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Name The Most Famous Americans

The Supreme Court is milking the D.C. gun case for all possible drama, saving the release of its opinion till the last day, so since there's no gun ban action to report on here today, let's play a game about who we are and what this country means to us....

Here's an exercise that tells you something about yourself, your concept of this country, and the state of American education. Professors from the University of Maryland and Stanford surveyed thousands of high school students across the nation, asking them to name the 10 most famous Americans in history--excluding presidents and first ladies.

As you'll see, the exclusion of those more obvious options pushes you to consider a remarkable range of people. Try it with friends and family and I guarantee you there will be some fascinating patterns and some quite distinctive, personally revealing individual choices. I'm about to reveal my own choices and those of high school students across the nation--if you'd like to come to this exercise fresh, write down your list and share it with us on the comment board before reading the rest of this post.....

Here's a couple of lines of space so that you don't see the names quite yet....

.....ok, the names are coming right up....

My list included Edison, Twain, Franklin, Ali, King, Ruth, Einstein, and three men who are not huge enough to be reliably on a single-name basis: Billy Graham, William Jennings Bryan and James Brown.

I had only one name in common with my wife's list (Ali) and four in common with my 17-year-old daughter (Franklin, Ruth, Edison and King.)

The professors who conducted the study weren't interested so much in creating a parlor game as in arguing that 1) U.S. high school students aren't as pathetically ignorant as they're made out to be in national studies and on Jay Leno's moron-on-the-street interviews, and 2) a couple of decades of multicultural education have changed our collective definition of who's important in history.

The study, as reported in Smithsonian Magazine, makes much of the fact that the top 10 that emerged from the high school students did not include the likes of Britney Spears, Paris Hilton or Kanye West, but rather showed at least a superficial familiarity with some key characters from throughout the American past.

Here's the top five names in the survey of 2,000 high school juniors and seniors:
Martin Luther King
Rosa Parks
Harriet Tubman
Susan B. Anthony
Benjamin Franklin

I'm sorry, but when I read this, I thought the survey had to be either bogus or fundamentally flawed. It indeed turned out to be skewed--intentionally.

Sam Wineburg, a Stanford historian with a keen interest in how and why we learn about history and what can be done to connect today's intellectually peripatetic students to the essential stories of the past, and Chauncey Monte-Sano, a professor of education at UM/College Park, asked the high schoolers to name not only the top 10 famous Americans but also to list 10 "famous women in American history." Then, instead of reporting the two sets of results separately, they blended the lists together. "Thus the questionnaire was weighted toward women," Wineburg writes.

Weighted is putting it mildly. The reported results are wildly altered by the decision to draw conclusions that there is no reason whatever to believe the participants in the survey intended. I put the two survey questions separately to a bunch of folks, and every single person I approached in my totally unscientific sample had a far tougher time coming up with ten women, and in no way considered the 10 women on the list to be as famous or important as the names on their general list (which usually included between one and three women.)

That's not a slight against women, just a reflection of the role women played in American history, especially until recent decades.

As an Emory University English professor notes, however, the Wineburg study seems designed primarily to make a political point about the impact that multicultural education has made on what American high school students know. And sure enough, looking at the lists produced by the professors and by my own mini-sample, most participants were able to search back through their schooling and dredge up names such as Susan B. Anthony, Jane Addams, Amelia Earhart, and Marian Anderson. But that doesn't tell us that those figures are considered on a par with the women who showed up when people were asked just to name the 10 most famous Americans, without regard to sex (that list included people such as Rosa Parks, Madonna, Marilyn Monroe and Betsy Ross.)

Wineburg concludes from this exercise that we could all stand to do a little less handwringing about our school system and the state of the American mind. He says the results show more "unity than fragmentation." And surely there is something remarkable and revealing about how this society has changed when we see that four of the top 10 names in the study's results are blacks (King, Parks, Tubman and, most oddly, Oprah Winfrey.)

But I can't be quite as sanguine as the authors of the study about what we collectively understand. This study is essentially a popularity or name recognition test more than it is a judgment of historical weight; after all, the students were asked to name "famous" Americans, not "important" or "historically significant" people.

And what the famous Americans study glosses over is the measurable and sorry still-miserable state of historical knowledge among U.S. students. This is hardly a surprise given the thin gruel that's served up in most high school history classes, where the emphasis is too often on the recent past and on nearly-trivial aspects of American history--a wild overreaction to the overemphasis in previous eras on the political evolution of the country and the role of a handful of great men.

But let's play the professors' game--without their unfortunate blending of results. Name your top 10 famous Americans--and separately your top 10 famous American women--with no presidents or first ladies allowed.

By Marc Fisher |  June 25, 2008; 10:20 AM ET
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King
Einstein
Hemingway
Franklin
Poe
RFK
Twain
Lindbergh
Neil Armstrong
MacArthur

Amelia Earhart
Clara Barton
Betsy Ross
Martha Stewart
Harriet Tubman
Emily Dickinson
Calamity Jane
Pocohontas
Marilyn Monroe
Rosa Parks

Posted by: Lavar Walt Clark | June 25, 2008 10:56 AM

Ben Franklin; Henry Clay; Thomas Edison; Martin Luther King; Robert Kennedy; Thurgood Marshall; Babe Ruth; Mark Twain; Aaron Burr, John Marshall

Francis Perkins; Harriet Tubman; Gloria Steinem; Elizabeth Cady Stanton; Rosa Parks; Sandra Day O'Connor; Billie Jean King; Amelia Earhart; Clara Barton; Molly Pitcher

Posted by: MAX | June 25, 2008 11:20 AM

My question is this: Fame in America? Or fame globally? 100 years ago, the general global public would not necessarily have been aware of "famous" Americans, but with the advent of television, print media and the internet, fame is now global.

Betsy Ross is famous in America (and rightly so), but probably not known globally whereas Oprah is known globally.

I find this "survey" irrelevant and without merit.

Posted by: Hmmm | June 25, 2008 11:26 AM

Lavar Walt Clark - Einstein was German.

Martin Luther King
Malcolm X
Benjamin Franklin
Babe Ruth
Michael Jordan
Johnny Unitas
Neil Armstrong
Jack Nicholson
Clint Eastwood
Marc Fisher

Rosa Parks
Shirley Chisholm
Susan B. Anthony
Billie Jean King
Marilyn Monroe
Christa McAuliffe
Anna Nicole Smith
Madonna
Pamela Anderson
Katie Curic

Posted by: Product of P.G. County Public Schools | June 25, 2008 11:38 AM

It's hard to say without really knowing what they mean by "famous" (famous to whom? where? in their time, or now? inside the US, or outside it?), but here's the list I came up with before reading on:

Benjamin Franklin
Lewis & Clark
Mark Twain
Thomas Edison
William Faulkner
Walt Disney
Marilyn Monroe
Elvis Presley
Martin Luther King
Bill Gates

Posted by: csdiego | June 25, 2008 12:04 PM

My ten done prior to reading the column:

Charles Lindbergh
Benjamin Franklin
Colin Powell
Benedict Arnold
Robert E. Lee
Robert Kennedy
Thomas Edison
Albert Einstein (didn't he become an American?)
Bob Dylan
Elvis Presley

Posted by: shoeie | June 25, 2008 12:04 PM

Product of P.G. County Public Schools - Einstein became an American citizen in the 40's. If the list was looking for Americans by birth, then he should be off the list. If not, then he can stay.

Posted by: Bill | June 25, 2008 12:05 PM

And Pam Anderson is Canadian. (And I'm a little ashamed to admit that I know that.)

Posted by: jane | June 25, 2008 12:18 PM

* Edison (where would we be without electricity and all the other inventions of his?)
* Franklin
* MLK (the conscience of our country in the last half century)
* Babe Ruth (when there was pretty much only one national sport)
* Lindberg (for reasons I can't fathom from today's perspective, it seems that flying across the Atlantic captured the national imagination more than the landing on the moon did in the late 1960s)
* Amelia Earhart (pretty much the same reason)
* Alexander Hamilton (he and Franklin were among the most important non-Presidents in the formative era of the U.S. -- why do you think he's the only non-President with his face on our cash?)
* Mark Twain (how many authors from a century ago do we remember, how many were as widely published, how many are still quoted? Thoreau a bit, yes, but Twain's writings and witicisms were far more widely read)
* Robert Kennedy
* Joe DiMaggio (baseball has been so central to the American psyche, especially before the NFL and NBA became bigger, but by that time baseball had been our national sport for over half a century)

No actors or singers because there are so many of them, their fame tends to be less enduring -- notice how nobody mentioned Cary Grant or Benny Goodman or Betty Davis or Ray Charles or Ella Fitzgerald or Errol Flynn or Billie Holliday or Bing Crosby or Frank Sinatra or Gregory Peck? Marilyn Monroe I can see an argument for...she does seem to still be out there, perhaps partly because of the buzz that she might have been the mistress of JFK or RFK or both, but isn't that notoriety rather than fame, to some degree?

Posted by: Tom | June 25, 2008 12:20 PM

George Gershwin
Irving Berlin
Leonard Bernstein
Harry Hopkins
George Marshall
Bill Gates
Alexander Graham Bell
Thomas Edison
Edward Teller
Albert Einstein

Margaret Sanger
Susan B. Anthony
Georgia O'Keefe
Amelia Earhart
Martha Graham
Sally Ride
Christa McAuliff
Emily Dickinson
Margaret Mead
Clara Barton

Posted by: Arlington, VA | June 25, 2008 12:26 PM

I like everyone's list so far but some other considerattions not mentioned above - Ford, Bell, Warhol, Glenn, Wright Brothers

Posted by: 20005 | June 25, 2008 12:35 PM

"This is hardly a surprise given the thin gruel that's served up in most high school history classes, where the emphasis is too often on the recent past"

Marc, you're dead wrong on the emphasis. Actually, most high school U.S. history classes stop well before the present. Do you have any evidence backing up your statement? No? I didn't think so. Read James Loewen's "Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong". You should have a good understanding by the end of the book as to exactly why so little is said about the recent past.

To summarize the problem, the recent past, in which a large part of the current population still remembers, is too volatile for textbooks. Because textbooks have to satisfy state boards that run the gamut from normal to right-wing wackos in Texas, they avoid getting into anything too political and contentious, which includes the recent past. And when they do discuss the recent past, they do so in a more superficial manner. Imagine the hubbub if a U.S. history class really got into exactly what was underlying the whole Clinton impeachment scandal. Parents of all political stripes would be complaining about the apparent bias in the class.

Anyway, Marc, I'm waiting for you to explain your evidence for saying such things.

Posted by: Ryan | June 25, 2008 12:36 PM

I looked at this from the angle of Most Famous Americans -- to Americans and Most Famous Americans to the Rest of the World. In order of how I thought of them...

To Americans:
Martin Luther King Jr
Ben Franklin
Harriet Tubman
Babe Ruth
Walt Disney


To The Rest of the World:
Neil Armstrong
Jesse Owens
Charles Lindbergh
Angelina Jolie

Posted by: NC2 | June 25, 2008 12:42 PM

Ben Franklin, John Marshall, George Marshall, Joe McCarthy (not all fame/massive influence is good), Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, Mark Twain, Martin Luther King, Babe Ruth, and Robert E. Lee.

Betsy Ross, Amelia Earhart, Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, Grace Hopper, Susan B Anthony, Margaret Sanger, Rachel Carson, Helen Keller, Oprah Winfrey

Posted by: clay | June 25, 2008 12:48 PM

Tim Russert
George Carlin
Leonard Downie
Tiger Woods
Angelina Jolie

Posted by: Anonymous | June 25, 2008 12:55 PM

Ben Franklin
OJ Simpson
Michael Jackson
Charles Lindbergh
Walt Disney
Tiger Woods
Neil Armstrong
Elizabeth Taylor
Thomas Edison
Bill Gates


Posted by: Anonymous | June 25, 2008 12:56 PM

George W. Bush
Dick Cheney
Jesus
John Holmes

Posted by: Walter William Graham | June 25, 2008 12:57 PM

This exercise would be a lot more interesting if people were asked to choose the most famous people in particular categories: scientific, artistic, athletic, political, literary, business, etc. Then we might see names like James Watson, the co-discoverer of DNA, or John D. Rockefeller, the founder of Standard Oil, whom I do not see mentioned in any of the lists above. It also would be interesting to see which categories (scientific? literary?) simply stumped most people. As it is, this survey is just a slightly more sophisticated version of the "Jay-walking" segment on the Tonight Show.

Posted by: lydgate | June 25, 2008 1:01 PM

Michael Jordan
Benjamin Franklin
Martin Luther King Jr.
Brad Pitt
Angelina Jolie
Michael Jackson
Madonna
Marilyn Monroe
Elvis Presley
Thomas Edison

most famous... not necessarily important. I recall reading an article where they said Michael Jordan was more recognizable in the world than Mickey Mouse. And I'm really a little torn about putting Franklin and Edison on the list. Oh well.. .mindless time-wasting exercise... but fun.

Posted by: guitaristo | June 25, 2008 1:05 PM

My List:
Thomas Edison
Martin Luther King, Jr.
Robert E. Lee
Elvis
Orville Wright
Wilbur Wright
Walt Disney
Alice Paul
Lou Gerhig
Michael Jordan


Women:
Alice Paul
Clara Barton
Susan B. Anthony
Sacagaweha
Amelia Earhart
Madonna
Harriet Tubman
Sally Ride
Annie Oakley
Ellen DeGeneres

Posted by: KP | June 25, 2008 1:12 PM

The survey is dumb and useless. That list is one that would change almost weekly. A classic case of a professor / polling organization taking money for producing a document of no value whatsoever.

Also, the comment about historical figures in the recent past...as a professor of mine once said, if it happened within the last 50 years, it's not history, it's news. That would eliminate Ali, any Kennedy (except old Joe), King, Elvis, Jordan, OJ, Reagan (except as a movie actor), and a number of others.

Posted by: Mikes | June 25, 2008 1:27 PM

10 Most famous Americans that were not presidents:

Charles Manson
Jeffrey Dahmer
Ted Bundey
Karl Rove
John Allen Mohammed
Joe Lieberman
Al Sharpton
John "Juan" McCain
Hillary Clinton
Strum Thurmond

BTW, Albert Einstein was German, not American.

Posted by: Playa | June 25, 2008 1:30 PM

Playa,

As was noted above, Albert Einstein BECAME a U.S. Citizen in the 1940s. Here is the link to his naturalization application at the National Archives. Copy and paste into your browser.

http://www.archives.gov/global-pages/larger-image.html?i=/education/lessons/constitution-workshop/images/PG_2_Art_I_Sec_8_Einstein_naturaliz_ARC596270-l.jpg&c=/education/lessons/constitution-workshop/images/PG_2_Art_I_Sec_8_Einstein_naturaliz_ARC596270.caption.html

Posted by: Arlington, VA | June 25, 2008 1:40 PM

My list without reading the rest of the column or looking at the comments:

Benjamin Franklin
George Mason
Eli Whitney
Mark Twain
Thomas Edison
Nicola Tesla
Henry Ford
Albert Einstein
James Watson (DNA)
Milton Friedman


Honorable Mentions:
Patrick Henry
Robert E. Lee
M.L.K.
Susan B. Anthony
John Backus (Lead inventor of the first high level computer language FORTRAN)

Posted by: Leesburger | June 25, 2008 2:01 PM

Benjamin Franklin
Henry Ford
John D. Rockefeller
Davy Crockett
MLK
Babe Ruth
Thomas Edison
Hemingway
Bill Gates
Twain

Women:

Susan Anthony
Gertrude Stein
Rosa Parks
Gloria Steinem
Oprah
Amelia Earhart
Hellen Keller
Pocahantas (does she count?)

Posted by: C | June 25, 2008 2:09 PM

Benjamin Franklin
Robert E. Lee
Thomas Edison
Mark Twain
Alexander Fleming
Alexander Hamilton
J D Rockefeller
Bill Gates
Einstein
Henry David Thoreau

Posted by: Brian | June 25, 2008 2:35 PM

Aunt Jemima, Uncle Ben and Yo Mama

Posted by: Mister Methane | June 25, 2008 2:43 PM

Mark Twain, Thomas Edison, Errol Flynn, Benjamin Franklin, George Armstrong Custer, Al Capone, John Dillinger, Wild Bill Hickok, Charles Lindbergh, Robert E. Lee.

Susan B. Anthony, Carrie Nation, Amelia Earhart, Annie Oakley, Lillian Gish, Pocahantas, Gertrude Stein, Clara Barton, Helen Keller, Betsy Ross.

I think most women became famous in the last 50 years. I also tried to pick people who were famous worldwide.

Posted by: Stick | June 25, 2008 2:46 PM

My list (before I read yours):
MLK
Harriet Tubman
Mark Twain
Ben Franklin
Pocohantas
Ernest Hemingway
Elvis
Wright Brothers (I counted as one)
Albert Einstein
Thomas Edison

Posted by: JB | June 25, 2008 2:49 PM

In chronological order:

Benjamin Franklin
Harriet Beecher Stowe
Clara Barton
Mark Twain
Chief Sitting Bull
Henry David Thoreau
Thomas Edison
Wilbur and Orville Wright
John Glenn
Martin Luther King, Jr.

Posted by: jhbyer | June 25, 2008 2:59 PM

The Dukes of Hazzard (2)

Barney Fife

Al Gore (he invented the Internet)

Chuck Norris (he invented the roundhouse kick)

Kiki Vandeweghe

Jared Fogle

The "don't tase me bro" kid

Kevin Federline

Rick Astley (never gonna give you up)

Posted by: america iz niiiice! | June 25, 2008 3:00 PM

Not necessarily in order of how famous they may be:

Martin Luther King, Jr.
Douglas MacArthur
Muhammad Ali
Michael Jordan
John Marshall
Benjamin Franklin
Robert E. Lee
Elvis Presley
Neil Armstrong
O.J. Simpson

Sandra Day O'Connor
Marilyn Monroe
Susan B. Anthony
Cary Nation
Condi Rice
Harriett Beecher Stowe
Oprah Winfrey
Clara Barton
Tipper Gore
Madeleine Albright

Any list of women that excludes First Ladies is bound to include more recent names simply due to changing cultural standards that allow women a bigger role in society now than 100 years ago. I considered listing Martha Jefferson (Thomas Jefferson's wife) because she was never a First Lady--she died before he became president--but as I reflected on it I was thinking that (a) I don't know much about her other than her name and (b) I think the only reason I know even that much is because I went to UVA and there's a hospital in Charlottesville named for her.

I think the post from Ryan at 12:36 PM makes some good points. It's been 20 years since my high school days, but I recall the 20th century ALWAYS getting short shrift in history classes. The teachers always dawdled on the Colonial period and then ran out of time to cover the 20th century. I agree that anything more recent than Watergate was absolutely too recent when I was in school, and even Watergate bore covering only on a "just-the-facts" style of teaching because it was still quite recent in the scheme of things. I don't know whether the dawdling on Colonial times was because the teachers felt like they had lots of time in the school year or because they were more comfortable with that material, though.

Posted by: Rich | June 25, 2008 3:05 PM

Einstein was an American citizen for many years. And for those who call him 'German', he was born in Germany, yes, but as a child his family bounced around Italy and Switzerland. Einstein eventually got his university education in Switzerland and became a Swiss civil servant for several years working as a patent examiner (though he was passed over for promotion because it was felt he didn't understand machines well enough). From there he lived in Prague and it wasn't until he was 35 that he moved back to Germany. he lived there for only 20 years before fleeing. So, given all that and the fact that the government in Germany at the time thought he and his fellow Jews to be unworthy of their great nation, I think they lost the right to lay claim to him!

Posted by: once and for all | June 25, 2008 3:12 PM

Late to the game, so just trying to come up with someone not yet mentioned:

George Lucas?

Posted by: CJMiva | June 25, 2008 3:19 PM

Oh, one other who like Einstein was born in Germany but became a US citizen:

Levi Strauss

Posted by: CJMiva | June 25, 2008 3:24 PM

Einstein became famous when he was a German citizen, so that kept him off my list, but hey, why not claim him?

MLK, Jr., if you please. It really bugs me how people leave off the Junior. Seems a technicality, but it's a whole other person.
.

Posted by: jhbyer | June 25, 2008 3:30 PM

Edison, Ford, King, Tubman, Fredrick Douglas, Amelia Earhart, Patton, Twain and the Wright Brothers. (tachnically 11).

Posted by: Angry Liberaltarian | June 25, 2008 3:36 PM

Very sad to see that not one of you listed Abraham Lincoln, the greatest American who ever lived - past present and future.

Posted by: BiffGriff | June 25, 2008 3:57 PM

america iz niiiice inspires me to list my top ten most INFAMOUS (in reverse chronological order):

George W Bush
Timothy McVeigh
OJ Simpson
Lee Harvey Oswald
Joe McCarthy
Al Capone
General George Custer
John Brown (noble aims, terrible failure)
Jesse James
Benedict Arnold

Posted by: jhbyer | June 25, 2008 4:12 PM

Here is my original list:
Ben Franklin, Neil Armstrong, Alexander Hamilton, Babe Ruth, Jonas Salk, Michael Jordan, John Wayne, JP Morgan, Milton Friedman, and The Wright Brothers.

considered : Amelia Earhart

Just didn't think of them but they should have replaced someone else on my list: MLK, Edison

I considered Einstein but thought he may not count.

People who I wish I had thought of and considered: Patton, Twain, Oprah, Elvis, Ali, Marilyn Monroe, and MacArthur.

Posted by: Phil | June 25, 2008 4:14 PM

I find Fisher's statement and list to be particularly bias. First, when asked to create the list, it is obvious he did not think of women because he only included one. Second, this is not due to the diminished role that women have played in American history. This is due to the bias reflected in American history. Public high schools and their textbooks do not include women who have made significant contributions to our society besides the mention of Harriet Tubman or Susan B. Anthony for the purpose of making sure that they can say they acknowledged both sexes. What about Elizabeth Cady Stanton? Betty Fridan? Gloria Steinem?

Women are missing from this list but this is not because they did not play a large role in American history. This is because those who write history have failed to include them in it due to past biases.

Posted by: lchlava | June 25, 2008 4:15 PM

"Very sad to see that not one of you listed Abraham Lincoln, the greatest American who ever lived - past present and future."

ROFL! This just proves the point about ignorant people. What part of "excluding presidents and first ladies" was unclear to you?

Posted by: Rich | June 25, 2008 4:21 PM

Biff Griff, I wholeheartedly agree that Abe Lincoln is the greatest, but presidents and their wives are all to be excluded per Marc's instructions.

Posted by: jhbyer | June 25, 2008 4:22 PM

Men:
Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Jesse Owens, Babe Ruth, Martin Luther King, Jr., Neil Armstrong, Carl Sagan, Ted Kennedy, Al Gore.

Women:
Pocahontas, Betsy Ross, Harriet Tubbman, Amelia Earhart, Susan B. Anthony, Shirley Temple, Judy Garland, Gertrude Stein, Dorothy Hamill, Hillary Clinton.

Posted by: NW DC | June 25, 2008 4:30 PM

The most famous American hands down is Chef Boyardee

Posted by: Fred | June 25, 2008 4:36 PM

Going backwards:
El Haje Malik el-Shabazz (Malcolm Little/Malcom X)
FDR
Robert E. Lee
John Quincy Adams
Lewis
Clark
Jefferson
Adams
Washington
Jonathan Edwards
Sir Walter Raleigh

I'm a woman, but I can't think of 10 women that can stand up to the names on the men's list.

Posted by: GM | June 25, 2008 5:10 PM

Sir Walter Raleigh was English, it ought to go w/o saying. America never bestowed aristocratic titles. [sheesh]

Posted by: jhbyer | June 25, 2008 5:33 PM

Yeah, but he started the colonies in Virginia, remember?

Posted by: GM | June 25, 2008 5:36 PM

Benjamin Franklin
Thomas Paine
Alexander Hamilton
Robert E. Lee
Douglas MacArthur
J. Edgar Hoover
Jackie Robinson
Rosa Parks
Martin Luther King, Jr.
Bill Gates

Posted by: EDC | June 25, 2008 5:55 PM

americans: marilyn monroe, ben franklin, thomas edison, al gore, elvis, mlk, michael jordan, frank sinatra, malcolm x, muhammad ali.

women: monroe, tubman, rosa parks, sally ride, anthony, pocahontas, emily dickenson, monica lewinski, shirley temple, julia child

Posted by: mary | June 25, 2008 6:06 PM

My list before reading was, in no particular order:

Ben Franklin
Mark Twain
Robert E. Lee
Amelia Earhart
Albert Einstein
MLK
RFK
Thurgood Marshall
Betsy Ross
Francis Scott Key

Others I struggled with but did not write down were Jeff Davis, Sandra Day O'Connor, Bill Gates, Daniel Webster, Warren Buffett, Gens. Patton & MacArthur. In retrospect, Rosa Parks probably should have gone on the list instead of Betsy Ross.

It was a fascinating exercise: does "famous" mean celebrity-famous, historically famous, or what? How do you choose? Very interesting - and I felt so dumb when I read what others posted and saw some of the folks I missed.

Posted by: Courthouseguy | June 25, 2008 7:17 PM

The education of high schoolers may not be in as bad shape as we thought, but that of university researchers is far worse!

Posted by: Anonymous | June 25, 2008 7:40 PM

Composed before I saw the list (and realized I had completely overlooked sports figures) or looked at other postings (and realized I had overlooked figures famous for accomplishments in industry or just for being rich):

famous Americans "in history" (I interpreted this as meaning people who are deceased who would be most familiar to the general population):

Edison
Franklin
Elvis
Daniel Boone
Davy Crocket
Neil Armstrong
John Wayne
Frank Sinatra
Mark Twain
Charles Lindbergh

famous American women in history:
Betsy Ross
Sacajawea
Harriet Tubman
Harriet Beecher Stowe
Susan B. Anthony
Louisa May Alcott
Queen Lilliokulani
Amelia Earheart
Rosa Parks
Shirley Chisolm

Posted by: dc-native | June 25, 2008 7:56 PM

Top 10 famous Americans:

Franklin Delano Roosevelt
Abraham Lincoln
Babe Ruth
Ernest Hemingway
Humphrey Bogart
Bob Dylan
George Washington
Thomas Jefferson
Martin Luther King, Jr.
John Fitzgerald Kennedy

(Gee, a lot of presidents...and all men.)

Posted by: Jack | June 25, 2008 8:26 PM

Interestingly we don't have many famous Hispanic Americans, Asian Americans, or native Americans that readily pop into people's mind. We know about MLK and his philosophical contemporary rival Malcom X, but not many others. Women usually include the right to vote people, the underground railroad champion, or the lady who made flags. Does all this indicate a white male bias in our recorded history or just an accurate reflection of the people who had enough social power and access to make "famous" contributions?

Posted by: James Doe | June 25, 2008 9:51 PM

When does someone become famous? Other than Bill Gates (and Oprah in the article) most people have no one listed from the past 3 or 4 decades.

Posted by: John Doe | June 25, 2008 9:57 PM

I'm embarrassed to say that the first name I came up with was Elvis. I'm even more embarrassed that King and Einstein didn't occur to me at all. In the order they occurred to me:

Elvis, B Franklin, T Edison, R Frost, M Twain, D Boone, C Barton, J Cash, M Monroe, B Graham

Women, in order that I thought of them:

Rosa P, Emily D, M Sanger, Clara B, Betsy R, F Nightingale, Jenny Lind, Dorothy Parker, Helen Thomas, Grace Kelly

Fascinating, if useless, exercise.

Posted by: Alicia | June 25, 2008 10:35 PM

GM...
Um, Sir Walter Raleigh is most known for setling the area now referred to as the Outer Banks in NORTH CAROLINA...which is probably why the state capital is named for him...you have heard of the Lost Colony, near Manteo, haven't you...
And can anyone name the first English citizen born in the New World?

Virginia Dare, born in the same colony. There is a Dare County in coastal NC as well.

Sorry, I lived in the state for many years.

Posted by: edmom | June 25, 2008 10:50 PM

Ben Franklin
Bill Gates
Elvis Presley
Thomas Edison
Henry Ford
Martin Luther King, Jr
Charles Lindbergh
Neil Armstrong
Wright Brothers
Amelia Earhart

Posted by: giotto | June 25, 2008 10:51 PM

Marc,

Based on your comments, perhaps it is you who needs a bit of education.

The question you posed: 10 most famous Americans in history... you answered Ali.. is he most famous in history or most famous athlete? The same could be said for Twain... is he most famous in history or most famous author? I would assume when one asks for the most famous people in American history, one would be looking for those who directly impacted government, policy, national interests, etc. So perhaps the question you asked is ambiguous.

Secondly, your comment about the role women played is not a slight, just a total lack of education. Eleanor Roosevelt anyone? She wasn't a president, but she sure acted like one!!

Posted by: LEK | June 26, 2008 7:03 AM

Elvis
Leadbelly
Meatloaf
Patsy Cline
Bob Hope

Posted by: Jeb | June 26, 2008 9:27 AM

This listing of "great" Americans is just another reason why my wife honeschools our children. The Deweyite-Gramcsi brainwashing continues in the public schools.

Posted by: D Leaberry | June 26, 2008 2:16 PM

Eleanor Roosevelt was a first lady. She doesn't count.
Women:
Oprah
Shirley Temple Black
Jane Fonda
Emily Dickinson
Clara Barton
Sally Ride
Billie Jean King
Susan B. Anthony
Amelia Earhart
Alice B. Toklas

Overall:
Elvis
Ali
MacArthur
Rockefeller
Edison
John Glenn
RFK
Mario Andretti
Babe Ruth
Bill Gates

Einstein is famous and became an American, but I don't think people would call him a "famous American".

Posted by: btown | June 26, 2008 7:19 PM

(In No Order)
Albert Einstein
Elvis Presley
Bill Gates
Bob Hope
Martin Luther King, Jr
Thomas Edison
The Wright Brothers
Tiger Woods
Adolph Hitler
Muhammad Ali

Posted by: Scott | June 29, 2008 1:11 AM

Martin Luther King
Benjamin Franklin
Michael Jordan
Neil Armstrong
Marc Fisher
Shirley Chisholm
Susan B. Anthony
Billie Jean King
Marilyn Monroe
Christa McAuliffe
Anna Nicole Smith
Madonna
Pamela Anderson
Katie Curic

Posted by: sandeep verma | July 3, 2008 2:37 AM

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