There's one name I haven't seen mentioned here yet, but I bet all you 50+ EE's have at one time or other read his articles, built his projects, or perhaps even been inspired by this guy; Don Lancaster.
Here is an online biography of Dr Killion.
Note that he is one of the very few people who i a fellow of both the Audio Engineering Society and the Acoustical Society of America
Mead Killion, Ph.D., founded Etymotic Research, Inc. in 1983. Prior to starting ER, he worked for over 20 years for Knowles Electronics, a major electronic component manufacturer, where he designed hearing aid microphones that were so accurate they were also used in recording and broadcast studios. Dr. Killion earned degrees in mathematics from Wabash College and the Illinois Institute of Technology, and completed his doctorate in audiology at Northwestern University. He was awarded an honorary doctor of science (Sc.D.) degree from Wabash College.
Dr. Killion teaches an advanced course in hearing aid electroacoustics at Northwestern and Rush Universities, where he holds adjunct and visiting professorships, respectively. He has directed graduate research at City University of New York Graduate School, where he is an adjunct professor. He has given invited lectures on hearing and hearing aids in 19 countries. Dr. Killion is a Fellow of the Acoustical Society of America and the Audio Engineering Society and has received numerous awards for his contributions to the field of hearing.
I also nominate Mead Killion, PhD, of Etymotic Research in Elk Grove Village, IL. Over his 40+ year career, first at Knowles and then on at Etymotic, which he founded in 1983, his innovations have helped more people hear better than anyone else on the planet still alive.
Just a few of them are:
• The KEMAR (Knowles Electroacoustic Mannequin for Audiological Research) all the way back in 1972 but used by more and more businesses and researchers every year
• The K-AMP® hearing aid circuit, developed under contract to the VA and released in 1988, was the first wide dynamic range compression (WDRC) hearing aid circuit utilizing the principles set out by Edgar Villchur
• The sensitive microphones and measurement techniques necessary to measure otoacoustic emissions from the cochlea: These are the very faint sounds from the microscopic-sized outer hair cells vibrating in endolymph (yes, THAT faint). Because of this, thousands of newborns are screened every day around the world for hearing loss before they are even sent home, detecting deafness and and triggering audiologic intervention, including hearing aids & cochlear implants;
• Advanced audiologic speech-in-noise test protocols and materials which audiologists can use to weed out all sorts of hearing and neurologic problems for peds, adults and the elderly;
• Advanced hearing protection for musicians, and active hearing protection for soldiers, hunters, law enforcement, and others.
Editor, The Hearing Blog
I nominate Sam Lybarger (1909-2000), the Father of the Electronic Hearing Aid. Even while he was in his 80's, he counseled me at the PHAA meetings in the early 1990's on electroacoustics and hearing aid prescriptive methods (he devised the first one all the way back in 1942, that is surprisingly close to the newest formulas!), the bone conduction (inertial) transducer, the telephone coil (all the way back in 1947).
From his obituary in The Hearing Review:
"Among engineers and industry leaders, Lybarger was known as one of the primary individuals responsible for the establishment of modern electroacoustical standards for hearing aids. He was a member of the technical committee that drafted “A Tentative Code for Measurement of Performance for Hearing Aids” in 1940 (published in JASA) and was the chair of the 1953 American Standards Assn. “Z24.14 Method for Measurement of Characteristics of Hearing Aids”—the forerunner of all the ANSI standards that followed. Lybarger chaired the ANSI Standards Hearing Aid Committee for more than three decades, from its inception to 1983. His involvement also included developing ANSI standards for bone conduction aids, as well as international (IEC) standards."
The microprocessor was huge, but the first one (the 4004) slightly predates the time frame of this list as it was released in 1971. The Internet is also off the list because the first operation of its predecessor, the ARPANET, was in 1969.
Skype is a curious choice for this list because it's a software technology, not EE. If we're going to look at software, I'd rank both the original Napster (for its disruption of the music industry) and BitTorrent (as the first hugely deployed peer-to-peer technology) as more disruptive than Skype.