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)

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)

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)

Musical Composers:
Ludwig von Beethoven (1770-1827)
Richard Wagner (1813-1883)

Louis Jacques Mande Daguerre (1789-1851)

The Sewing Machine:
Elias Howe (1819-1867)

Friedrich Froebel (1782-1852)

Edwin Booth (1833-1898)

John Henry Newman (1801-1890)

Notable Women (counted as a single, cumulative entity):
George Sand (1804-1876)
George Eliot (1819-1880)
Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861)
Rosa Bonheur

Greatest Ideas, Strongest Books, Most Famous Names Of the 19th Century

San Francisco Chronicle, Sunday, January 6, 1901 —


Top vote-getters:
Abraham Lincoln (8 votes)
Otto von Bismarck (8)
Charles Darwin (7)
William Ewart Gladstone (5)
Napoleon Bonaparte (4)
Samuel F.B. Morse (4)
Ralph Waldo Emerson (3)
Ulysses S. Grant (3)
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (3)
Florence Nightengale (3)
Louis Pasteur (2)
Charles Haddon Spurgeon (2)
Dwight L. Moody (2)
Thomas Edison (2)
Daniel Webster (2)
John Marshall (2)

Single votes:
… by Jordan: Helmholtz, Cuvier, Cavour, Lyell, Agassiz
… by Nichols: Hegel, Pusey, Tennyson
… by Morrow: Peabody
… by Scott: John Herschel, Thomas Young, Louis J. M. Daguerre, Michael Farrady, Dr. Thomas Schwam, Dr. John Robert Mayer
… by Slack: Wilhelm Richard Wagner, Jean Francois Millet, Count von Moltke
… by Keith: Clara Barton, Susan B. Anthony, Garibaldi
… by Hemphill: Henry Ward Beecher, David Livingstone
… by Murdock: James Martineau, John Henry Newman
… by Voorsanger: Thomas Jefferson, Georg Friedrich Grotefend, Sir James Young Simpson, Dr. Lister, Pope Leo XIII, Sir Moses Montefiore


Evolution/natural selection (7)
Electricity/electrical development (5)
Photography (5)
Arbitration/international arbitration (5)
Anesthesia (4)
Abolition of slavery (4)
Spectroscopy/spectrum analysis/the theory of light and color(4)
Telephone/transmission of sound by electricity/long-distance speaking (4)
Steam power (3)
Telegraph (3)
Bacteriology/Pasteur’s idea of the bacillus/microbean theory of disease (3)
Religious evangelism (the ‘born again’ … evangelization of the world/those embodied in all the special efforts to win the century for Christ/the realization of the imminence of God) (3)
The nature of heredity/importance of heredity vs. environment (2)
Red Cross movement (2)
The advancement of women/the uplifting of womanhood and childhood (2)
Labor reform (’industrial and social co-operation”/dealing with issues of labor and capital, esp. for children and women) (2)
The American system of self-government/“democracy as a training school for the development of men” (2)


Darwin: Origin of Species (5 votes)
Stowe: Uncle Tom’s Cabin (4)
Hugo: Les Miserables (4)
Goethe: Faust (4)
Hawthorne: Scarlet Letter (3)
Carlyle: French Revolution (2)
Darwin: Descent of Man (2)
Thackeray: Vanity Fair (2)
DeTocqueville Democracy in America (2)
Emerson: Essays (2)

Other individual selections:

… by Morrow:
Spencer: Synthetical Philosophy
Kent: Commentaries
Mill: Logic

… by Scott:
Andrew D. White: Conflict of Science and Dogmatism
Thackeray: Henry Esmond
Mark Twain: Yankee at the Court of King Arthur
Dr. Thomas Schwam: Unity of Vegetable and Animal Tissue
Professor O.C. Marsh: Origin of the Horse
Agassiz: Universal Ice Age
Pasteur: Spontaneous Life Due To Germs In The Air
Byron’s poems

… by Slack:
Macaulay: History of England
Renaud: Life of Jesus

… by Keith:
Wilhelm Meister
Wandering Jew
Jane Eyre
Quo Vadis

… by Hemphill (only listed eight):
John Lothrop Motley: various histories
William Hickling Prescott: various histories
George Bancroft: The History of the United States
Charles Lamb: essays
Thomas Babington: essays
Thomas Carlyle: essays
Sir Walter Scott: novels

… by Murdock:
Martineau: Seat of Authority in Religion
Hegel: Logic
Savigney: System of Roman Law
Carlyle: Past and Present
Smith: Wealth of Nations
Mahan: Influence of Sea Power in History

… by Voorsanger:
Gibbon: Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire
Ranke: Universal History
Von Doellinger: Heidenthum und Judenthum
Spencer: Principles of Sociology
Max Mueller: Chips from a German Workshop
The Encyclopaedia Britannica
Thomas Carlyle: Frederick the Great

… by Nichols (chose none):
“The bibliography of the century is too vast and time too short to attempt to tabulate the ten greatest books.”

The Three Greatest Events of the 19th Century

San Francisco Chronicle, Sunday, Janurary 6, 1901 —

“the starting of the first passenger train propelled by steam”
“the laying of the Atlantic cable”
“the opening of the Suez canal”