They’re some of our most used inventions, so you would think we’d be able to credit them properly, right? Apparently not, as these ten commonly used and rather important inventions are often attributed to the wrong visionary and creator.
Ring ring, it’s the truth calling! If you think the invention of the telephone can be solely credited to Alexander Graham Bell, you’re still living a lie. Italian inventor Antonio Santi Giuseppe Meucci allegedly created a means of communicating with his ill wife, with what was believed to be the very first electromagnetic voice transmitter or the first telephone. What Meucci lacked was the financial means of producing the device and renewing the initial patent he had filed. When he tried to appeal to the Western Union telegraph company with his invention, he was denied a meeting with the executives. In 1874, the material he had sent to the Western Union was allegedly lost, and in 1876, Bell filed his first patent on what would become the telephone, overshadowing Meucci's original work and design.
So, who really invented the radio? Was it Nikola Tesla or maybe that Italian chap, Guglielmo Marconi? While Marconi was originally credited with such a claim, in 1943, the United States Supreme Court overturned the original patent in favor of Tesla’s; but there may be another name that should be mentioned - David Edward Hughes. The British-American inventor may not have filed any sort of patent to lay claim to the “father of the radio,” but it is often believed that he stumbled across the important radio waves needed for the technology almost a decade prior to even Heinrich Hertz’s published discovery. Hughes’ device was a clockwork mechanism that was originally believed to demonstrate electromagnetic induction. There were, however, striking similarities between Hughes’ device and Hertz’s.
It may be Thomas Edison’s rendition of the incandescent light bulb that we’ve grown so accustomed to using in everyday life, but his wasn’t technically the first light bulb to hit the market. Though credited with inventing this modern convenience, Edison has to give up rights to that claim to inventors like Sir Hiram Stevens Maxim and Sir Joseph Wilson Swan. Prior to Edison’s patents in 1879 and 1880, Hiram Maxim claims to have designed the first incandescent bulb, but Edison’s better understanding of patenting law allowed him to squeak ahead of him. Before Edison and Maxim, though, English physicist Joseph Swan had been working on early light bulb designs since 1850. By 1869, Swan filed for a patent for his bulb – which essentially became the design that future innovators, like Edison, worked off of.
Galileo Galilei – the man that used the telescope so much he’s often credited with inventing the device. In the early 1600’s, a Dutchman by the name of Hans Lippershey had combined a concave eyepiece with a convex objective lens to come up with the early design of the telescope, though it wasn’t even given its name at the time. Shortly after the Dutch lensmaker filed his patent, another Dutchman, Jacob Metius, attempted to file one as well. Both patents were denied due to their simplicity to reproduce. Galileo included a leaden tube in the design, placing the lenses on either end and presented his improved design to the Venetian Senate.
As you’ll come to find, Thomas Edison has been given credit for several inventions that weren’t really his to claim. Among them, the x-ray. Edison’s contribution to x-ray technology may have laid the foundation for standard mechanics used today, but he wasn’t the “father” of said technology. That title really belongs to Nikola Tesla, who accidentally stumbled upon x-ray technology after observing damaged photographic plates he had found in his lab. Tesla created his own vacuum tube with a single electrode, a unipolar x-ray bulb which was used to obtain “shadowgraphs,” or early x-rays. Edison came into the picture a year after Tesla’s discovery, altering the x-ray tube to create the commonly used fluoroscope.
While there’s no denying that George Washington Carver had a huge, recognizable name in the peanut industry and can lay claim to some 300 peanut products, his attribution as the inventor of peanut butter is pretty far off the mark. Long before the 19th-century inventor was even handling peanuts and improving upon cultivation methods, the Incas were enjoying a paste-like substance made out of peanuts. As they had no means of patenting their thick, peanut-based substance, the very first patent for peanut butter was linked to Marcellus Gilmore Edson in 1884. Ten years later, Carver entered the peanut butter game just a little too late to be considered the inventor.
With a name like Thomas Crapper, it’s no wonder why this 19th-century plumber became associated with the invention of the flush toilet bowl. The reality of the situation is that the 19th-century plumber was about 3 centuries too late to really claim creation of the modern toilet. Sir John Harrington, godson of Queen Elizabeth I, designed the concept of a large pan with a seat attached to piping that the waste could be flushed down. Crapper may not have invented the flush toilet, but he did improve upon Harrington’s design by adding a siphonic flush. So whether you call it a Crapper or a John, you’re paying tribute to your toilets innovators.
Desktop Computer / GUI
In 1985, Microsoft introduced its first interface, beginning the long history of Windows. Despite often accredited with being the creator of the first graphical user interface and desktop, Microsoft was simply racing against the footsteps of Apple’s Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs, who were actually working based off a design produced by Xerox. Prior to both Microsoft and Apple entering the game, Xerox had created the Xerox Alto “minicomputer” in 1973. The Alto was branded in 1981 as “Star” and hit the market at a price point of $16,595. When the Star didn’t catch on, Wozniak and Jobs purchased the technology from Xerox and used it for their Macintosh design.
A lot of us drive around with his name plastered on our vehicles, so it’s understandable that Henry Ford would be incorrectly attributed to the invention of the automobile. While Henry Ford moved quick to dominate the automobile market, it was Karl Benz, a German mechanical engineer, who fully designed and built the world’s first practical automobile. Even before Benz’s motorized vehicle entered the market, Ferdinand Verbiest of the Jesuit mission in China built the very first steam-powered vehicle in 1672, though it was used as a toy for then Chinese Emperor and couldn’t support a driver.
You can continue giving James Watt credit for the creation of the steam engine… but you would be spreading misinformation. The Scottish inventor did have a hand in making the steam engine what it is today, improving upon the design of Thomas Newcomen’s atmospheric steam engine, which was an improvement upon Thomas Savery’s crude engine which was patented in 1698. The lineage of the steam engine may even be older than the 17th century, though, as Hero of Alexandria is thought to have created the aeolipile, a steam-powered device that could have paved the way for the modern day engine.