Despite being relatively young when compared with some of the world’s other leading nations, America has been a consistent source of ideas and innovations. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that some of the greatest American inventors of all time, some of whom endured years of failures before perfecting that one great idea, gave the world some life-changing creations that forever altered our collective way of life. While many of these ideas of been improved upon for 21st century use, there’s no doubt some of these innovators would be proud of how far their creations have come.
1. Samuel Morse
Initially making a living as a portrait painter, Samuel Morse is the man who developed the precursor to the telephone, America’s telegraph system. Morse was inspired to develop a form of long distance communication when he received word that his wife was gravely ill after she had already died and been buried. Involving use of an electromagnet and battery, Morse’s version of the telegraph (there had been earlier designs that worked differently) was able to transmit 30 words per minute. After federal funding was granted, several lines were put up between major cities in the United States. Morse also created his self-named code, a series of dots and dashes still used for some purposes today.
2. Thomas Edison
Often referred to as America’s Greatest Inventor, Thomas Edison was certainly never short on ideas. The prolific inventor held more than a thousand patents. Most remembered for making the incandescent light bulb a viable commodity that would illuminate lights around the world for over a century, Edison also dabbled in motion pictures and sound recording. Once working as a telegraph operator, the inventor is credited with giving us many of the innovations that shaped the modern, industrialized world. Some of his other inventions include the stock ticker, a battery for an electric car, and a peep-hole viewer (kinetoscope) that allowed people to watch short films in penny arcades. Just a few months before his death, Edison steered the first electric train through its first mile in Hoboken, New Jersey.
3. Henry Ford
Henry Ford, who had a talent for dismantling and reassembling pocket watches as a teen, didn’t invent the car or the assembly line, despite frequently being given credit for having done so. What Ford did do was manufacture the first automobile most Americans could actually afford to own. He made his Model T Ford easily accessible to the masses by coming up with idea of putting auto dealerships in major cities, a franchise system he would extend to six continents as his company dominated the worldwide automobile market. Ford also developed the concept of the five-day work week and created the first successful passenger plane in the United States, the Ford 4AT Trimotor.
4. The Wright Brothers
More than 400 years before the Wright Brothers famous flight in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, Leonardo da Vinci envisioned a time when man could soar above the earth like a bird. However, it was Orville and Wilbur Wright who crafted the first controlled aircraft that could actually fly without quickly crashing. It was the brothers’ concept of three-axis controls that allowed early planes to be steered to maintain equilibrium; although it was one of the brothers’ bike shop employees, Charlie Taylor, who built the first airplane engine based on their idea. Inspired as kids by a toy helicopter made of bamboo, cork, and rubber bands their father bought for them, the Wright Brothers patented the creation of a system for controlling flying machines (not the airplane itself).
5. Ben Franklin
One of the Founding Fathers of the United States, Ben Franklin had an inquiring mind that led to many inventions that are still with us today in one form or another. He didn’t exactly “invent” electricity, however; but what he did do was become the first person to determine that currents had positive and negative charges, which led to his invention of the lightning rod. Not all Franklin inventions have stood the test of time. Bifocal glasses, mechanical bulls, and the flexible urinary catheter are still with us; the crotchless bee suit and his photonic alphabet (with six new letters and without the C, W, or Q), not so much. Interestingly, he never patented any of his inventions, believing they were free for all to enjoy.
These are just some of the inventors and innovators who have changed history and, in some cases, lives with ideas. It’s also worth giving a shout out to George Washington Carver for the concept of crop rotation that made farming more productive and Eli Whitney for the cotton gin that boosted the Southern economy after the Civil War. And let’s not forget modern day innovators Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak who gave us Apple and Mark Zuckerberg who made it possible for you to share to this article with your friends on Facebook.