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 An Overview and Perspective > Assessment > IQ Scores > Genius


Estimated IQs of the Greatest Geniuses of the 15th-19th Centuries
From Catharine Morris Cox. The Early Mental Traits of Three Hundred Geniuses. Stanford University Press, 1926

Name (sorted by century)

Dates Years Lived



Obtained Est. IQ* Corrected Est. IQ*
Wolsey, Thomas 1475-1530 55 English statesman 165 200
Grotius, Hugo 1583-1645 62 Dutch statesman 190 200
Leibniz, Gottfried Wilhelm von 1646-1716 70 German philosopher 190 205
Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von 1749-1832 83 German writer 200 210
Mill, John Stuart 1806-1873 67 English philosopher 170 180

*Estimated IQs of 301 greatest geniuses in history

Genius - An Overview
by William E. Benet, Ph.D., Psy.D.
January, 2005

Genius is one of the oldest and yet one of the most elusive concepts in the history of psychology, and also one of the most fascinating.  Originally, in Graeco-Roman antiquity, genius referred to a quality that everyone possessed, an animating spirit that represented one's character and interests as much as one's ability. Over time,  however, it became increasingly associated with one's natural ability or talent, and eventually with the special ability of a few.  Nineteenth century British psychologist Francis Galton, citing British author and lexicographer Dr. Samuel Johnson as a paragon example,  described genius as "a man endowed with superior faculties."  And then, in  the early part of the 20th century, as interest in psychometric methods of assessment grew, genius became associated with a quantitative concept known as the Intelligence Quotient or IQ, which further adulterated its original meaning.  Expressed as a ratio score, IQ was defined as an individual's estimated mental age divided by chronological age multiplied by 100. In 1916,  Stanford University psychologist Lewis M. Terman, Ph.D., classified an IQ score of 140 or higher as "genius or near genius", a classification that is no longer used.  Ironically, one of the first practical applications of IQ tests was to identify children who were mentally handicapped, not gifted.  Alfred Binet, the French psychologist who developed The Binet-Simon Intelligence Scale in 1905, which Terman would later revise and use to identify gifted children, was dismayed by this subsequent application of his test. Today, not only have high IQ scores become used to identify children for gifted programs, but in popular parlance have become equated with genius. This is very unfortunate since, as we shall see, the relationship between high IQ scores and genius is not always apparent. In fact, history is full of geniuses who more than likely had ordinary IQs. [Read more]

For qualitative descriptions of various IQ ranges used by psychologists today,
see IQ Classifications at


Keeping High IQ in Perspective

"On the trip home from the Nobel ceremonies in Stockholm, prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman stopped in Queens, N.Y., and looked up his high-school records. 'My grades were not as good as I remembered,' he said, 'and my I.Q. was 124, considered just above average.' "

James Gleick. (1992). Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman. New York: Pantheon.

Editor's note -- Richard Feynman's IQ of 124 was well above average for high school graduates and even college graduates. The average IQ of PhD/MD degree recipients is about 125, which is higher than 95 percent of the general population. Beyond a certain level of ability, other factors are certainly more important in determining an individual's chances of winning the Nobel Prize than IQ, not the least of which is the quality and reputation of the institution where the individual obtained his/her graduate degree and worked or taught.  See Nobel Prize Winners and Universities. -- W.E.B.

"The four socially and personally most important threshold regions on the IQ scale are those that differentiate with high probability between persons who, because of their level of general mental ability, can or cannot attend a regular school (about IQ 50), can or cannot master the traditional subject matter of elementary school (about IQ 75), can or cannot succeed in the academic or college preparatory curriculum through high school (about IQ 105), can or cannot graduate from an accredited four-year college with grades that would qualify for admission to a professional or graduate school (about IQ 115).  Beyond this, the IQ level becomes relatively unimportant in terms of ordinary occupational aspirations and criteria of success. That is not to say that there are not real differences between the intellectual capabilities represented by IQs of 115 and 150 or even between IQs of 150 and 180. But IQ differences in this upper part of the scale have far less personal implications than the thresholds just described and are generally of lesser importance for success in the popular sense than are certain traits of personality and character."

Arthur Jensen. (1980). Bias in Mental Testing. New York: Free Press, p. 113.

"It has been said that a 140 IQ is a "genius" score, however there is no definition, as such, in either of my psychological dictionaries about "genius." Neither is there an IQ score ranked as "genius"... Genius may be in the eye of the beholder. Furthermore, a true genius may not score particularly well on a standard group IQ test... And really, those who are what we may call a genius don't need a score to prove it."

The Question Of "Genius"
Abbie F. Salny, Ed.D., former supervisory psychologist, American Mensa

IQ tests Online and the Mensa Workout
by the International High IQ Society and Mensa International

Genius and Disability

Thomas B. Macaulay (1st Baron Macaulay), an eminent 19th Century English writer, barrister and Member of Parliament, was estimated by Cox to have had an IQ of 175; yet legend has it that he did not utter a word until around the age of 4 when he turned to a wailing baby and asked, "What ails thee, Jock?"  Soon after that someone spilled hot coffee on him, and when a concerned onlooker rushed to help, he said "Thank you madam, the agony has abated!"

Albert Einstein is another genius who did not speak until a late age and was thought to have had a developmental language disability. His IQ was never tested, but had it been possible to test him when he was a young child, his IQ score might not have been very high!

Genius and Adjustment

The Story of William James Sidis

Good Will Sidis. (1998). Harvard Magazine, March Issue.

High IQ and adjustment

Grady M. Towers. (1987). The Outsiders. Gift of Fire, Issue No. 22.
(Journal of the Prometheus Society)

Highest Tested IQs in History

Universal Geniuses and Renaissance Men

The Polymath
Leonardo Da Vinci, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, and others.

The Autodidact
Leonardo Da Vinci, James Watt, Frank Lloyd Wright, Tado Ando and others.

Einstein's IQ

Albert Einstein's name is synonymous with 'genius' and has generated a lot of speculation about his IQ, but the fact is his IQ is unknown because he never took an IQ test. In fact, Einstein was 26 years old when French psychologist Alfred Binet in 1905 began work on the first IQ test named after him and colleague Théodore Simon for the purpose of identifying mentally handicapped Parisian school children 3-15 years old. Einstein is a genius because of what he accomplished, and speculation about his IQ is inconsequential.

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