13 Photographs of the Most Inspiring People from the Last 100 Years

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Sometimes you need a hero. Sometimes you need to be able to say, “What would [insert your hero’s name] do?” in order to overcome a difficult obstacle. Sometimes just picturing your hero’s face in your mind is enough to keep you going.

I believe that images are very powerful life tools. For this reason I have put together 13 photographs of the people I believe to be the most inspirational figures of the last 100 years or so. I hope that they will motivate you to become the very best person you can be.

13 photographs of the most inspiring people of the last 100 years

There are, undoubtedly, many names that I have missed from this list. Notable ones include Michael Jordan and Elvis Presley. If there are any other inspiration figures that you think I should have included please leave a comment.

13. Nelson Mandela of South Africa

Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela was the first President of South Africa to be elected in a fully democratic election. He is renowned the world over for being an activist of peace and racial equality and after spending 27 years in prison as a political prisoner he spent his days working for racial equality around the world. His autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, has inspired many people around the world.

12. The Beatles of the United Kingdom

the beatles

The Beatles are widely known as the most popular band of all time. They are credited with the creation of rock and have had more album sales than any other artist in history, including Elvis Presley. Their music reached every corner of the globe and had a major impact on the upbringing of an entire generation of children.

11. Al Gore of the United States

Al Gore

Al Gore is a perfect example of someone who can suffer a crushing defeat and get back up to do something great. As far as changing the world goes, Al Gore has done more than just about anyone else. His famous movie An Inconvenient Truth is going to leave an indelible imprint on the hearts and minds of the next generation and as such he may have positively impacted the environment more than anyone else in history.

10. Thomas Edison of the United States

Thomas Edison

Thomas Edison was one of the most prolific inventors of our time. He is known to have invented the light bulb as well as film projectors and motion pictures. An extremely intelligent man, Edison also had wise words to say about politics, religion and metaphysics. He is an inspiration to inventors and scientists around the world.

9. Muhammad Ali of the United States

Muhaummad Ali

In 2007 Muhammad Ali was names the greatest athlete of all time. This is quite a phenomenal title but reflects the fact that, far from being just a sportsperson, Ali was and is a man who has inspired millions to become better at what they do. He is a celebrity who now works tirelessly for others both within and without of his sport. As an aside fact, the Rumble in the Jungle boxing match in Africa between Ali and George Foreman was, until the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the most popular sporting event of all time.

8. Oprah Winfrey of the United States


Like her or lump her, Oprah Winfrey has been the most powerful and influential female voice on television for the last decade. She has millions of viewers and loyal fans and has reached fame by creating a day time talk show that is dedicated (mostly) to helping people around the world live better more holistic lives. She has been criticized for becoming too materialistic and consumer driven in recent years but in my opinion she still does amazing work for people all around the world.

7. Martin Luther King Jr. of the United States

Martin Luther King

One of the greatest orators of all time, Martin Luther King Jr. rose to fame fighting for a near impossible cause. America at the time was rife with racial intolerance and King lead the way to the beginning of a more fair and just society. He is most famous for his speech I Have a Dream.

6. Bruce Lee of Hong Kong

Bruce Lee

I once read a book on Bruce Lee where the author said that you could go into any house in the world and everyone would know three people – Buddha, Jesus and Bruce Lee. Whether or not this is true I do not know but Bruce Lee is certainly one of the biggest names of the last hundred years. Many see him as inspiration for achieving greatness through martial arts and he is credited with popularizing martial arts films and practice in the USA.

5. Albert Einstein of Germany

Albert Einstein
Photo: AFP/AFP/Getty Images

Albert Einstein was names by Time magazine as the man of the century in the year 2000. The rationale was that the 20th century will be remembered as the age of scientific innovation and among all scientists it is Einstein that remains the most popular and well respected. I admire Einstein because his genius was not marred by arrogance. He was a staunch pacifist and it is said that he was permanently devastated that his scientific work was used to create the Atomic Bomb. Later on he published an article imploring the USA not to seek a nuclear monopoly and asking that, instead, the UN should be equipped as the world’s nuclear power for the purpose of deterrence.

4. President Barack Obama of the United States

Barack Obama

In the last two years Barack Obama has cruised on to the world stage to become one of the most well respected and admired men of the last 100 years. He is the symbol of racial equality and hope for millions around the world. Great trust has been placed in him to take America and, indeed, the world to a new a better place since being voted in as President of the United States.

3. Mahatma Gandhi of India

Gandhi Nehru

Gandhi is revered by over a billion Indian citizens and peace loving people the world over. His life was an example of what peaceful negotiations can achieve and as such he has become the figure head for morality and patience. Well educated and with a sharp mind, Gandhi led India to independence from British rule. In the photo above he is seen with Pandit Nehru a day before they were arrested for their peaceful protests.

2. Mother Teresa of Calcutta

mother teresa

Mother Teresa is known the world around for her lifelong charity work. She spent her entire life in Calcutta and worked with the sick, poor and dying. Without ever taking a break she exemplified the life of a Saint and was finally, following her death, given the title of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta. For me she is the symbol of diligence and charitable effort – love without discrimination.

1. His Holiness the Dalai Lama of Tibet

the dalai lama
credit: Tenzin Choejor

The Dalai Lama has been a source of inspiration to millions of people around the world. He has won the Nobel Peace Prize for his non-violent approach to the Chinese lead invasion of his country and has traveled the world spreading the message of peace, compassion and ethics. He is widely considered by many to be the most peaceful man alive. When I need a beacon of hope it is always His Holiness the Dalai Lama that I think of. His autobiography is one of the most inspirational books I have ever read.

19 thoughts on “13 Photographs of the Most Inspiring People from the Last 100 Years

  1. Some extremely inspiring and influential people in the list. Happy to see our ex-president made no. 13 😉

  2. How the heck did Al Gore make the list? I can think of at least 100 people more inspiring than HIM!!

    Jackie Robinson
    Winston Churchill
    Colin Powell
    John F. Kennedy
    Joe Louis
    Neil Armstrong
    Charles A. Lindbergh
    Walt Disney
    Rosa Parks
    Anne Frank
    Amelia Earhart

    I could go on, but I’m sure you get the point…

    And I hope this list isn’t a countdown! If so, Oprah Winfrey (talk show host) beats out Nelson Mandela (symbol of the end of modern institutionalized racism) and Bruce Lee (action movie star) beats out Martin Luther King Jr. (father of equal rights in “The Land of the Free.”) I DON’T THINK SO!!!!


  3. Hi Brent.

    As I said, Al Gore and his movie An Inconvenient Truth has done more for the environment than just about any other person in history. The environment is the defining issue of our age and I feel this puts him safely on the list.

  4. Thought-provoking post. I would be in agreement with many of your choices. President Obama, while inspirational, has much to accomplish in order to ascend to such a lofty status. I can’t include Oprah and Bruce Lee on even a top 20 list. If Al Gore makes the list for environmental purposes, where is Theodore Roosevelt? He was the original champion of the world’s environment. Speaking of Roosevelts…what about our polio-striken president who pulled our country out of the Great Depression and inspired us to victory in World War II? If Muhammad Ali gets there, Jackie Robinson set the stage for him. As for sports…Cal Ripken, faithful to one team his entire career and the game’s try “iron-man,” and of course, Tiger Woods, a true ground-breaker. Michael Jordon is with just too many character flaws to consider.

  5. Who ever put this list together is quite funny to me … although I agree with a few, this is a joke ….. HAAAAAA …. in no way ‘thought-provoking’ !!! quite ignorant in fact ….

  6. Seems the post did, in fact, provoke some thoughts from you, Miss Abby; albeit quite negative and judgmental. Hope your day gets better.



  8. this is a pretty horrible list…Nelson Mandela at 15???!!! and Oprah and Bruce Lee at 8 and 6 resp…are u serious???!!!! and Al Gore????Obama???!!wow im horrified…..:O

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