Famous Inventors

Although the word invention was once used as a synonym for a discovery, inventors are those who develop something new, experimentally or theoretically. The best known inventor is probably Archimedes (c. 287-212 BCE) who, according to legend, coined the phrase "Eureka." He invented the screw pump, principally used, up to the present, to raise water to a higher level. Another inventor of the classical world, Hero (or Heron) of Alexandria (c. 10-70 CE) is thought to have invented the world's first steam engine. Leonardo da Vinci (1452 -1519) is better known as an artist than inventor, but his diagrams contained innovative designs including hydraulic pumps and flying machines.

The first practical steam engine was invented by James Watt (1736 -1819), whose name was later used for the unit of power. His steam engine was an improvement over one designed by the lesser known Thomas Newcommen (1664 -1729). Like many inventions that were "discovered" and developed by multiple inventors, these were preceded by the inventor Thomas Savery (c. 1650–1715) who patented a crude steam engine in 1698. Steam engines replaced windmills and watermills before the discovery of the internal combustion engine and electricity. The invention of the factory system is attributed to one of the pioneers in the industrial revolution, Richard Arkwright (1732-1792), who built the world's first water-powered mill at Cromford in Derbyshire, England.

The steam engine revolutionized transport. The first steamboat was designed and constructed by John Fitch (1743-1798) in 1787. Richard Trevithick (1771-1833) built the first full scale working steam train in 1804. Joseph Nicéphore Niépce (1765-1833), and Claude Niépce (1763-1828) patented the first internal combustion engine in 1807. They were also amongst the inventors of photography. François Isaac de Rivaz (1752-1828) created the first vehicle with an internal combustion engine in 1808. Nikolaus Otto (1832-1891) patented an improved four cylinder engine which Karl Benz (1844-1929) used to produce the first purpose-built automobiles. The more powerful diesel engine was named after its inventor, Rudolf Diesel (1858-1913). The rubber tire was made possible through rubber manufacturing innovations by Charles Goodyear (1800–1860).

The transport revolution continued with the invention of aircraft. Orville Wright (1871-1948) and his brother Wilbur Wright (1867-1912) invented the first successful airplane in 1903. Geoffrey de Havilland (1882-1965) invented the first commercial jet-driven airplane, the DH 106 Comet. The soviet engineer, Sergei Korolyov (1907-1966) invented the first space rocket (R-7 Semyorka). His name was kept secret for many years by the Soviet secret service. Arthur Young (1905-1995) invented the first commercial helicopter. Previously models had only been made for the military, in relatively small numbers. The MiG fighter jet, one of the best known military planes, was named after its inventor, Mikhail Gurevich (1893-1976).

The American founding father Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) was an inventor, known for his Franklin stove, bifocal glasses, and the glass harmonica. The most famous American inventor was probably Thomas Edison (1847-1931) who created the first commercial electric power station in 1882. Edison developed a motion picture camera, the phonograph and the first commercial electric light bulb. Humphry Davy (1778-1829) made the first light bulb in 1802, but is better known for the miner's gas lamp, named after him. His protégé Michael Faraday (1791-1867) invented the electric motor and transformer. Edison's rival, Nikola Tesla (1856-1943) developed the first commercial alternating current electric motor. Guglielmo Marconi (1874-1937) bought Edison's patent for transmitting wireless signals and invented the first commercially successful wireless telegraph station.

The well-known physicist Ernest Rutherford (1871-1937) developed the theory behind splitting atoms. One of the inventions that made nuclear power possible was a tool for detecting and measuring radiation, the Geiger counter, named after one of its inventors, Hans Wilhelm Geiger (1882-1945). Albert Einstein's (1879-1955) theory of relativity was essential to nuclear research. It was the little known Leó Szilárd (1898-1964) who actually first patented the idea of the nuclear reactor with Enrico Fermi (1901-1954).

Radio and the phonograph were essential to the information, media and communication revolution in Europe. European media can trace its roots back to Johannes Gutenberg, (c. 1390-1468) who invented movable type and the printing press to use it. Alexander Graham Bell (1847-1922) created the first commercial telephone service. Laszlo Biro, (1899-1985) invented the ball-point pen, referred to by many generically as the biro. The development of calculators, microcomputers and cellular phones was attributable in a large part to the integrated circuit, patented by Jack Kilby of Texas Instruments (1923-2005) and independently developed simultaneously by Robert Noyce (1927-1990).

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

The Retrieval of a Legacy: Nineteenth-Century American Women Inventors
Denise E. Pilato.
Praeger Publishers, 2000
French Inventions of the Eighteenth Century
Shelby T. McCloy.
University of Kentucky Press, 1952
The Flash of Genius
Alfred B. Garrett.
D. Van Nostrand, 1963
Johann Gutenberg: The Inventor of Printing
Victor Scholderer.
Trustees of the British Museum, 1963
FREE! Edison: His Life and Inventions
Frank Lewis Dyer; Thomas Commerford Martin.
Harper & Brothers, vol.1, 1910
Insisting on the Impossible: The Life of Edwin Land
Victor K. McElheny.
Perseus Books, 1998
ENIAC: The Triumphs and Tragedies of the World's First Computer
Scott McCartney.
Walker, 1999
My Half Century as An Inventor
Frederick L. Fuller.
Mail and Express Printing Co., Inc., 1938
From Immigrant to Inventor
Michael Pupin.
Scribner's Sons, 1923
Black Stars: African American Women Scientists and Inventors
Otha Richard Sullivan.
John Wiley & Sons, 2002
Biographical Dictionary of the History of Technology
Lance Day; Ian McNeil.
Routledge, 1998
FREE! Men of Invention and Industry
Samuel Smiles.
Harper & Brothers, 1885
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