History The Most Important Leaders in U.S. History  

Mel Judson
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164.7k votes 10.5k voters 208.3k views 434 items

List Rules American 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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3,307 991
Abraham Lincoln is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list The Most Important Leaders in U.S. History
Abraham Lincoln Died at 56 (1809-1865) Abraham Lincoln was the 16th President of the United States, serving from March 1861 until his assassination in April 1865. Lincoln led the United States through its Civil War—its bloodiest war ...more

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3,491 564
George Washington is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list The Most Important Leaders in U.S. History
George Washington Died at 67 (1732-1799) George Washington was the first President of the United States, the Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War, and one of the Founding Fathers of the ...more

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2,751 609
Thomas Jefferson is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list The Most Important Leaders in U.S. History
Thomas Jefferson Died at 83 (1743-1826) Thomas Jefferson was an American Founding Father, the principal author of the Declaration of Independence, and the third President of the United States. He was a spokesman for democracy, and ...more

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1,830 759
James Madison is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list The Most Important Leaders in U.S. History
James Madison Died at 85 (1751-1836) James Madison, Jr. was an American statesman, political theorist, and the fourth President of the United States. He is hailed as the "Father of the Constitution" for being instrumental ...more

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1,543 877
Thomas Paine is listed (or ranked) 5 on the list The Most Important Leaders in U.S. History
Thomas Paine Died at 72 (1737-1809) Thomas Paine was an English-American political activist, philosopher, political theorist and revolutionary. One of the Founding Fathers of the United States, he authored the two most influential ...more

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2,159 4,549
Donald Trump is listed (or ranked) 6 on the list The Most Important Leaders in U.S. History
Ashutosh Kumar added Donald Trump age 71 Donald John Trump (born June 14, 1946) is the 45th and current President of the United States, in office since January 20, 2017. Before entering politics, he was a businessman and television ...more

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1,652 1,575
Eleanor Roosevelt is listed (or ranked) 7 on the list The Most Important Leaders in U.S. History
Eleanor Roosevelt Died at 78 (1884-1962) Anna Eleanor Roosevelt was an American politician, diplomat, and activist. She was the longest-serving First Lady of the United States, holding the post from March 1933 to April 1945 during her ...more

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3,068 326
Benjamin Franklin is listed (or ranked) 8 on the list The Most Important Leaders in U.S. History
Benjamin Franklin Died at 84 (1706-1790) Benjamin Franklin FRS was one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. A renowned polymath, Franklin was a leading author, printer, political theorist, politician, postmaster, scientist, ...more

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1,242 773
Patrick Henry is listed (or ranked) 9 on the list The Most Important Leaders in U.S. History
null98Jeff added Patrick Henry Died at 63 (1736-1799) Patrick Henry was an American attorney, planter and politician who became known as an orator during the movement for independence in Virginia in the 1770s. A Founding Father, he served as the ...more

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2,886 1,101
Martin Luther King, Jr. is listed (or ranked) 10 on the list The Most Important Leaders in U.S. History
Martin Luther King, Jr. Died at 39 (1929-1968) Martin Luther King Jr. (born Michael King Jr., January 15, 1929 – April 4, 1968) was an American Baptist minister and activist who was a leader in the Civil Rights Movement. He is best known for ...more

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2,178 1,175
John F. Kennedy is listed (or ranked) 11 on the list The Most Important Leaders in U.S. History
John F. Kennedy Died at 46 (1917-1963) John Fitzgerald Kennedy (May 29, 1917 – November 22, 1963), also referred to as John F. Kennedy, JFK, John Kennedy or Jack Kennedy, was the 35th President of the United States. He served from ...more

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John Adams is listed (or ranked) 12 on the list The Most Important Leaders in U.S. History
John Adams Died at 91 (1735-1826) John Adams was the second president of the United States, having earlier served as the first vice president of the United States. An American Founding Father, Adams was a statesman, diplomat, ...more

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1,595 634
John Hancock is listed (or ranked) 13 on the list The Most Important Leaders in U.S. History
John Hancock Died at 56 (1737-1793) John Hancock was a merchant, smuggler, statesman, and prominent Patriot of the American Revolution. He served as president of the Second Continental Congress and was the first and third Governor ...more

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2,406 782
Franklin D. Roosevelt is listed (or ranked) 14 on the list The Most Important Leaders in U.S. History
Franklin D. Roosevelt Died at 63 (1882-1945) Franklin Delano Roosevelt, commonly known by his initials FDR, was an American statesman and political leader who served as the 32nd President of the United States. A Democrat, he won a record ...more

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2,237 410
Theodore Roosevelt is listed (or ranked) 15 on the list The Most Important Leaders in U.S. History
Theodore Roosevelt Died at 61 (1858-1919) Theodore "T.R." Roosevelt Jr. was an American politician, author, naturalist, soldier, explorer, and historian who served as the 26th President of the United States. He was a leader of ...more

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1,859 494
Alexander Hamilton is listed (or ranked) 16 on the list The Most Important Leaders in U.S. History
Alexander Hamilton Died at 47 (1757-1804) Alexander Hamilton was a founding father of the United States, chief staff aide to General George Washington, one of the most influential interpreters and promoters of the U.S. Constitution, the ...more

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2,153 996
Ronald Reagan is listed (or ranked) 17 on the list The Most Important Leaders in U.S. History
AmandaHall added Ronald Reagan Died at 93 (1911-2004) Ronald Wilson Reagan was the 40th President of the United States. Before his presidency he served as the 33rd Governor of California and was also an actor from 1937–1964. Born and raised in ...more

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1,766 537
Dwight D. Eisenhower is listed (or ranked) 18 on the list The Most Important Leaders in U.S. History
Dwight D. Eisenhower Died at 79 (1890-1969) Dwight David "Ike" Eisenhower was the 34th President of the United States from 1953 until 1961. He was a five-star general in the United States Army during World War II and served as ...more

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1,111 548
James Monroe is listed (or ranked) 19 on the list The Most Important Leaders in U.S. History
James Monroe Died at 73 (1758-1831) James Monroe was the fifth President of the United States. Monroe was the last president who was a Founding Father of the United States and the last president from the Virginia dynasty and the ...more

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1,210 765
Henry Ford is listed (or ranked) 20 on the list The Most Important Leaders in U.S. History
Henry Ford Died at 84 (1863-1947) Henry Ford was an American industrialist, the founder of the Ford Motor Company, and sponsor of the development of the assembly line technique of mass production. Although Ford did not invent ...more

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1,336 581
Thomas Edison is listed (or ranked) 21 on the list The Most Important Leaders in U.S. History
Thomas Edison Died at 84 (1847-1931) Thomas Alva Edison was an American inventor and businessman. He developed many devices that greatly influenced life around the world, including the phonograph, the motion picture camera, and a ...more

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Andrew Jackson is listed (or ranked) 22 on the list The Most Important Leaders in U.S. History
Andrew Jackson Died at 78 (1767-1845) Andrew Jackson was the seventh President of the United States. He was born near the end of the colonial era, somewhere near the then-unmarked border between North and South Carolina, into a ...more

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Ulysses S. Grant is listed (or ranked) 23 on the list The Most Important Leaders in U.S. History
Ulysses S. Grant Died at 63 (1822-1885) Ulysses S. Grant was the 18th President of the United States. As Commanding General, Grant worked closely with President Abraham Lincoln to lead the Union Army to victory over the Confederacy in ...more

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George S. Patton is listed (or ranked) 24 on the list The Most Important Leaders in U.S. History
sev674475 added George S. Patton Died at 60 (1885-1945)  (November 11, 1885 – December 21, 1945) George Smith Patton, Jr. was a United States Army general, who commanded the Seventh United States Army in the Mediterranean and European Theaters of World War II, but is best known for his ...more

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Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis is listed (or ranked) 25 on the list The Most Important Leaders in U.S. History
Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Died at 65 (1929-1994) Jacqueline Lee "Jackie" Kennedy Onassis was the wife of the 35th President of the United States, John F. Kennedy, and First Lady of the United States during his presidency from 1961 ...more

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1,113 584
Douglas MacArthur is listed (or ranked) 26 on the list The Most Important Leaders in U.S. History
AmandaHall added Douglas MacArthur Died at 84 (1880-1964) Douglas MacArthur was an American five-star general and Field Marshal of the Philippine Army. He was Chief of Staff of the United States Army during the 1930s and played a prominent role in the ...more

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1,252 396
Wright brothers is listed (or ranked) 27 on the list The Most Important Leaders in U.S. History
Wright Brothers The Wright brothers, Orville and Wilbur, were two American brothers, inventors, and aviation pioneers who are credited with inventing and building the world's first successful airplane and ...more

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1,308 720
Robert E. Lee is listed (or ranked) 28 on the list The Most Important Leaders in U.S. History
Robert E. Lee Died at 63 (1807-1870) Robert Edward Lee was an American soldier best known for commanding the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia in the American Civil War from 1862 until his surrender in 1865. The son of ...more

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1,102 449
Harry S. Truman is listed (or ranked) 29 on the list The Most Important Leaders in U.S. History
Harry S. Truman Died at 88 (1884-1972) Harry S. Truman (May 8, 1884 – December 26, 1972) was an American statesman who served as the 33rd President of the United States (1945–1953), taking the office upon the death of Franklin D. ...more

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1,065 381
Samuel Adams is listed (or ranked) 30 on the list The Most Important Leaders in U.S. History
Samuel Adams Died at 81 (1722-1803) Samuel Adams was an American statesman, political philosopher, and one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. As a politician in colonial Massachusetts, Adams was a leader of the movement ...more

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892 633
William Tecumseh Sherman is listed (or ranked) 31 on the list The Most Important Leaders in U.S. History
jschro1861 added William Tecumseh Sherman Died at 71 (1820-1891) William Tecumseh Sherman was an American soldier, businessman, educator and author. He served as a General in the Union Army during the American Civil War, for which he received recognition for ...more

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Jonas Salk is listed (or ranked) 32 on the list The Most Important Leaders in U.S. History
Jonas Salk Died at 81 (1914-1995) Jonas Edward Salk was an American medical researcher and virologist. He discovered and developed the first successful inactivated polio vaccine. Born in New York City, he attended New York ...more

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1,078 377
Alexander Graham Bell is listed (or ranked) 33 on the list The Most Important Leaders in U.S. History
Alexander Graham Bell Died at 75 (1847-1922) Alexander Graham Bell was an eminent Scottish-born scientist, inventor, engineer and innovator who is credited with inventing the first practical telephone. Bell's father, grandfather, and ...more

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840 427
John Marshall is listed (or ranked) 34 on the list The Most Important Leaders in U.S. History
John Marshall Died at 80 (1755-1835) John Marshall was the fourth Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. His court opinions helped lay the basis for United States constitutional law and made the Supreme Court of ...more

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891 434
Paul Revere is listed (or ranked) 35 on the list The Most Important Leaders in U.S. History
Paul Revere Died at 83 (1735-1818) Paul Revere was an American silversmith, engraver, early industrialist, and a patriot in the American Revolution. He is most famous for alerting the Colonial militia to the approach of British ...more

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1,021 434
Sitting Bull is listed (or ranked) 36 on the list The Most Important Leaders in U.S. History
Valdave added Sitting Bull Died at 59 (1831-1890) Sitting Bull was a Hunkpapa Lakota holy man who led his people as a tribal chief during years of resistance to United States government policies. He was killed by Indian agency police on the ...more

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627 307
George Marshall is listed (or ranked) 37 on the list The Most Important Leaders in U.S. History
RobLein added George Marshall Died at 79 (1880-1959) George Catlett Marshall, Jr. was an American soldier and statesman famous for his leadership roles during World War II and the Cold War. He was Chief of Staff of the United States Army, ...more

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946 504
Susan B. Anthony is listed (or ranked) 38 on the list The Most Important Leaders in U.S. History
Susan B. Anthony Died at 86 (1820-1906) Susan Brownell Anthony was an American social reformer and feminist who played a pivotal role in the women's suffrage movement. Born into a Quaker family committed to social equality, she ...more

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593 476
Henry Clay is listed (or ranked) 39 on the list The Most Important Leaders in U.S. History
Henry Clay Died at 75 (1777-1852) Henry Clay, Sr. was an American lawyer, politician, and skilled orator who represented Kentucky in both the United States Senate and House of Representatives. He served three different terms as ...more

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661 263
John Quincy Adams is listed (or ranked) 40 on the list The Most Important Leaders in U.S. History
John Quincy Adams Died at 81 (1767-1848) John Quincy Adams was an American statesman who served as the sixth President of the United States from 1825 to 1829. He also served as a diplomat, a Senator and member of the House of ...more

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739 413
Chester W. Nimitz is listed (or ranked) 41 on the list The Most Important Leaders in U.S. History
Chester W. Nimitz Died at 81 (1885-1966) Chester William Nimitz was a fleet admiral of the United States Navy. He played a major role in the naval history of World War II as Commander in Chief, United States Pacific Fleet, for U.S. ...more

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714 232
Daniel Boone is listed (or ranked) 42 on the list The Most Important Leaders in U.S. History
null98Jeff added Daniel Boone Died at 86 (1734-1820) Daniel Boone was an American pioneer, explorer, and frontiersman whose frontier exploits made him one of the first folk heroes of the United States. Boone is most famous for his exploration and ...more

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701 290
Davy Crockett is listed (or ranked) 43 on the list The Most Important Leaders in U.S. History
null98Jeff added Davy Crockett Died at 50 (1786-1836) David "Davy" Stern Crockett was a 19th-century American folk hero, frontiersman, soldier, and politician. He is commonly referred to in popular culture by the epithet "King of the ...more

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679 223
Meriwether Lewis is listed (or ranked) 44 on the list The Most Important Leaders in U.S. History
Meriwether Lewis Died at 35 (1774-1809) Meriwether Lewis was an American explorer, soldier, politician, and public administrator, best known for his role as the leader of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, also known as the Corps of ...more

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860 451
Stonewall Jackson is listed (or ranked) 45 on the list The Most Important Leaders in U.S. History
Stonewall Jackson Died at 39 (1824-1863) Thomas Jonathan "Stonewall" Jackson was a Confederate general during the American Civil War, and the best-known Confederate commander after General Robert E. Lee. His military career ...more

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674 386
John Jay is listed (or ranked) 46 on the list The Most Important Leaders in U.S. History
John Jay Died at 84 (1745-1829) John Jay was an American statesman, Patriot, diplomat, one of the Founding Fathers of the United States, signer of the Treaty of Paris, and first Chief Justice of the United States. Jay was born ...more

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789 436
Andrew Carnegie is listed (or ranked) 47 on the list The Most Important Leaders in U.S. History
Andrew Carnegie Died at 84 (1835-1919) Andrew Carnegie was a Scottish American industrialist who led the enormous expansion of the American steel industry in the late 19th century. He is also well known as a leading philanthropist. ...more

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508 205
William Clark is listed (or ranked) 48 on the list The Most Important Leaders in U.S. History
William Clark Died at 68 (1770-1838) William Clark was an American explorer, soldier, Indian agent, and territorial governor. A native of Virginia, he grew up in prestatehood Kentucky before later settling in what became the state ...more

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546 186
Eli Whitney is listed (or ranked) 49 on the list The Most Important Leaders in U.S. History
Eli Whitney Died at 60 (1765-1825) Eli Whitney was an American inventor best known for inventing the cotton gin. This was one of the key inventions of the Industrial Revolution and shaped the economy of the Antebellum South. ...more

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652 642
Woodrow Wilson is listed (or ranked) 50 on the list The Most Important Leaders in U.S. History
Woodrow Wilson Died at 68 (1856-1924) Thomas Woodrow Wilson was the 28th President of the United States from 1913 to 1921 and leader of the Progressive Movement. A Southerner with a PhD in political science, he served as President ...more