Learn about some people who have made history throughout time and have left their mark as inspiration for future generations.
Need some inspiration to motivate you? Here is a short list of stories of people who changed the world throughout history to spark your imagination.
Born in the aftermath of World War I and living through World War II, Rosalind Franklin was an English physical chemist. Following an active academic career, Franklin went on to study at Newnham College in Cambridge.
After earning second-class honors for her coursework in 1941, which served as the equivalent of a bachelor’s degree, she went on to join the physical chemistry laboratory of the University of Cambridge.
While working with the British Coal Utilization Research Association, Franklin conducted in-depth research into the pores of coals. Through her efforts, she was able to discover how these pores affected their properties.
This discovery allowed for classification of coals, giving more detailed information on their fuel performance and production of wartime devices. The University of Cambridge awarded her a Ph.D. in 1945 for her work.
Moving on past coal, Franklin became involved with research into DNA in the 1950s. At first, she worked with X-ray diffraction research at King’s College London; later, Franklin became part of a team studying new advances in DNA research. She analyzed DNA for the remainder of her life and was a critical part in X-ray diffraction analysis and photos, the different forms of DNA with extensive research into DNA-B, and the building of several theoretical DNA structure models.
Even after being diagnosed with ovarian cancer in mid-1956, Franklin continued her DNA research and contributed to several more papers with her team until her death in 1958. She was one of the linchpins of DNA research, and her efforts laid the groundwork for the discovery of the DNA double helix. If it were not for the fact that the Nobel Prizes association does not give awards posthumously, Franklin would have likely earned one for her contributions.
John F. Kennedy
While there are numerous stories about John F. Kennedy, he was a soldier before his political career. During World War II, he was part of the crew aboard the PT-109, one of the patrol torpedo boats set up in the Blackett Straight as a line of defense against Japan’s supply convoys to the war front farther south.
On August 1, 1943, the fifteen assembled U.S. PT boats attempted an ambush on the Japanese convoy. The PT boats fired torpedoes, but none of them hit their targets. The vessels without ammunition returned to base, but the PT-109 was one of the ships that stayed behind and ultimately fell prey to a collision with the Japanese destroyer Amagiri.
Several crew members fell overboard, and the then Lt. Kennedy ordered the rest to evacuate, for fear that the PT 109 would go up in flames. Once the threat of explosion passed, the crew reassembled on the remains of their ship. Kennedy swam out into the waters to guide and tow back several exhausted crew members, though several dies in the impact. Not wanting to attract enemy attention, the crew didn’t fire their flares, and the PT 109 capsized the next morning.
Without many other options, the crew swam for the closest islet, which rested three and a half miles away. Kennedy towed engineer Patrick McMahon by a belt between his teeth, and a plank supported the crew members that were unable to swim, and the others ferried it through the water.
They reached their destination. Over the next several days, Kennedy swam farther into the waters for reconnaissance and guided the crew to survive off the land and move islands as necessary.
On August 6, assisted by the native islanders, Kennedy was able to scratch a message into a coconut. That message reached Lt. A. Reginald Evans, who rendezvoused with Kennedy and helped set up a rescue. By August 8, the survivors of the PT-109 shipwreck reached the U.S. base at Rendova.
The incident earned Kennedy both the Purple Heart and Navy and Marine Corps Medal. The story was picked up by news outlets and would later serve as a foundational piece of his political career.
Franklin D. Roosevelt
The only president to have four terms in office, Franklin D. Roosevelt had one of the most influential political careers in the United States. After a conducting paralytic illness, Roosevelt set up a nonprofit foundation to support polio patients.
He spent two terms as governor of New York before being elected president and went on to initiate various political reforms, connect with the nation through his “fireside chats,” and lead the country from isolationism and through World War II.
Roosevelt’s New Deal brought about financial reform, provided economic relief, and created jobs amidst the Great Depression. The Second New Deal brought the advent of the Social Security System and increased taxes for large corporations and the wealthy.
His “fireside” chats were Roosevelt’s way of connecting with the country. These regular national radio addresses combined with his open press conferences were critical in restoring the nation’s confidence. Held during the banking crises, Roosevelt spoke openly to the people about his policies, inspiring confidence and quelling any rumors. He would pick this style of communication up again during World War II.
Before the war even began, Roosevelt was wary of the combined forces of Italy, Germany, and Japan. During this time, he began an unprecedented third term of presidency. At first, Roosevelt only loosened the U.S.’s neutrality acts to provide war aid to Britain, but after the attack on Pearl Harbor, he spearheaded the alliance of the Allies as America joined the war front.
As the tide of war turned in the Allies’ favor, Roosevelt won his fourth election into the White House and gained the support of Stalin against the Axis. After his return to the United States, Roosevelt suffered a cerebral hemorrhage on April 12, 1945, leaving an important legacy behind him.
Born on June 27, 1880, Helen Keller became deaf and blind after illness at the age of eighteen months. While bright, Keller was an unruly child, and her behavior didn’t see a change until she met Anne Sullivan—who had also lost her sight at a young age and had it restored after several unsuccessful operations.
Sullivan and Keller moved into a cottage near Keller’s home, and there Sullivan set about teaching Keller by signing into her hands.
After a month, Keller began to form a much clearer comprehension of words, and she mastered the manual and raised print alphabet, and even began to learn to speak at age ten. Her desire for knowledge and appreciation for learning led her to attend college with Sullivan’s support. Keller was the first deafblind person to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree, graduating cum laude.
During her time as a student, Keller began a writing career, starting with her 1903 autobiography. She would go on to write numerous speeches and essays about blindness prevention, birth control, faith, atomic energy, and the rise of fascism in Europe.
She was also a staunch political activist, protesting the U.S.’s involvement in World War II, promoting women’s suffrage, and contributions to various other causes.
Her most significant investment came to be with the American Foundation for the Blind, which she worked with for forty years. Her numerous international visits inspired several reforms to the conditions of those with vision loss. Even at the age of seventy-five, Keller still embarked on a five-month tour of Asia.
After suffering a stroke in 1960, Keller settled down at her home in Westport, Connecticut, where she would later pass on a few weeks before her eighty-eighth birthday. She ended her life having earned several honorary doctorate degrees from international universities, the Lions Humanitarian Award, and several other honors.
Martin Luther King Jr.
Born into a family of pastors, Martin Luther King Jr. lived through a time of great racial oppression. Inspired by his background and Gandhi, King encouraged nonviolence and peaceful protest when he led the Montgomery Bus Boycotts, even though he experienced arrest and a bombing on his home.
The 382-day demonstration against the bus transportation system cemented King’s presence as a civil rights leader and led to the Supreme Court ruling segregated seating as unconstitutional in 1956.
King would go on to lead several more civil rights movements, all using the same peaceful protest methods, and became the president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in 1957.
For the next decade, he traveled, speaking and protesting for his ideals and wrote numerous books and articles. In this timeframe, he was assaulted four times—an arrested over twenty—but continued to act for social justice.
Over the course of his life, King was awarded five honorary degrees, named Time magazine’s 1963 Man of the Year, and earned the Nobel Peace Prize. He was the youngest man to do so, at thirty-five. After receiving the award, King donated the entirety of the prize money to further the civil rights movement.
He was assassinated in a Memphis hotel room on April 4, 1968, where he was to lead a protest march. After several cities and states established holidays to honor King, President Reagan signed a bill to make Martin Luther King Jr. Day a federal holiday. His contributions to the civil rights movement have established King as an unmistakable symbol of equality and African Americans.