Several individuals have made notable contributions to German culture or played an important role not only in German history. Musicians and scientists are represented as well as politicians and other professions. Those mentioned, listed in order of birth date, have achieved to become a part of public awareness in Germany.
Johannes Gutenberg (1398 – 1468) was 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.
Nicolaus Copernicus (1473 – 1543) was the first astronomer who formulated the modern heliocentric theory of the solar system. His epochal book, On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres, De revolutionibus orbium coelestium, is often conceived as the starting point of modern astronomy, as well as a central and defining epiphany in the history of science.
Martin Luther (1483 – 1546) was a monk, priest, professor, theologian, and church reformer. His questioning of the teachings of the Roman Catholic Curch inspired the Protestant Reformation and deeply influenced the doctrines and culture of the Lutheran and Protestant traditions, as well as the course of Western civilization.
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 – 1750) was a composer and organist whose works for choir, orchestra and solo instruments brought the Baroque period to its ultimate maturity. Without giving it new forms, he enriched the prevailing German style and took 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) was a poet and novelist. His most enduring work, the two-part dramatic poem Faust, is considered 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. The German institute for culture and language, the Goethe Institut is named after him and there is a fascinating museum in Düsseldorf.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 – 1791) was 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 enduringly 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) was a European statesman of the 19th century. As Prime Minister of Prussia from 1862 to 1890, he engineered the Unification of Germany. From 1867 on, 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 after his death. Due to his ruling in the early times of Imperial German colonialism the Bismarck Archipelago on Papua-New Guinea is named after him.
Karl Friedrich Benz (1844 – 1929) was 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 Karl Benz was granted a patent for his first engine, which he designed in 1878. In 1885, Benz created the motorcar, Motorwagen, the first commercial automobile.
Paul Gottlieb Nipkow (1860 – 1940) was 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 and proposed the first practical television principle based on a scanning disc that transmitted live moving images with tone graduation, grayscale, in 1884. Nipkow became famous for being the creator of television, albeit many other technicans from the U.S., 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) was 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) was a conservative statesman. Although 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) was a theoretical physicist who is widely considered to have been one of the greatest physicists of all time, best known for the theory of relativity and specifically his 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) was an engineer and computer pioneer. His 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. Zuse also designed the first high-level programming language, the Plankalkül, first published in 1948, although this was a theoretical contribution, since the language was never actually implemented within his lifetime and did not directly influence early implemented languages.