Thursday, February 14, 2019


Who is the most famous person in the history of the world?

Who is the most famous American?

Who is the most famous artist, actor or athlete?

Who is the most famous musician, murderer or military figure?

These are questions that the Pantheon Project of MIT's Media Lab is attempting to quantify by  collecting, analyzing, and visualizing data on historical cultural popularity and production.

In order to be considered, an individual's renown has to transcend national and linguistic barriers and be represented on Wikipedia in at 25 different languages. We are talking about people who have clearly touched the entire world in some way and truly gained global fame. Those who reached this level were further ranked by a methodology that calculates a Historical Popularity Index for each person.

11,341 individuals in world history made the cut. To put that in perspective, it is estimated that 108 billion people have been born on earth since the beginning of time according to the Population Reference Bureau. That makes those in the Pantheon Project database a very,very select group of people who have had a profound effect on "historical cultural production".

The Pantheon Project website allows you explore all of their findings by using a vast array of search criteria. You can search by birth year, occupation, birth country or birth city.

2,115 (18.6%) of those world famous people were born in the United States. That is pretty remarkable considering the Pantheon Project database spans famous people over a 6,000 year span. The United States has been existence for less than 250 years. The next highest countries are the United Kingdom with 1,103, France (852), Italy (803) and Germany (730).

The span of influence of Americans around the world is also staggering. The Pantheon Project tracks unique cultural "domains" (e.g, politics, science, business, etc). The 2,115 Americans were involved with 76 different domains. The UK is next with 63.

Here is a graphic that shows in which fields those 2,115 became famous who were born in the United States before 2010. Almost half are in the field of entertainment.

Here is another graphic that displays what the 306 Americans in the database who were born in 1900 or earlier when information and entertainment were not disseminated as easily as they are today.

Who were the three most famous Americans if you were looking at this in 1900?

Benjamin Franklin, Edgar Allan Poe and George Washington, in that order.

Who are the most famous Americans looking at the data today?

Martin Luther King, Jr., Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe.

Is it not interesting as well that each of these three died at a relatively young age? King died at age 39, Presley at 42 and Monroe at 36. However, each reached, and still retains, such global fame.

Who is the most famous artist of all time? Giotto di Bondone of Italy, born in 1267. Andy Warhol of the United States is second.

Michelangelo, van Gogh and Picasso are classified as Painters where they lead that domain.

Who is the most famous actor of all time? Marilyn Monroe followed by Bruce Lee and Charlie Chaplin.

Who is the most famous athlete or sports figure? Pele followed by Muhammed Ali and Enzo Ferrari, the race car driver.

It should be noted that only one American football player is on the list of the 11,341 and I dare say it is not because of his athletic talents---O.J. Simpson. There are also only five baseball players.

Only two golfers make the list---Tiger Woods and Seve Ballesteros. However, there are 886 soccer players, 118 tennis players and 57 basketball players.

The most famous musician? Jimi Hendrix.

The most famous murderer? Jack the Ripper.

The most famous military figure? Alexander the Great

The most famous person in the history of the world? No, it is not Jesus Christ according to the Pantheon Project.

Here is a list of the Top 20.

Note that not one of these persons was born in the 20th Century. In fact, only one was born after 1756---Adolph Hitler.

Only one of the top 12 was born after Jesus Christ---Leonardo da Vinci.

I guess you could say that this list has stood the test of time.

Or could it be that we are not turning out people of influence like we used to.

Another note of interest is that despite the fact that the United States is so dominant on the overall list there is not one American in the Top 100. Martin Luther King, Jr. ranks #112 overall.

The most famous businessman in the world? Walt Disney followed by Warren Buffett and Bill Gates.

Donald Trump is ranked #18 as a businessman. That is four spots behind Hugh Hefner and one spot above Andrew Carnegie.

Perhaps someday Trump's domain will be moved to Politician. However, the global competition is much stiffer in that category. Benjamin Franklin enjoys the highest world ranking for an American at #48, followed by George Washington at #49 and Lincoln at #51. Dictators and despots seem to garner more fame. Julius Caesar and Hitler are atop this category.

Barack Obama ranks #710 in the Politicians category. Hillary Clinton is #732.

Had Hillary not gotten into politics you have to wonder how she would have ranked in the "Companions" category. Yes, there are people who have become one of the 11,341 most famous people in the world by principally being known as a companion to someone else.

Nefertiti from ancient Egypt leads this list. Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis is on this list at #51 as is Priscilla Presley at #69.

Lastly, there is a category for "Celebrities". These are those individuals who are not really known for anything else than in being a celebrity. Kim Kardashian, Monica Lewinsky, Paris Hilton and Anna Nicole Smith all made this select list of only 20 individuals in this category in all world history . However, none is in the top 10.

Buffalo Bill is #2 on the "Celebrities" list following Lina Medina of Peru.

Did you know that Lina Medina is one of the most famous people of all time?

Do you know what she was famous for and why she is considered a celebrity?

I will leave that for you to research on your own. Google is a wonderful tool.

For those with limited time, follow this link for the answer.

BeeLine ... the shortest route to what you need to know.

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