12 Nearly Forgotten People We Never Realized Dramatically Changed Our World

Voting Rules
Vote up the people that had the biggest impact on our world.

History is filled with overlooked figures. After all, everything had to be invented by someone. So it's sad to think that all these brilliant minds can't be remembered by everyone. There were many women who didn't get credit for their brilliant work and even some politicians who changed history without us realizing it. Oftentimes, we take the inventions that these accomplished people made for granted. But maybe it's time to change that.

There are countless unknown people who changed the world. It's time that we start recognizing some of them. These people dedicated their lives to making the future better for us. So, let's show a little appreciation by hearing their stories. 

Photo: Emw / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA 3.0

  • Actress Hedy Lamarr Invented A Piece Of Modern Wireless Communication
    Photo: Employee(s) of MGM / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Hedy Lamarr is an actress known for her beautiful appearance that inspired characters like Snow White and Catwoman. But that's not what she should be known for. Besides acting, her passion was inventing things. In fact, her work as an inventor helped shape a lot of our modern technology, including WiFi, Bluetooth, and GPS.

    She was interested in discovering how things worked even as a child. Her curiosity lead her to her big breakthrough at the beginning of WWII, where she invented a contraption that could stop enemy ships from interfering with torpedo guidance signals. This method was known as "frequency hopping." That first project was initially rejected by the US Navy because it was too complicated. However, they later found a use for another one of her inventions, which could detect submarines in the water.

    Over time, her "frequency hopping" ideas were put to use. It wasn't until 1997 that her work finally received proper recognition, though. Frequency hopping is often used today with wireless communication systems, but very few people know how it started. To most people, Lamarr is just a pretty actress, but in reality, she's a brilliant inventor, too.

    • Age: Dec. at 85 (1914-2000)
    • Birthplace: Vienna, Austria
    803 votes
  • Henrietta Lacks never intended for her cells to lead to life-changing discoveries, but now she can be thanked for a lot of today's medical research. She was diagnosed with cervical cancer at age 30, and during her time at the hospital, some of her cells were taken without her consent. A scientist at the Johns Hopkins Hospital took a tissue sample from Lacks's tumor without telling her. For unknown reasons, her cells never died, so scientists used the cells to find a way to grow human cells and tissue.

    Today, medical researchers grow human cells in laboratories to learn how cells work and to discover how to treat diseases. For this, they need "immortal" cells, which are cells that can grow forever. Lacks's cells were the first immortal cells ever grown. Her cells were used to help create the polio vaccine, and they opened new doors to other medical advances. 

    Since the cells were stolen in 1951, Lacks didn't get any recognition until the 1970s. Until then, researchers kept coming up with fake names for the person who gave the cells so no one would find out the truth. It wasn't until after Lacks passed that researchers finally informed Lacks's family about her cells' contributions to medicine and science. 

    • Age: Dec. at 31 (1920-1951)
    • Birthplace: Roanoke, Virginia
    676 votes
  • Garrett Morgan Invented What Would Become The Yellow Traffic Light
    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain
    655 VOTES

    Garrett Morgan Invented What Would Become The Yellow Traffic Light

    Garrett Morgan's journey not only improved some of our essential everyday items, but he also helped create opportunities for other African-American inventors. He's known for many incredible inventions, including a hair-straightening product, an improved sewing machine, and a breathing device. However, he's best-known for his improved version of a traffic light. Morgan never received more than an elementary school education, but he went on to be a sewing machine mechanic and later opened his own repair shop. 

    Before Morgan's invention, traffic lights only had "stop" and "go" without any indication to slow down. It's likely that this caused many unnecessary accidents and difficult traffic flow. So, Morgan invented a third signal on the traffic light, which we now know as the yellow light that tells us to slow down. 

    He patented a T-shaped pole that had three traffic settings. If there wasn't much traffic, the middle light could be set to half-mast, which is similar to the blinking yellow lights of today, which can warn drivers to proceed with caution. While traffic lights are something most humans use on a daily basis, we often don't think much about them.

    • Age: Dec. at 86 (1877-1963)
    • Birthplace: Paris, Kentucky
    655 votes
  • Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin broke gender barriers in 1925 when she discovered what stars are really made of. While pursuing her Ph.D., she published a thesis titled Stella Atmospheres. Her thesis concluded that stars are made of hydrogen and helium. She also discovered that stars can be classified using their temperatures.

    Despite her brilliant discovery, other astronomers were skeptical. Astronomer Henry Norris Russell was convinced that stars were built similarly to Earth, and he tried to correct Payne's discovery. But Payne stood her ground, and eventually Russell admitted that she was correct in 1929. Payne's thesis earned her the first Ph.D. in astronomy at Radcliffe College. This was an incredible achievement since universities like Harvard would not give doctorate degrees to women at the time. 

    Payne went on to further prove that women can be brilliant astronomers, too. She published a second book in 1930 titled Stars of High Luminosity and she eventually became a full professor at Harvard and chairman of their astronomy department. 

    • Age: Dec. at 79 (1900-1979)
    • Birthplace: Wendover, United Kingdom
    555 votes
  • Preston Tucker Made The 'Car Of The Future' In The Past
    Photo: Courtesy of The Tucker Automobile Club of America, Inc. collection at The Tucker Historical Collection and Library / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 2.5
    369 VOTES

    Preston Tucker Made The 'Car Of The Future' In The Past

    Preston Tucker was a visionary in the car world, inventing many advanced, practical features used today. Tucker started out as just a mail messenger at General Motors, but he quickly worked his way up and went on to do incredible things. During the start of WWII, he invented and created a gun turret for Navy ships. But after the war, he returned to his love for cars.

    Soon, Tucker went on to create new cars that were unlike any before. He introduced concepts like disc brakes, pop-out windshields, and padded dashboards with his new vehicles. The cars he created even drove better too since they had rear-mounted engines that were made from modified helicopter engines. The features of these cars were ahead of their time, and they quickly went on to shape the cars of the future.

    Inventing these cars wasn't smooth sailing for Tucker, though. The government was skeptical of Tucker's business, claiming that he never planned to build any cars, which was certainly not the case. However, those allegations caused him to lose investors and workers, so his goals of building futuristic cars never fully succeeded. While many of these features helped boost future vehicles, Tucker never received proper credit for his work. 

    • Age: Dec. at 53 (1903-1956)
    • Birthplace: Capac, Michigan
    369 votes
  • Mary Anning Discovered Full Fossilized Remains When We Barely Knew What They Were
    Photo: B. J. Donne / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Mary Anning had a life full of firsts when it came to finding fossils, but with an unfortunate childhood and many skeptics, life was not easy. She grew up very poor, and she and her brother were the only ones out of 10 children in the family who survived until adulthood. Anning's father was the one who first got her interested in fossil collecting. He taught her everything she needed to know about finding and cleaning fossils, but when he passed suddenly of tuberculosis, Anning's family struggled even more.

    When Anning was 12 years old, her older brother Joseph found a peculiar fossilized skull. After that, Anning searched long and hard and eventually found the entire outline of an Ichthyosaur. The theory of extinction was still fairly recent, so many people were skeptical of Anning's discovery, thinking it was just a large crocodile. 

    But in 1823, Anning was the first person to discover a Plesiosaurus skeleton, which means "near to reptile." Because people were unfamiliar with discoveries like this, they quickly spread rumors saying the fossils were fake. And even those who did believe in her did not give her the recognition she deserved. Some scientists would buy fossils from her, but not credit her for her work. The Geological Society of London wouldn't even admit her until 1904 because women could not be admitted before then. She discovered many new creatures during her time on Earth.

    • Age: Dec. at 47 (1799-1847)
    • Birthplace: Lyme Regis, England
    455 votes