Shy Historical Figures

People of Influence From History Who Were Shy

When we look at the world today, we see many influences of famous figures from the past. The American Red Cross, the light bulb, and the airplane were all invented or founded by someone on the list below. Despite the huge impact that each of these historical figures had on the course of history, they were also all shy.

Albert Einstein

Photo: Getty / Fred Stein
Photo: Getty / Fred Stein. Photo: Getty / Fred Stein

Albert Einstein was a professor of theoretical physics at Princeton University known for his "Theory of Relativity." Despite his later success, Einstein grew up a shy young boy who had no interest in the pursuits of other boys his age; he also faced difficulty being Jewish in a largely Christian society. After boarding school he gained confidence in himself as later studies brought him new friends who shared his intellectual interests. Despite his shyness as a boy, grown-up Einstein was not one to shy away from new opportunities:

"Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new."

Albert Ellis

Albert Ellis was a psychologist and founder of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT); an early form of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). During his lifetime Ellis founded the Albert Ellis Institute to promote, educate and train professionals in the use of REBT. In addition, Ellis served on the boards of many psychological organizations and authored several best-selling books.

Despite his public career, Ellis grew up naturally shy. At age 19 he decided to try to overcome his shyness around women; over the course of a month he talked to over 130 women at the Bronx Botanical Garden. It was during this time that his ideas about short-term therapy were born. Ellis had the following to say:

"Whenever I saw a woman sitting on a park bench alone, I'd sit on the same bench and give myself one minute to talk to her. If I die, I die. (Censored) it... I saw philosophically, cognitively, that nothing happened. Nobody cut my balls off. I had a hundred pleasant conversations."

Clara Barton

Clara Barton was an American nurse during the Civil War; she lobbied for, and became president of, the first American branch of the Red Cross in 1881. Barton was a shy and timid child who grew up with a strong desire to help others in any way that she could despite her retiring nature. She died on April 12th, 1912.

Orville Wright

Photo: Getty / Hulton Archive
Photo: Getty / Hulton Archive. Photo: Getty / Hulton Archive
Orville Wright and his brother Wilbur invented the airplane. Orville was known as the shy brother despite his impulsive and mischievous nature. Around family and friends he was open and outgoing but among strangers he appeared painfully shy. As a result his brother was the public representative for the duo. He died on January 30th, 1948.

Neil Armstrong

Photo: Getty / Ronald Dumont
Photo: Getty / Ronald Dumont. Photo: Getty / Ronald Dumont
Neil Armstrong is an astronaut and was the first man to walk on the moon. He famously said "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind," before making the first step. Despite his fame, Armstrong has avoided the public eye and rarely gives interviews. Known to be aloof, those around him claim he prefers to talk about facts rather than feelings.

Thomas Edison

Photo: Getty / Hulton Archive
Photo: Getty / Hulton Archive. Photo: Getty / Hulton Archive

Thomas Edison was an American inventor known best for inventing the light bulb. Despite his enormous success as an inventor he was extremely shy in front of an audience; an affliction that prevented him from pursuing a career as an actor. He died on October 18th, 1931 at the age of 84. Edison is quoted as saying:

"Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration."


BBC News Magazine. Who is Neil Armstrong? Accessed June 6th, 2012.

Biography. Clara Barton. Accessed June 6th, 2012.

Brainy Quote. Albert Einstein. Accessed June 5th, 2012.

National Park Service. A Brief Biography of Thomas Edison. Accessed June 6th, 2012.

NNDB. Orville Wright. Accessed June 6th, 2012.

Nobel Prize. Albert Einstein Biography. Accessed June 5th, 2012.

REBT Network. Dr. Albert Ellis. Accessed June 6th, 2012.

The Albert Ellis Site. From Therapy's Lenny Bruce: Get Over It! Stop Whining! Accessed June 6th, 2012.

The Wright Brothers. Orville Wright. Accessed June 6th, 2012.

Thomas Edison. The Biography of Thomas Edison. Accessed June 6th, 2012.

Encyclopedia of World Biography. Albert Einstein Biography. Accessed Aug 9, 2015.

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