Top 10 New Zealanders Who Changed The World

New Zealand

It may be a small island, but New Zealand and its inhabitants have had a significant impact on the shaping of our world. Working from New Zealand and internationally, these scientists, artists, designers, inventors, warriors and explorers are the source of inspiration for achievement. For a nation of only nearly 5 million people in 2018, the list of people’s achievements is quite extraordinary. Here are ten of them – in no particular order – who we think you should know if you don’t already.

1. Bill Philips

Alban William House “A. W.” “Bill” Phillips, MBE (1914 – 1975) was an influential New Zealand economist who spent much of his academic career as a professor of economics at the London School of Economics (LSE). His most famous contribution to economics is the Phillips curve, which he first described in 1958. He also designed and manufactured the MONIAC hydraulic economy computer in 1949.


2. Ernest Rutherford

Ernest Rutherford, 1st Baron Rutherford of Nelson, OM, FRS (1871 – 1937) was a New Zealand physicist of New Zealand who was known as the father of nuclear physics. The Encyclopædia Britannica considers him to be the greatest experimentalist since Michael Faraday (1791-1867). This list of achievements is too long and distinguishes the list here. His most famous contribution to science was the separation and investigation of the structure of atoms, and his conclusion that it was built around a central nucleus. He was also the recipient of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, the President of the Royal Society and the British Association for the Advancement of Science, was awarded the Order of Merit and eventually became Lord Rutherford. Not bad.


3. Edmund Hillary

In 1919 – 2008 Sir Edmund Percival Hillary was a New Zealand hillman, explorer, and philanthropist. On 29 May 1953, Hillary and Nepalese Sherpa hillman Tenzing Norgay became the first climbers confirmed to have reached the summit of Mount Everest. They were part of the ninth British journey to Everest, led by John Hunt. TIME magazine named Hillary is one of the 100 most influential people of the 20th century.

Edmund Hillary

He served in the Royal New Zealand Air Force as a navigator throughout World War II. Prior to the 1953 Everest expedition, Hillary had been part of the British reconnaissance journey to the mountain in 1951 as well as an unsuccessful attempt to climb Cho Oyu in 1952. As part of the Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition, he reached the South Pole overland in 1958. He consequently reached the North Pole, making him the first person to reach both poles and top Everest.

Following his ascent of Everest, Hillary devoted most of his life to helping the Sherpa people of Nepal through the Himalayan Trust, which he founded. Through his efforts, many schools and hospitals were built in Nepal.

4. Nancy Wake

Nancy Wake was the Allies’ most decorated servicewoman of WWII and was the favorite of the Gestapo. They code-named her “The White Mouse” because of her ability to evade capture.


When war broke out, she was a young woman married to a wealthy Frenchman who lived a luxury life in Marseilles internationally. She became a saboteur, organizing and fighting resistance, who led an army of 7,000 Maquis guerrillas during the war to sabotage the Nazis. Her story is bold, courageous and optimistic in the face of impossible odds.

5. Katherine Mansfield

Kathleen Mansfield Murry (1888 – 1923) was a famous modern short story writer in New Zealand, born and raised in a New Zealand colony and wrote under the pen name of Katherine Mansfield.


Katherine Mansfield revolutionized the 20th century English short stories. Her best work swayed free of the plot and ended and gave the story, for the first time, the extension of the interior life, poetry of feeling, the matte edge of personality. She is taught around the world for her historical importance, but also because her prose teaches normal life lessons that are still vivid and strong. And her novel retains its relevance through its openness – its ability to raise discomforting questions about identity, belonging and desire.

6. Maurice Wilkins

A Nobel Laureate in Physiology and Medicine in 1962 for his contribution to the discovery of DNA structure – the essence of life – and a New Zealander, Maurice Wilkins is one of the achievements our greatest.


Research undertaken by Maurice Wilkins, with the assistance of Rosalind Franklin, led to the discovery of DNA molecular structure. American geneticist James Watson and British biophysicist Francis Crick discovered this in 1953, revolutionized biology and medicine.

7. Jean Batten

She is the manifestation of victory and hopes against the odds over the dark days of the Depression. By six days, she smashed in 1934, Amy Johnson’s flight time between England and Australia.


The following year, she was the first woman to make a round-trip flight. In 1936, it made the first direct flight between England and New Zealand and then the fastest trans-Tasman flight. Jean Batten is “Garbo of the Skies”. She stands for adventure, bold, exploration and glamor. At that time, Jean Batten was one of the most famous people in the world.

8. Charles Upham


Widely recognized as the outstanding soldier of World War II, Captain Charles Upham remains the only soldier to have received the Victoria Cross and Bar (awarded to members of the armed forces of the Commonwealth for exceptional bravery). In Crete in May 1941, and the West Desert in July 1942, Upham distinguished himself with performances of ”nerveless competence”.

9. Bruce McLaren

Team McLaren has been the most successful team in the sports racing world ever since it debuted in 1966. McLaren cars and drivers have taken the chequered flag at Grand Prix races 182 times, won 12 Formula One World Championship titles (more than any other team in the history of the sport), dominated CamAm eve (56 wins between 1967 and 1972) and made three Indianapolis 500.


The man who started it all, Aucklander, Bruce McLaren, was an outstanding driver, with an outlook beyond the driver’s seat. He became an engineer, the inventor, the builder, the tester. Bruce McLaren took the essence of New Zealand Edge and turned it into arguably the greatest motor racing team in history.

10. William Pickering


The launch of Sputnik forced the United States into the space race in 1957. Fighting the Cold War, Americans needed to show the world that they can also launch a rocket into space – and they have to do it quickly. Less than three months after Explorer 1 was launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida. The man behind it: William Pickering from Wellington, New Zealand.

By: Nzedge 

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