Now that the search for the Greatest American is over, I’d like to add one more name to the list. This gentleman didn’t even make the top 100—probably because his greatest contributions occurred outside the United States—but he could well be the greatest American of all.
I’m speaking of Dr. Norman Borlaug, winner of the Medal of Freedom and the 1970 Nobel Peace Prize.
In 1944, Borlaug and his staff began a program to develop high-yield wheat in Mexico. Over the course of 20 years, they managed to breed several varieties of dwarf wheat that were resistant to many kinds of pests and which had several times the yield of older types of wheat. Mexico went from a net importer to a net exporter of wheat.
The new grain was soon made available to farmers in India and Pakistan. Wheat production nearly doubled in the first five years. A similar effort brought high-yield rice to the Asian nations. Hundreds of millions of people on the brink of starvation…didn’t starve. This was the Green Revolution.
I’ve seen several estimates of how many people were saved from starvation by Borlaug’s revolution. Some people put the number as high as a billion. The low end is probably around 500 million.
To put this in perspective, Norman Borlaug’s Green Revolution more than balances the 50 million who died in all nations during World War II. In fact, even using the low estimate of lives saved, the Green Revolution offsets all the war dead of the twentieth century—including all those killed by oppressive regimes and man-made famines—and all the war dead of the nineteenth century, twice over.
The benefits to humanity from the efforts of Dr. Borlaug and his team are unparalled in history. He should have made the list.
Note: You can learn more about Dr. Borlaug at the Norman Borlaug Heritage Foundation.