Zachary Taylor (b.Virginia, 1784–1850) is the only US president to whom Louisiana can lay claim. Taylor, a professional soldier who made his reputation as an Indian fighter and in the Mexican War, owned a large plantation north of Baton Rouge, which was his residence before his election to the presidency in 1848. Edward Douglass White (1845–1921) served first as associate justice of the US Supreme Court and then as chief justice.
Most other Louisianians who have held national office won more fame as state or confederate officials. John Slidell (b.New York, 1793–1871), an antebellum political leader, also played an important role in Confederate diplomacy. Judah P. Benjamin (b.West Indies, 1811–84), of Jewish lineage, was a US senator before the Civil War; during the conflict he held three posts in the Confederate cabinet, after which he went to England and became a leading barrister. Henry Watkins Allen (b.Virginia, 1820–66) was elected governor of Confederate Louisiana in 1864, after he had been maimed in battle; perhaps the best administrator in the South, he installed a system of near-socialism in Louisiana as the fortunes of the Confederacy waned. During and after the Civil War, many Louisianians won prominence as military leaders. Leonidas Polk (b.North Carolina, 1806–64), the state's first Episcopal bishop, became a lieutenant general in the Confederate Army and died in the Atlanta campaign. Zachary Taylor's son Richard (b.Kentucky, 1826–79), a sugar planter who also became a Confederate lieutenant general, is noted for his defeat of Nathaniel P. Bank's Union forces in the Red River campaign of 1864. Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard (1818–93) attained the rank of full general in the Confederate Army and later served as director of the Louisiana state lottery, one of the state's major sources of revenue at that time. In the modern era, General Claire Chennault (b.Texas 1893–1958) commanded the famous "Flying Tigers" and then the US 14th Air Force in China during World War II.
Throughout the 20th century, the Longs have been the first family of Louisiana politics. Without question, the most important state officeholder in Louisiana history was Huey P. Long (1893–1935), a latter-day Populist who was elected to the governorship in 1928 and inaugurated a period of social and economic reform. In the process, he made himself very nearly an absolute dictator within Louisiana. After his election to the US Senate, the "King Fish" became a national figure, challenging Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal with his "Share the Wealth" plan and flamboyant oratory. Huey's brother Earl K. Long (1895–1960) served three times as governor. Huey's son, US Senator Russell B. Long (1918–2003), was chairman of the Finance Committee—and, consequently, one of the most powerful men in Congress—from 1965 to 1980.
Also prominent in Louisiana history were Robert Cavelier, Sieur de la Salle (b.France, 1643–87), who was the first to claim the region for the French crown; Pierre le Moyne, Sieur d'Iberville (b.Canada, 1661–1706), who commanded the expedition that first established permanent settlements in the lands La Salle had claimed; his brother, Jean Baptiste le Moyne, Sieur de Bienville (b.Canada, 1680–1768), governor of the struggling colony and founder of New Orleans; and Bernardo de Galvez (b.Spain, 1746–86), who, as governor of Spanish Louisiana during the last years of the American Revolution, conquered British-held Florida in a series of brilliant campaigns. William Charles Coles Claiborne (b.Virginia, 1775–1817) was the last territorial and first state governor of Louisiana. The state's first Republican governor, Henry Clay Warmoth (b.Illinois, 1842–1932), came there as a Union officer before the end of the Civil War and was sworn in at age 26. Jean Ètienne de Boré (b.France, 1741–1820) laid the foundation of the Louisiana sugar industry by developing a process for granulating sugar from cane; Norbert Rillieux (birthplace unknown, 1806–94), a free black man, developed the much more efficient vacuum pan process of refining sugar.
Andrew Victor Schally (b.Poland, 1926), a biochemist on the faculty of the Tulane University School of Medicine, shared the Nobel Prize for medicine in 1977 for his research on hormones. Among other distinguished Louisiana professionals have been historian T. Harry Williams (1909–79), who won the Pulitzer Prize for his biography of Huey Long; architect Henry Hobson Richardson (1838–86); and four doctors of medicine: public health pioneer Joseph Jones (b.Georgia, 1833–96), surgical innovator Rudolph Matas (1860–1957), surgeon and medical editor Alton V. Ochsner (b.South Dakota, 1896–1981), and heart specialist Michael De Bakey (b.1908).
Louisiana's important writers include George Washington Cable (1844–1925), an early advocate of racial justice; Kate O'Flaherty Chopin (b.Missouri, 1851–1904); playwright and memoirist Lillian Hellman (1905–84); and novelists Walker Percy (b.Alabama 1916–1990); Truman Capote (1924–84); Ernest Gaines (b.1933), author of The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman; Shirley Ann Grau (b.1929); and John Kennedy Toole (1937–69), the last two being winners of the Pulitzer Prize.
Louisiana has produced two important composers, Ernest Guiraud (1837–92) and Louis Gottschalk (1829–69). Jelly Roll Morton (Ferdinand Joseph La Menthe, 1885–1941), Pete Fountain (b.1930), and Sidney Bechet (1897–1959) were important jazz musicians, and Louis "Satchmo" Armstrong (1900–1971) was one of the most prolific jazz innovators and popular performers in the nation. The distinctive rhythms of pianist and singer Professor Longhair (Henry Byrd, 1918–80) were an important influence on popular music. Other prominent Louisianians in music are gospel singer Mahalia Jackson (1911–72), pianist-singer-songwriter Antoine "Fats" Domino (b.1928), and pop singer Jerry Lee Lewis (b.1935).
Louisiana baseball heroes include Hall of Famer Melvin Thomas "Mel" Ott (1909–58) and pitcher Ron Guidry (b.1950). Terry Bradshaw (b.1948), a native of Shreveport, quarterbacked the Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers during the 1970s. Player-coach William F. "Bill" Russell (b.1934) led the Boston Celtics to 10 National Basketball Association championships between 1956 and 1969. Chess master Paul Morphy (1837–84) was born in New Orleans.