The idea for such a list started on February 1, 1998, with a debate at a symposium in Hanoi, Vietnam. The panel participants were former CBS Evening News anchor Dan Rather, historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, former New York governor Mario Cuomo, then–Stanford Provost Condoleezza Rice, publisher Irving Kristol, and Time managing editor Walter Isaacson.
In a separate issue on December 31, 1999, Time recognized Albert Einstein as the Person of the Century.
Time's article cites twenty persons in each of five broad categories: Leaders and Revolutionaries, Scientists and Thinkers, Builders and Titans, Artists and Entertainers, and Heroes and Icons.
Of the 100 chosen, Albert Einstein was chosen as the Person of the Century, on the grounds that he was the preeminent scientist in a century dominated by science. The editors of Time believed the 20th century "will be remembered foremost for its science and technology", and Einstein "serves as a symbol of all the scientists—such as Fermi, Heisenberg, Bohr, Richard Feynman, ...who built upon his work".
The cover of the magazine featured the famous image of Einstein taken in 1947 by American portrait photographer Philippe Halsman.