Two Mormons Named Most Influential American Religious Leaders

Joseph Smith, Jr. and Brigham Young have topped the list of “Most Influential American Religious Leaders” in a special collector’s edition of Smithsonian magazine highlighting “the 100 Most Significant Americans of All Time.” Founder and prophet Joseph Smith, Jr., ranked #1 on the list, with his successor Brigham Young ranking at #3. The magazine used some very complex mathematical and social algorithms [totally out of my realm, but explained here] designed by a social analyst and an engineer named Steven Skiena and Charles B. Ward. They then combined those algorithms with the Smithsonian’s vast database, arriving at the list of “100 Most Significant Americans.”

Skiena and Ward rank people according to their historical significance, which they define as “the result of social and cultural forces acting on the mass of an individual’s achievement.” Their rankings account not only for what individuals have done, but also for how well others remember and value them for it.

Smithsonian Magazine Ranks Joseph Smith, Jr. the #1 Most Significant Religious Figure in American History
Smithsonian Magazine Ranks Joseph Smith, the #1 Most Significant Religious Figure in American History

We have to buy the magazine on the newsstand to get the full scoop, see the beautiful photographs, and read all of the profiles of each of these 100 significant leaders, but the Deseret News does gives a nice detailed summary, confirming the accuracy and positive bios of both Joseph Smith and Brigham Young.


Depiction of Joseph Smith’s first vision in 1820

JOSEPH SMITH, JR. (1804-1844) – As a 14 year old boy in 1820 living in upstate New York, Joseph Smith, Jr. found himself in the middle of an intense religious revival. Multiple preachers were vying for new converts and they all had a different interpretation of scripture and doctrines. Joseph wanted to know which church was the true one that he should join. As he searched the Bible for help, he read James 1:5 which said to “ask of God”. So, acting on this counsel, Joseph went into the woods near his home on a spring morning to pray. As he prayed, suddenly, a light shone above him. Two personages appeared, God our Heavenly Father, and Jesus Christ. They conversed with him. When Joseph asked them which church he should join, the Savior told him to join none of the churches because a fullness of truth was going to be restored again.


Through this miraculous experience and many more that followed, the Lord chose Joseph to be His prophet in the latter-days to restore the fullness of the gospel of Jesus Christ to the earth. The Book of Mormon, Another Testament of Jesus Christ, which Joseph Smith translated via miraculous circumstances, stands as a witness that Joseph Smith, Jr. was a true prophet of God.

In 1844 at the age of 38, Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum (age 44) were assassinated by an angry mob. They died as martyrs of their faith, and sealed their testimonies of Christ with their blood.

“I am going like a lamb to the slaughter; but I am calm as a summer’s morning; I have a conscience void of offense towards God, and towards all men. I shall die innocent, and it shall be said of me—He was murdered in cold blood” – Joseph Smith

Brigham Young, painting by Robert T. Barrett
Brigham Young, painting by Robert T. Barrett

BRIGHAM YOUNG (1801-1877) After the death of Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles was chosen to be successor, prophet and President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. His dogged work ethic, boldness, tenacity and leadership was critical for holding together his struggling, persecuted little flock of Latter-day Saints. Brigham Young recounted having a dream where Joseph Smith appeared to him, and showed in a vision the valley where they should travel and the spot where they should build their new city. (that spot was later identified by Brigham Young as Ensign Peak, rising above downtown Salt Lake City, Utah). Brigham presented his revelation to the Church, and the members accepted and followed. They walked by faith, travelling by wagon, handcart and foot to their “Zion” – a place where they could have protection from their horrible persecution, and religious freedom.

Under Brigham Young’s inspired leadership, the Church colonized extensively west of the Rocky Mountains – spreading throughout Utah, Idaho, California, and extending into territories today of Canada & Mexico. The Latter-day Saints expanded and flourished, and from that point until now, the Church has never stopped growing and thriving . To his dying day, Brigham Young was a vocal witness of Jesus Christ, our Savior. He witnessed first hand the restoration of the Church of Jesus Christ to the earth through his dear friend, the prophet Joseph Smith.

“I honor and revere the name of Joseph Smith. I delight to hear it; I love it. I love his doctrine. I feel like shouting Hallelujah, all the time, when I think that I ever knew Joseph Smith, the Prophet whom the Lord raised up. I am bold to say that, Jesus Christ excepted, no better man ever lived or does live upon this earth. I am his witness.” – Brigham Young


  1. How could this be possible???A young, insignificant farm boy, in the early1800’s claims a messenger from Heaven reveals to him that God has a work for him to do and that his name, “Joseph Smith” should be had for good and evil among all nations,kindreds, and tongues, or that it should be both good and evil spoken of among all people!
    And now, Smithsonian Magazine ranks Joseph Smith the #1 most significant religious figure in American history!
    It would be worth one’s time to learn what this young man with God’s help accomplished in the short 38 1/2 years of his mortal life.
    He was “not” a religious reformer. He was called to “Restore” all things lost during the centuries referred to as the dark ages. So what was lost? What did Joseph Smith “Restore”?
    Ask the LDS Missionaries serving in your communities. At this time, about 85,000 Elders and Sister missionaries can teach you and your family about the glorious restoration of all things including the fullness of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
    Joe Stewart


  2. This was a long time coming. From the short life of Joseph Smith, through the years of persecution in the east, the near-disastrous trek west, and finally the firm establishment and growth of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints into a new world force. Nothing can stand for long against the Savior’s restored kingdom.

    Liked by 1 person

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