This was a difficult list to compile and you may not agree with the order or the inclusion of some of these people, but they had an undeniable influence on the 20th century in many diverse areas of life. Some are indisputably deserving of being on the list while others Crick and Watson who discovered the double helix of DNA have been ignored. You may also think that Presidents and Prime Ministers should have been included and one has been, but there are few who were icons in their time.
1. Nelson Mandela
Nelson Mandela born in 1918 has to be one of the most influential and charismatic figures of the 20th century. He was the son of a tribal chieftain who was extremely weel educated and who turned his considerable talents to righting the wrongs of the Apartheid system in South Africa. Imprisoned for his politics in 1962 after the Sharpeville massacre, he languished on the notorious Robbins’s Island prison until he was finally released in 1990. He went on to become South Africa’s first black President and instead of seeking revenge, preached reconciliation.
2. Moham Das Karam Chand Gandhi
Moham Das Karam Chand Gandhi better known as Mahatma Gandhi, was born in 1869, and until his assassination practised non-violent resistance to the British rule in the Indian subcontinent. He was a gentle, humble man who helped to shape the subcontinent as it is today. He was the inspiration for those who believed in peaceful protest.
3. Ernesto Che Guevara (1928-1967)
Ernesto Che Guevara was the antithesis of Gandhi, although he had trained as a doctor and had worked with lepers, he believed that armed struggle was the only way to right the wrongs the poor endured. He was a communist and fighter who joined in what he saw as the struggles of the poor against the wealthy oppressors in South America and Cuba. He was born in Argentina, is best remembered for his fight in Cuba with Fidel Castro and his wild hair and beret can still be seen on posters, mugs and other paraphernalia. He was executed in Bolivia.
4. Mother Teresa
Mother Teresa was born Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu in Albania in 1910, and died in Calcutta in 1997. She is best known for her work in the slums of Calcutta. One of her mast famous sayings was “Yesterday has gone, tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today. Let us begin.” She won the Nobel Prize for peace in 1979 and was beatified by the Roman Catholic Church after her death. This was so that people in Calcutta where she had worked so tirelessly to improve the lives of the poor could worship her if they chose without incurring the wrath of the Church.
5. Princess Diana of Wales (1961- 1997)
Hers was a fairy tale marriage according to the media, although she was lady Diana Spencer, so not a commoner. Her marriage ended and she died tragically, but she won the hearts of many in Britain and around the world. She was the member of the British royal family who showed compassion for those suffering from HIV/AIDS and she worked to stop mines being used in areas of war. Her face still adorns mugs and other items and she lives on in the hearts of many.
6. Albert Einstein (1879-1955)
Albert Einstein was a great physicist who was awarded the Nobel Prize for his Law of Photoelectric Effect, although he is better known for his theory of relativity. His rather eccentric appearance makes him immediately recognizable to people even today, more then fifty years after his death.
7. Walt Disney (1901-1966)
Walt Disney famously gave the world that loveable mouse, Mickey, and by the time of his death there were entertainment parks, and so many films to remember him by. He changed the face of the children’s entertainment world.
8. Marilyn Monroe (1926-1962)
Norma Jean Mortenson was an actress, singer, model and sex symbol who died tragically. Her pouting red lips and her dress blowing around her ears are potent images of the 20th century. She was a great comic actress, think of “Some Like it Hot” and has inspired artists and writers alike.
9. John Lennon (1940-1980)
John Lennon was a member of the first super group, The Beatles, a poet and a rebel. He also acted and wrote and painted. However he will probably be best remembered for his song. “Imagine” which advocates world peace.
10. Charlie Chaplin (1889-1972)
Sir Charles Spencer Chaplin Jr. KBE is perhaps the greatest of the silent film era’s comic actors. His portrayal of “The Tramp” and his trade mark brush-like moustache have made him adored by many and certainly an icon of the 20th century.