Ten Greatest Americans

Every year, Mike D’Innocenzo asked his new class of students to list the Ten Greatest Americans of All Time. He’d tabulate their responses and lead a discussion of who wound up on their lists and why.

At Michael’s memorial service at Hofstra University in 2021, we asked his friends and colleagues to engage in the same exercises, and his children tallied the results. The results are unweighted—no bonus points for being ranked first versus tenth on an individual ballot. The tallies (in parentheses) are of how many attendees at the memorial listed a historical figure in their top 10. We received 59 ballots in all.

And the final ranking is…

  1. Martin Luther King Jr. (48)
  2. Abraham Lincoln (31)
  3. Franklin Roosevelt (25)
  4. George Washington (22)
  5. Eleanor Roosevelt (20)
  6. Harriet Tubman (16)
  7. Susan B. Anthony (16)
  8. Benjamin Franklin (15)
  9. Mike D’Innocenzo (15)
  10. Thomas Jefferson (14)

That’s the official top 10 list, but we also pulled together the rest of the top 30 (all of whom appeared on at least four ballots). Over 200 distinct individuals appeared across the submissions.

  1. Ruth Bader Ginsburg (13)
  2. Barack Obama (11)
  3. Frederick Douglass (9)
  4. Teddy Roosevelt (9)
  5. Cesar Chavez (7)
  6. John Lewis (7)
  7. Rosa Parks (7)
  8. Rachel Carson (7)
  9. Alexander Hamilton (6)
  10. Mark Twain (6)
  11. John F. Kennedy (6)
  12. Jackie Robinson (5)
  13. Malcolm X (5)
  14. Noam Chomsky (5)
  15. Albert Einstein (5)
  16. Dwight Eisenhower (4)
  17. Jonas Salk (4)
  18. Neil Armstrong (4)
  19. Toni Morrison (4)
  20. W.E.B. DuBois (4)

Thank you to everyone who participated. We the tabulators (Mike’s son and daughter, Zach and Leah) know our dad would have been thrilled to get this much data to crunch. He would have loved to discuss your choices with you.

With love and curiosità,


"Dost thou love life? Then do not squander time, for that is the stuff life is made of."
(Benjamin Franklin)

"We go farther, faster, when we go together."
(Martin Luther King Jr.)

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."
(Margaret Mead)

"Gladly would [they] learn and gladly would [they] teach."
(Geoffrey Chaucer, updated for gender inclusion)

"If we think the people not enlightened enough to exercise power with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take power from them, but to inform their discretion through education. We must preach, my dear sir, a crusade against ignorance, for a nation that expects to be ignorant and free, it expects what never was and never will be."
(Thomas Jefferson)

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