Some Famous Missourians

Josephine Baker

Josephine Baker (entertainer) (Born 1906; died 1975) - Born in the Mill Creek Bottom area of St. Louis, Baker’s childhood, like many other black Americans who lived at that time, dealt with poverty and white America’s racist attitudes. In France, where racism was not as common, Josephine Baker became an entertainer. Her career as a dancer, singer, and actress lasted 50 years. Baker fought racism most of her life through her role as a civil rights activist in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Baker was known for refusing to entertain segregated audiences, and worked to desegregate Las Vegas nightclubs.

Thomas Hart Benton (artist)
Missouri State Archives

Thomas Hart Benton (artist) (Born 1889; died 1975) - Born in Neosho, Benton was a famous artist. Two of his best-known works appear in wall painting form at the State Capitol in Jefferson City and the Truman Library in Independence. The Capitol painting shows scenes of Missouri history; the Truman Library painting shows Independence, Missouri’s role in opening the West.

Thomas Hart Benton (senator)
Missouri State Archives

Thomas Hart Benton (senator) (Born 1782; died 1858) - Benton has been called the “most distinguished statesman accredited to Missouri.” He was a fighter for the common man, which earned him the nickname “Old Bullion.” Benton was one of Missouri’s first senators in 1820. He served five terms or thirty years. Benton was involved in important national issues including Missouri’s statehood through the slavery crisis of the 1850’s. Benton became a leader during those early statehood years, and was a supporter of Jacksonian Democracy.

George Caleb Bingham
Missouri State Archives

George Caleb Bingham (artist) (Born 1811; died 1879) - Many believe Bingham was the greatest American-born artist; Bingham is well known for his portraits and his paintings of life on the Missouri frontier. He held a variety of public service positions including Missouri State Representative, state treasurer and the chief administrative officer of the Missouri military.

Susan Elizabeth Blow
Missouri State Archives

Susan Elizabeth Blow (educator) (Born 1843; died 1916) - Born in St. Louis, she is sometimes called the founder of public kindergarten in America. Through her efforts, the first public kindergarten began in September 1873 at the Des Peres School in St. Louis. She also trained teachers and published books on the subject.

Daniel Boone
State Historical Society of Missouri

Daniel Boone (adventurer) (Born 1734; died 1820) - Boone was a pioneer, scout, Indian fighter and, in later years, a Missourian. He came to Missouri from Kentucky in 1799 and served as a local judge. From his home at Defiance, which he built with his son, Nathan, he explored much of the state. He died in his Defiance home.

Omar N. Bradley
Missouri State Archives

Omar N. Bradley (military leader) (Born 1893; died 1981) - General Bradley was born in Clark, Missouri. He commanded the largest American force ever united under one man’s leadership during World War II. Bradley became the first chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (in charge of all military), after the war. He served as a five star general; he served in the military longer than any other soldier in U.S. history, 69 years.

George Washinton Carver
Courtesy of Tuskegee Institute Archives

George Washington Carver (scientist) (Born 1864; died 1943) - Carver was born a slave near Diamond; he overcame many problems to become one of America’s greatest scientists. He is best remembered for his research on better soil for farmers. A national monument in southwest Missouri preserves the area where Carver was born and spent his childhood.

Christopher (Kit) Carson
State Historical Society of Missouri

Christopher (Kit) Carson (adventurer) (Born 1809; died 1868) - Born in Kentucky, Kit Carson moved to the Boonslick district of Missouri in 1811, an area he called home for nearly half his life. He led an adventurous life as a Santa Fe Trail teamster, trapper, scout, and Indian fighter. Carson served as a guide for Lt. John Charles Fremont’s western expeditions and helped in the California conquest in 1846 during the Mexican War. In 1853, Carson was appointed as Indian agent in charge of the Ute nation.

William Clark
State Historical Society of Missouri

William Clark (explorer) (Born 1770; died 1838) - As part of the famous duo, Lewis and Clark, Clark is best known for his part in the exciting expedition he and Meriwether Lewis led westward to the Pacific. Clark returned with information about the western region of the United States. In 1806, Clark began a long and successful Missouri career when he was appointed the principal U.S. Indian agent for tribes in the territory. From 1813 to 1820, he served as governor of Missouri. In 1822, he moved to St. Louis as U.S. Superintendent of Indian Affairs, a post he held until his death.

Samuel Clemens
Missouri State Archives

Samuel Clemens (author) (Born 1835; died 1910) - Growing up in Hannibal, Clemens watched riverboats on the Mississippi. From riverboat language he took a name- Mark Twain- that would become famous worldwide for his books involving characters like Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer. One of America’s greatest writers, Mark Twain is remembered today at his boyhood home in Hannibal and at his nearby birthplace in Florida, Missouri.

Walt Disney
Missouri State Archives

Walt Disney (cartoonist) (Born 1901; died 1966) - Disney, the well-known cartoonist and creator of animated films, grew up in Marceline and Kansas City. Disney created the first animated cartoon with sound, “Steamboat Willie,” which introduced the world to Mickey Mouse. Disney’s first animated feature film was “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.”

St. Rose Phillippine Duchesne
Missouri State Archives

St. Rose Philippine Duchesne (missionary) (Born 1769; died 1852) - She came to St. Louis from her home in France at age 48 to work as a missionary to the Indians. In 1818, she started a school at St. Charles, which became the first free school west of the Mississippi. At the time of her death, she had started schools and seminaries for white, black and Indian children in Missouri, Kansas and Louisiana. She was made a Saint on July 3, 1988.

Eugene Field
State Historical Society of Missouri

Eugene Field (children’s author) (Born 1850; died 1895) - Field, born in St. Louis, created some of the world’s best-loved children’s poems. He wrote Little Boy Blue and Wynken, Blyken, and Nod. Know as “The Children’s Poet,” Field is remembered by hundreds of schoolhouses across the country, are named in his honor. He also was a newspaper writer.

Phoebe Apperson Hearst
State Historical Society of Missouri

Phoebe Apperson Hearst (volunteer, children’s activist) (Born 1842; died 1919) - Born in Franklin County and married in Steelville, she moved to San Francisco with her husband George Hearst, also a Missourian, who amassed a fortune in the mining fields of Nevada. Although Mrs. Hearst supported the arts, she is best remembered for her early support of kindergartens and as a co-founder of the National Congress of Mothers, know today as the PTA. She is the mother of publisher William Randolph Hearst.

Edwin Powell Hubble
Courtesy of California Institute of Technology

Edwin Powell Hubble (astronomer) (Born 1889; died 1953) - Hubble was born in Marshfield and became one of the world’s leading astronomers. In 1925, he presented the first system for classifying galaxies. By 1929, Hubble discovered that galaxies always expand. This fact became known as the “Hubble Law.” In 1990, the Hubble Space Telescope was named in his honor.

Langston Hughes
Dorothea B. Hoover Historical Museum photo, Courtesy of State Historical Society of Missouri

James Langston Hughes (musician) (Born 1902; died 1967) - Hughes was born in Joplin, Missouri. Hughes was an author, anthologist, librettist, songwriter, columnist, founder of theaters and jazz founding father. His African heritage inspired his work. Hughes received the Anisfeld-Wolf Award in 1953 for the year’s best book on race relations, the Spingarn Medal in 1960 and was elected to the National Institution of Arts and Letters in 1961.

Jesse James
Missouri State Archives

Jesse James (outlaw) (Born 1847; died 1882) - James was a famous outlaw in Missouri and the western Border States. He was born at Kearney. His childhood home and gravesite are there. The best-known site associated with Missouri’s most famous citizen is his St. Joseph home where he was shot and killed. The small frame home is on the grounds of Patee House Museum in St. Joseph.

Scott Joplin
Missouri State Museum

Scott Joplin (musician) (Born 1868; died 1917) - Joplin was born in Texas, but spent most of his life in Missouri. He was a piano player who helped develop a style of music called “ragtime.” Joplin’s father was a former slave. Joplin wrote such popular songs as “The Maple Leaf Rag” and “The Entertainer.”

Emmett Kelly
Missouri State Archives

Emmett Kelly (clown) (Born 1898; died 1979) - Kelly was “America’s most famous clown.” He was best known for his hobo character “Weary Willie,” invented during the Great Depression. Born in Cabool, Kelly accidentally became an entertainer after moving to Kansas City in 1917 to be a cartoonist. When he did not succeed as a cartoonist, Kelly toured with circuses in the 1920’s and 1930’s. Kelly joined the Ringling Brothers- Barnum and Bailey Circus in 1942, becoming a star attraction over his 15-year career with the circus.

James Cash (J.C.) Penney
Missouri State Archives

James Cash (J.C.) Penney (businessman) (Born 1875; died 1971) - Penney founded the J.C. Penney Company. Penney was born in Caldwell County. Penny started as a dry goods clerk and bought stock in a store that he named the Golden Rule Store, from his employer. He bought more stores in 1904, which led to a nationwide chain of stores. In 1912 Penney named the stores J.C. Penney Stores.

John J. Pershing
State Historical Society of Missouri

John J. Pershing (military leader) (Born 1860; died 1948) - Pershing, a six star general, born near Laclede, is the only American to be named General of the Armies. His career included service in the Spanish American War and in the fight against Mexican bandit Pancho Villa. In World War I, he commanded the American Expeditionary Force in Europe.

Joseph Pulitzer
State Historical Society of Missouri

Joseph Pulitzer (newspaperman) (Born 1847; died 1911) - Pulitzer made his way from his birthplace in Mako, Hungary to St. Louis in 1865, a city he called home for almost 20 years. In 1869 he was elected to the Missouri Legislature. In 1878 Pulitzer bought the newspaper the St. Louis Dispatch and merged it with the St. Louis Post and created St. Louis’s leading newspaper known today as the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. He covered shocking stories to sell newspapers this approach was nicknamed “yellow journalism.” He also bought the New York World and became know as a publisher around the world. The Pulitzer Prize Award is named after him. This award is an important award for journalists.

Stuart Symington
Missouri State Archives

Stuart Symington (public official) (Born 1901; died 1988) - Symington was born in Massachusetts, however he was best known for being a U.S. Senator for Missouri from 1953 to 1977. During the Truman presidency, Symington was Assistant Secretary of War for Air; he also became the nation’s first Secretary of the Air Force in 1947. Symington ran for president twice but did not win.

Harry S Truman
Missouri State Archives

Harry S Truman (president) (Born 1884; 1972) - Truman, born in Lamar, served as 33rd president of the United States, from 1945 to 1952. His birthplace, in Lamar, is now a state historical site. Truman is remembered as “the man from Independence [Missouri].” Truman also ended WWII and witnessed the creation of the United Nations, hoping to preserve peace. His boyhood home, the summer White House, the Truman library and Museum, and his gravesite are all in Missouri.

Laura Ingalls Wilder
Missouri State Archives

Laura Ingalls Wilder (author) (Born 1867; died 1957) - Wilder was famous for writing books such as: Little House on the Prairie and seven other “Little House” books. Wilder was born in Wisconsin, but she was living in Mansfield when she began her writing career in 1932. All her books were written at Rocky Ridge Farm in Mansfield, where she lived until her death.