Home Moving to Germany Society & History Famous Germans who changed history
Last update on May 14, 2020

There are many notable and famous Germans who, though now deceased, played a major role in shaping our world through their contributions to science, art, and history.

Several individuals have, in the past, made notable contributions to German and world culture or played an important role in history. They have helped improve lives across the world, shaped Europe and some have been acclaimed for inventing such things as the car and the computer.

Johannes Gutenberg (1398 1468)

Originally a goldsmith and inventor, he is regarded as the father of book printing by inventing movable type printing in Europe (ca.1450). His major work, the Gutenberg Bible, also known as the 42-line bible, has been acclaimed for its high aesthetic and technical quality.

Martin Luther (1483 1546)

A monk, priest, professor, theologian, and church reformer, his questioning of the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church inspired the Protestant Reformation. This deeply influenced the doctrines and culture of the Lutheran and Protestant traditions, as well as the course of Western civilisation.

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 1750)

A composer and organist whose works for choir, orchestra and solo instruments brought the Baroque period to its ultimate maturity. Without necessarily giving it new forms, he enriched the prevailing German style and made a deep impact on the development of church music. He is regarded as one of the greatest composers of all time.

Johann Wolfgang Goethe (1749 1832)

A poet and novelist, his most enduring work the two-part dramatic poem Faust is considered to be one of the peaks of world literature. Goethe’s other well-known literary works include Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship, the epistolary novel The Sorrows of Young Werther and the semi-autobiographical novel Elective Affinities.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 1791)

An influential composer of the Classical era, his output of over 600 compositions includes works widely acknowledged as pinnacles of Classical music. Mozart is among the most endearingly popular of European composers and many of his works are part of the standard concert repertoire. He is generally considered to be one of the greatest composers ever.

Otto von Bismarck (1815 1898)

A European statesman of the 19th century and as Prime Minister of Prussia from 1862 to 1890, he engineered the Unification of Germany. From 1867, he was Chancellor of the North German Confederation. When the German Empire was declared in 1871, he served as its first Chancellor. Bismarck was subject to personal cult in Germany for a long time after his death. Due to his ruling in the brief period of Imperial German colonialism, the Bismarck Archipelago on Papua New Guinea is named after him.

Karl Friedrich Benz (1844 1929)

An engine designer and automobile engineer generally regarded as the inventor of the gasoline-powered automobile. Other German contemporaries, Gottlieb Daimler and Wilhelm Maybach, also worked independently on the same type of invention, but Benz patented his work first and, after that, patented all of the processes that made the internal combustion engine feasible for use in automobiles. In 1886 Benz was also granted a patent for his first engine, which he had designed in 1878. In 1885, Benz created the motorcar (Motorwagen) the first commercial automobile.

Paul Gottlieb Nipkow (1860 1940)

A technician and television pioneer, he invented the electric telescope for the electric reproduction of illuminating objects, which were the basic apparatuses for television broadcast. He proposed the first practical television principle based on a scanning disc that transmitted live moving images with tone graduation or grey scale in 1884. Nipkow became famous for being the creator of television, even though in the same period, many other technicians from the US, the United Kingdom, France and the Soviet Union played an important role in the development of modern television. In 1935 the first public television station in the world was named after him.

Albert Schweitzer (1875 1965)

A theologian, musician, philosopher and physician, he received the 1952 Nobel Peace Prize in 1953 for his philosophy of reverence for life expressed in many ways but most famously in founding and sustaining the Lambaréné Hospital in Gabon, west central Africa.

Konrad Adenauer (1876 1967)

A conservative statesman, his political career spanned 60 years, beginning as early as 1906. He is most noted for his role as the first Chancellor of West Germany from 1949 1963 and as chairman of the Christian Democratic Union from 1950 to 1966. He was the oldest chancellor ever to serve Germany.

Albert Einstein (1879 1955)

A theoretical physicist widely considered to have been one of the greatest physicists of all time. He was best known for his theory of relativity and specifically the mass-energy equivalence, E=mc2. He was awarded the 1921 Nobel Prize in Physics for his services to Theoretical Physics, and especially for his discovery of the law of the photoelectric effect.

Konrad Zuse (1910 1995)

An engineer and computer pioneer whose greatest achievement was the completion of the first functional tape-stored-program-controlled computer, the Z3, in 1941. The Z3 is claimed to be the first computer in the world. Zuse also designed the first high-level programming language, the Plankalkül, published in 1948, although his was a theoretical contribution, since the language was never actually implemented within his lifetime and did not directly influence any early-implemented languages.