Weird History
19.1k voters

The Most Important Leaders in U.S. History

Updated January 25, 2021 279.1k votes 19.1k voters 309.3k 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
    Dec. at 67 (1732-1799)
    6,393
    1,112

    BirthplaceVirginia, United States of America

    NationalityBritish America

    George Washington was the first President of the United States, the Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army, and one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. He presided over the convention  ...more
  • 2
    Dec. at 84 (1706-1790)
    4,602
    1,154

    BirthplaceBoston, Massachusetts, United States of America

    NationalityUnited States of America

    Benjamin Franklin (January 17, 1706 [O.S. January 6, 1705] – April 17, 1790) was an American polymath and one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. Franklin was a leading author, printer,  ...more
  • 3
    Dec. at 56 (1809-1865)
    5,975
    1,538

    BirthplaceHodgenville, Kentucky, United States of America

    NationalityUnited States of America

    Abraham Lincoln (February 12, 1809 – April 15, 1865) was an American statesman and lawyer who served as the 16th president of the United States from 1861 until his assassination in April 1865.  ...more
  • 4
    Dec. at 83 (1743-1826)
    4,503
    1,267

    BirthplaceShadwell, Virginia, USA

    NationalityUnited States of America

    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 embraced  ...more
  • 5
    Dec. at 60 (1858-1919)
    3,653
    1,008

    BirthplaceManhattan, New York City, New York, United States of America

    NationalityUnited States of America

    Theodore Roosevelt Jr. ( ROH-zə-velt; October 27, 1858 – January 6, 1919) was an American statesman, politician, conservationist, naturalist, and writer who served as the 26th president of the  ...more
  • 6
    Dec. at 90 (1735-1826)
    2,962
    1,082

    BirthplaceBraintree, Massachusetts, United States of America

    NationalityUnited States of America

    John Adams Jr. (October 30, 1735 – July 4, 1826) was an American statesman, attorney, diplomat, writer, and Founding Father who served as the second president of the United States from 1797 to 1801.  ...more
  • 7
    Dec. at 47 (1757-1804)
    2,984
    1,092

    BirthplaceCharlestown, Saint Kitts and Nevis

    NationalityUnited States of America

    Alexander Hamilton (January 11, 1755 or 1757 – July 12, 1804) was an American statesman, politician, legal scholar, military commander, lawyer, banker and economist. He was one of the Founding  ...more
  • 8
    Dec. at 39 (1929-1968)
    4,856
    1,957

    BirthplaceAtlanta, Georgia, United States of America

    NationalityUnited States of America

    Martin Luther King Jr. (January 15, 1929 – April 4, 1968) was an American Baptist minister and activist who became the most visible spokesperson and leader in the civil rights movement from 1955  ...more
  • 9
    Dec. at 63 (1882-1945)
    3,833
    1,638

    BirthplaceHyde Park, New York, United States of America

    NationalityUnited States of America

    Franklin Delano Roosevelt (, ; January 30, 1882 – April 12, 1945), often referred to by initials FDR, was an American statesman and political leader who served as the 32nd president of the United  ...more
  • 10
    Frederick Douglass (born Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey; c. February 1818 – February 20, 1895) was an American social reformer, abolitionist, orator, writer, and statesman. After escaping from  ...more
  • 11
    Dec. at 80 (1914-1995)
    1,728
    602

    BirthplaceNew York City, New York

    NationalityUnited States of America

    Jonas Edward Salk (; October 28, 1914 – June 23, 1995) was an American medical researcher and virologist. He discovered and developed one of the first successful polio vaccines. Born in New York  ...more
  • 12
    Dec. at 78 (1890-1969)
    2,738
    1,095

    BirthplaceDenison, Texas, United States of America

    NationalityUnited States of America

    Dwight David "Ike" Eisenhower ( EYE-zən-how-ər; October 14, 1890 – March 28, 1969) was an American army general and statesman who served as the 34th president of the United States from 1953 to 1961.  ...more
  • 13
    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 making the  ...more
  • 14
    sev674475 addedDec. at 60 (1885-1945)
    2,429
    1,047

    BirthplaceSan Gabriel, California

    NationalityFrance, United States of America

     (November 11, 1885 – December 21, 1945)
    George Smith Patton Jr. (November 11, 1885 – December 21, 1945) was a General of the United States Army who commanded the U.S. Seventh Army in the Mediterranean theater of World War II, and the U.S.  ...more
  • 15
    1vel2zel addedDec. at 86 (1856-1943)
    1,330
    456

    BirthplaceSmiljan, Croatia

    NationalityAustrian Empire, United States of America, Austria-Hungary

    Nikola Tesla was a Serbian American inventor, electrical engineer, mechanical engineer, physicist, and futurist best known for his contributions to the design of the modern alternating current  ...more
  • 16
    Dec. at 85 (1751-1836)
    2,678
    1,405

    BirthplacePort Conway, Virginia, USA

    NationalityUnited States of America

    James Madison Jr. (March 16, 1751 – June 28, 1836) was an American statesman, lawyer, diplomat, philosopher, and Founding Father who served as the fourth president of the United States from 1809 to  ...more
  • 17
    Dec. at 75 (1847-1922)
    1,664
    727

    BirthplaceEdinburgh, United Kingdom

    NationalityCanada, United States of America, Scotland

    Alexander Graham Bell ('Graham' pronounced ) (March 3, 1847 – August 2, 1922) was a Scottish-born American inventor, scientist, and engineer who is credited with inventing and patenting the first  ...more
  • 18
    Dec. at 56 (1737-1793)
    2,054
    1,064

    BirthplaceBraintree, Massachusetts, United States of America

    NationalityUnited States of America

    John Hancock (January 23, 1737 [O.S. January 12, 1736] – October 8, 1793) was an American merchant, statesman, and prominent Patriot of the American Revolution. He served as president of the Second  ...more
  • 19
    Dec. at 81 (1722-1803)
    1,609
    750

    BirthplaceBoston, Massachusetts, USA

    NationalityUnited States of America

    Samuel Adams (September 27 [O.S. September 16] 1722 – October 2, 1803) was an American statesman, political philosopher, and one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. He was a politician in  ...more
  • 20
    Dec. at 63 (1822-1885)
    2,182
    1,010

    BirthplacePoint Pleasant, Ohio, United States of America

    NationalityUnited States of America

    Ulysses S. Grant (born Hiram Ulysses Grant; April 27, 1822 – July 23, 1885) was an American soldier, politician, and international statesman who served as the 18th president of the United States from  ...more
  • 21
    AmandaHall addedDec. at 93 (1911-2004)
    3,659
    1,833

    BirthplaceTampico, Illinois, United States of America

    NationalityUnited States of America

    Ronald Wilson Reagan (; February 6, 1911 – June 5, 2004) was an American politician who served as the 40th president of the United States from 1981 to 1989. Prior to his presidency, he was a  ...more
  • 22
    Dec. at 46 (1917-1963)
    3,277
    1,828

    BirthplaceUSA, Massachussetts, Brookline

    NationalityUnited States of America

    John Fitzgerald Kennedy (May 29, 1917 – November 22, 1963), often referred to by initials JFK and Jack, was an American politician who served as the 35th president of the United States from January  ...more
  • 23
    Valdave addedDec. at 59 (1831-1890)
    1,711
    904

    BirthplaceSouth Dakota

    Sitting Bull (Lakota: Tȟatȟáŋka Íyotake [tˣaˈtˣə̃ka ˈi.jɔtakɛ] in Standard Lakota orthography, also nicknamed Húŋkešni [ˈhʊ̃kɛʃni] or "Slow") was a Hunkpapa Lakota leader who led his people during  ...more
  • 24
    Susan West added
    926
    394
    Harriet Tubman (born Araminta Ross, c. March 1822 – March 10, 1913) was an American abolitionist and political activist. Born into slavery, Tubman escaped and subsequently made some thirteen missions  ...more
  • 25
    Dec. at 88 (1884-1972)
    1,670
    904

    BirthplaceLamar, Missouri, United States of America

    NationalityUnited States of America

    Harry S. Truman (May 8, 1884 – December 26, 1972) was the 33rd president of the United States from 1945 to 1953, succeeding upon the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt after serving as vice president. He  ...more