Our world would be nothing like the way it is today without the help of some of the greatest men and women in history, such as Alexander Graham Bell and Mary Anderson. These inventors shaped the world with their innovations and took the world one step forward.
Top 17 of the Greatest Inventors in History
Order: by birth date
1. Johannes Gutenberg (1395 – 1468)
Without the printing press, our world would not be able to communicate through books, magazines, or newspapers. Johannes Gutenberg created the printing press, which started the Printing Revolution. Gutenberg was the first in Europe to create the moving type printing press, which allowed users to lay out the display using individual letters and punctuation marks. It is regarded as one of the most important inventions of the time period and played a key role in the development in the eras that followed, such as the Renaissance, the Reformation, and the Age of Enlightenment.
2. Leonardo da Vinci (1452 – 1519)
Leonardo da Vinci was very well-known in his lifetime. Known as the Renaissance Man, da Vinci was skilled in nearly every field of study. In his life, he was a mathematician, a writer, a painter, a botanist, a cartographer, a musician, an anatomist, and an architect. He had quite the curiosity and creativity, which led him to become one of the greatest artists in history. Some of his most famous pieces are The Last Supper and Mona Lisa. Da Vinci was also an inventor, and evidence proves that he had drawn up the blueprints for devices like the helicopter and the tank, as well as the basic idea of solar power.
3. Benjamin Franklin (1706 – 1790)
Everyone recognizes Benjamin Franklin from the $100 bill and knows him as one of America’s Founding Fathers. Franklin earned the title of “The First American” for his contributions to the colonial society: he published several books and helped run a daily newspaper. Franklin is also credited for the invention of the bifocals, the Franklin stove, and the lightning rod, as well as other inventions. He also facilitated many civic organizations, like a fire department and a university in Philadelphia.
4. Eli Whitney (1765 -1825)
To start off the Industrial Revolution in the United States, farmer and inventor Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin, which took the seeds from cotton and made the substance useable. Before then, the seeds had to be picked out by hand, which took large amounts of time and effort. Whitney’s invention completely revolutionized the country, especially the south, whose economy was fueled by farming and agriculture. Since the south made most the country’s clothes due to the rich farming land, the cotton gin increased clothing production. Despite the economic impact the gin had on the country, Whitney lost profits due to patent infringement. After, he focused on constructing firearms and weapons, where he came up with the idea of interchangeable parts, which were identical parts that could be easily replaced and replicated, all while fitting into most firearms and devices. Whitney’s inventions revolutionized cotton production for the south and weapon production for the country.
5. Elias Howe (1819 – 1867)
Every time you break out the sewing machine to sew up a hole or make a new creation, think of Elias Howe. The American inventor created the sewing machine after finding that it took too long to sew by hand. In 1846, the United States awarded him the first patent for a sewing machine and despite its great potential, Howe had difficulty finding investors to fund it. He battled in court against others who started manufacturing sewing machines using the same design as him. After the sewing machine, he was awarded the patent for a clothing closure, or a zipper, but decided not to market it to the public.
6. Louis Pasteur (1822 – 1895)
If you like drinking milk and knock back a glass of it every morning at breakfast, thank Louis Pasteur. Known as the “father of microbiology”, Pasteur was a French microbiologist and chemist renowned for his research in vaccination, pasteurization, and microbial fermentation. Pasteurization is the process of eliminating bacteria from dairy products, like milk, without changing the flavor, consistency, or nutritional value. Pasteur was able to use this process to eliminate bacteria from milk and wine to make them safe for human consumption. Pasteur is also noted for his work with diseases. He intensely studied rabies and when a boy with rabies was brought to him, he concocted a vaccination to prevent the disease from fatally affecting the boy’s brain. In 1888, the Pasteur Institute was established in Paris to continue the fight against diseases.
7. Levi Strauss (1829 – 1902)
Today, blue jeans are a staple of nearly everyone’s wardrobe. But when they were first invented, they were sold to miners to protect their legs during the Gold Rush in California. Levi Strauss invented blue jeans.
8. Thomas Edison (1847 – 1931)
Thomas Edison is known as the man who invented the light bulb. Edison was a self-educated businessman and inventor who left a major mark on the world with his several inventions. He is credited for creating the phonograph and the motion picture camera, in addition to the light bulb. Dubbed “The Wizard of Menlo Park”, Edison was one of the first innovators to apply the principles of mass production and teamwork to the invention process. Because of that, he is responsible for the creation of the first industrial research laboratory.
9. Alexander Graham Bell (1847 – 1922)
Alexander Graham Bell is one of the most famous inventors in history, and he invented one of the most-used devices around the world: the telephone. Bell expressed a natural curiosity of the world at a young age and was often fond of the arts. His father, grandfather, and brother had all been associated with work on speech and elocution, and both his mother and wife were deaf, which reflected on Bell’s work. His research on hearing and speech awarded him the patent for the telephone. After its invention, it was drafted into other forms, including cellular.
10. George Eastman (1854 – 1932)
If you’re into photography as a hobby, you can thank George Eastman. The American inventor created the handheld Kodak camera, which let everyone, not just the professionals, take pictures. At the time, photography equipment was expensive and a hassle to carry around unless your sole profession was photography. But Eastman let everyone become photographers through his simple, inexpensive disposable camera. Eastman was also a major philanthropist, opening the Eastman School of Music, establishing medical and dental schools, and donating to several notable universities.
11. Nikola Tesla (1856 – 1943)
Serbian-American futurist Nikola Tesla introduced the world to the alternating current electricity supply system. Young Tesla came to the United States in 1884 in search of a better life and to put his intelligence to good use. He became fast friends with Thomas Edison, a fellow inventor, who came up with the idea for a direct current electricity supply system. But Edison’s direct current system was too weak, leading Tesla to come up with a successful alternative: an alternating current supply system. Other inventions of his were the X-ray, the remote control, and the electric motor. Tesla’s AC motor was later used in the Roadster, a model of electric car made by the Tesla Motor company, which was named after the self-made innovator.
12. Henry Ford (1863 – 1947)
In today’s society, the majority of people own and use cars to get around. Cars save copious amounts of time and can be collected. Henry Ford was the first to mass produce the car through his company, which he called Ford Motors. While he did not invent the car, he invented mass production and the assembly line, which made producing products easier, quicker, and more efficiently. At that time, cars were only something the rich could own since production took several months, but with the assembly line, everyday citizens could own a car. His introduction of the Model T car revolutionized transportation and the assembly line is now used in factories all over the world.
13. Mary Anderson (1866 – 1953)
Mary Anderson was one of most well-known female inventors, and she was able to call herself an inventor after coming up with the idea for windshield wipers. Originally involved with real estate, Anderson discovered how carriages had open windshields to allow the driver to see the road in rain, sleet, and snow. But while it was optimal for the driver, it wasn’t for the passengers, who often had to deal with the weather, just like the driver did. At first, Anderson was denied a patent and several claimed that her idea was useless, but now, windshield wipers are standard on cars, buses, and trucks around the world.
14. The Wright Brothers (Orville 1871 – 1948, and Wilbur 1867 – 1912)
The Wright Brothers are two of the most popular inventors in American history, responsible for building and flying the first airplane in 1903. The years after went spent perfecting the airplane and taking it further. The brothers were aviation pioneers who gained their skills from working with printing presses, motors, and bicycles in their shop. The brothers also began a printing shop and launched a weekly newspaper, in which Orville was the publisher and Wilbur was the editor.
15. Steve Jobs (1955 – 2011)
Fast forward to present day. Currently, our world runs on the inventions of the innovators previously listed, as well as other notable figures. Society recently underwent the technological revolution, in which technology seemed to be the answer for everything. We talk on cell phones, carry around laptops, and use bluetooth.Technology has impacted the way we live in almost every way, and a large contributor to this technological revolution was Steve Jobs.
Jobs is most often associated with Apple, the software company known for producing iPhones and Macbooks. Given up by his biological parents, Jobs was adopted by a Californian couple and raised in Silicon Valley. He grew up surrounded by technology, which heavily influenced him and led him to create computers and other devices later on in his life. Jobs dropped out of college to team up with a friend to build a computer from spare parts, which would later become the first Apple computer. Jobs launched Apple and became its CEO and chairman, funding the line of phones, tablets, and computers. Despite his passing from pancreatic cancer in 2011, Jobs is still widely recognized as the charismatic pioneer of the personal computer revolution.
16. Tim Berners-Lee (1955 -)
Perhaps one of the most important inventors in the last century is Tim Berners-Lee, the creator of the World Wide Web. Berners-Lee first made the proposal for the World Wide Web in 1989 he implemented the first successful communication between a Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) client and server via the Internet later that same year. The World Wide Web was launched two years later and has become an absolute staple around the world. People use the World Wide Web to communicate, send emails, and create websites. Many businesses operate through the World Wide Web and most people today can’t imagine their lives without it.
17. Bill Gates (1955 -)
Bill Gates is another modern-day inventor, credited for the founding of Microsoft, the world’s largest personal-computer software company. He is one of the best-known entrepreneurs of the personal computer revolution and has a net worth of $78.6 billion, making him the wealthiest person in America. In February of 2014, Gates stepped down as chairman of Microsoft in order to spend more time with his family and on the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, established in 2000 with his wife, Melinda. Aside from his technological innovations, Gates has also pursued a number of philanthropic endeavors, donating money to charitable organizations and research foundations.
A number of inventors and innovators have changed the world, shaping it to be what it is today. Without this greatest inventors in history, we wouldn’t have the common items, such as phones and windshield wipers, we have today.