These are the stories of less-than-famous people who -- given the opportunities that our great nation provides -- made their country and indeed, the world, better. A new one is posted each day. In May, I shall publish the first volume of 50 stories.
Profiles to be published in print are marked with an asterisk.
* 1. James Knox Polk
. He was our best one-term president, annexing most of what is west of the Mississippi, excluding Alaska and Hawaii.
* 2. Louis Chevrolet
. Mechanic, race-car driver, and nameplate.
3. Evelyn Stone Bryan Johnson
. She was 35 when she took her first flying lesson. She taught more men to fly than anyone.
4. George Swinnerton Parker
. He took a socialistic board game and turned it into a primer on capitalism called "Monopoly."
**5. "Edwin Howard Armstrong, caught static for inventing FM
." Perhaps my best headline. Earworm warning on the Steely Dan tune.
6. Thomas Nast
. Invented editorial cartooning, and used it to bring down Boss Tweed.
7. Lamar Hunt
. Helped create the AFL, which made America's game better -- and gave us the Super Bowl.
8. Gail Borden Jr
. His condensed milk helped win the Civil War.
9. Samuel Gridley Howe
. Abolitionist and pioneer in education. Unlike today's activists, he did not spend all his time lobbying politicians to spend government money on their pet projects; Samuel Gridley Howe walked the talk.
10. Jonathan Winters
. I don't do many celebrities, but he turned his mental illness into comedy.
11. Ewing Marion Kauffman
. Started a pharmaceutical company in his basement and nursed it into a billion-dollar corporation. Then he cashed in and brought major league baseball back to Kansas City. A class act.
12. "David Swinson Maynard: He put the Seattle in Seattle
13. Carl Anthony Rakes
. He always wanted to be a sheriff's deputy. Murdered by a career criminal on a lonely highway.
**14. Andrew Grove
. Survived the Hungarian Fascists, endured the Nazis, dodged the Holocaust, escaped the Communists, and came to America at 20 to help launch Intel as its first employee.
15. Philip Hubert Frohman
. Born in the Chelsea which his grandfather designed, he designed cathedrals across America including the National Cathedral in Washington.
16. Eugene Paul Wigner
. The physicist who convinced Albert Einstein to lobby for the Manhattan Project.
17. Charles F. Dowd
. He brought standardized time to the United States, making trains run right and enabling commercial broadcasting after he died.
18. William F. Buckley Jr
. -- the true nonconformist of the fifties.
19. Robert Houghout Jackson
. Supreme Court justice and Nuremberg prosecutor. What is remarkable about the Nuremberg trials is not that men were convicted and hanged, but that men were acquitted. These were not show trials, but rather a commitment to the judicial system that is the backbone of Western civilization.
* 20. Josiah Bartlett
. As governor of New Hampshire, he sent the legislature home saying there was nothing left to do. Can we get his DNA and Jurassic Park him?
21. J.D. Tippit
. The other man Lee Harvey Oswald assassinated.
**22. Edwin Powell Hubble
. Along with Belgian Monseigneur Georges Henri Joseph Édouard Lemaître, he gave us the Big Bang Theory. Incredibly, neither man received the Nobel Prize -- but Al Gore did.
23. Cass Gilbert
. Designed the best state Capitol in the nation: West Virginia's.
* 24. Andrew Carnegie
. I eschew celebrities but his tale is irresistible, because it begins 126 years before his birth.
* 25. Saint Katharine Mary Drexel
. Perhaps the richest woman in America, she gave it all up and took a vow of poverty. Patron saint of racial equality.
* 26. "Mary Edwards Walker, the only woman to earn the Medal of Honor
." Oh, and she wasn't a soldier.
27. John Wesley Hyatt
. He saved the elephant by inventing plastic.
28. James Robert Cade
. The inventor of Gatorade.
29. Bill W
. Founder of Alcoholics Anonymous.
** 30. Mario R. Capecchi
. The war waif who would win the Nobel Prize. One of my favorites.
** 31. Elsie Quarterman
. She brought the Tennessee purple coneflower back from extinction.
32. Nellie Tayloe Ross
. The first woman elected governor.
** 33. Almon Brown Strowger
. Upset with a conniving phone operator, he invented the forerunner to the rotary dial.
34. Oliver Evans
. A century before Henry Ford, he made the movable assembly line possible.
* 35. George Phydias Mitchell
. He liberated us from OPEC.
36. H.P. Lovecraft
. Died in obscurity, but influenced Stephen King and other writers.
* 37. William Fouts House
. He brought hearing to the deaf, which drew ire from the "deaf community."
38. Walt Disney
. His was no Mickey Mouse operation.
** 39. Albert Abraham Michelson
. America's first Nobel scientist.
40. Dorothy Scott Gerber
. Babies were her business.
41. Ralph Braun
, He gave mobility to the wheelchair-bound -- like him.
42. Clarence Birdseye
. He changed how we eat.
43. Sarah Chang
. The violinist prodigy who grew up.
44. Annie Jump Cannon
. The astronomer given the "woman's task" of classifying the stars.
* 45. Melville Dewey
. He computerized libraries before there were computers.
* 46. Henry Wells
. He was the Wells in Wells Fargo and co-founder of American Express.
47. David Wilkinson
. Inventor of a steam engine -- and a lathe that would change America.
* 48. George Swift
. He beat the railroads and improved the American diet.
* 49. Benjamin Edes
. He threw the Boston Tea Party.
50. Richard Jewell
. The worst thing you can be sometimes is an innocent man.
51. Harold Eliot Varmus
. The hippie who won the Nobel.
52. John Winthrop
. America's first scientist.
53. Harvey Samuel Firestone
. Tire magnate who fought the rubber cartel, and refused to join a tire cartel.
* 54. "George Warren Fuller, the man who crushed typhoid
." The best public health measures have little to do with medicine.
55. "J. Walter Christie and the tank that beat Hitler
56. Richard Conner
. A little known Civil War hero who represents so many.
* 57. "The Real Adventures of Kit Carson
." Folks, the true story beat the fiction.
58. Claude Shannon
. Juggler -- and father of the information theory.
* 59. George Dewey
. The highest ranking sailor in U.S. history.
60. "The Barcode Boys: Bob Silver and Joseph Woodland
." Sometimes genius is ahead of itself.
61. Kary Banks Mullis
. He took an LSD trip and landed a Nobel Prize.
* 62. "Charles Goodyear, invented the rubber industry and died broke
." Goodyear Tire was founded 38 years after his death.
63. John Geary
. The man behind the boulevard in San Francisco.
* 64. "Leland Stanford: After the Gold Rush
." The true story of his founding of Stanford University is sadder than the urban legend.
* 65. Cyrus Hall McCormick
. His reaper made America's breadbasket possible.
* 66. Mad Anthony Wayne
. Like many good soldiers, Anthony Wayne rose through the ranks to become a general. But he earned the title Mad in the Revolutionary War on July 19, 1779.
67. "How Harold Zirin became Captain Corona
." Or as Manfred Mann sang, "Mama always told me not to look into the eyes of the sun, but mama, that's where the fun is."
* 68. Everett Dirksen
. He made the Civil Rights Act of 1964 possible. Democrats rewarded that Klansman Bob Byrd, who tried to filibuster the bill, with majority leadership.
69. "Ban Johnson: He saved baseball
." He did so two decades before Kenesaw Mountain Landis.
* 70. Jedediah Smith
. He died at 32, but he had opened the West. Less than 40 years later, a transcontinental railroad would cross through the land he explored. The maps he helped draft would guide them.
71. Adolph Zukor
. He beat Thomas Edison's movie cartel, created the studio system, and believed the public is never wrong.
72. Frank Nelson Doubleday
. He published John D. Rockefeller's autobiography -- and Upton Sinclair.
73. Earl Gilbert Graves
:“How to Succeed in Business Without Being White.”
74. Charles F. Brush
. He brought electric light to the world.
* 75. Ezra Cornell
. He formed Western Union and co-founded a school you may have heard about.
76. Ray Harroun
. He won one Indianapolis 500, in a way that later saved thousands of lives.
77. Alfred Fuller
. The first Fuller Brush Man.
78. Hal Roach
. He teamed Laurel with Hardy, and quietly incorporated black kids in the Little Rascals.
79. Hap Arnold
. He overcame a fear of flying to become the highest ranking Air Force general ever.
80. Marshall Field
: "The customer is always right."
81. George Stigler
. An economist who challenged the notion that regulation hurts business; actually, regulation can protect businesses from competition -- making matters worse.
* 82. Joseph Glidden
. He did not invent or perfect the six-shooter, the telegraph, or the locomotive. But Joseph Glidden did as much to tame the West as Samuel Colt, Samuel Morse, or all those railroad magnates. He did it with barbed wire.
83. John H. Johnson
. His "Ebony" magazine pretty much invented the black middle class -- and enlarged it.
84. Joan Weston
. Her sex and her social status limited her opportunities, so she used her great athleticism to become the queen of the Roller Derby.
* 85. John C. Frémont
. The handsome bastard who should have been president. Seriously, we went with James Buchanan?
86. Wrong Way Corrigan
. The workingman's Charles Lindbergh. And he flew a plane literally held together by baling wire.
* 87. John Hancock
. The man behind The Signature.
88. Ayanna Howard
. She wanted to be a doctor until she had to dissect a frog. Now she is building robots.
* 89. Charles Curtis
. He left the reservation to become the first and only American Indian elected vice president.
* 90. Julia Grant
. The Army wife who became first lady, and helped a nation heal from a civil war, an assassination, and an impeachment.
91. Will Cook
. He wrote the music that brought down Broadway's color line.
92. William Seward Burroughs
. The man whose adding machine helped pave the way for the computer.
93. Allen B. DuMont
. Invented radar and sired television.
94. John Lansing
. Was this Founding Father murdered?
95. Red Knickerbocker
. The journalist whom both the Nazis and the Soviets despised.
96. Bradbury Robinson
. The quarterback who threw the first forward pass.
97. Henry J. Kaiser
. He built that!
* 98. Horace Greeley
. Go West, Young Man.
* 99. Tadeusz Kościuszko
. A Revolutionary War hero whom Thomas Jefferson betrayed.
100. Ruth Fertel
. A bitter divorce left her destitute. Hard work made her a millionaire.
101. Thurl Ravenscroft
, his voice was too deep for opera, but not Tony the Tiger.
102. Yvonne Helen Swayze
. She taught Tommy Tune to dance.
103. Maggie Bailey
. The grandmother who sold moonshine.
* 104. William Still
. He was the conductor on the underground railroad.
105. Sam Tilden
. He just may have won that 1876 presidential election.
106. Thomas Alva Edison
. Let there be light.
* 107. David Davis
. He made Lincoln president.
108. Edward Bates
. The slave owner who fought in court to free a slave.
* 109. Isidor and Ida Straus
. A love story for all of time.
110. Al Gilbert
. He invented the Erector Set.
111. Calvin Coolidge
. He recognized Indian rights.
112. Dodie Stevens
. Tan shoes with pink shoelaces.
* 114. Woody Williams
. A hero of Iwo Jima.
115. Elizabeth Holloway Marston
. The real Wonder Woman.
* 116. Rebecca Nurse
. First victim of the Salem Witch Trials of 1692.
* 117. Gilbert Stuart
. Why he did not finish his portrait of Washington.
118. Jonas Salk, Henrietta Lacks, and Albert Sabin
. They helped end polio.
* 119. When President Cleveland saved the life insurance industry
120. Edwin Land
. Invented Polaroid. Inspired Steve Jobs.
121. Marjorie Merriweather Post
. Cereal queen.
* 122. Townsend Harris
. He made 13 Nobel winners possible.
123. Earl Anthony
. Mister Bowling.
124. Albert Berry. First parachutist
125. You Can Be Sure... If It's George Westinghouse
126. Matthew B. Ridgway
. The man who succeeded General MacArthur.
127. George Pake
. If only Xerox had listened.
* 128. Charles Goodnight
. The real Lonesome Dove.
* 129. Philip Henry Sheridan
. Civil War hero. Indian fighter. Guardian of Yellowstone.
* 130. Robert Townsend and James Rivington
. Spies so good, they hid it from each other.
131. Frederic Goudy
. The man of 113 typefaces.
* 132. Albert Gallatin
. He quelled the Whiskey Rebellion.
* 133. John Gunby
. "I would sooner sink into a patriot's grave than wear the crown of England."
134. Lawrence Welk
. It's a wunnerful life.
135. Raymond Loewy
. He gave America style.
* 136. Leslie Richard Groves
. Builder of the Pentagon and The Bomb.
137. Lucy Beaman Hobbs Taylor
. First woman dentist.
138. Isaac Murphy
. Arkansas's lone vote against secession.
139. Andrew Smith Hallidie
. His little cable cars climb halfway to the stars.
* 140. Jim Bridger
. The greatest Plainsman.
141. Ernest and Julio Gallo
. Those little old winemakers.
142. Phil Metschan Tobin
. The father of modern gambling.
* 143. Francis and Elizabeth Lewis
. They sacrificed their lives and fortune for your liberty.
* 144. Sam Colt
. The man behind the gun.
* 145. Anne Marbury Hutchinson
. Mother of freedom of religion.
146. Bette Claire Graham
. She truly profited from her mistakes.
147. Matilda Carse
. 19th century mother against drunk driving.
* 148. Norman Borlaug
. He saved a billion lives.
* 149. Prince Kūhiō Kalanianaʻole
. He saved the Hawaiians.
150. Adolphus Greely
. Medal of Honor for a lifetime of service.
151. Frederick Pabst
, the captain who became a beer baron.
* 152. Edwin Drake
, he drilled the first oil well.
* 153. Samuel Kier
, he started the oil business.
154. Arthur Wightman
, physicist and teacher.
**155. Charles Martin Hall, Alfred Ephraim Hunt, and Arthur Vining Davis
, the aluminum men.
156. Frederick Muhlenberg
, the first Speaker of the House.
157. Erastus Brigham Bigelow
, left school at 10, helped found MIT at 47.
158. Ahmed Zewail
, the Nobel laureate who wants to inspire Muslims.
159. Charles Sumner
, caned but not beaten.
160. Sibbell (Sybil) Ludington,
the female Paul Revere.
161. Grace Murray Hopper
, the mother of COBOL.
162. Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson
, scientists who overcame pigeons -- and Hitler.
163. Lewis Morris
: "Damn the consequences. Give me the pen."
164. Ely Parker, the Indian who drafted the terms of Lee's surrender
165. Edward Everett
, he integrated Harvard.
166. André de Toth
, and the "House of Wax."
167. Felix de Weldon
, sculptor of the Iwo Jima flag raising.
168. Richard Overton and Elmer Hill
, they fought for a freedom they were denied.
169. Buffalo Bill Cody, Alexander Majors and the Pony Express
170. William Seward
: Lincoln's final ally.
171. Ellis Marsalis
, the civil rights movement cost him his all.
172. Mark Dean
: "There may be obstacles, but there are no limits."
173. William Wirt
, the best U.S. attorney general.