It’s July 4th. As America celebrates another year of freedom, let’s look back at the top 10 Americans who changed the world. The next time you use a light bulb, blood bank, listen to music, use a smartphone, or look at the moon (or not contract smallpox), you’ll thank the American who made your life better.
1) Thomas Alva Edison
You may best know Edison for inventing the lightbulb (well, it was more like inventing a viable lightbulb). Edison started the first US electrical utility company, which later grew into General Electric – which is still around today! Not shabby at all. Edison was also granted a patent for a video camera – you can see some of the footage it shot from a boxing match in 1894 below.
Did You Know? Thomas Edison also invented a stock ticker machine, among the 1,093 US Patents he held.
2) Bob Dylan
No one quite changed the face of popular music, and maybe even world culture, quite like Bob Dylan. Born Robert Allen Zimmerman in 1941, Dylan was “the voice of a generation” that was a cultural sea change. He won a Nobel Prize for Literature, but in his inimitable fashion he did not show up to the ceremony to collect it.
Did You Know? Bob Dylan is also a visual artist and has published seven books of artwork.
3) Neal Armstrong
Neal was the United States’ first civilian astronaut. An aeronautical engineer, he made history by being the first man to walk on the moon. “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” has become one of the defining quotes of the technological generation.
Did You Know? Neal Armstrong also traveled to the North Pole, in 1985.
4) Elvis Presley
What can you say about the King? Elvis is a one word phenomenon, the man who created rock ‘n’ roll, the first teenage heartthrob sensation, and the best selling solo artist in the history of recorded music. Not content as a rock superstar, he was an actor too. Elvis remains an icon, his Graceland home still visited by half a million people each year.
Did You Know: Elvis signed his first recording contract as a minor – his father had to sign for him!
Friends, as a great philosopher once said..
5) Walt Disney
Mickey Mouse, Snow White, Dumbo, Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan….are just some of the movies and characters that Walt Disney gave us all. Animated cartoons, such a wonderful part of so many childhoods, are a legacy of Walt Disney. Walt received 55 Academy Award nominations and won 22 times – both are records. And who can forget Disneyland?
Did You Know? Mickey Mouse turned 90 recently – happy birthday, Mickey! His first spoken words were “hot dogs” – see below.
6) Steve Jobs
Steve Jobs changed the globe. His sleek designs and earth-shattering technology moved humanity from flip phones to smartphones, room-sized computers to personal computers (and then razor thin laptops), and from dull design to beautiful gadgets. Steve also started Pixar – he is credited as executive producer of Toy Story!
Did You Know? Steve Jobs was adopted! Steve used to eat in his birth father’s restaurant without knowing who he was.
7) Dr. Charles Richard Drew
If you ever used a blood bank, you have Dr. Charles Richard Drew to thank. Dr. Drew pioneered techniques for collecting and storing blood for patients, starting in World War 2 in the “Blood for Britain” program. Drew invented “bloodmobiles,” which were designed to create mobile blood supply as well as increase donations. Bloodmobiles are still in use today.
8) Helen Keller
Helen Keller, born deaf and blind, never let her limitations get in the way of her life. Helen learned to communicate using touch and became a prolific writer – an incredible achievement for someone who should never have been able to learn language! An inspiration to all, Helen proved that it isn’t the tools you have, but the will to succeed that counts.
Did You Know? Helen eventually learned to speak – and would “listen” to music by feeling the vibrations through a tabletop.
9) Donald Henderson
You probably never heard of D.A. Henderson – but without him, life on Earth would be incredibly different, and worse, today. Henderson spearheaded the World Health Organization’s efforts to eradicate smallpox. In 1977, after only ten years (!!), the last case of smallpox was recorded. Thanks to Henderson, a deadly killer virus is completely gone from the Earth.
Did You Know? Henderson’s efforts were so monumental, the WHO has implemented his eradication program against poliomyelitis and Guinea Worm disease. They, too, are nearly vanquished.
10) Mark E. Dean
If you use a PC, you have Mark Dean to thank. Dean was part of the team at IBM which invented the hardware interface that allowed multiple inputs to a computer (think printer, mouse, modem, keyboard). He also contributed to color computer monitor and the world’s first gigahertz computer chip. Dean holds three of IBM’s first nine patents.