Most heroes complete their tasks for the sole purpose of helping others. They don’t do it for recognition, fame, or praise. They don’t actually care about that.
Their contributions changed the world and helped improve (or save) our lives, yet they are largely unknown to the public. Here are some of humanity’s greatest heroes for whom history has reserved far less recognition than they deserve. Let’s see 10 great heroes of humanity forgotten by history.
10. Clair Cameron Patterson
In addition to other scientific achievements, such as calculating the age of the Earth at 4,555 million years, Clair Cameron Patterson drew attention to the levels of lead from industrial sources in the environment and our food, starting with an early report published in 1965.
His efforts led to the removal of lead from gasoline. Also, the Clean Air Act was passed in the United States in 1970, and leaded gasoline was phased out in 1986.
9. Gertrude B. Elion
Gertrude B. Elion won the 1988 Nobel Prize in Medicine for her discoveries of key principles of drug development and treatment. Her discoveries include the first treatment for leukemia, the first immunosuppressor agent used in organ transplantation, a drug against gout, one against malaria, one against meningitis, and one against herpes.
She combined this work with his Ph.D., whose courses she followed at night: not having the degree was a disadvantage, but she could not leave her job either. Once she retired, her research methods enabled her team to develop the drug AZT for the treatment of AIDS.
8. Alan Turing
This mathematician, cryptographer, and computer scientist headed the Naval Enigma section during World War II, whose objective was to decipher the Nazi codes, especially those of the Enigma machine, which he achieved thanks to his Bombe machine. In 1942 they were already deciphering tens of thousands of messages every minute.
It is estimated that without Alan Turing’s achievement, the war would have lasted two more years, causing another two million deaths. This work was secret until the 1970s. Turing was rewarded with a conviction for homosexuality and a chemical castration treatment. He committed suicide by eating an apple soaked in potassium cyanide.
7. James Harrison
The blood of this Australian, nicknamed “the man with the golden arm”, contains a very rare antibody that can be used to treat babies with Rhesus disease, a severe type of anemia caused by incompatibility between the blood of the fetus and its mother.
James Harrison has donated blood a thousand times in 56 years, saving two million babies. His blood has also been used to develop a vaccine that will save babies forever. He began donating when he turned 18, after receiving 13 liters following an operation when he was 13.
6. Grace Murray Hopper
Grace Murray Hopper was an American military officer and scientist, and her contribution to the world of computer science was as decisive as it was unnoticed by the general public.
Amazing Grace, as she was known to her friends, developed the first compiler for a programming language, making her a pioneer of computing. In other words, Hopper developed the instrument by which programmers can turn code into software.
5. Ignaz Philipp Semmelweis
Ignaz Philipp Semmelweis was a Hungarian physicist who pioneered antiseptic procedures that revolutionized the medicine of his time and saved the lives of millions of people around the world.
His main contribution was the discovery that washing hands in chlorinated lime solutions in childbirth reduced mortality to less than 1% (which meant a reduction of almost 90%).
4. Chiune Sugihara & Raoul Wallenberg
Both diplomats, the first Japanese and the second Swedish are the lesser-known version of Oskar Schindler, each saving the lives of thousands of Jews during World War II.
Chiune Sugihara served as vice-consul of the Empire of Japan in Lithuania; and helped more than 6,000 Jews escape by issuing transit visas that facilitated their escape to Japanese territory. Raoul Wallenberg saved tens of thousands of Jewish refugees in occupied Hungary by processing protection visas and housing them in buildings designated as Swedish territory.
3. Maurice Hilleman
Maurice Hilleman was an American microbiologist specializing in vaccination who developed 40 vaccines during his lifetime, unprecedented productivity. Of the 14 vaccines recommended in current vaccination schedules, he invented 8 of them: measles, mumps, hepatitis A, hepatitis B, varicella, meningitis, pneumonia, and Pfeiffer’s bacillus.
Besides, he played an important role in the discovery of the adenoviruses responsible for colds, the viruses responsible for hepatitis, and the SV40 viruses potentially causing cancerous tumors.
2. Vasili Arkhipov
On October 27, 1962, during the Cuban Missile Crisis, several U.S. Navy destroyers began dropping depth charges to force a Soviet submarine to surface and identify itself. The submarine’s captain, Valentin Grigorievitch Savitsky, took it for granted that war had begun and wanted to launch a nuclear torpedo. The submarine had been informed that the charges were practice charges, but that information did not reach him.
This torpedo aimed at the aircraft carrier Randolf would have started a nuclear war, including a planned Pentagon response for such situations that would have involved the launching of 5,500 nuclear warheads aimed at a thousand targets. Only Vasili Arkhipov objected and finally persuaded the captain to the surface and await orders from Moscow.
1. Alexei Ananenko, Valeri Bezpalov & Boris Batanov
A few days after the Chernobyl nuclear accident, a part of the nuclear reactor heated up to 1,200 degrees, threatening to melt the base of the chamber in the water pool, which could have triggered an explosion that would have further aggravated the catastrophe.
These three men volunteered for a suicide mission: they jumped into the pool and drained it by activating a manual valve. They died shortly afterward from the effects of the radiation but had prevented the radioactivity from reaching all of Europe.