History has no shortage of people who have greatly contributed to making the world a better place. People like Winston Churchill, Albert Einstein, Rosa Parks, and Alan Turing are but a few of those remarkable human beings that we owe our lives to today.
However, history is not only made by giants. In most cases, the greatest events that have shaped the world involved hundreds of nameless faces that are as heroic as their iconic contemporaries.
So, in today’s list, we are honoring some of those people whom the world has overlooked as we count down to 5 people you may not know that probably saved your life and changed the world!
#5 — Vasili Alexandrovich Arkhipov
The Cuban Missile Crisis put the world at the precipice of total Nuclear War. When Cuba opened its borders to Soviet ships carrying nuclear armaments, the United States and the rest of the international community held their breath, fearing if we would still be alive the next day.
Many people attribute the abating of the missile crisis to John F Kennedy himself, but the real story behind it was far from what the rest of the world has come to believe.
In 1962, JFK and Soviet Premier Nikita Kruschev stood toe to toe regarding the transit of nuclear weapons to the Caribbean which is why the United States government placed a heavy embargo on Cuba to prevent weapons to come into its shores.
At the center of the conflict area, the USSR sent a B-59 Soviet Foxtrot Class Submarine that was armed to the teeth with nuclear weapons. To prevent the submarine from advancing beyond the embargo line, the US sent 11 destroyers and an aircraft carrier, the USS Randolph.
War should have broken out because the US began to barrage the submarine with depth charges but to fire back in retaliation, the Soviet submarine needed a unanimous launch approval from three on-board officials: Captain Valentin Grogorievitch Savitsky, Political Officer Ivan Semonovich Maslennikov, and another officer named Vasili Alexandrovich Arkhipov.
Savitsky and Semonovich gave the nod to launch the missile and essentially press the button for the Third World War, but Arkhipov convinced the two that it was a bad idea to fire back. Instead, despite protests from Savitsky and Maslennikov, the submarine resurfaced in plain view: a decision that decisively averted the annihilation of the human race.
#4 — Nils Bohlin
You may not know him but Swedish inventor, Nils Bohlin, has saved millions of lives in the past fifty years and continues to do so with a simple solution to the problem of comfort and laziness.
When the automobile was first introduced to the public the idea of seatbelts was non-existent if not completely optional. Though the seatbelt was introduced for mass consumption in 1959, these safety devices were basic lap-belts that did nothing to prevent any internal injury to the driver and passengers.
Back then, seatbelts were mostly employed by professional race car drivers and their design was more on the bulkier, less comfortable side being a four-point harness. While they were much safer than lap-belts, convincing the average Joe to go the extra mile of securing all attachments of the belt was another story. In fact, where they were offered, regular people just flat out refused to use them.
This was a problem, and Bohlin was able to identify it and find a solution to make life-preservation as simple and effective as possible. He ended up with the three-point seatbelt, a safety device that we use to this day and has saved many lives of motorists and their passengers.
To Bohlin, though the problem of overcoming laziness and comfort was a little bit of a hurdle, the solution was so simple that motorists need to only use one hand to fasten their belts and still have a generous amount of comfort while on the road.
Bohlin initially invented the belt for car manufacturer Volvo, but his idea was incredibly ground-breaking and innovative that the company made the patent available to all car manufacturers as a sign of goodwill and interest in public safety.
#3 — Viktor Zhdanov and Donald Henderson
Sometimes the biggest wars ever waged were on a microscopic level. The disease has been the bane of humanity since the beginning of time, and since the inception of the medical sciences, humanity has been waging a relentless battle against pathogens and potentially lethal diseases to this very day.
However, there have been victories where humanity has rid the world of illnesses like polio and dysentery. One of these victories came from an unlikely alliance.
In 1958, USSR Deputy Minister of Health Dr Viktor Zhdanov approached the World Health Assembly with a proposal to create a global effort to finally eradicate smallpox. Since the disease caused by the Variola virus has claimed millions of lives over the decades preceding the 1950s, Zhdanov found it necessary to step up to save lives.
The proposal and initiative, after being presented to the Assembly and the members of the international community, were accepted by the United States and was represented by a physician named Donald Henderson, MD.
The amazing team-up yielded to amazing results and Dr Zhdanov, and Dr Henderson’s efforts paid off when smallpox was essentially rendered extinct through the distribution of information globally and by making the vaccine immediately available to the public.
#2 — Gertrude Elion
The first half of the 20th Century was not a great time for women everywhere. With misogynism still a staple even in civilized society, women have found it difficult to break ground without being side-lined by their male counterparts.
Gertrude Elion was one of the many women who were consistently ignored and doubted by a male-driven society. Despite graduating with honours, she was turned down for scholarships because of her gender. Even after obtaining her Master's Degree in Chemistry, she was constantly turned down any opportunity to work in laboratories and had to accept a less than prestigious job checking frozen fruit for rot and mould.
Her break came when World War II broke out, and the scientific world needed more people in labs and facilities. Landing a job with Dr George Hitchings, she was able to collaborate with him and publish over 200 papers and research.
Even more, Elion and Dr Hitchings were able to pioneer a new and revolutionary way of developing drugs called “rational drug design” that eliminated the risk of putting a person’s life on the line to find out if a drug works properly. By studying the behaviour of pathogens through biochemistry, the pair was able to use the information to create drugs to specifically target a certain kind of disease.
Also employing this technique, Elion was able to invent a variety of drugs that included the first treatment for Leukemia, anti-malarial vaccines, and immune-suppressive agents that are used for delicate organ transplants. Adding to her inventions were antibiotics used to treat meningitis, septicemia, and treatments for urinary and respiratory tract infections.
To top it all off, Elion was first to develop a treatment for viral Herpes that we know as Zovirax.
The world, quite possibly, would still be battling diseases if it weren’t for her scientific research and countless contributions.
#1 — Rudolf Roessler
During the Second World War, Britain was scrambling to find a way to decode German messages before the next Nazi bombardment over London. When Alan Turing invented the Enigma machine, the tide of the war turned in favour of the British, and they were able to prevent a full-scale Nazi invasion of the already crumbled city.
While that was all well and good for the world, most historical accounts have discounted the Soviet efforts to prevent Nazi incursion spreading eastward. While they may not have their own Enigma device to crack encrypted messages from the enemy, the USSR had a man named Rudolf “Lucy” Roessler working on their side who proved to be much more effective and efficient than England’s Enigma machine.
Roessler was an anti-Fascist German publisher who kept in constant contact with the high ranking rebellious members of the German General Staff while living in Lucerne.
While working on his code-breaking machine, Roessler also communicated with the members a covert radio espionage group called the “Red Orchestra” from the USSR. Through a round-the-clock and tireless work, Roessler was successful in transmitting decoded communique from the Germans to the Kremlin within six hours of interception.
One of Roessler’s greatest victories was his discovery of an offensive against the Kursk Salient called Operation Zitadelle. After delivering the decoded messages to the Kremlin, Roessler was able to bring victory to the Soviet Union that made the German offensive in the east crashing hard into a brick wall.