Few ideas get the blood flowing more than that of revolution. Revolution means change, and when change is desperately needed, a revolution can empower us to do more, be more, achieve more. Through revolution, we can overcome adversity and stagnation and rise up to fulfill our potential. And there’s nothing to incite a revolution like a revolutionary man or woman who takes a stand against the established order.
Revolutions don’t just happen in politics or war. We have seen revolutions in science, engineering, art, and all other aspects of culture. Let’s take a look at 10 famous revolutionaries and their contributions to human history. These revolutionaries came from many walks of life, and each changed the world in a drastic, defining way.
10. Henry Ford
Flickr / Boston Public Library
Henry Ford was a famous American industrialist who is often (incorrectly) credited with inventing the assembly line and the automobile. He actually invented neither, but he did sponsor their development, popularizing mass production techniques which pervade society today. Some consider him a hero, while others criticize the effects of mass production on society. Adolph Hitler and other members of the Nazi party were great admirers of Henry Ford. ## 9. Galileo Galilei
Flickr / Daniel DeCristo
Galileo was a physicist and astronomer who first proposed that the earth revolved around the sun, and not the other way around. His views were denounced as heresy by the Church, and he was condemned to house arrest. His revolution was not only scientific, but spiritual. Galileo stood up publicly for his discovery, causing many people to question for the first time if they were really at the center of the universe. ## 8. Isaac Newton
Flickr / Skara kommun
While it is easy to focus on political revolutionaries, it would be remiss not to mention at least a few names in other areas of culture. Isaac Newton, perhaps the most famous scientific mind in the world, lived during the 17th and 18th centuries. He laid the groundwork for classical mechanics and changed the way that the world was seen forever. ## 7. T.E. Lawrence
T.E. Lawrence (Wikimedia)
Thomas Edward Lawrence gets little more than a footnote in most history textbooks, but his role in World War I was indispensable for the Allied forces. Following orders in the Middle East, he led an Arab revolt against the Turkish empire on behalf of Great Britain. Acting on his own, he did what he could to ensure the creation of an independent Arab state. His extraordinary leadership abilities and independent spirit captured imaginations around the globe during World War I, and led to the creation of the film Lawrence of Arabia. ## 6. Adolf Hitler
Flickr / Recuerdos de Pandora
Not all revolutions are positive developments. Adolf Hitler’s revolution in Germany led to World War II, one of the most catastrophically devastating events in human history. Germany welcomed his radical changes with open arms because they were suffering from economic ruin. Hitler’s revolution fueled the life-blood of the German economy, but at the cost of countless millions of innocent lives throughout Europe and the world. ## 5. Malcolm X
Malcolm X (Wikimedia)
Malcolm X, known in the final years of his life as El-Hajj Malik El Shabazz, was another civil rights leader in America who stood up for racial equality. Initially he was a member of the extremist faction Nation of Islam, advocating black supremacy and racial separation. Eventually he turned his back on the Nation of Islam, and took a pilgrimage to the Middle East and Africa. While there, he realized the essential brotherhood of all humankind, and joined the American civil rights movement. While participating in the movement, he urged that the words civil rights be changed to human rights, and that the issue become an international one. He was killed for his revolutionary stance, likely by members of the Nation of Islam, but his contributions live on. ## 4. Eva Peron
Eva Peron (Wikimedia)
Maria Eva Duarte de Peron was the First Lady of Argentina from 1946 to 1952. During her life, she was a major proponent of union rights and stood up for women in Argentina. The first major feminist political party in Argentina was her Female Peronist Party. Her role in transforming Argentinean society has been immortalized in the musical Evita by Andrew Lloyd Weber. ## 3. George Washington
George Washington (Wikimedia)
The first president of the United States was also the commander-in-chief of the Continental Army prior to the founding of the country. He fought during the American Revolutionary War, and was unanimously elected in 1788 for the office of president because of his role in the revolution. It was then his job to ensure that a strong, stable government was created—and that backlash from counter-revolutionaries was dealt with. Washington helped to develop the cabinet system which the US government still uses today, and delivered the first inaugural address. ## 2. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Flickr / Cliff
When we think about revolution, we often think about bloodshed, but not all revolutions rely on swords or guns to prove their point. Martin Luther King was a peaceful revolutionary who transformed a society by rallying together American citizens with a promise of equality, freedom, and brotherhood. His courage paved the way for an equal society with equal rights. Without him, America would be a very different place, and probably a much less friendly one. ## 1. Che Guevara
Flickr / Alexander Herrmann
Che Guevara, often simply called “Che,” was a famous Marxist revolutionary from Argentina. While traveling throughout the continent as a medical student, he was so appalled by the conditions he saw that he made it his mission to spur reform. Together with Fidel Castro, he became a leader of the Cuban Revolution. A photo taken of him at La Coubre memorial service by Alberto Korda became so famous and iconic that it is now featured on t-shirts and other merchandise all over the world. Che’s image has become intrinsically linked with counterculture and rebellion, Marxist and otherwise. What can we learn from this list? Revolutions can take on many different forms. They can be positive or negative, and can transform a society for better or worse, often with ramifications for the entire planet. A revolution may be political, social, scientific, religious, or technological, but no revolution ever takes place in a vacuum. These actions of these men and women have all had lasting effects felt around the world.