World-changing New Zealanders

Featuring 40+ definitive short biographies of New Zealanders who have changed or benefitted the world in some way. Working from New Zealand and internationally, these scientists, artists, designers, inventors, warriors, and adventurers are inspiration for achievement. Please enjoy and be motivated.

Top New Zealand Legends
Ernest Rutherford

Ernest Rutherford

The creator of modern atomic physics and forerunner of the nuclear age, Ernest Rutherford was one of the 20th century's greatest scientists. An experimenter, inventor and Nelson farm boy, he "tunnelled into the very..."

Edmund Hillary

Edmund Hillary

He explored places no man had gone before, conquered Everest and captured a world’s imagination. Yet where others would have been content to bask in their achievements, Sir Edmund Hillary began a lifetime…

Nancy Wake

Nancy Wake

Nancy Wake was the Allies' most decorated servicewoman of WWII, and the Gestapo’s most-wanted person. Code-named 'The White Mouse', she led an army of 7,000 Maquis troops in guerrilla warfare to sabotage the Nazis…

Katherine Mansfield

Katherine Mansfield

Katherine Mansfield revolutionised the English short story. Her best work shakes itself free of plots and endings and gives the story the expansiveness of the interior life, the poetry of feeling, the blurred edges of personality…

Maurice Wilkins

Maurice Wilkins

Research undertaken by New Zealander Maurice Wilkins helped lead to the discovery of the DNA molecule structure - the very essence of life itself. The discovery revolutionised biology and medicine…

Jean Batten

Jean Batten

Jean Batten stood for adventure, daring and exploration. She was the manifestation of triumph and hope through the dark days of the depression. In 1934 she smashed the world record between England and Australia by six days…

Charles Upham

Charles Upham

Acknowledged widely as the most outstanding soldier of the Second World War, Captain Charles Upham is also the most decorated; remaining the only combatant soldier to receive the Victoria Cross and Bar...

Bruce McLaren

Bruce McLaren

Starting from an early age, Aucklander Bruce McLaren was a brilliant and visionary race-car driver. He became engineer, inventor, constructor, tester and created one of the greatest motor racing teams in history…

William Pickering

William Pickering

The USSR's launch of Sputnik in 1957 forced the United States into the space race. Less than three months later Explorer 1 was launched. The man behind it: William Pickering from Wellington, New Zealand…

Alexander Aitken

Alexander Aitken

Alexander Aitken was one of the world’s greatest mathematical minds, able recite Pi to 707 decimal places. His extraordinary abilities were studied by psychologists in Britain during the 1920s…

Kate Sheppard

Kate Sheppard

Kate Sheppard was the leader and figurehead of the suffragist movement in New Zealand, which became the first country to grant universal suffrage, and became a source of inspiration to suffragists throughout the world…

Alan MacDiarmid

Alan MacDiarmid

"Information Age pioneer," Alan MacDiarmid and his colleagues discovered that plastics could conduct electricity. Awarded the 2000 Nobel Prize for chemistry, he lives by the motto: “I am a very lucky person and the harder I work the luckier I seem to be”…

Jack Lovelock

Jack Lovelock

The first New Zealander to win Olympic gold, Jack Lovelock was an enigmatic achiever whose running style was 'artistic' in grace. His spectacular win at the 1936 Berlin Olympics began a rich history of achievement in New Zealand athletics …

Janet Frame

Janet Frame

Mixing words with the skill of a warrior handling a taiaha, Janet Frame made a pre-eminent contribution to international literature. She came from the peripheries of art and society, yet her fictional explorations have reconfigured the world…

Richard Pearse

Richard Pearse

Richard Pearse: self-taught inventor, prophetic designer, trail blazing aviator, and eccentric visionary, a modern-day Icarus from down under who, against incredible odds, ingeniously sought the sun and pioneered powered flight…

Rewi Alley

Rewi Alley

Rewi Alley: social reformer, educator, fireman, writer, poet, translator, great internationalist, industrialist, revered citizen, potter, hero and friend of China. He is “unique for achieving greatness in a country where few foreigners ever manage to achieve a ripple"…

Joseph Nathan

Joseph Nathan

Joseph Nathan was a New Zealand entrepreneur with extraordinary foresight. On a world scale, he was a pioneer of direct marketing and branding. The Glaxo name now fronts one of the world's largest pharmaceutical companies, GlaxoSmithKline…

Harold Williams

Harold Williams

Harold Williams is listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the world's greatest linguist, said to have spoken over 58 languages fluently. He was foreign editor of The Times, “the most brilliant foreign correspondent" his generation had known…

Arthur Lydiard

Arthur Lydiard

Arthur Lydiard invented jogging - the method of building up physical fitness by gradually increasing stamina. Lydiard's methods trained New Zealand’s greatest track athletes, and helped propel New Zealand to the top of world middle-distance running…

Beatrice Tinsley

Beatrice Tinsley

Beatrice Tinsley was a world leader in modern cosmology and one of the most creative and significant theoreticians in modern astronomy. Her work has been described as "opening doors to evolutions of stars, galaxies and even the Universe itself”…

Colin McCahon

Colin McCahon

Colin McCahon is the region's most revered artist. He reconceived Aotearoa as the land of the long black shadow. Squinting into the hard sun, McCahon saw, "something logical, orderly and beautiful belonging to the land and not yet its people”…

Te Rangi Hiroa / Peter Buck

Te Rangi Hiroa / Peter Buck

Peter Buck’s achievements are astonishing for their diversity: pioneering anthropologist, the first Maori medical doctor, politician, administrator, soldier, sportsperson and leader of the Maori people. Through exploring the cross-cultural advantages…

Keith Park

Keith Park

In charge of defending London from bombing raids in WWII, Keith Park had a reputation as a fearless fighter pilot. It is in part to Park's efforts that Winston Churchill said, "[n]ever in the history of human conflict was so much owed to by so many to so few"...

Allan Wilson

Allan Wilson

Allan Wilson’s examination into the origins of humanity through biochemistry flew in the face of anthropological thinking. He revolutionised the study of human evolution and is the only New Zealander to win the US MacArthur "Genius" Award...

Bill Hamilton

Bill Hamilton

Hamilton loved speed. From his homegrown jet propulsion laboratory on the Waitaki river and its tributaries, Bill Hamilton brought the jet age to the water, then took it to the world, revolutionising river and shallow-water navigation...

Harold Gillies

Harold Gillies

The introduction of ferocious weapons and trench warfare in WWI resulted in devastating injuries that required a new type of surgery. In response, Sir Harold Gillies standardised century old techniques and established the discipline of 'plastic surgery'…

Archibald McIndoe

Archibald McIndoe

Motivated by a desire to be more than just an ordinary doctor, Archibald Hector McIndoe pursued greatness. Appointed plastic surgeon to the Royal Air Force in WWII, McIndoe brought plastic surgery to the forefront of burns treatment…

Godfrey Bowen

Godfrey Bowen

New Zealand’s shearers are known throughout the world for their skill and toughness. Only one has been invited to Buckingham Palace, appeared on late night American television and been honoured by the leader of the Soviet Union...

Brydone & Davidson

Brydone & Davidson

Now exporting meat to more than 190 countries around the world, this is the fascinating story of how the frozen meat export industry began: a story of technology, determination, vision, and pioneering colonialism...

Te Ruki Kawiti

Te Ruki Kawiti

A Maori Tohunga, Te Ruki Kawiti, was a mastermind of leadership and tactical warfare. During the 1860s, his designs revolutionised the New Zealand Wars and were replicated in fortifications throughout the nation…

Colin Murdoch

Colin Murdoch

Colin Murdoch designed and invented the disposable syringe, a device that has saved millions of human lives. He is an understated New Zealander who can claim to have revolutionised medical and veterinary science…

Sydney Smith

Sydney Smith

A forensics pioneer, Sir Sydney Smith became world recognition through the application of science to justice. He learnt to read the stories of dead men - and in doing so changed the way crime was investigated and solved…

Joseph Sinel

Joseph Sinel

Joseph Sinel led a visionary and exuberant life as a founder of the Industrial Design movement in America. A brand pioneer, mixed media maestro, inspirational teacher, disciplined bohemian and, above all, strikingly modern…

Ettie Rout

Ettie Rout

Ettie Rout was infamous for breaching social norms in sexual health and practice while working in Paris during WWI. An original career woman, Ettie Rout was a humanitarian who faced danger, ostracism and eventually exile…

William Hudson

William Hudson

New Zealand Engineer Sir William Hudson was the man and motivator behind the Australian Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Scheme, considered one of the great engineering achievements of the 20th Century...

Robert Burchfield

Robert Burchfield

Dr Robert Burchfield was a world-renowned scholar. Hailed by the Chicago Tribune as “the greatest living lexicographer”, he played a crucial role in the study of the sources and development of the English language...

Frances Alda

Frances Alda

Born in Christchurch in 1879, Dame Frances Alda triumphed at the New York Metropolitan Opera. A proud New Zealander and recorder of traditional Maori songs, she was famous across America as an opera star…

Tex Morton

Tex Morton

Tex Morton lived a life of breath-taking achievement, attaining mastery, fortune and international fame as a recording star, stage artist, circus entrepreneur, Hollywood screen actor and world authority in hypnotherapy...

Peter Jackson

Peter Jackson

NZEDGE presents a personal account of the Peter Jackson story by filmmaker Costa Botes - an idiosyncratic case study of innovation, focus and energy from the edge that transformed the global film industry…

Ernest Godward

Ernest Godward

An innovator of many talents. He built power tools, eggbeaters, burglar proof windows and hairpins. He was a sportsman, a musician, a painter, and an expert on weaponry. In short Godward was a brilliant over-achiever…

Robert J Dickie

Robert J Dickie

RJ Dickie invented and patented the world’s first stamp vending machine to be used by thousands around the world. The machine that won highest honours at the 1909 Seattle Expo came from a New Zealander with a single idea…

William Atack

William Atack

Today the referee’s whistle is a ubiquitous feature in sport, but it was William Harrington Atack of Canterbury in June 1884 who became the first sports' referee in the world to use a whistle to stop a game...

James Keir Baxter

James Keir Baxter

As well as being one New Zealand's foremost poets, JK Baxter was a social activist, alcoholic derelict, dogmatic catholic, randy libertine, spiritually brash showman, whose reputation has diminished little since his death...

John Britten

John Britten

John Britten was a revolutionary motorcycle designer whose home-brewed machine won international ovations with its stunning design, engineering and performance. The medieval roar of the Britten V1000 motorcycle lingers over the tarmac of Kiwi myth…