These Little Known People from History Changed the Way We Live Every Day

These Little Known People from History Changed the Way We Live Every Day

Larry Holzwarth - March 13, 2019

It’s been said that the fluttering of a butterfly’s wings can cause a hurricane thousands of miles away. Thus an insignificant creature can cause changes to the lives of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of people, while remaining completely unknown. Whether one subscribes to the chaos theory which claims such a relation of cause and effect is immaterial, the effect either exists or it does not, with belief in it not a factor. The same is true of history, thousands of people changed the world forever, in many ways, though they remain mostly unknown, despite their lives and work affecting the world every day. Here are forty people who changed history, and how they did so.

These Little Known People from History Changed the Way We Live Every Day
The process of canning foods was the brainchild of Nicolas Appert. Wikimedia

1. Nicolas Appert still affects the way people eat

Nicolas Appert was a confectioner in Paris when he learned of a reward offered by the Emperor Napoleon, to be given to whomever developed a workable method of preserving food for his armies. Appert had noticed that food prepared in sealed jars did not spoil. While he never ascertained the science behind the phenomena (Pasteur did decades later) the Frenchman established the House of Appert, the world’s first food canning factory, and published his technique in 1810. Because French tin was of low quality, Appert canned his products in glass jars, which remains the favored process for home canners around the world 200 years later.

These Little Known People from History Changed the Way We Live Every Day
Edward Jenner was the first to create a vaccine as the tool to create immunity from disease. Wikimedia

2. Edward Jenner saved countless lives, leading to the eradication of smallpox

In the late 18th century no disease was as feared as was smallpox, and physicians had no effective means of treating the highly contagious disease. Edward Jenner discovered that victims of a less dangerous disease – cowpox – developed an immunity to smallpox. Jenner created the practice of immunization through vaccination, developing the world’s first vaccine and the means of applying it. By the end of the 20th century smallpox was declared to have been eradicated worldwide. Jenner was both the father of vaccination and immunology, and has been credited with saving more lives than any other human being in the history of the world.

These Little Known People from History Changed the Way We Live Every Day
A first edition of Nathaniel Bowditch’s New American Practical Navigator. US Naval Observatory

3. Nathaniel Bowditch and the American Practical Navigator

Nautical navigation was as much an art as it was a science at the beginning of the 19th century, with accurate determination of a ship’s location often dependent on the relative skill and mathematical ability of its officers. Nathaniel Bowditch, a mathematician, actuary, and astronomer, published the New American Practical Navigator in 1802, a guide for seamen which provided accurately calculated celestial tables, tide tables, and other information of use to those at sea. The book was so influential that in the 21st century, in an age of global positioning systems, it is still carried onboard every commissioned vessel of the United States Navy.

These Little Known People from History Changed the Way We Live Every Day
A Holiday Inn postcard from the 1960s, during the heyday of the Great Sign, as their entrance sign was called. Holiday Inn

4. Kemmons Wilson just wanted a clean place for his family to stay overnight

Kemmons Wilson was so disappointed in the quality of motel accommodations during a family trip to Washington DC that he decided to do something about it. He created a motel outside of Memphis in 1952 which he named Holiday Inn, after a partner jokingly suggested the name. He pioneered the technique of studying traffic patterns when selecting sites for his motels, and ensured that they were consistent in appearance and services. The growth of the Interstate Highway System fueled the growth of his own chain and gave birth to competitors such as Ramada, Red Roof, and Quality Inn. Wilson changed both the motel industry and the American landscape with his development of the chain motel.

These Little Known People from History Changed the Way We Live Every Day
Luigi Bezzerra discovered the method of making individual servings of espresso. Wikimedia

5. Luigi Bezzerra gave the world its caffeine fix

Prior to 1901, espresso was brewed in large quantities which were retained in urns, rather than fresh individual servings. That year a Milanese entrepreneur and coffee lover developed and patented the worlds’ first single serving espresso machine, which was installed in a coffee bar in Milan and which became an immediate success. The machine both produced a single serving of espresso quickly (less than 30 seconds) and removed the danger of scalding which baristas had faced whenever they brewed a batch of the beverage. Although an acquired taste, there is little doubt that the widespread popularity of espresso owes itself to the unknown Bezzerra.

These Little Known People from History Changed the Way We Live Every Day
A drawing of a Lenoir internal combustion engine, the first to prove a reliable source of power. Science Photo Library

6. Etienne Lenoir proved internal combustion engines were practical

The internal combustion engine was developed in experimental form in the first decade of the 19th century, but there were no commercial applications for it until 1858, when Frenchman Etienne Lenoir patented a working version of the technology. Lenoir used the engine in automobiles and boats, though its primary use was as a stationary engine, providing power to printing presses, looms, and other manufacturing machinery. His demonstration of the viability of the internal combustion engine led to the growth of the automotive and oil industries, as well as the use of internal combustion engines in a wide variety of applications.

These Little Known People from History Changed the Way We Live Every Day
The 1762 seed drill developed by Jethro Tull revolutionized agriculture when it was introduced. Wikimedia

7. Jethro Tull revolutionized and helped mechanize agriculture

Fans of the rock band of the same name may be interested to learn that Jethro Tull was a real person who developed a tool which changed the agriculture industry around the world. In the 1700s Tull designed and built a seed drill, drawn by animal power, which planted seeds at a uniform depth and covered them, protecting them from birds and sun. His efforts led to more efficient planting and higher crop yields per acre for farmers which availed themselves of his device. Tull was controversial during his lifetime, criticized by some for mechanizing the husbandry of crops, but his innovations led to practices still in use in modern agriculture.

These Little Known People from History Changed the Way We Live Every Day
Henry Bessemer made the manufacturing of high quality steel simpler and more affordable. Wikimedia

8. Henry Bessemer made the manufacturing of steel practical and affordable

Before Henry Bessemer developed the technique of injecting air into molten pig iron, removing impurities and creating steel in a relatively inexpensive manner, steel was expensive and of inconsistent quality. His developments made Sheffield, England a major steel producing center, and they were adopted by steel makers around the world, allowing affordable steel to become available to railroads, shipbuilders, and the engineers and architects who built the skyscrapers which dominated the skylines of cities. Bessemer was also a prolific inventor who held over 100 patents in the areas of steel, glass, iron, and food processing, including a means of removing sugar from sugar cane through the use of a screw device.

These Little Known People from History Changed the Way We Live Every Day
James Watt did not invent the steam engine, but he improved it as a device to generate power for a variety of purposes. Wikimedia

9. James Watt’s steam engine powered the Industrial Revolution

James Watt did not invent the steam engine as he is often credited, rather he developed improvements which made the engine practical. He also was the first to measure the power developed by his engines by comparison with the motive power of horses, which he called horsepower. His improvements eventually allowed steam to power ships, locomotives, and the engines which drove manufacturing systems of all types. Most of the developments using Watt’s steam engines occurred after his lifetime had ended, when metallurgical advances allowed for the development of more reliable boilers, though he lived long enough to enjoy an excursion on a steam powered paddle wheeler which was powered by the engine of his design.

These Little Known People from History Changed the Way We Live Every Day
American comedian Marty Allen displays six charge cards in his wallet in 1960. Diner’s Club, the first such card, is on top. Library of Congress

10. Frank McNamara changed the way the world spent money

Frank McNamara was once embarrassed to learn that he had forgotten his wallet when presented with a bill at a restaurant, according to a story which is more than likely apocryphal. With business partners which included his lawyer and with $1.5 million in financial backing, he created Diner’s Club, the world’s first independent charge card which allowed users to pay their charges monthly. It led to the development of competition from American Express, Carte Blanche, and other smaller companies which were regional, and eventually absorbed by the national brands, and eventually the development of credit cards which allowed partial payment of charges.

These Little Known People from History Changed the Way We Live Every Day
Though the ride of Sybil Ludington may be a myth, she is celebrated throughout New York and New England. Wikimedia

11. Sybil Ludington rode more than twice the distance of Paul Revere – maybe

On April 26, 1777, a sixteen year old New York girl named Sybil Ludington rode across Putnam County, New York and Danbury, Connecticut to alert the local militias of an impending attack by British regular troops, according to lore local to the area. While modern scholars debate whether the ride took place, local history celebrates her accomplishing a trip which was more than twice as long as that undertaken by Paul Revere (and others) in Massachusetts two years earlier. While local tales relate that Sybil was personally congratulated for her feat by George Washington, no evidence of her ride existed before 1880, when it was reported in a book by a local historian.

These Little Known People from History Changed the Way We Live Every Day
Jean Henri Dunant – known as Henry – helped form the International Red Cross, as well as the Geneva Convention. Library of Congress

12. Henry Dunant was a co-award winner of the first Nobel Peace Prize

When Henry Dunant, a successful Swiss businessman, witnessed the battlefield at Solferino during the Second Italian War of Independence he was appalled at what he saw. His experience of the sight of so many wounded soldiers (it was the largest battle on the European continent since Leipzig in 1814) led him to write A Memory of Solferino in 1862, which contained suggestions for the formation of an international society for the aid of injured in warfare and natural calamities. The book inspired the formation of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Geneva, where Dunant lived, in 1863. It also led to the First Geneva Convention, signed by 12 states, which established rules for the treatment of wounded and prisoners in warfare.

These Little Known People from History Changed the Way We Live Every Day
Witold Pilecki defied the Germans throughout World War II, only to be executed post war by the Soviets. Wikimedia

13. Witold Pilecki escaped from Auschwitz after volunteering to be imprisoned there

Witold Pilecki was a Polish cavalryman who eluded capture by the German army in 1939 and joined the Polish underground. When the underground grew suspicious of the German camps at Auschwitz, Pilecki volunteered to allow himself to be captured and sent to the camp, where he gathered intelligence on the true nature of the operations there and then, almost incredibly, escaped, providing the details of the death camp’s operation to the Polish underground. He later fought in the Warsaw uprising, was captured again, and spent the rest of the war in POW camps. After the war he remained in Poland under the communist regime, where he unearthed evidence of the Soviet war crimes committed there during World War II. In 1948 the Soviets charged him with treason, conducted a show trial, and executed him.

These Little Known People from History Changed the Way We Live Every Day
Often overlooked in the Anne Frank story is the courage of the Dutch citizens who helped hide and supply them. Wikipedia

14. Miep Gies saved the diary of Anne Frank from the Germans

The story of Anne Frank and her family, and others, hiding from the Germans in an Amsterdam annex is well known, even by those who have never read her diary or watched the numerous films and documentaries on the subject. It was Miep Gies, an employee of Otto Frank, who provided the family with the necessities of life while they were in hiding, and it was Miep who saved Anne’s diary and returned it to Otto Frank after the war had ended. Had the diary been discovered by the Germans all of the people who aided the Frank family would have been revealed to the Gestapo. According to Gies she was saved from arrest by the Germans because she was from the same town – Vienna – as the officer in charge of the case.

These Little Known People from History Changed the Way We Live Every Day
A Soviet naval officer’s actions during the Cuban Missile Crisis prevented a nuclear war. Wikimedia

15. Vasili Arkhipov likely prevented a nuclear war

During the Cuban Missile Crisis and the American imposed quarantine of ships approaching Cuba, Vasily Arkhipov was second in command of the Soviet submarine B-59, a conventionally powered vessel which carried nuclear weapons. When the US task force centered on USS Randolph, an aircraft carrier, detected the presence of B-59 it began dropping depth charges on it in an attempt to bring it to the surface. Three officers aboard B-59, the commander, the political officer, and Arkhipov, the flotilla commander, needed to be in agreement to fire nuclear torpedoes at Randolph. Two wanted to launch weapons, Arkihipov did not. He ordered the submarine to the surface, averting what would have surely been a nuclear exchange between the United States and the USSR. He became a pariah at home for his actions.

These Little Known People from History Changed the Way We Live Every Day
There can be little doubt that Willis Carrier’s invention of electrical air conditioning systems changed the world in many ways. Wikimedia

16. Willis Carrier changed the way people live and work

In 1902 Willis Carrier invented the first electrical air conditioning system, and thirteen years later he started a company to manufacture and sell comfort systems to businesses and homes. Air cooling systems existed before Carrier’s, but he added the feature of humidity control, which made his systems conditioners of air, rather than merely coolers of air. World Wars and the Great Depression were obstacles which made his company’s growth slow until the post-World War II construction boom, and it eventually became one of the largest employers in upstate New York. Air conditioning changed the way the world lived in more ways than one, and what was once considered a luxury is now considefed a necessity of life throughout much of the world.

These Little Known People from History Changed the Way We Live Every Day
Rachel Carson was a driving force in the environmental movement. US Fish and Wildlife Service

17. Rachel Carson and the birth of environmentalism

Today, unbelievably, there are still some who insist that humanity has little impact on the environment of the planet which it shares. Such obtuseness was prominent before Rachel Carson’s work, which was presented in her 1962 book Silent Spring. Carson’s work led to the creation of the United States’ Environmental Protection Agency, and to increased public awareness of the role of humanity in the future and health of the planet essential to its survival. Though derided by some, who remain blithely incognizant of the damage done to the environment, Carson changed the world by drawing attention to changes in and to the planet, and helped to generate actions to save humanity from its own ignorance and arrogance.

These Little Known People from History Changed the Way We Live Every Day
Joseph Lister’s innovations led to him being called the father of modern surgery. Wikimedia

18. Joseph Lister and the elimination of microbes

Although it was Louis Pasteur who first launched the field of microbiology, it was Joseph Lister who applied Pasteur’s ideas to the field of surgery. Lister proposed and practiced the theory of sterilization of surgical instruments and the hands of those performing an operation, as well as the sterile field around the areas of incision. Lister suggested the use of carbolic acid to sterilize instruments before surgery, and the results of his work were significant reductions in post-surgical infections. Lister also discovered that a solution of carbolic acid applied to wounds reduced the incidence of gangrene dramatically. He is considered the father of modern surgery, and certainly saved the lives of countless patients through the techniques he promoted.

These Little Known People from History Changed the Way We Live Every Day
William Tyndale translated the Bible into English before being burned at the stake for heresy. Wikimedia

19. William Tyndale translated the Bible into English

William Tyndale was a supporter of the Protestant Reformation and the one of the earliest translators of the Bible from its Greek and Latin texts into English, done at a time when English translations of the Bible were forbidden. The committee which created the King James Bible used Tyndale’s previous translation extensively, about three quarters of the Old Testament and over 80% of the New were based on his work, and largely replicate his translation. Other works by Tyndale helped Henry VIII justify his break with the Church of Rome. Tyndale’s Bible was the first to be printed in English. He was executed for the crime of heresy in 1536.

These Little Known People from History Changed the Way We Live Every Day
A romanticized depiction of Marat dead in his bath, with Corday’s knife still in his chest. Wikimedia

20. Charlotte Corday changed the course of the French Revolution

Charlotte Corday was a member of a political group which opposed the violent radicalism of the Jacobins in revolutionary France. The Jacobins believed that the means of avoiding an all-out civil war in France was identifying and executing those who opposed them, which led to France’s memorable Reign of Terror. Jean-Paul Marat was a noted leader of the Jacobins, publisher of a newspaper which presented their views and supported their actions. Corday killed him by stabbing him to death while he soaked in a therapeutic bath, an act for which she was sent to the guillotine. The Reign of Terror intensified after her crime, as the Jacobins increased their efforts to destroy their enemies.

These Little Known People from History Changed the Way We Live Every Day
There are no known portraits of Major Robert Rogers done from life, and depictions of him are based on physical descriptions. Wikimedia

21. Robert Rogers created a new method of soldiering

Robert Rogers did not create the soldierly tactics applied by the Rangers he commanded as much as he documented them. Using tactics borrowed from the Indians and the opposing French coureurs de bois, Rogers created companies of men from New England and New York which carried out storied raids against the French and Indians, clad in distinctive green buckskins. Rogers committed his Rules of Ranging to writing in 1758, and they are still listed on the first page of the US Army’s Ranger handbook. Robert Rogers shaped and documented a new form of warfare still practiced, and became one of the most famous men in America before indebtedness and rum took over his later life.

These Little Known People from History Changed the Way We Live Every Day
Vests containing kevlar protection have saved countless lives since the materia’ls introduction. US Navy

22. Stephanie Kwolek invented the material used for bullet proof vests

Stephanie Kwolek was a Polish American chemist whose career at Dupont spanned over forty years. While there she attempted to develop a new synthetic material to be used to manufacture lightweight tires, helping automobiles achieve greater fuel efficiency. The material she developed became known as Kevlar, and the patent for the material she released to the company. Kevlar was used in over 200 applications, including tennis rackets, cell phone bodies, boots, skis, and bullet-proof vests. As of 2018 she is the only woman to have been awarded Dupont’s prestigious Lavoisier Medal. The number of lives saved by Kevlar vests is impossible to estimate.

These Little Known People from History Changed the Way We Live Every Day
Although Saladin acquired great wealth through conquest he died nearly penniless. Wikimedia

23. Saladin was a leader of the Kurds in Syria and Egypt

Born in what is today’s Iraq in a family of mixed Kurdish and Turkish descent, Saladin led the Muslim armies to defeat the Crusaders’ Kingdom of Jerusalem at the Battle of Hattim in 1187. He then fought England’s Richard the Lionheart in the Third Crusade, which ended with Jerusalem still in his hands. Saladin was generous to his enemies and his friends, granting amnesty to surrendering Christians and granting freedom of movement to Christians within the lands he controlled. At his death he was discovered to be nearly penniless, having given his vast wealth away to his poorer subjects, leaving not enough to bury him.

These Little Known People from History Changed the Way We Live Every Day
Simon Kenton was one of the early leaders of America’s settlement of the west. WIkimedia

24. Simon Kenton was a founder of Kentucky and Ohio

Although not as well-known as his associate and friend Daniel Boone, Simon Kenton was probably more influential in the settling of Kentucky and Ohio. Kenton fled to the west from Virginia in the mistaken belief that he had killed a man, and over his long career as an explorer, guide, frontier scout, and Indian fighter he developed a reputation for toughness which rivaled any on the frontier. Kenton saved the life of a wounded Daniel Boone at Boonesborough, survived Shawnee gantlets and ritual torture, and once traveled over sixty miles of wilderness in the dead of winter naked but for a loincloth, pursued by the Shawnee he had escaped. He was the first of European descent to settle in the Mad River Valley of Ohio.

These Little Known People from History Changed the Way We Live Every Day
When Elizabeth Jennings Graham was refused streetcar service because of her race she sued and won, a century before Rosa Parks. New York Daily News

25. Elizabeth Jennings Graham preceded Rosa Parks by almost a century

In the 1850s the street cars of New York City were for the most part privately owned and their operators insisted on segregating them. There were white cars and Negro cars, so designated by the owners. When Elizabeth Jennings Graham boarded a horse drawn streetcar of the Third Avenue Railroad Company she was forcibly ejected from the designated all-white car. She sued the company, demanding the end of segregated cars in the city. Her attorney was Chester A. Arthur, later President of the United States. Although she won her case and was awarded $250 in damages, the remaining privately owned streetcars in New York did not immediately desegregate. In 1865 they finally did so.

These Little Known People from History Changed the Way We Live Every Day
The French victory at the Battle of the Virginia Capes helped lead to the surrender of the British army at Yorktown in 1781. US Navy

26. Comte de Grasse fought the most decisive battle of the American Revolution

When the French fleet was promised to appear in North American waters in the summer of 1781 it was under the command of Francois Joseph Paul, Comte de Grasse. It was this fleet which engaged the British fleet under Admiral Thomas Graves at the Battle of the Virginia Capes, which resulted in the British withdrawing, leaving the French in control of Chesapeake Bay. British General Cornwallis and his army were left to their fate, unable to escape. Had de Grasse lost the battle for control of the bay, Washington and his French allies would likely not have been able to effect the surrender which marked the last major battle of the American Revolution.

These Little Known People from History Changed the Way We Live Every Day
Lincoln’s guard at Ford’s Theater abandoned his post and went to a saloon next door while Joohn Wilkes Booth entered the President’s box. National Archives

27. John Frederick Parker abandoned his post and went unpunished

John Parker was a Metropolitan Police officer with a severely checkered past, having been reprimanded multiple times for being drunk on duty and other indiscretions, including visiting a brothel while on duty. Yet he was still assigned as one of the bodyguards for President Lincoln on April 14, 1865. Assigned to stand guard outside the entrance to Lincoln’s box, where he would have encountered John Wilkes Booth, Parker instead left the theater with some of its employees to drink at a saloon next door. He was not disciplined for the event, and was later assigned as Mrs. Lincoln’s bodyguard before she moved out of the White House.

These Little Known People from History Changed the Way We Live Every Day
Danis Papin, the inventor of the pressure cooker. Wikimedia

28. Denis Papin invented a new method of cooking

In 1679 a physicist in France named Denis Papin was studying the power of steam and its potential uses in society when he realized that the boiling point of water was increased when it was under pressure. Papin used his findings to create a sealed vessel which he equipped with a safety release valve to prevent it bursting when the pressure became excessive. He called his device a steam digester, and presented it to the Royal Society in London. The steam digester decreased the time needed to cook food placed in the vessel with small amounts of water, the world’s first pressure cooker. More than three centuries later pressure cookers, after largely fading from the culinary scene, regained popularity.

These Little Known People from History Changed the Way We Live Every Day
Friendship with Aaron Burr cost him his political career, but Jonathan Dayton was one of the largest and wealthiest speculators in the lands which became Ohio. Wikimedia

29. Jonathan Dayton was the youngest signer of the Constitution

Jonathan Dayton was a delegate to the Constitutional Convention from New Jersey, a veteran of the Continental Army, and a speculator in the lands west of the Ohio River in the years following the war. In 1807 the rising political star was charged with treason after lending money to Aaron Burr, as part of the Burr Conspiracy. Though Dayton was never brought to trial the incident destroyed his political career, which at one point included consideration of him serving on the Supreme Court, as well as discussion of presidential ambitions. Dayton returned to New Jersey where he entered local politics. Though the city of Dayton, Ohio was named for him, he never saw the area or the other lands he purchased throughout the Ohio country as one of the largest early investors in western lands.

These Little Known People from History Changed the Way We Live Every Day
Marryat House, the San Francisco home of Sam Brannan, who triggered the California Gold Rush. Wikimedia

30. Samuel Brannan created the California Gold Rush

When gold was discovered at Sutter’s Mill near Sacramento the original finders wanted to keep it a secret. Samuel Brannan, a prominent Mormon and newspaper publisher, opened a store near Sutter’s Mill, and when the earliest gold seekers paid for items there with gold Brannan recognized an opportunity. After buying all the digging tools he could find Brannan hawked them in the streets of San Francisco by shouting gold had been discovered, and where. Pans which he purchased for twenty cents he sold for fifteen dollars. Brannan triggered the gold rush which convulsed the nation, and became the first millionaire to result from it, not from mining, but from marketing.

These Little Known People from History Changed the Way We Live Every Day
John Kennedy and the crew of PT-109 in the Solomon Islands in 1943. JFK Library

31. Arthur Reginald Evans helped save the life of a future President of the United States

Arthur Evans was performing the dangerous duty of being a coastwatcher on the island of Kolombangara in the Solomons in 1943. Evans was sharing the island with about 10,000 Japanese troops when he observed an explosion on August 2. After learning that the US Navy had lost a motor torpedo boat near where the explosion had occurred, Evans sent two natives working as his guides to search for survivors from the crew. Among the survivors the natives encountered and helped to rescue was the boat’s commander, Lieutenant Junior Grade John F. Kennedy. Evans continued in his dangerous mission throughout the Solomon Islands Campaign, and years later was greeted by Kennedy at the White House.

These Little Known People from History Changed the Way We Live Every Day
Daniel Morgan commanded a regiment of riflemen who fought in most of the major engagements of the Revolutionary War. Library of Congress

32. Timothy Murphy fired a shot which changed the Saratoga Campaign

During the 1777 Saratoga Campaign one of the Continental Army regiments sent to oppose the invading British army was Morgan’s Riflemen, a unit of Virginia backwoodsmen noted for their skills with the rifle. Timothy Murphy was one of General Daniel Morgan’s best riflemen. When British troops were rallied by General Simon Fraser at the Second Battle of Bemis Heights, Benedict Arnold pointed out Fraser to Morgan, who in turn called to Murphy to shoot the Englishman. Murphy fatally wounded the general, and later in the same action killed Sir Francis Clerke, the senior aide of British commander John Burgoyne. The loss of both officers helped convince Burgoyne to request terms of surrender to the Americans.

These Little Known People from History Changed the Way We Live Every Day
It was an investigation of tax evasion led by Frank J. Wilson – not Eliot Ness – which brought down Al Capone. FBI

33. Frank J. Wilson was the man who brought down Al Capone

Although Eliot Ness and the Untouchables got the credit for ending Al Capone’s reign as the king of organized crime in Chicago, it was really Frank J. Wilson, an agent of the Treasury Department, who lead the tax evasion investigations which led to Ralph and Al Capone being charged with federal income tax evasion. Wilson’s work led to Al Capone being indicted on more than twenty charges of not paying taxes on over a quarter of a million dollars of income, and he was convicted and sentenced to eleven years in prison. Wilson later participated in the investigation following the Lindbergh kidnaping, and served as the head of the Secret Service under FDR and Harry Truman.

These Little Known People from History Changed the Way We Live Every Day
Irish physician Francis Rynd was the first to administer a hypodermic injection. Wikimedia

34. Francis Rynd changed the practice of medicine forever

Francis Rynd was a doctor of medicine in Dublin, Ireland, a member of the Royal College of Surgeons, and the medical superintendent of Mountjoy Prison, located in the heart of the city. In 1845 Rynd introduced a hollow needle through which he injected a painkiller, “fifteen grains of acetate of morphia” into a patient suffering from pains in the jaw and head. He announced the procedure and the successful outcome of the case in an article printed in the Dublin Medical Press in March, 1845, the first known example of medicine being administered through hypodermic injection.

These Little Known People from History Changed the Way We Live Every Day
The automatic bread slicing and packaging machine changed the way bread was made and consumed. FDA

35. Otto Frederick Rohwedder changed the way we eat

Otto Frederick Rohwedder was a jeweler in Iowa who loved to tinker, and after selling his jewelry stores he started a company to produce an automatic bread slicing machine to be used by bakers. In 1927, after years of setbacks, he produced a machine that both sliced and packaged bread. Sliced bread began to appear in bakeries and groceries. In 1930 Wonder Bread was introduced by the Consolidated Baking Company, and during the 1930s the pop-up toaster became a standard item on kitchen counters throughout the United States. The practice of baking bread at home became nearly defunct, though in the late twentieth century it began to re-emerge as eating habits changed yet again.

These Little Known People from History Changed the Way We Live Every Day
Rene Lannaec changed the practice of medicine with his invention of the stethoscope. Wikimedia

36. Rene Laennec equipped doctors with the item most associated with them

Rene Laennec changed the world while working as a physician in early 19th century France. Dissatisfied with the inability to properly determine the internal conditions of patients who were overweight, Laennec devised a method of hearing internal sounds without applying the physician’s ear to the chest or back of the patient. He first used paper rolled into a cone. He then developed a hollow tube with a belled opening on one end. Finally he hit upon two tubes, one for each ear, connected to a bell-shaped device which was placed on the patient. He named his device the stethoscope, one of the earliest non-invasive medical devices developed as a diagnostic tool.

These Little Known People from History Changed the Way We Live Every Day
The 1507 Waldseemuller map which presented the Americas. Wikimedia

37. Amerigo Vespucci gave the Americas their name

Amerigo Vespucci was the first to demonstrate that the land masses discovered by Columbus and other explorers were separate from the Eurasian land mass. It is from his first name, and fortunately not his last, that the name for the newly discovered continents came into being, from its latinized version of Americus. In 1507 the term was used in a map produced by a German cartographer, identifying both the North American and South American landmasses as America, using the feminine form of Americus. Thus a German mapmaker, Martin Waldseemuller, bestowed upon the New World the name by which it became known in the Old World.

These Little Known People from History Changed the Way We Live Every Day
Lord Baden-Powell, the founder of scouting. Library of Congress

38. Lord Baden Powell created scouting for both girls and boys

Robert Baden-Powell was a distinguished officer of the British Army when he produced Scouting for Boys and created the Boy Scouts in 1907. In 1910 Powell retired from the army and created the Boy Scouts Association. The same year he and his sister Agnes started the Girl Guides. Both became international movements for girls and boys. The Boy Scouts of America was founded in 1910, using many of the guides established by Powell, who had in turn been influenced by the Sons of Daniel Boone, an American organization which had been established by Daniel Carter Beard in Cincinnati in 1905. Scouting continues to enjoy wide popularity among youth in the 21st century.

These Little Known People from History Changed the Way We Live Every Day
The B-29 Superfortress Enola Gay which dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima. USAF

39. Thomas Ferebee triggered the age of the atom

The B-29 named for its pilot’s mother, Enola Gay, remains widely known, as is the name of the pilot, Paul Tibbets. Tibbets flew the airplane over Hiroshima, but it was the aircrew’s bombardier, Thomas Wilson Ferebee, who guided the big airplane over its bomb run and triggered the release of the Little Boy bomb which devastated the city below and ushered in the age of the atomic, and later thermonuclear bomb. Ferebee elected to remain in the Army Air Forces and later the United States Air Force after the war, rising to the rank of colonel before retiring in 1970, having served during World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and the Cold War.

These Little Known People from History Changed the Way We Live Every Day
Historians and scholars have blamed the French defeat at Waterloo on the rash actions of Marshal Michel Ney. Wikimedia

40. Michel Ney was called the bravest of the brave

Napoleon referred to Marshal Michel Ney as “the bravest of the brave’ but during the Hundred Days Campaign in 1815 which culminated in Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo, much of the failure of the French campaign was due to Ney. He failed to defeat Wellington’s still consolidating army at the Battle of Quatre Bras and allowed the British to withdraw unhindered, enabling them to maintain contact with their Prussian allies. At Waterloo itself he led an attack which severely weakened the French cavalry and did little damage to the British Army. Ney is well known to Napoleonic war buffs, but forgotten to history elsewhere, largely because of his failures. He was executed for treason in December 1815.


Where do we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

“Edward Jenner (1749 – 1823)” entry, BBC History. Online

“Nathaniel Bowditch”. Tamara Plakins Thornton, Harvard Magazine. July-August, 2016

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