14 Historical 'Good Guys' Who Did Terrible Things



Copy link

Voting Rules
Vote up the historic figures whose legacies should be reexamined.

History is full of titanic figures, men and women who managed to make a truly significant impact on the world around them. Some of these have been largely viewed as “good guys,” for they often made the world a better place as a result of their work, whether it was charity or inventing. These heroes of history have, at times, been unfairly maligned, while others deserved the opprobrium they received after their deaths. 

In all of these cases, these villainous good guys reveal an unpleasant truth: People, particularly “great” ones, are rarely as morally uncompromised as we'd like them to be.

Photo: King Creole / Paramount Pictures

  • Richard Feynman Was A Misogynist Whose Wife Divorced Him On Cruelty Grounds
    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain
    531 VOTES

    Richard Feynman Was A Misogynist Whose Wife Divorced Him On Cruelty Grounds

    The Manhattan Project brought together some of the foremost minds of the 20th century. Though its primary aim was the creation of an atomic weapon, many of the scientists involved made significant contributions to various technological and theoretical advancements. One of these was Richard Feynman, who was very influential in the theorization of quantum electrodynamics. He was even awarded a Nobel Prize in 1965. He was also highly regarded as an educator. 

    His private life, on the other hand, was far less rosy. Feynman’s misogyny has come to be widely known, particularly regarding his wife, who divorced him in part because of his cruelty (among other things, he would lash out at her if she dared to interrupt his work). His problems with women extended beyond his wife, however. 

    Feynman was open about his contempt for women he wanted to have sex with, routinely drew naked pictures of his female students, would use strip clubs as a location for official meetings, and even pretended to be an undergraduate to try to sleep with students.

    531 votes
  • Henry Ford’s Antisemitism Got Him Name Dropped in Hitler’s 'Mein Kampf'
    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    Henry Ford is one of the few people who can be truly said to have been a revolutionary figure. His development of the assembly line radically reshaped manufacturing writ large, enabling a much faster (and cheaper) creation of automobiles and other products. His Model T car has become synonymous with the automotive industry itself - its affordability led to its being bought by millions of Americans - and Ford is credited with having played a key role in the development of the American economy and its infrastructure.

    Unfortunately, there was a much more sinister side to Ford. His anti-Semitism is well-known. With his enormous business and financial clout, he consistently and frequently spread conspiracy theories about Jewish people, and he was so famous for doing so he is positively mentioned by name by Adolf Hitler in Mein Kampf, the only American to receive such a dubious honor. 

    Ford was also a vocal and committed opponent of labor unions in any form, and he was determined to control almost every aspect of his workers’ lives.

    581 votes
  • Alexander Graham Bell Was A Eugenicist And Believed Deaf People Should Not Procreate
    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    Alexander Graham Bell is one of the giant figures in the history of technological invention. His invention of the telephone revolutionized communication, changing the way people talked to one another. It is impossible to imagine the modern world without him. Nor were his efforts limited to the telephone. He also worked on a primitive form of air conditioning, and he even took over the running of National Geographic. 

    As with so many inventors, however, there was more to him than met the eye. He was very invested in the issue of deafness, but his advocacy in this regard often took some very sinister forms. 

    Like many others of his time, Bell embraced a eugenicist approach to the issue, and he remained staunchly opposed to deaf people marrying hearing ones, out of fear such pairings would contaminate the human race. He also had some very backward views on the education of the deaf, emphasizing an oral-only method.

  • John Lennon Was Violent And Abusive Towards His Wives And Son Julian
    Photo: Michiganensian / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    From the moment they burst onto the American scene in the 1960s, the Beatles were truly a musical force to be reckoned with. The collaboration between Paul McCartney and Lennon was a particularly fruitful one, and together they penned most of the group’s most beloved songs

    Even though the Beatles eventually parted ways, Lennon would go on to have a very successful solo career, particularly with the album Imagine (and its title single). His death at the hands of an assassin’s bullet cemented his place in the history books.

    Though he was often known for being witty and droll - and despite his anti-war activism - Lennon had a much darker side to his personality. This is especially evident in his relationships with his wives and son, Julian. In addition to having a number of affairs on his first wife (including with Yoko Ono, whom he would later marry), he was also said to be quite physically abusive toward his son Julian, often striking him for such minor infractions as bad table manners. Though he was an undeniably creative genius, he was deeply unhappy.

  • Woodrow Wilson has gone down in history as one of the US’s most notable and accomplished presidents. He campaigned and governed on Progressive Era politics, and his administration saw a number of important legislative victories. What’s more, he led the country through the First World War, and he was a prominent voice during the deliberations which took place at Versailles. In particular, he wanted to ensure the world was safe for democracy, and for this reason he was a particular champion for countries’ self-determination. Unfortunately, his efforts to get the US to sign onto the League of Nations failed.

    This particular failure wouldn’t be the only spot on his subsequent legacy. A true son of the American South, Wilson was notoriously racist in his beliefs, which were often reflected in the ways his policies were implemented. Among other things, he spearheaded segregation in various federal offices, had a confrontation with a noted African American civil rights leader, and was generally antagonistic toward efforts to advance the rights of African Americans.

    470 votes
  • Few children’s book authors have achieved quite the influence and beloved status as Dr. Seuss, whose real name was Theodore Geisel. Even now, his books continue to be a staple part of most bookshops. With their unique look and catchy rhymes, it’s easy to see why they have become so popular. Geisel was also remarkably prolific, writing almost 50 books before his death, and he also earned a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. 

    Not all of his work has held up, however. The cartoons Geisel drew during WWII were flagrantly insensitive and anti-Japanese. He also endorsed the imprisoning of Japanese-Americans in camps.

    A number of his children's books have also been criticized for their insensitive portrayal of various ethnic groups. And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, for example, has racist depictions of an Asian character. Similar problems also emerged in If I Ran the Zoo, which contains racist depictions of Africans. The author’s private life was also more than a little bleak, as he cheated on his first wife, who was very ill, which may well have contributed to her taking her own life.