Can you list "out-of-the-ordinary" people who are significant to world history between 1700 and 1990?
Nikola Tesla should be on the list. Not only did he contribute great ideas and inventions to science, he was also quite "out of the ordinary" and lived a fascinating life.
Walt Whitman- for his contribution to poetry, language, and philosophy
Sartre- for his revolutionary philosophy
Foucault- for his history on sexuality
Jean Baudrillard- for giving us the "Matrix"
Reply to #6 regarding X Ray -- see http://www.enotes.com/history-fact-finder/medicine-disease/who-discovered-x-ray
Reply to #7 regarding telegraph - see http://siarchives.si.edu/history/jhp/joseph20.htm
Really out of the ordinary would be Albert Einstein because he made such an amazing contribution to science and how we see our world and universe, but at the time many of his ideas were rejected and he was seen as a nut job. Most of the time those we want to hide away from society because they are not "normal" are the ones that will make the biggest impact on society.
Samuel Morse--for the first time, information could get somewhere faster than people could transport it.
Ghandi--toppled an empire by non-violent means.
Pasteur and Koch--germ theory of disease finally let people understand what caused disease.
Einstein--totally changed our understanding of time, the universe, and that people were capable of destroying the world.
How about Thomas Edison? He invented the phonograph, the lightbulb (or at least the first lightbulb that was useful and able to sell commercially), carbon microphone, x-ray, and so many more things. He also started the company General Electric. His many inventions have dramatically changed the way we live our lives today.
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Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Andrew Carnegie, John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, Audrey Hepburn, Elvis Presley
Napoleon Bonaparte, Admiral Lloyd Nelson, Czar Nicholas, Winston Churchill, Margaret Thatcher, Princess Diana, Mother Theresa
Of course there are lists and lists of individuals that could apply to your question. I've decided to answer your question by naming a few people who are both fascinating and to some degree as you put it 'out of the ordinary'. From the American Civil War era, Mary Chesnut and union soldier Elijah Hunt Rhodes. Chesnut and Rhodes both kept a diary during the Civil War. Their first hand accounts have added an element of humanity to the bare bone facts of the war.
Someone out of the ordinary between 1700 and 1990? That could be a very long list. Here are a few:
- George de Mestral--a 20th century Swiss inventor. In 1948, he returned home from walking his dog and noticed that the dog was covered in burrs. The lightbulb came on in his mind, and he got the idea to create a very handy product: Velcro. See the link to inventors.com.
- Danilo Ilic--the leader of a group of Serbian insurgents who assassinated Archduke Ferdinand and his wife, Sophie, on June 28, 1914. Their action was the catalyst for World War I, "the war to end all wars."
- Alexander Fleming--the English bacteriologist who discovered penicillin. Imagine what it would be like if he had not been curious about the mold growing in a discarded Petri dish.
Here's one of my favorites: Dr. W.C. Minor, Civil War surgeon, imprisoned in Broadmoor Asylum in England after he was convicted of murdering a baker. The cool twist is he became one of the most prolific contributors to the English Oxford Dictionary; the internet of its time. But also, his story, though not recognized, reflects the reality of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, the illness so prevalent to today's veterans but known then as "Soldier's Heart." See: The Professor and the Madman.