Time Magazine’s annual Person of Year cover is universally seen as a honor, a prize won after doing remarkable things throughout the previous year.
The truth is, you don’t necessarily have to be a great, honorable person to win the award.
Over the magazine’s 80 plus years, dictators, objects and ideas have won the prestigious cover.
However, Time magazine has made a number of controversial picks over time. Scroll to see some of the most notable.
Adolf Hitler, Time Magazine’s Man of the year for 1938
Adolf Hitler’s dominance in the global scene was the biggest story of 1938. To be fair, Time magazine knew what kind of monster they were giving this award to. Here’s what Time wrote:
“…nothing so terrified the world as the ruthless, methodical, Nazi-directed events which during late summer and early autumn threatened a world war over Czechoslovakia. When without loss of blood he reduced Czechoslovakia to a German puppet state, forced a drastic revision of Europe’s defensive alliances, and won a free hand for himself in Eastern Europe by getting a “hands-off” promise from powerful Britain (and later France), Adolf Hitler without doubt became 1938’s Man of the Year.”
It’s a strong argument. However, all of these years later, it’s jarring how much Hitler stands out for an honor that was given to people like Martin Luther King Jr. and John F. Kennedy.
Other notable names from this year included Howard Hughes, the millionaire who flew around the world, Orson Welles, who tricked everyone with his World of the Wars radio act and Benito Mussolini, Italy’s dictator.
Joseph Stalin, Time Magazine’s Man of the year for 1938 and 1942
During WW2’s beginnings, Russia’s dictator Joseph Stalin got the Man of the Year award twice. The first was in 1938, largely for the pact that Stalin formed with Nazi-Germany. Then in 1942, Stalin won the label because he was becoming the new power force in Europe.
Nikita Khrushchev, Time Magazine’s Man of the Year for 1957
In the heart of the Cold War and communism paranoia in the United States, Time magazine chose Russian leader Nikita Khrushchev as their Man of the Year. Time called 1967 a year of “retreat and disarray for the West” while Russia was praised for its space technology and advances in missile weaponry.
Ayatullah Khomeini, Time Magazine Man of the Year for 1979.
Some say Ayatullah Khomeini getting the Man of the Year award was the beginning of the end for Time Magazine choosing anti-American people for the award.
Time described his impact like this:
“Yet in 1979 the lean figure of the Ayatullah Ruhollah Khomeini towered malignly over the globe. As the leader of Iran’s revolution he gave the 20th century world a frightening lesson in the shattering power of irrationality, of the ease with which terrorism can be adopted as government policy. As the new year neared, 50 of the American hostages seized on Nov. 4 by a mob of students were still inside the captured U.S. embassy in Tehran, facing the prospect of being tried as spies by Khomeini’s revolutionary courts. “
Rudy Giuliani, Time magazine Person of the Year for 2001
Two months after the towers were destroyed, everyone figured that the tragedy would be the major storyline. However, very few would have guessed that it would have been NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani winning Man of the Year. Many saw this as an error since Rudy was a small clog, and said Bin Laden should have been nominated.
Time magazine justified their pick by saying:
“…bin Laden is too small a man to get the credit for all that has happened in America in the autumn of 2001. Imagination makes him larger than he is in order that he fit his crime; yet those who have studied his work do not elevate him to the company of history’s monsters, despite the monstrousness of what he has done. It is easy to turn grievance into violence; that takes no genius, just a lack of scruple and a loaded gun. The killers he dispatched were braver men than he; he has a lot of money and a lot of hate, and when he is gone there will be others to take his place.”
You, Time Magazine Person of the Year for 2006.
In later years, the picks have gotten significantly safer. One that was controversial was in 2006, Time magazine picked “You” as the person of the year because of the way we supply information to social media outlets. Even with a nifty cover, which included a mirror, so you would be looking at yourself, the decision was criticized for being a gimmick, and being disrespectful to figures who really should have been placed on the cover.