Innovation has been the key to human evolution since time immemorial. Ever since the discovery of fire, the invention of the wheel, and now with humanity entering into the digital age, millions of inventions have helped shape our lives for the better.
However, just like success doesn’t strike overnight, breakthroughs and inventions are rarely the contributions of one sole person! History is full of examples of famous inventors who got credited for something they just improved upon but didn’t invent from scratch! They simply made something better and helped their creation gain mass appeal!
Here is a list of world-famous inventors who got wrongly credited for their ‘invention’ which they didn’t invent while the real inventor languishes in oblivion. It is only after deep research of testimonials and documentary evidence that the world found out who the ‘actual’ inventor of these inventions actually was!
1) The automobile – Alleged Inventor: Henry Ford | Actual Inventor: Karl Benz
We all have been in an automobile of sorts! However, did you know that although many engineers like Wilhelm Maybach, Gottlieb Daimler, Siegfried Marcus, etc., were working on prototypes of the world’s first-ever car, it was Henry Ford who stole the cake!
None of them is the actual ‘inventor’ of the automobile since Karl Benz had made his own four-stroke cycle gasoline engine by 1885 in Mannheim, Germany and also got a patent for it in January 1886 under his company Benz & Cie., (originally founded in 1883)! He was selling the production vehicles by 1888, whereas Ford was still improving upon his Ford Quadricycle until then. Henry Ford had not created a self-propelled automobile until the end of 1896 – that is more than ten years after Benz’s creation was already public!
2) X-Ray Photography – Alleged Inventor: Thomas Edison | Actual Inventor: Wilhelm Röntgen
Edison is credited for this invention perhaps because he had created the Fluoroscope – a prototype of present-day X-ray machines by the late 1890s in which X-ray imaging techniques are used to obtain real-time moving images of the interior of an object. However, it wasn’t the world’s first demonstration of x-ray photography.
In 1895, Wilhelm Röntgen (a German physics professor) was experimenting with invisible cathode rays that apparently caused a fluorescent effect on a small cardboard screen painted with barium platinocyanide when placed close to an aluminum window.
Two weeks later, he covered a Crookes–Hittorf tube with the cardboard and attached electrodes to a Ruhmkorff coil to generate an electrostatic charge and took a photograph which is believed to be the world’s first X-ray image! It was a picture of his wife’s hand on a photographic plate formed due to X-rays! His discovery was later known as the Röntgen rays. He was awarded the first-ever Nobel Prize in Physics in recognition of his discovery of new rays (or x-rays)!
3) The world’s the first-ever manned airplane – Alleged Inventor: The Wright Brothers | Actual Inventor: Richard Pearse
Our history books say that The Wright Brothers were the first to achieve a powered and sustained human flight on 17 December 1903, but it was actually New Zealand’s Richard Pearse who did the exact same thing 9 months ago on 31 March 1903! Though, this is a highly debated topic.
Richard’s design was very similar to the current aircraft designs of today – a monoplane. The Wright brothers’ machine Wright Flyer 1 was a biplane. However, it is to be noted that Pearse himself never made such claims and he claimed to have not attempted “anything practical … until 1904″. On the contrary, many investigations, excavations and documentary evidence has been put to scrutiny over the years and many scientists believe that Pearse did achieve sustained controlled flight earlier than the Wright Brothers, but the matter is still under research.
Another quick fact: Shivkar Bāpuji Talpade (1864 – 1916) of India is said to have constructed the world’s first unmanned airplane in 1895!
4) Lightbulb – Alleged Inventor: Thomas Edison | Actual Inventor: Sir Humphry Davy
Contrary to popular belief that Edison created the first ever light bulb, it was in 1802 when Humphry Davy created the first ever incandescent light called the Davy Lamp by passing the current through a thin strip of platinum. It wasn’t very bright since it was a wick lamp. It was the main reason behind many mine blasts due to minedamp that leads to explosions inside caves due to residual inflammable gases in the mine’s surface and hence became less popular over time.
However, 75 years later, Edison came up with a befitting solution to the problem and made the first commercially practical incandescent lamp in 1879 which made tungsten-filament lamps every household’s choice by 1882.
5) Telescope – Alleged Inventor: Galileo | Actual Inventor: Hans Lippershey
Hans Lippershey is to be credited with the creation of one of the earliest known working telescopes in 1608. Many other researchers like Jacob Metius (glass-maker), Zacharias Janssen (inventor of the microscope), etc. have also been credited for being collectively responsible for this invention since they all hailed from the same region in the Netherlands, but Hans’s instrument and its practical exploitation had gained public attention in the Netherlands around 1608.
Galileo’s design was similar – convex objective lens and a concave eyepiece inside a tube. However, he used his design a year later in 1609. His design was much better than the original Dutch telescopes since the latter did not invert the image. Furthermore, Lippershey’s original design had only a 3x magnification which Galileo initially magnified to 8x and soon refined up to 20x magnification! This is a major reason why Galileo’s immense improvement of the instrument overshadowed the credit that was due to Lippershey and eventually Galileo became famous for being the ‘original’ inventor of the telescope.
6) Computer Desktop and GUI (Graphical User Interface) – Alleged Inventor: Microsoft (with Windows) | Actual Inventor: Xerox PARC
While the concept of a graphical user interface (GUI) and the desktop computer was made popular thanks to Microsoft’s Windows operating system, they didn’t really invent it.
Xerox invented the Xerox Alto personal computer under the leadership of Doug Engelbart (creator of the corded mouse and corded keyboard) and made it publically available by March 1, 1973. However, Apple and Microsoft allegedly copied this system over time and eventually Apple launched the Macintosh on January 24, 1984, whereas, Microsoft hadn’t released the Windows GUI until November 1985!
7) The Assembly Line – Alleged Inventor: Henry Ford | Actual Inventor: China under Qin Shi Huang
The moving assembly line or the meeting line was originally invented by the Chinese under the helm of Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China. The assembly line he made was used to build the famous Terracotta Army since many parts of the statues were built in different areas of China. The parts have been found labeled with their specific factory and ancient Chinese scriptures reveal how these parts were brought together to be assembled at a different place and time.
Henry Ford is credited with popularizing the assembly line concept on a mass scale, but he didn’t invent the assembly line. Ransom E. Olds of Oldsmobile was the first person to use a stationary assembly line in the automotive industry. Henry Ford improved the design and became the first to use a moving assembly line to manufacture cars.
8) The Radio – Alleged Inventor: Guglielmo Marconi | Actual Inventor: David Edward Hughes/Nikola Tesla
This one is debated even now! Some say it was Tesla, some say it was Hughes and most people stick with Marconi.
However, to be true, Guglielmo Marconi only improved upon previous radio designs, he didn’t invent it. The modern radio is now believed to have been developed by Nikola Tesla in whose favor the US courts transferred Marconi’s patents. So, what did Hughes do? He was the first person to demonstrate how radio waves can transmit sound in 1879, which was a theoretical assumption originally laid out by physicist James Clark Maxwell. He successfully sent Morse code alerts over the air, but the Royal Society of London termed it as a concept of induction! This was 15 years before Guglielmo Marconi even received his first patent for the radio!
9) The Telephone – Alleged Inventor: Alexander Graham Bell | Actual Inventor: David Edward Hughes
Alexander Graham Bell’s name comes to mind when we think of the telephone, but that is because his name is on the patent for this product in 1876. The incomplete product was later modified upon copying Elisha Grey’s (another researcher of the telephone mechanism) design which he had built in.
However, Antonio Meucci was the real inventor of the phone (the prototype was called the talking telegraph), but he couldn’t afford the money to file a patent caveat in 1871. Moreover, his prototype was also misplaced by Western Union during transit! Later Meucci took Bell to court, but even before the Supreme Court could listen to the case, he died. Later on, the Italian government honored Meucci with the title of “Inventore ufficiale del telefono” or “Official inventor of the telephone” and The U.S. House of Representatives also honored Meucci in a resolution in 2002 for having had a role in the development of the telephone.
10) The Steam Engine – Alleged Inventor: James Watt | Actual Inventor: Disputed
James Watt is normally credited with this invention, but it was actually a collective effort of many individuals. In Roman Egypt, it was the Aeolipile (also known as a Hero’s engine) developed by Hero of Alexandria in the 1st century AD that is known as the first recorded steam engine. It showed a globe rotating on its axis, via a sealed cauldron and a sequence of steam pipes.
In 1698, Thomas Savery, an English inventor, constructed a very basic machine which used steam to pump water out of coal mines, but it had no shifting or propelling elements.
The modern steam engine was developed in 1712 by Thomas Newcomen and was the first commercially successful shifting piston steam engine of the world.
James Watt patented his design of the steam engine in 1781. It was just an improvement of Newcomen’s engine, but certainly not an invention!
How many more such individuals do you know who didn’t invent something but are widely credited for it? Please comment!