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The 20th Century
All data are from nationwide surveys
of Americans 18 & older.

The greatest | American century

See also: Century's best President | Business leader | Movie | Athlete


 

Greatest of the Century (and the Millenium)

Gallup/CNN/USA Today Poll. Dec. 20-21, 1999. N=511 adults nationwide. MoE +/- 5.

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"Now I'm going to read you a list of people who have lived this century. For each one, please tell me if you consider that person to be one of the people you admire most from this century; a person you admire, but not the most; a person you somewhat admire; or someone you do not admire at all. . . ."
Admire
Most
Admire,
But Not
Most
Some-
what
Admire
Do Not
Admire

No
Opinion

% % % % %
Mother Teresa 49 32 14 3 2
Martin Luther King Jr. 34 33 22 10 1
John F. Kennedy 32 34 23 10 1
Albert Einstein 31 39 21 4 5
Helen Keller 30 33 19 8 10
Franklin Delano Roosevelt 26 34 29 7 4
Billy Graham 26 26 18 25 5
Pope John Paul II 25 34 23 13 5
Eleanor Roosevelt 22 34 28 10 6
Winston Churchill 20 36 27 10 7
Dwight D. Eisenhower 18 35 32 9 6
Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis 18 31 31 17 3
Mahatma Gandhi 18 25 22 14 21
Nelson Mandela 17 26 27 18 12
Ronald Reagan 17 33 32 17 1
Henry Ford 15 33 36 11 5
Bill Clinton 10 18 25 46 1
Margaret Thatcher 9 30 37 13 11

 

The Gallup Poll. Nov. 4-7, 1999. N=500 adults nationwide. MoE +/- 5.

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"Now I’m going to read you a list of events which have occurred this century. For each one, please tell me if you consider that event to be one of the most important events of the century, important but not the most important, somewhat important, or not important. ... Women gaining the right to vote in 1920. The U.S. Depression in the 1930s. World War I. Charles Lindbergh’s transatlantic flight in 1927. World War II. Dropping the atomic bomb on Hiroshima in 1945. The Nazi Holocaust during World War II. The Korean War in the early 1950s. The launching of the Russian Sputnik satellites in the 1950s. The Vietnam War in the 1960s and early 1970s. The assassination of President Kennedy in 1963. Passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Landing a man on the moon in 1969. The Watergate scandal involving Richard Nixon in the 1970s. The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. The breakup of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s. The Persian Gulf War in 1991. The impeachment of President Bill Clinton in 1998."

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ABC News Poll. August 16-22, 1999. N=506 adults nationwide. MoE +/- 4.5. Field work by TNS Intersearch.

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"With the year 2000 approaching, we're interested in knowing what people think of when they think about the greatest human accomplishments, anywhere in the world, in the last hundred years, since 1900. What comes to mind when you think about the greatest human accomplishment of the century? Take your time and think about it."
Top responses %
Moon landing/Space travel 33
Advancements in medicine 11
Computer technology 8
Flight/Invention of the airplane 3
Civil rights movement 3
Technology 3
Electricity 3

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"Now if you were to think about specific things that have been invented. What would you say is the greatest invention of the century?"
Top responses %
Computers 30
Automobile 12
Electricity 9
Television 9
Telephone/Telecommunications 7
Airplane 4
Medicines/Vaccinations 4

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"Thinking of historical figures worldwide, who would you say is the greatest historical figure of the century?"
Top responses %
John F. Kennedy 11
Franklin D. Roosevelt 8
Martin Luther King Jr. 7
Winston Churchill 5
Mother Theresa 5
Gandhi 4
Albert Einstein 4
Abraham Lincoln 3

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"Now let's go back further, thinking of the last one thousand years, from the year 1000 right up to the present time. What comes to mind when you think about the one or two greatest human accomplishments of the millennium?"
Top responses %
Medical advances 9
Space travel/Going to the moon 8
Columbus/American discovery/Exploration 7
Electricity/Electric power 4
Declaration of Independence/American Revolution 4
The automobile 4
Aviation/flight 4
Telephone/Telecommunications 3
Inventing the printing press 3

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"How about the one or two greatest inventions of the last thousand years?"      
Top responses %
Automobile 19
Electricity 15
Telephone 8
Airplane 7
Computers 6
Printing press 6
Combustion engine 5
Television 4
The wheel 3

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"Who do you feel is the greatest figure in the last thousand years, from anywhere in the world, specifically in the field of medicine?"
Top responses %
Jonas Salk 24
Louis Pasteur 11
Madame Curie 6
Alexander Fleming 4
Dr. DeBakey 2

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"Who do you feel is the greatest figure in the last thousand years, from anywhere in the world, specifically in the field of politics or government?"
Top responses %
John F. Kennedy 13
Abraham Lincoln 12
Franklin D. Roosevelt 7
George Washington 6
Thomas Jefferson 5
Bill Clinton 4
Ronald Reagan 4

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"Who do you feel is the greatest figure in the last thousand years, from anywhere in the world, specifically in the field of literature?"
Top responses %
William Shakespeare 24
Edgar Allen Poe 6
Ernest Hemingway 5
Mark Twain 3
Charles Dickens 2
Stephen King 2

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"Who do you feel is the greatest figure in the last thousand years, from anywhere in the world, specifically in the field of sports or athletics?"
Top responses %
Michael Jordan 24
Babe Ruth 9
Muhammad Ali 5
Jesse Owens 4
Jim Thorpe 3
Jackie Robinson 3
Mark McGuire 3

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"Who do you feel is the greatest figure in the last thousand years, from anywhere in the world, specifically in the field of music?"
Top responses %
Mozart 15
Beethoven 12
Elvis Presley 8
Bach 5
The Beatles 3
Michael Jackson 3

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"Who do you feel is the greatest figure in the last thousand years, from anywhere in the world, specifically in the field of exploration?"
Top responses %
Christopher Columbus 21
Lewis and Clark 7
Jacques Cousteau 7
Neil Armstrong 6
Admiral Byrd 4
John Glenn 3
Ferdinand Magellan 3

.

"Who do you feel is the greatest figure in the last thousand years, from anywhere in the world, specifically in the field of business?"
%
Bill Gates 33
Henry Ford 6
John D. Rockefeller 6
Donald Trump 5
Lee Iacocca 2
Andrew Carnegie 2

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"Who do you feel is the greatest figure in the last thousand years, from anywhere in the world, specifically in the field of science?"
Top responses %
Albert Einstein 29
Thomas Edison 4
Louis Pasteur 4
Jonas Salk 3
Madame Curie 3
Sir Isaac Newton 3

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"Who do you feel is the greatest figure in the last thousand years, from anywhere in the world, specifically in the field of religion?"
Top responses %
Pope John Paul II 16
Billy Graham 14
Mother Theresa 12
Martin Luther 7
Gandhi 6
Jesus Christ 4
Martin Luther King Jr. 3

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"Who do you feel is the greatest figure in the last thousand years, from anywhere in the world, specifically in the field of the military?"
Top responses %
Dwight Eisenhower 14
Colin Powell 11
George S. Patton 10
Douglas MacArthur 6
Napoleon Bonaparte 5
Norman Swartzkopf 5
George Washington 4

.

"Who do you feel is the greatest figure in the last thousand years, from anywhere in the world, specifically in the field of entertainment?"
Top responses %
Bob Hope 8
Frank Sinatra 6
Elvis Presley 6
William Shakespeare 6
John Wayne 3
Lucille Ball 3

.

"If you were to name the one or two greatest historical figures of the last thousand years, from the year 1000 right up to the present time, who would that be?"
Top responses %
Abraham Lincoln 12
George Washington 12
Martin Luther King Jr. 4
John F. Kennedy 3
Adolf Hitler 3
Franklin D. Roosevelt 3

 


The American Century

Pew Research Center for the People & the Press survey conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates. April 6-May 6, 1999. N=1,546 adults nationwide.

.

"We're interested in finding out why you think America has been successful during this past century. As I read a list, tell me whether you think each thing is a major reason, a minor reason or not a reason that America has been so successful in this century. ... Abundant natural resources / the free enterprise system / the cultural diversity of our people / Judeo-Christian beliefs / good luck / God's will / the two-party system / free elections / our Constitution / separation of church and state / freedom of the press / our geographic isolation -- that is, being protected by oceans on both coasts / the character of the American people. ... Do you think this is a major reason, a minor reason or not a reason for America's success?"

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"Now I'm going to read a list of some groups of Americans. For each one, please tell me whether life has gotten better or worse since around 1950. ... men / white males / women / African Americans / gays and lesbians / children / senior citizens / disabled people / middle class Americans / working class Americans / Hispanics / religious people / farmers / union members / teenagers ... Has life gotten better or worse for this group of Americans over the past 50 years?" [Note: Each item asked of half the sample.]

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20-5.gif (4045 bytes)

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"I'm going to read a list of some changes that have taken place over the last 100 years. Please tell me if you think each one has been a change for the better, a change for the worse, or hasn't made much difference. Has ... the invention of the computer / the development of nuclear weapons / space exploration / women in the workplace / birth control pills / the legalization of abortion / the invention of television / the invention of radio / the civil rights movement / the automobile / airline travel / wide use of credit cards / the development of nuclear energy / the growth of the suburbs / more acceptance of divorce / the interstate highway system / rock and roll ... been a change for the better, a change for the worse, or hasn't this made much difference?" [Note: Each item asked of half the sample.]

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"Now thinking just about the last 10 years or so. I'm going to read another list of changes that have taken place. Please tell me if you think each one has been a change for the better, a change for the worse, or hasn't made much difference. Has ... HMOs and managed health care plans / mutual funds / telemarketing / email / the Internet / Viagra / lotteries / rap music / gay rights movement / home schooling / Prozac / cellular phones / cable TV / fertility drugs / the cloning of sheep ... been a change for the better, a change for the worse, or hasn't this made much difference?" [Note: Each item asked of half the sample.]

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