Who had the best year?

ELVIS PRESLEY HAD A WHALE of a year in 1956, recording four number-one hits, including the year’s top two Billboard singles, “Heartbreak Hotel” and “Don’t Be Cruel.” His appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show” drew the largest single audience in television history. He even made a movie, Love Me Tender.

Elvis_red.Jailhouse_RockHow does Elvis at twenty-one compare with Samuel Colt or Steve Jobs at the same age? Some would say he doesn’t, that you can’t compare a rock and roller with a gun-maker and a computer genius. They’re just too different.

Me, I enjoy apples-and-oranges comparisons. For starters, you can never be wrong. In this case, it all hinges on how you define “best year.” Some would go with the most culturally significant year, but even that’s a judgment call. I lean toward the wildly subjective “wow” factor. At twenty-one, Colt invented his famous six-shooter, which made little folks with sharp eyes and fast reflexes superior to brutes. That gets a “wow,” for sure. But there have been other, nearly as impressive youthful inventions. Then there’s 1956 Elvis. No single pop performer (the 1964 Beatles don’t count; there were four of them) has ever had a year that compares. That gets a massive “wow” from me.

Check out these age-related accomplishments and see who gets your vote. If you like, you can rank them one to five.

AGE 14

  • joseph.visionSarah Frye Egerton. Writes feminist poem “The Female Advocate.” 1684
  • Phillis Wheatley. Writes first published poem by an African American. 1767
  • Joseph Smith. May have seen vision that will result in Mormon religion (right). 1820
  • Philo Farnsworth. Develops concept for electronic television scanning. 1921
  • Bobby Fischer. Wins the U.S. Chess Championship. 1958

AGE 15

  • Louis Braille. Invents reading-and-writing system for the blind. 1824
  • Sonja Henie. Wins first of three Olympic golds in figure skating. 1928
  • Anne Frank. Makes last entries in Diary of a Young Girl. 1942
  • The Little Rock Nine (average age: 15). Integrate Arkansas high school. 1957
  • S.E. Hinton. Writes The Outsiders, a young adult fiction classic. 1966

AGE 16

  • dukeEdward the Black Prince. Commands wing of English army to victory over France. 1346
  • Eliza Lucas. Begins experiments with South Carolina indigo. 1739
  • Sacagawea. Accompanies Lewis and Clark expedition. 1805
  • George S. Parker. Invents and sells his first game. 1883
  • Patty Duke. Wins Oscar, debuts “The Patty Duke Show (right).” 1963

AGE 17

  • Marco Polo. Begins historic voyage to China. 1271
  • Joan of Arc. Leads French army, lifts siege of Orleans. 1429
  • Artemisia Gentileschi. Paints Susanna and the Elders. 1610
  • Felix Mendelssohn. Composes overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream. 1826
  • Bob Mathias. Wins gold medal in Olympic decathlon. 1948

AGE 18

  • Mary Shelley. Writes Frankenstein. 1816
  • Joyce Clyde Hall. Starts business that will become Hallmark Cards. 1910
  • Maureen Connolly. Wins tennis grand slam. 1953
  • Françoise Sagan. Writes Bonjour Tristesse. 1953
  • Jim Henson. Debuts Muppets on “Sam and Friends.” 1955

AGE 19

  • Marquis de Lafayette. Joins Revolutionary War effort as general. 1777
  • Josh Gibson. Hits a reported 75 Negro League home runs. 1931
  • Jerry Siegel, Joe Shuster. Create comic-book character Superman. 1934
  • Debbie Reynolds. Stars in Singin’ in the Rain. 1952
  • Bill Gates. Co-founds Microsoft with Paul Allen. 1975

AGE 20Audie_Murphy

  • Frederick Douglass. Escapes from slavery. 1838
  • Anne Sullivan. Teaches Helen Keller to read. 1887
  • Rudolph Dirks. Debuts the “Katzenjammer Kids” comic strip, one of the first to use a frame sequence and speech balloons, in a supplement of the New York Journal. 1897
  • Audie Murphy (right): Kills or wounds fifty enemy soldiers in combat. 1945
  • Wilma Rudolph. Wins three Olympic gold medals in track. 1960

AGE 21

  • Levi Strauss. Sells first pair of jeans. 1850
  • Samuel Colt. Patents Colt Revolver. 1835
  • Elvis Presley. Records first four number one singles. 1956
  • Steve Jobs. Incorporates Apple Computer. 1976
  • Tiger Woods. Wins Masters by record twelve strokes. 1997

AGE 22

  • Samuel Slater. Establishes America’s first successful cotton mill. 1790
  • Grace Darling. Becomes media heroine after rescuing nine shipwreck survivors. 1838
  • Cyrus McCormick. Invents the reaper. 1831
  • Jesse Owens. Wins four gold medals at Berlin Olympics. 1936
  • Mark Spitz. Wins seven gold medals in swimming at Munich Olympics. 1970

AGE 23

  • George Fox. Begins ministry that
    will result in The Society of Friends (Quakers). 1647
  • Issac Newton. Develops laws of motion, theory of gravitation. 1666
  • Gabriel Daniel Fahrenheit. Introduces the alcohol thermometer and develops the Fahrenheit temperature scale. 1709
  • John Keats. Wrote five great odes, including “Ode to a Nightingale” and “Ode on a Grecian Urn.” 1819
  • Ted Williams. Hits .406 for Boston Red Sox. 1941

AGE 24

  • William Randolph Hearst. Takes over the San Francisco Examiner, launches media empire. 1887
  • John T. Scopes. Challenges the Butler Act, which prohibits the teaching of evolution in Tennessee schools. 1925
  • Joe Louis. Knocks out Germany’s Max Schmeling. 1938
  • Chuck Yeager. Breaks the sound barrier. 1947
  • James Dean. Makes Rebel Without a Cause and Giant. 1955

AGE 25

  • Alexander the Great. Conquers Persia. 331 B.C.
  • Queen Elizabeth I. Succeeds Mary Tudor as queen of England. 1558
  • Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Writes “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” “Kubla Khan.” 1798
  • Charles Lindbergh. Completes solo plane trip from New York to Paris. 1927
  • Werner Heisenberg. Develops the uncertainty principle. 1927

AGE 26

  • Joseph Black. Discovers carbon dioxide, a gas he calls “fixed air.” 1754
  • Alexander Cartwright. Establishes the rules and plays in what is regarded as the first modern baseball game. 1846
  • J.C. Penney. Launches retail giant with first store in Kemmerer, Wyoming. 1902
  • Albert Einstein. Introduces theory of special relativity and the equation e=mc2. 1905
  • Walt Disney. Debuts Mickey Mouse in “Steamboat Willie.” 1928

AGE 27

  • Yuri_Gagarin_by_EdloidasElias Howe. Invents and patents the first automatic sewing machine. 1846
  • Guglielmo Marconi. Introduces wireless communication. 1901
  • Sergei Eisenstein. Directs The Battleship Potemkin. 1925
  • Yuri Gagarin (right).Becomes first man in space aboard Vostok 1 1961
  • Sarah Weddington. Successfully argues Roe v. Wade before Supreme Court. 1973

AGE 28

  • Henry VII. Defeats Richard III to winthe War of the Roses. 1485
  • Eli Whitney. Invents the cotton gin. 1794
  • F. Scott Fitzgerald. Publishes The Great Gatsby. 1925
  • Bobby Jones. Wins Grand Slam of golf. 1930
  • Jackie Robinson. Breaks baseball’s color line with the Brooklyn Dodgers. 1947

AGE 29

  • Michelangelo. Completes his thirteen-and-a-half-tall statue of David, one of the masterpieces of the Renaissance. 1504
  • Alexander Graham Bell. Introduces the telephone. 1876
  • Emily Bronte. Publishes Wuthering Heights. 1847
  • Karl Marx. Co-authors The Communist Manifesto with Friedrich Engels. 1848
  • Berry Gordy. Launches Tamla and Motown records. 1959

AGE 30

  • MelvinPurvis-001John D. Rockefeller. He and his associates found the Standard Oil Company of Ohio. 1870
  • Henry Morton Stanley. Discovers Dr. Livingstone in on the shore of Lake Tanganyika. 1871
  • Alvin York. Captures 132 enemy troops in WWI. 1918
  • Melvin Purvis (right). Eliminates John Dillinger, Pretty Boy Floyd. 1934
  • Ray Charles. Records “Georgia on My Mind,” “Hit The Road Jack” in one calendar year. 1960-61

AGE 31

  • Hannibal. Defeats Romans at Battle of Cannae after crossing the Alps on elephants. 216 B.C
  • Mozart. Debuts “Don Giovanni,” widely regarded as the greatest opera ever composed. 1787
  • Jimmy Stewart. Appears in four classic films in one calendar year (Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Destry Rides Again, The Shop Around the Corner, The Philadelphia Story). 1939-40
  • Raoul Wallenberg. Begins rescuing an estimated 100,000 Hungarian Jews from certain death in Nazi crematoriums. 1944
  • J.K. Rowling. Publishes first Harry Potter book. 1997

AGE 32

  • John Paul Jones. Wins “I have not yet begun to fight” battle with British. 1779
  • Herman Melville. Publishes “Moby-Dick.” 1851
  • Thomas Edison. Invents the light bulb. 1879
  • Fidel Castro. Topples Cuban regime of Fulgencio Batista. 1959
  • Oprah Winfrey. Debuts massively popular talk show. 1986

AGE 33

  • Jesus of Nazareth. Christian savior crucified, resurrected. ca. 37 A.D.
  • Thomas Jefferson. Writes Declaration of Independence. 1776
  • Arthur Miller. Debuts “Death of a Salesman.” 1949
  • Pete Rozelle. Becomes NFL commissioner. 1960
  • George Lucas. Releases Star Wars. 1977

AGE 34

  • Henry Cavendish. Becomes first person to distinguish hydrogen from other gases. 1766
  • Florence Nightingale. Begins Crimean War nursing mission. 1854
  • George Eastman. Patents Kodak camera. 1888
  • Wily Post. Becomes first to fly solo around the world. 1933
  • Martin Luther King. Delivers “I Have a Dream” speech. 1963

AGE 35

  • Siddhartha Gautama (the Buddha). Attains enlightenment. ca 528 B.C.
  • William Shakespeare. Writes Julius Caesar, As You Like It, Hamlet. 1599
  • Cesar Chavez. Founds United Farm Workers Union. 1962
  • Walter Gropius. Founds the Bauhaus school of design in Germany. 1919
  • Tim Berners-Lee. Launches World Wide Web. 1991

AGE 36

  • Johann Sebastian Bach. Composes Brandenburg Concertos 1721
  • Walt Whitman. Publishes Leaves of Grass, his most acclaimed book of poetry. 1855
  • Wilbur Wright. Launches first powered flight with brother 1903
  • Maria Montessori. Opens first Children’s House. 1907
  • Johnny Carson. Debuts on “Tonight Show” 1962

AGE 37

  • Henry David Thoreau. Publishes Walden. 1854
  • Margaret Sanger. Establishes America’s first birth control clinic. 1916
  • David O. Selznick. Produces Gone With The Wind. 1939
  • Alan Shepard Jr. becomes the first American in space by piloting the Freedom 7 mission. 1961
  • Dave Thomas. Opens first Wendy’s. 1969

AGE 38

  • Vasco Da Gama. Sails from Portugal to India. 1498
  • Thomas Paine. Publishes Common Sense, an influential pamphlet that advocates American independence from Great Britain. 1776
  • Peter Sellers. Appears in Dr. Strangelove, The Pink Panther and A Shot in the Dark. 1964
  • Neil Armstrong. Takes first step on the moon. 1969
  • Ted Turner. Launches Turner Broadcasting System. 1976

AGE 39

  • William the Conqueror. Conquers England at Battle of Hastings. 1066
  • Godfrey of Bouillon. Achieves renown during the First Crusade and is named “protector of the Holy Sepulchre” following the siege of Jerusalem (1099).
  • Ferdinand Magellan. Begins around-the-world voyage. 1519
  • Henry Ford. Founds Ford Motor Company. 1903
  • Dan Brown. Publishes The Da Vinci Code. 2003

AGE 40

  • Muhammad ibn Abdullah. Founds Islam. 610 A.D.
  • Robert the Bruce. Wins Scotland’s independence with victory over English at Battle of Bannockburn. 1314
  • D.W. Griffith. Directs Birth of a Nation. 1915
  • James Joyce. Publishes Ulysses. 1922
  • Lucille Ball. Debuts on “I Love Lucy.” 1951

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