19th Century Best-Of Lists

No doubt you saw the lists on the eve of the millennium.

The American Film Institute ranked the greatest movies of the 20th century. The Modern Library listed the century’s greatest novels. There even were top-50 lists for the century in journalism by New York University and Newseum, a journalism museum in Washington, D.C. Life magazine took an even longer view, ranking the top 100 events and personalities of the millennium, and choosing Thomas Edison as person of the millennium.

In 1900, the press ranked the top people, novels, ideas and events of the 19th century. But some of the lists weren’t quite as easy to digest as today’s versions.

For instance, The Boston Sunday Herald ran a list of the century’s greatest men, but did not rank them and decided to exclude those living at the time.

The San Francisco Chronicle asked experts for their all-century favorites in several categories, but ran their lists separately and did not count up the votes. In a concession to the style of the 20th century, what appears below is a cumulative tally by ABCNEWS.com of votes by the nine judges — David Starr Jordan, Bishop William Ford Nichols, Judge William W. Morrow, Irving M. Scott, Charles W. Slack, Eliza D. Keith, Rev. John Hemphill, Charles A. Murdock and Rabbi Dr. Jacob Voorsanger.

In an editorial cartoon, The Boston Herald pictured Thomas Edison waving a wand at an electric light, a phonograph and a telegraph relay, and captioned the image: “The wizard of the century.” However, he ranked well behind Otto von Bismarck, Abraham Lincoln and others in the Chronicle’s tally.

Read on and see how hindsight treats these vintage choices for best of the 19th century.

Fifty Greatest [Deceased] Men of This [Nineteenth] Century

The Boston Sunday Herald, Dec. 30, 1900

… Future historians may commemorate the living great, but it is upon the geniuses who have passed on that the present day observer will more readily reflect. …

Men of Letters:
Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832)
Honore de Balzac (1799-1850)
Walt Whitman (1819-1892)
Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832)
William Makepeace Thackeray (1811-1863)
Charles Dickens (1812-1870)
Lord Byron (1788-1824)
Heinrich Heine (1799-1856)
Alfred Tennyson (1809-1892)
Robert Browning (1812-1889)
Friedrich Schiller (1759-1806)
Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834)
Victor Hugo (1802-1885)
Alexandre Dumas (1803-1870)
Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1864)
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882)
James Russell Lowell (1819-1891)

Scientists:
Alexander von Humbolt (1769-1859)
Charles Darwin (1809-1882)
Michael Faraday (1791-1867)
Thomas Huxley (1825-1895)
Louis Pasteur (1822-1895)

The Statesmen:
Otto Edward Leopold von Bismarck-Schoenhausen (1815-1896)
Benjamin Disraeli (1804-1881)
William Ewart Gladstone (1809-1898)
Charles Stewart Parnell (1846-1891)
Louis Adolphe Thiers (1797-1877)
Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826)
Daniel Webster (1782-1852)
Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865)

Great Commanders:
Napoleon I (Napoleon Bonaparte) (1769-1821)
Arthur Wellesley (1769-1852)
Horatio Nelson (1758-1805)
Helmuth von Moltke (1800-1891)
Ulysses Simpson Grant (1822-1885)

Philosophers:
Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831)
John Stuart Mill (1806-1873)
Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881)
Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)

Great Artists:
Jean Louis Ernest Meissonier (1811-1891)
Mariano Fortuny (1839-1874)
Albert Bertel Thorwaldsen (1770-1844)

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