erik lundegaard

The 10 Most Outstanding People in the World, According to Students at Northwestern's Medill School of Journalism in 1927

Here's the list:

  • Charles Lindbergh
  • Richard Byrd
  • Benito Mussolini
  • Henry Ford
  • Herbert Hoover
  • Albert Einstein
  • Mahatma Gandhi
  • George Bernard Shaw
  • Bobby Jones
  • Al Capone

I came across the list near the end of Bill Bryson's much-recommended book, “One Summer: America, 1927,” during his section on Al Capone. But it's worth running down the whole list.

The top two are both aviators in a year famous for aviation. Lindbergh's fame, of course, survives; Byrd's doesn't, even though, at the beginning of that year, Byrd was the better-known of the two. But according to Bryson, Byrd's fame deserves to have faded since he was something of a charlatan.

Two politicians make the list, Mussolini and Hoover, both known for making trains (real or metaphoric) run on time. Neither fared well with history. Wait, I guess Gandhi was a politican, too. So three. Gandhi has fared best of all. He still makes an impact as example rather than negative example.

Only one businessman: Ford. Two if you count Capone—which Bryson does—and in some ways Capone has fared better historically than Ford. Bryson isn't much of a fan of the automaker, either. He gives credit where it's due but sees him mostly as a crank and anti-Semite. Capone? He simply saw a need and filled it. With a Tommy gun in hand.

Rounding out the list: one scientist, one athlete, one writer. Interestingly, Bobby Jones trumped both Jack Dempsey (in the year he lost to Gene Tunney) and Babe Ruth (in the year he hit 60 homeruns). In his book, Bryson writes often of Ruth, often of Dempsey, but never of Jones. I wonder why.

Worth noting, too, who's not on the list: President Calvin Coolidge, famously taciturn. He'd probably approve.

I'd be curious if such lists today ever include writers and scientists. Or gangsters and fascists.

10 outstanding people of 1927

The great men of 1927: Lindbergh, Einstein, Capone.

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Posted at 10:16 AM on Mon. Dec 30, 2013 in category U.S. History  


Daniel wrote:

Does it strike you that it's difficult to make such a list at all? I tried to think of my own list, and I don't think I can name ten people who strike me as standing out that much in the world. I could name two, Pope Francis who seems to be affecting the tone, at least, of the Catholic Church. Barack Obama - say what you will about him, but he has again affected and continues to affect the tone of our country, and the world, in ways that I think are importantly positive (even if those ways are not unvaryingly positive). And, then, there isn't anyone who particularly stands out to me. JK Rowling for having written a run-away bestseller that contains some genuine thoughtfulness? Maybe, but does she stand out still when other, more vacuous bestsellers have been dominant of late? Maybe Aung San Suu Kyi or Thein Sein for the largely peaceful transition that's occuring in Myanmar? That still seems too small somehow - not Mandela standards, for example, who would have made the list were it not for his recent death. Stephen Hawking? Some pop star or sports star or actor or director? I don't know that ten people qualify as being outstanding to the world.

Comment posted on Tue. Dec 31, 2013 at 04:26 PM

Erik wrote:

Good point. Although I think the WORLD could come up with 10. I mean Medill 1927 chose Mussolini so pretty much anyone's fair game. Even Rush Limbaugh.

Comment posted on Thu. Jan 02, 2014 at 08:31 PM
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