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The Most Important Leaders in U.S. History

Updated January 25, 2021 256.0k votes 17.5k voters 279.0k views432 items

List RulesAmerican leaders only. Note: "Most important" or "most influential" does not equal "best."

List of the most important leaders in U.S. history. Love 'em or hate 'em, these leaders shaped American history from its founding through today. Men and women who have truly defined America through their work and leadership, even if it did not mean serving political office, are ranked here on this master list of leaders. Pioneers who changed the landscape, from the Civil Rights Movement, to Women's Suffrage, to the atom bomb, appear on this list of American leaders who changed the world.

The most important American presidents are ranked here, like Harry S. Truman and George Washington to name a few, along with First Ladies like Eleanor Roosevelt. Industry leaders like Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller cannot be overlooked, nor can leaders who were not in the U.S. government itself, such as Martin Luther King, Jr. and Susan B. Anthony.

Leadership takes many forms throughout American history, and famous American leaders pervade all of history, but this list gives props to those who were the most influential. Vote up the most important U.S. leaders below, or if the United States is too small for you, make sure to peruse this list of The Most Important Leaders in World History.
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  • 1
    5,857
    960

    George Washington

    Dec. at 67 (1732-1799)
    George Washington was the first President of the United States, the Commander-in-Chief of the...  more
  • 2
    4,285
    912

    Benjamin Franklin

    Dec. at 84 (1706-1790)
    Benjamin Franklin (January 17, 1706 [O.S. January 6, 1705] – April 17, 1790) was an American...  more
  • 3
    5,427
    1,509

    Abraham Lincoln

    Dec. at 56 (1809-1865)
    Abraham Lincoln (February 12, 1809 – April 15, 1865) was an American statesman and lawyer who...  more
  • 4
    4,149
    1,157

    Thomas Jefferson

    Dec. at 83 (1743-1826)
    Thomas Jefferson was an American Founding Father, the principal author of the Declaration of...  more
  • 5
    3,325
    835

    Theodore Roosevelt

    Dec. at 61 (1858-1919)
    Theodore Roosevelt Jr. ( ROH-zə-velt; October 27, 1858 – January 6, 1919) was an American...  more
  • 6
    2,760
    880

    John Adams

    Dec. at 91 (1735-1826)
    John Adams Jr. (October 30, 1735 – July 4, 1826) was an American statesman, attorney,...  more
  • 7
    2,742
    903

    Alexander Hamilton

    Dec. at 47 (1757-1804)
    Alexander Hamilton (January 11, 1755 or 1757 – July 12, 1804) was an American statesman,...  more
  • 8
    4,468
    1,824

    Martin Luther King, Jr.

    Dec. at 39 (1929-1968)
    Martin Luther King Jr. (January 15, 1929 – April 4, 1968) was an American Baptist minister and...  more
  • 9
    2,510
    927

    Dwight D. Eisenhower

    Dec. at 79 (1890-1969)
    Dwight David "Ike" Eisenhower ( EYE-zən-how-ər; October 14, 1890 – March 28, 1969) was an...  more
  • 10
    2,228
    816

    George S. Patton

    Dec. at 60 (1885-1945)
     (November 11, 1885 – December 21, 1945)
    George Smith Patton Jr. (November 11, 1885 – December 21, 1945) was a General of the United...  more
  • 11
    3,446
    1,475

    Franklin D. Roosevelt

    Dec. at 63 (1882-1945)
    Franklin Delano Roosevelt (, ; January 30, 1882 – April 12, 1945), often referred to by...  more
  • 12
    958
    265

    Nikola Tesla

    Dec. at 87 (1856-1943)
    Nikola Tesla was a Serbian American inventor, electrical engineer, mechanical engineer,...  more
  • 13
    The Wright brothers, Orville and Wilbur, were two American brothers, inventors, and aviation...  more
  • 14
    1,496
    620

    Samuel Adams

    Dec. at 81 (1722-1803)
    Samuel Adams (September 27 [O.S. September 16] 1722 – October 2, 1803) was an American...  more
  • 15
    2,584
    1,316

    James Madison

    Dec. at 85 (1751-1836)
    James Madison Jr. (March 16, 1751 – June 28, 1836) was an American statesman, lawyer,...  more
  • 16
    1,512
    604

    Alexander Graham Bell

    Dec. at 75 (1847-1922)
    Alexander Graham Bell ('Graham' pronounced ) (March 3, 1847 – August 2, 1922) was a ...  more
  • 17
    Frederick Douglass (born Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey; c. February 1818 – February 20,...  more
  • 18
    1,974
    983

    John Hancock

    Dec. at 56 (1737-1793)
    John Hancock (January 23, 1737 [O.S. January 12, 1736] – October 8, 1793) was an American...  more
  • 19
    1,970
    933

    Ulysses S. Grant

    Dec. at 63 (1822-1885)
    Ulysses S. Grant (born Hiram Ulysses Grant; April 27, 1822 – July 23, 1885) was an American...  more
  • 20
    3,456
    1,552

    Ronald Reagan

    Dec. at 93 (1911-2004)
    Ronald Wilson Reagan (; February 6, 1911 – June 5, 2004) was an American politician who served...  more
  • 21
    1,458
    519

    Jonas Salk

    Dec. at 81 (1914-1995)
    Jonas Edward Salk (; October 28, 1914 – June 23, 1995) was an American medical researcher and...  more
  • 22
    982
    455

    Meriwether Lewis

    Dec. at 35 (1774-1809)
    Meriwether Lewis (August 18, 1774 – October 11, 1809) was an American explorer, soldier,...  more
  • 23
    1,876
    989

    Thomas Edison

    Dec. at 84 (1847-1931)
    Thomas Alva Edison (February 11, 1847 – October 18, 1931) was an American inventor and...  more
  • 24
    1,563
    797

    Harry S. Truman

    Dec. at 88 (1884-1972)
    Harry S. Truman (May 8, 1884 – December 26, 1972) was the 33rd president of the United States...  more
  • 25
    1,501
    813

    James Monroe

    Dec. at 73 (1758-1831)
    James Monroe (; April 28, 1758 – July 4, 1831) was an American statesman, lawyer, diplomat and...  more