Californians have played a pivotal role in American history, making groundbreaking contributions in the fields of science, medicine, film, music and more over the course of the last century. Today we’re going to highlight a few whose contributions to the world made a lasting impact. Let’s jump right into it.

1. Steve Jobs (1955-2011)

5 of the Most Influential Californians

Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs, born in San Francisco California, was an iconic world changer. He was an entrepreneur, inventor, and CEO of Apple Inc. Among Job’s many notable achievements, the invention of the iPhone was perhaps the most influential. Jobs is the one who made our constant connection with each other possible, back when Apple released the first iPhone in June of 2007. Not even a decade later, we’re still seeing the massive echoes of his work. The release of the iPhone sparked the global smartphone revolution. Some studies estimate that 77% of Americans use a smartphone, and more than 50% of the global population use one. The number of global smartphone users is only expected to grow, with some experts estimating that there will be 6.1 billion users by 2020!

Although Jobs is most known for the iPhone in today’s age, he first came to fame when him and co-founder of Apple, Steve Wozniak, released the first successful mass-produced personal computer, the Apple II. Jobs was also the executive producer for many classic Pixar films including Toy Story, Monsters, Inc., Finding Nemo, and several others. He was a man who lived to influence the world with his creations.

2. John Muir (1838-1914)

5 of the Most Influential Californians

John Muir

John Muir, a.k.a., John of the Mountains, was an American naturalist who is most famous for establishing the Yosemite Valley as an American national park. Although John was born in Scotland, he moved to America at the age of 11, and spent much of his life preserving California’s natural habitats. After he spent some time traveling throughout the country and the world, Muir eventually settled in San Francisco California. There, he read of a place called Yosemite Valley – a place that he had never seen before. Intrigued by what he read, he decided to visit Yosemite for himself. Upon seeing the valley for the first time, Muir notes “being overwhelmed by the landscape…” He soon fell in love with Yosemite Valley, and decided to continue living deep in its woods despite often being unemployed and without any money. Muir was sustained solely by the environment and the essays of Ralph Waldo Emerson, which he would read under the stars at night. He would travel alone with nothing but a bit of tea, a loaf of bread, and some of Emerson’s work.

Muir soon became a “fixture in the valley”, who was well respected by celebrities, scientists, and artists alike, for his keen knowledge of Yosemite that he vividly recounted through story. Muir would later meet with Theodore Roosevelt, and even Emerson himself due to his extensive knowledge of the Yosemite Valley. Once Muir became known as a reputable expert of Yosemite, he submitted a bill to Congress to turn Yosemite into a national park. Congress listened, and passed a bill in 1890 to make Yosemite a protected national park, per Muir’s recommendations. Today Yosemite still exists as a symbol of the natural beauty of California. In many ways, it looks the same today as it did when Muir was living in it due to his efforts.

3. Sally Ride (1951-2012)

5 of the Most Influential Californians

Sally Ride

Sally Ride is best known for being the youngest American astronaut, and first American woman to ever go into space. However, many of her greatest accomplishments in her life happened before she ever left the atmosphere. Prior to being an astronaut, the Encino born rocket scientist worked as the capsule communicator for two space shuttle flights, and helped to develop the Canadarm robot arm – a critical part of a space shuttle, that helps to deploy and capture payloads. In addition, Ride would later provide NASA with invaluable information that led to identifying the cause of the Challenger explosion of 1986. Ride efforts helped to ensure safe space travel for the future – an accomplishment she is usually unrecognized for.

4. Jane Stanford (1828-1905)

5 of the Most Influential Californians

Jane Stanford

Although her husband Leland is most commonly known as being the founder of Stanford University, it was Jane Stanford that gave the university the legacy that it has today. Stanford University was founded in 1891 by Leland and Jane Stanford in honor of their deceased son. After their son’s tragic death, Leland said to Jane, “The children of California shall be our children.” Only two years after the university was founded, Leland Stanford met an unexpected death, leaving his wife Jane with the responsibilities of managing the university. Leland’s death crippled the university financially, but instead of letting Stanford University close, Jane dedicated her life to saving and maintaining it. To pay for the university’s exorbitant expenses, Jane paid for the school’s expenses out of her own pocket. Under her direction, Stanford University began to focus on the arts, and science. When the institution’s financial situation became worse, Jane took it upon herself to travel to London to sell her jewel collection, so that books and supplies could be purchased for the school. Although Jane didn’t find a buyer in London, she directed to the university’s trustees that upon her death, the jewels be donated to the school as a permanent endowment. The donation, originally worth $500,000, is now worth more than $20 million! Her contribution has funded the school for more than 100 years, providing thousands of students with the opportunity for higher education.

5. George Lucas (1944-present)

5 of the Most Influential Californians

George Lucas

Even if you have never seen the Star Wars movies, you have heard of George Lucas. The Modesto-born Californian is responsible for creating one of the highest grossing film series of all time. His first hit, Star Wars (1977), is the third highest grossing film in the world (when adjusting for inflation), raking in nearly 3 billion dollars. Lucas founded Lucasfilm Entertainment, which has gone on to create several cultural classics such as Indiana Jones, as well as the LucasArts Entertainment Company, LLC, that has released cult classic video games such as Star Wars: Battlefront.

Lucas’ work in entertainment has made him insanely wealthy, with a net worth of $5.1 billion. However, Lucas has pledged to donate half of his fortune to philanthropical work. Half of his fortune goes to “The Giving Pledge”, an effort led by Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, that encourages the world’s wealthiest individuals to donate some of their wealth to world charities. Lucas is one of the many artists, visionaries, philanthropists that hail from California.

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