(6) The Wright Brothers vs. (11) Henry Ford
(6) The Wright Brothers
It's tough to envision the modern world without airplanes, but without a pair of printers-turned-bicycle-makers-turned-glider-builders, ocean liner travel might still be the only way to get to Europe. Although they never attended college, the Ohio brothers were such determined and keen students of mechanics and aerodynamics that they eventually got us off the ground after hundreds of failed attempts at flight. Plus, with apologies to Orville Redenbacher, both Wright brothers are still the greatest people ever to bear their respective first names.
(11) Henry Ford
Likewise, it's nearly impossible to conceive of a world without cars. Although Ford can't claim credit for inventing the automobile, his assembly line methods and Model T surely perfected the car and helped fuel the machine's rapid world domination. Not just an industrialist, Ford was also an ardent supporter of rehabilitating convicts and returning them to productive jobs in mainstream society, often as line workers at Ford plants. One thing Ford didn't like, though, was accounting. He steadfastly refused to hire accountants to the point that when he left the company, nobody really had any idea how much it cost to make a Model T.
Take your pick: plane or car? To be sure, each nominee has some weaknesses. Ford has to shoulder the blame for traffic jams, while the Wright Brothers inadvertently gave birth to checked baggage fees and the middle seat on planes. Without either of them, though travel wouldn't be the same. Who's the bigger genius?
[See the whole bracket here.]