Pedro Domingo Murillo (1757–1810) was the precursor and first martyr of Bolivian independence. Andrés de Santa Cruz (1792–1865), who considered himself the "Napoleon of the Andes," dominated the early years of the independent nation. The most infamous of the 19th-century Bolivian dictators was Mariano Melgarejo (1818–71). Ismael Móntes (1861–1933), who was president of Bolivia from 1904 to 1909 and from 1913 to 1917, is identified in Bolivian history as the "great president." Simón Patiño (1861–1947), the richest of the "big three" tin barons, began his career as a loan collector and acquired his first mine by chance; he later became one of the world's wealthiest men. Víctor Paz Estenssoro (1907–2001), architect of the national revolution of 1952 and founder of the MNR, served as president during from 1952 to 1956 and was reelected in 1960 and 1964; he was deposed shortly thereafter by a military junta but returned to office from 1985 to 1989. Hernán Siles Zuazo (1914–1996), also connected with the MNR and later founder of the MNRI, was president in 1956–60 and again in 1982–85. Juan Lechín Oquendo (1914–2001), a leader of the 1952 uprising, led the powerful Bolivian Workers' Federation from its formation in 1952 until 1987.
Bolivia's outstanding literary figure is Gabriel René-Moreno (1836–1909), a historian, sociologist, and literary critic. The highly original poet and philosopher Franz Tamayo (1879–1956), although belonging to the landed aristocracy, was a champion of the downtrodden Amerindian. Tamayo was elected president in 1935, but an army revolt prevented him from taking power. Alcides Argüedas (1879–1946) achieved fame throughout Latin America with his historical works on Bolivia and his novels Wata wara and Raza de bronce, concerned with the plight of the Indian; his critical sociological study Pueblo enfermo provoked an enduring controversy. The archaeologist and anthropologist Arturo Posnansky (1874–1946), born in Austria, did pioneering work in studying the civilization that once flourished at Lake Titicaca. Jaime Laredo (b.1941) is a world-famous violinist.