7 20th Century Men Who Made History

It's possible to make this list long considering that the 20th century saw the rise of numerous famous people from the worlds of politics, entertainment, and sports. But, there are a few names that stand out. These men changed the course of history. Here are seven famous 20th-century names listed in alphabetical order to avoid any ranking.

Neil Armstrong

Neil Armstrong Training for Apollo 11 Mission
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Neil Armstrong was the commander of Apollo 11, the first NASA mission to put a man on the moon. Armstrong was that man, and he took those first steps on the moon on July 20, 1969. His words echoed through space and down the years: "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind." Armstrong died in 2012 at age 82.

Winston Churchill

Sir Winston Churchill

Evening Standard / Getty Images

Winston Churchill is a giant among political leaders. He was a soldier, a politician and a riveting orator. As the prime minister of Britain during the dark days of World War II, helped the British people keep the faith and stay the course against the Nazis through the horrors of Dunkirk, the Blitz, and D-Day. He spoke many famous words, but perhaps none more than these, delivered to the House of Commons on June 4, 1940: "We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France; we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches; we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender." Churchill died in 1965.

Henry Ford

Henry Ford
Getty Images

Henry Ford gets the credit for turning the world upside down at the beginning of the 20th century with his invention of the gasoline-powered engine and ushering in an entirely new culture centered on the car, opening up new vistas for all. He built his first gasoline-powered "horseless carriage" in the shed behind his house, founded the Ford Motor Company in 1903 and made the first Model T in 1908. The rest, as they say, is history. Ford was the first to use an assembly line and standardized parts, revolutionizing manufacturing and American life forever. Ford died in 1947 at 83.

John Glenn

American Astronaut John Glenn Entering Capsule
Bettmann / Contributor Getty

John Glenn was one of the first group of NASA astronauts who were involved in the very early missions into space. Glenn was the first American to orbit the Earth on Feb. 20, 1962. After his stint with NASA, Glenn was elected to the U.S. Senate and served for 25 years. He died in December 2016 at the age of 95.

John F. Kennedy

John F. Kennedy

Central Press / Getty Images

John F. Kennedy, the 35th president of the United States, is remembered more for the way he died than the way he governed as president. He was known for his charm, his wit and sophistication, and his wife, the legendary Jackie Kennedy. But his assassination in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963, lives in the memory of all who witnessed it. The country shuddered from the shock of the killing of this young and vital president, and some say it was never again quite the same. JFK was 46 years old when he lost his life so violently that day in Dallas in 1963. 

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Wikimedia Commons / World Telegram & Sun / Dick DeMarsico

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a seminal figure in the civil rights movement of the 1960s. He was a Baptist minister and activist who spurred African-Americans to rise against the Jim Crow segregation of the South with nonviolent protest marches. One of the most famous is the March on Washington in August 1963, widely credited as a significant influence on the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. King's famous "I Have a Dream" speech was delivered during that march at the Lincoln Memorial on the Mall in Washington. King was assassinated in April 1968 in Memphis; he was 39 years old.

Franklin D. Roosevelt

The Franklin D. Roosevelt Library

Franklin D. Roosevelt was president of the United States from 1932, the depths of the Great Depression, until he died in April 1945, nearly the end of World War II. He led the American people through the two most trying periods of the 20th century and gave them the courage to face what the world had become. His famous "fireside chats," with families gathered around the radio, are the stuff of legend. It was during his first Inaugural Address that he said these now-famous words: "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself." 

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Rosenberg, Jennifer. "7 20th Century Men Who Made History." ThoughtCo, Feb. 16, 2021, thoughtco.com/famous-people-in-20th-century-1779906. Rosenberg, Jennifer. (2021, February 16). 7 20th Century Men Who Made History. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/famous-people-in-20th-century-1779906 Rosenberg, Jennifer. "7 20th Century Men Who Made History." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/famous-people-in-20th-century-1779906 (accessed June 3, 2023).