American pioneers

Updated 4:11 PM ET, Wed February 11, 2015
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The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was one of the most influential leaders of the civil rights movement. He raised awareness of American race relations through rhetoric and was a key liaison between the movement and the government. In 1963, King delivered his famous "I Have a Dream" speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial before 250,000 people, and his words live on today. He stood beside President Lyndon B. Johnson as he signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 into law. King won the Nobel Peace Prize for his nonviolent campaign toward civil rights and social justice that same year; at the time he was the youngest to do so. In 1983, President Ronald Reagan signed a law making King's birthday a federal holiday, which today has morphed into a national day of service. AFP/Getty Images/File
Amelia Earhart pushed the boundaries of gender in the field of aviation. She became the first female passenger to cross the Atlantic Ocean in 1928. In 1932, she became the first woman and the second person ever to fly across the Atlantic solo. A biography on her official website says Earhart felt that flight "proved that men and women were equal in 'jobs requiring intelligence, coordination, speed, coolness, and willpower.'" She was recognized by Congress and presidents Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover for her achievements. She continued setting records and was determined to become the first woman to fly around the world. Though the fate of that 1937 flight remains a mystery, the barriers she broke and her dispelling of stereotypes helped lead the way for women in science. STAFF/AFP/Getty Images
During the Civil War, Clara Barton risked her life to bring supplies to, cook for and nurse wounded soldiers. She also established an office to assist families in the search for missing loved ones, leading to the identification of more than 22,000 missing men. Barton established the American Red Cross with a focus on disaster relief in 1881 and served as the head for 23 years. Today, the group carries on her mission to help disaster victims and calls its tracing service "one of the organization's most valued activities." MPI/Getty Images
Henry Ford's integration of the assembly line with auto production drastically changed the speed at which vehicles were produced. This mass production allowed him to price what was once a luxury item more affordable for average consumers. With the Model T, more Americans experienced the ease of transportation by car. Ford made sure his employees were taken care of by doubling the salary of his factory workers and reducing the workday from 9 to 8 hours. His changes impacted society, leading to the creation of a highway system and urban sprawl. He also helped turn Detroit into the 'Motor City' powerhouse of vehicle production. Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Gen. George S. Patton changed American warfare through his innovative use of the tank during the world wars. He was named as the first member of the United States Tank Corps in 1917. Seeing them as the future of the military, Patton founded a training school and developed tactics incorporating the use of the tank in battle for the first time in U.S. history. He was known for his strict demeanor and sometimes brash ways. The New York Times quoted him as telling his troops during World War II, "We shall attack and attack until we are exhausted, and then we shall attack again." Library of Congress/Photographs Division Washington
Jackie Robinson broke the segregation barrier in baseball when he made his Major League debut in 1947. When the general manager of the then-Brooklyn Dodgers decided to integrate baseball, he picked Robinson for both his skill and ability to handle the immense task with grace. Robinson became a six-time All-Star, MVP, Rookie of the Year, World Series champion with Brooklyn in 1955 and was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962. Each season on April 15, every team in the league celebrates Jackie Robinson Day in his honor. Keystone/Getty Images
The 40-year love story between Edith Windsor and her late partner Thea Spyer led the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down a federal provision on same-sex marriage benefits in the Defense of Marriage Act in 2013. The act defines marriage as that between a man and a woman. When Spyer died, Windsor was stuck with a federal estate tax bill for $363,000 because the federal government did not recognize her marriage to Spyer in Toronto two years earlier. As Windsor put it, "Because of the historic Supreme Court ruling in my case, the federal government can no longer discriminate against the marriages of gay and lesbian Americans." The court said same-sex couples deserve the same federal benefits provided to heterosexual spouses. Mario Tama/Getty Images
On Dec. 17, 1903, Wilbur and Orville Wright demonstrated the first successful powered and sustained heavier-than-air flights in North Carolina, and the world was changed. The impact of their success spawned a passion for flying and many saw the possibilities for flight, including the U.S. government. In 1908, the U.S. Army signed a contract with the brothers to deliver a "heavier-than-air flying machine." There's no doubt air travel has changed our lives. The International Air Transport Association estimates a record $25 billion net profit among the world's airlines in 2015. Popperfoto/Getty Images
Ted Turner's resume includes everything from making The New York Times Best Sellers list to winning yachting America's Cup. The man who had the vision to create CNN has pledged $1 billion to the United Nations, worked to bring bison back from the threat of extinction, created cable TV's first superstation and has established several foundations with a focus on the preservation and conservation of the environment. Launching CNN, the first 24-hour news network, in 1980 changed the way the world consumed information, the way journalists delivered it and brought live broadcasts of events, even wars, into our living rooms for the first time. CNN
Frederick Douglass was born into slavery in Maryland. He developed a love of language when he was taught to read by a woman he worked for, and he tried to educate his fellow slaves. In 1838, the literate Douglass escaped captivity by dressing up as a sailor and hopping on a train headed north. He developed a reputation as a great orator as he traveled, sharing his experiences with slavery in an effort to help those still in bondage. He advised President Abraham Lincoln on the issues of slavery and how to handle African-American troops during the Civil War. He even recruited black soldiers on his own. Douglass eventually became the first black citizen to hold a high rank in the U.S. government. Library Of Congress/Getty Images
In 1978, Sally Ride joined NASA as part of the first group of female astronauts. Ride flew into orbit aboard the space shuttle Challenger in 1983 to become America's first woman in space. She took a second trip aboard the same shuttle one year later. After leaving the agency, Ride went on to became the director of the California Space Institute. She also founded Sally Ride Science, a company with the focus of helping teach students -- particularly young women and girls -- about science, math and technology; a passion of hers. President Barack Obama awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Ride posthumously in 2013. Space Frontiers/Getty Images
When Rosa Parks was arrested in 1955 for not giving up her seat on a public bus to a white man, she became an iconic symbol of the civil rights movement. Because of her action in Montgomery, Alabama, a group headed by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. led a bus boycott for 381 days, protesting segregation laws. The boycott ended in 1956 when the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling that Montgomery's segregated bus service was unconstitutional. Parks dedicated decades of her life working toward racial equality. She received the Congressional Gold Medal from President Bill Clinton in 1996 and was recently honored posthumously with a statue in the U.S. Capitol. Underwood Archives/Getty Images
Harriet Tubman was born into slavery and escaped when her master died, so that she wouldn't be sold. She led hundreds of slaves to freedom over a span of 10 years, making trips through the Underground Railroad. The Library of Congress reported if anyone she led got cold feet, "Tubman pulled out a gun and said, 'You'll be free or die a slave!'" She later became a spy for Union forces during the Civil War, receiving military recognition at her burial. MPI/Getty Images
What started as an online social space for college students in 2004 has morphed into a part of life for more than 1 billion people worldwide. Though there have been debates about Facebook's beginning, CEO Mark Zuckerberg has turned it into an empire. Forbes estimates his net worth at over $30 billion and lists him as the 22nd most powerful person in the world. He has used his influence to support philanthropic efforts, such as joining the fight against Ebola and spearheading an initiative to bring Internet access to more people in the world. KIMIHIRO HOSHINO/AFP/Getty Images
Jack Dorsey, Biz Stone and Evan Williams, seen here with Twitter CEO Richard 'Dick' Costolo, co-founded Twitter along with Noah Glass in 2006. There's no doubt that the creation of Twitter influenced how millions of people communicate. The world figured out how to say what they wanted in 140 characters, social activism found a new home and the speed in which news travels and is disseminated became instantaneous. EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images
The world was first introduced to Mickey Mouse by Walt Disney when 'Steamboat Willie' debuted in 1928. By the time Disney died in 1966, his empire was spawning movies, TV shows, music and theme parks worth an estimated $100 million a year. The success has only multiplied since. Disney's imagination brought the world the first feature-length animated film, countless larger-than-life characters and used sound in a way it hadn't been used before pairing quirky voices and classical music with cartoon animals. President Dwight D. Eisenhower called him a "genius as a creator of folklore." In his obituary, The New York Times said of his accomplishments, 'the list of 700 awards and honors that Mr. Disney received from many nations filled 29 typewritten pages, and included 29 Oscars, four Emmys and the Presidential Freedom Medal." Today, Forbes places Disney as #14 on the list of the world's most valuable brands, and says the company is worth more than $142 billion.
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Ellen Ochoa became the first Hispanic female astronaut in 1991. She is a veteran of four missions, logging nearly 1,000 hours in orbit. In addition to her work with NASA, Ochoa holds three U.S. patents. Ochoa currently serves as the first Hispanic director of the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. NASA
Steve Jobs was more than a co-founder of Apple; he was regarded as a visionary. Jobs pioneered the concept of the personal computer and of navigating them by clicking onscreen images with a mouse. He introduced the world to iPods, iPhones, iPads, iTunes and the App Store, all of which changed how digital content was consumed. The ultimate pitchman oversaw every detail of Apple's products and did it all on an official annual salary of $1. Photo: David Paul Morris/Getty Images