hilleman Invented More Than 40 Vaccines
    Photo: Walter Reed Army Medical Center / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    Maurice Hilleman may be responsible for saving more lives than any other American. Amazingly, Hilleman has been behind the development of over 40 vaccines, including measles, mumps, hepatitis A, hepatitis B, meningitis, pneumonia, haemophilus influenzae bacteria, and rubella. Hilleman developed eight out of the 14 vaccines recommended in current U.S. childhood vaccine schedules. His work eliminated a staggering amount of what were once common and deadly childhood diseases. It's estimated Hilleman's work saves 8 million lives a year. 

  • Haym Salomon was a Jewish businessman that immigrated from Poland to the original colonies and fought to establish the United States of America. But this original American immigrant did not fight on the battlefield; rather, he financed the patriots and was responsible for paying for much of the American Revolution. There was no income tax to speak of, so much of the revolutionary efforts were funded by Salomon's fundraising and loans. He brokered the sale of war aid from France and made personal loans with no interest attached to James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, and James Monroe, among others. From 1781–84,  Salomon helped George Washington's war effort secure over $650,000, which today is the equivalent of $9.4 billion. Haym Solomon, despite winning freedom for America, would die penniless.

  • Frederic Tudor Started The Ice Trade
    Photo: Brown Bros. / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    Before electric refrigeration was possible, Frederic Tudor revolutionized the food industry by inventing the ice trade and declaring himself the "Ice King." In 1806, Tudor loaded a brig with ice cut from the frozen lakes and pods of Massachusetts and shipped it to be stored in an ice house on a Caribbean island named Martinique and sold. Each shipment taught new lessons and soon the trade expanded to Cuba, across the U.S, Europe, India, and Hong Kong.

    His methods of ice harvesting and shipping allowed fruits and vegetables to be enjoyed in places other than where they were grown, meat to be eaten other than right where it was slaughtered, and completely radicalized the commercial fishing industry while expanding most city's seafood menus.

  • Norman Borlaug Developed A New Wheat Strain That Fed Developing Countries
    Photo: Unidentified / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    Norman Borlaug is known as the “Father of the Green Revolution" because of his work developing a short-stemmed (or “dwarf") strain of wheat that dramatically increased crop yields. His work in Mexico from 1944 to 1960 multiplied the country's wheat production threefold.

    In the 1960s, he worked with India and Pakistan to achieve a 60% increase in harvests there, allowing both countries to become agriculturally self-sufficient. Norman E. Borlaug won the 1970 Nobel Peace Prize "for having given a well-founded hope - the green revolution."