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Top 10 Inventors Who Changed The World

Top 10 Inventors Who Changed The World

Of course there are many more than just ten inventors who have made our culture and society what it is today. It all started with the wheel, or with language, or maybe with the first ape-like to walk on two feet. It’s hard to say exactly where it all started. What we can tell you about is the inventors of very specific commonly used inventions, phenomena or machinations.

 The inventors mentioned below all have one thing in common, they have all contributed to the comfort that we can experience today. Where would we be today without a computer, electricity and airplanes!? Exactly, not much further than the Middle Ages…

10. Thomas Edison – the video camera and the light bulb

Thomas Edison

Thomas Edison was born on February 11, 1847 in Milan, Ohio. He was the youngest of seven, and never a star in school. He was only officially taught for three months, and during those three months he managed to draw the blood under the nails of the teacher, because he always asked questions and never did as he was asked. He mainly managed to generate his own genius by reading a lot himself. For example, at the age of twelve he read the tracts of Sir Isaac Newton. And not only did he read this work, he was also convinced that it was unnecessarily complex, and that he could make it simpler.

Through a number of clumsy side jobs he managed to save money to pay for a chemistry set. This is where Edison really got to work. He was also fortunate in another stroke of luck, after he managed to save a little boy from a collision with a steam locomotive, Edison was offered a position as a telegraph operator by the grateful father. During his work he also experimented fully with his chemistry kit (and once blew up a wagon with it). He was, of course, fired and could therefore focus 100% on inventions.

His first patent was registered in 1869, for a so-called stock ticker. In the following years he sold more patents and managed to save up capital to pay for real experiments. In 1877 he developed a phonograph, a precursor to the gramophone record player, in turn a precursor to the CD player! A year later, he launched the first light bulb, along with his co-designer William Joseph Hammer (which has faded into obscurity over the years). Electricity was, of course, required for such a light bulb, and Edison was also an expert in that.

The fact is that Edison never in his life (and consciously) developed or contributed to a weapon. He was a strong proponent of pacifism and non-aggression. He died of diabetes on October 18, 1931, at a respectable age of 84, leaving behind six children.

9. The Wright Brothers – The Airplane


The Wright brothers were Orville (1871 to 1948) and Wilbur (1667 to 1912), and they are credited with inventing the first aircraft that was not itself lighter than air (like a zeppelin is). Orville and Wilbur had two older brothers and a younger sister, and their father was a bishop, so nothing suggested that these two would become world famous and make a contribution to society that we all enjoy immensely today. After all, who wouldn’t want to fly to the Maldives, do some shopping in Manhattan or discover the Australian outback?

The Wrights were encouraged by their father to read and be creative as much as possible, and this paid off. A small helicopter as a gift from Dad fueled the passion in Wilbur and Orville. In 1889 they were the first (one has to start small) to invent a new printing press, which could print newspapers much faster. Three years later, in 1892, they opened a bicycle shop and earned some extra cash. It was time for the real work.

There was a lot of interest in flight at the time, but most inventors mainly focused on motorless machines. However, the Wrights wanted an engine under them, so they developed the first flying machine in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. And yes, on December 17, 1903, the first historically recorded airplane flight, called ‘The Flyer’, took place. This first flight lasted a total of twelve seconds, and took the flying machine 37 meters, at about 11 kilometers per hour. So no excruciating speeds. But it soon became clear that more could be achieved, and the fourth flight lasted well over a minute.

In 1909, Wilbur demonstrated a flying machine to a large crowd by flying around the Statue of Liberty. In 33 minutes, more than a million New Yorkers could watch the Wrights soar in the air. Unfortunately, they had trouble getting a patent. Wilbur died of typhoid fever during this period. Orville died of a heart attack many years later, at age 77. So neither of them fell in the air. Nor did they marry, for, Wilbur argued, they had no time for either a woman or a plane! You have to prioritize…

8. Benjamin Franklin – Thunder and Lightning

Benjamin Franklin

Benjamin Franklin was an American who lived from January 17, 1706 (note, at that time North America was not yet an independent country) to April 17, 1790, thus he was 84 years old. He came from a poor family and had 17 farmers and sisters (his father had needed a total of two wives). He grew up in the family business, candle maker, and his brother’s print shop.

Like previous inventors, however, Ben was an avid reader, reading everything from Sophocles to modern science. In addition, he started writing his own articles at a very young age. He published under a pseudonym, and kept it that way all his life. Only after a few publications did he confess to his father that he had written them.

Ben’s unsupportive father gave him a beating for his disobedience, and Benjamin saw that as a reason to leave his family and move to Philadelphia. There he had success as a writer, he knew how to write both humorous and satirical. Of course, that also raised concern among those in power, including William Keith. In a masterly strategic move, William offered young Ben to grant him a position in England. Benjamin saw his chance and embarked. Once in England, however, William abandoned the young inventor.

He didn’t give up, however, and nevertheless found a job with a publisher. He was known there as the water American, because he drank water instead of the normal beer. It turned out to be a fun experience, yet he returned to Philadelphia when he got the chance, in 1726.

As a hobbyist Benjamin invented a number of important things. Thus he found, by means of a kite with a key tied to the armor, that electricity and lightning are one and the same thing. He invented a urine lectern, a glass harmonica, bifocal lenses, and finally, the Franklin stove, a mechanism for distributing heat throughout a room.

In later life Benjamin became a major player in the political field, including one of the most important characters in the war of independence between the United States and England. And one last little fact: Unlike most debaters today, Ben was also a great speaker, but rarely gave in to aggressive confrontation and condemnation. He preferred to participate by asking tough questions, and letting the opponent fall into his own pitfalls!

7. Nikola Tesla – Electricity and Transformers

Nikola Tesla
photo: Wellcome blog post ( archive ).

Nikola Tesla was born on July 10, 1856, and was of Serbian descent, but was born in Austria. He was a good student and attended the polytechnic in Graz, although he later interrupted his studies to work in Marburg, Slovenia. He had, according to the stories, a somewhat difficult temperament, including a nervous breakdown.

Nikola often suffered from flashes of light (probably a form of Migraine) and as a result he thought he saw all kinds of mechanical and technical inventions. He could then make those revelations into reality, and he did. He rarely wrote anything down, only worked from his visual memory. In 1882 he contributed to his first invention: an amplifier for telephone signals. In 1882 he went to work in Paris for the Continental Edison Organization (guess who had that company under his wing!).

Two years later, he moved to the United States to work for the real Edison. He was allowed to improve the electrical system there, and was promised, according to his own words, $50,000 if he succeeded. However, he did not receive this money when he had completed his task,

In 1886 Tesla therefore started his own company, but it was not really a smashing success. In 1887 he started working with x-rays, X-rays, and became aware of the side effects of this radiation. This, however, is a much less well-known part of his research, unfortunately, as it could have prevented a lot of suffering.

In later decades, Tesla was finally able to prove that his AC power (as opposed to the DC power Edison used) was also useful. Better even. He also invented fluorescent lamps, and although the credit went to G. Marconi, Tesla was convinced that he had also invented the radio. An invention that has certainly come to his name is the so-called ‘Tesla transformer’.

So he was both eccentric and genius, but unfortunately not a salesman like Edison was. He had strange habits and an obsessive compulsive tic that was made gently around him. He only slept two hours a day and always ate alone. He was a vegetarian and lived on milk, bread, honey and vegetable juice. It was apparently a healthy diet as he lived to be 86 on it, and died on January 7, 1943. He was way past his time in all areas!

6. Charles Babbage – Father Computer

Charles Babbage

Charles Babbage was born in London, in 1791, on December 26, Boxing Day. He was born into a good family, and had a variety of personal teachers and schools available in his youth. Enough opportunity to develop his passion for mathematics, then. Already in 1810, at the age of 19, he was admitted to the famous Trinity College in Cambridge.

Once there, he was disappointed in the level of mathematics and felt that it needed to be improved. His idea of ​​being able to perform calculations with a machine, in particular, came to fruition during this period. In 1822 he started his life’s work, the ‘difference machine’, a machine that could calculate calculations. Like many of his inventions, this one was never fully accomplished. He was mainly held back by the fact that the lenders soon lost sight of the usefulness of such a machine. Babbage wasn’t the best salesman, and he was often not very polite to the ‘right’ people.

In 1991 the difference machine, as intended in Babbage’s own sketches, was recreated, and it worked. Also a printer to his design. They were mechanical machinations, unlike our modern electrical computers, but in many other respects Babbage’s machine was a real “computer.”

Incidentally, Babbage was offered a knighthood, but declined. He didn’t like such nonsense. He married (finally an inventor who did marry) Georgiana Whitmore in 1814, and they had eight children, only four of whom survived childhood. He was 79 years old and died in 1871.

5. James Watt – blow off steam

James Watt

James Watt was born on January 18, 1736, and we know very little about his early years. Born in Greenock, Scotland, he was a producer of mathematical measuring instruments in his early years. Steam engines already existed in his day, but they were not always the most efficient machines. In 1764, James was working on such a machine, thinking that he could not only repair it, but also improve it. He invented a way to condense the steam in a separate chamber, rather than around the piston. By 1775 he had managed to create a working model (over eleven years after the idea dawned on him, James was a persistent individual!).

He patented it, got it, and managed to start an Alliance with Matthew Boulton, a less genius but much more successful businessman. boulton & Watt thus formed a successful company that rented out the renewed steam engine. As time went on, James made more and more improvements to his own design, and the company continued to be a roaring success.
James earned a fortune, secured his old age, and retired. He died on August 25, 1891, at the age of 83.

4. Alexander Bell – make a call

Alexander Bello

Alexander Graham Bell was born in 1847, in Scotland, Edinburgh. From an early age, Bell was interested in acoustics and the spoken word. Perhaps this interest had its source in the fact that his mother was deaf, perhaps not. Be that as it may, in addition to his most famous invention, Bell has also contributed greatly to research and solutions for the deaf.

At 23, young Bell left his homeland to move to Canada (how refreshing that for once someone didn’t move to the United States!). Here he developed a teaching method for the deaf, and three years later he was appointed professor of vocal physiology at Boston University. Professor at the age of 26, that’s quite something! And he had just begun. Because three years later, in 1876, he already applied for the patent for his world-famous invention, the first telephone. According to his own words, he had built it in collaboration with Thomas Watson, ‘as a hobby’ in the evenings.

Thus, on August 3, 1876, the very first telephone conversation was made, between persons 6 kilometers apart (on a telephone line manufactured on site). What did Bell say? They weren’t exactly heroic words, unfortunately. Bell spoke on his phone “Mr. Watson, come here, I want to see you.” well

In 1876 the ‘Bell company’ bought Edison’s patent for a carbon microphone, and so mass production could get started. Less than a decade later, more than 150,000 people in the United States had telephones in their homes. Funny thing is, Bell himself didn’t see much good in his invention. He found the thing distracting and had banned the machine from his office.

Sadly, this bright inventor died of anemia on the second of August, 1922. He died in his own familiar homeland of Scotland, at his Scottish villa Beinn Bhreagh.

3. Leonardo Da Vinci – the man who was all-round

Leonardo Da Vinci

Ever heard of a Renaissance man? Such a man (or woman) is a person who is an all-rounder. Today’s mathematicians, astronomers, or literary heroes are often highly specialized, and excel in one thing (sometimes two), but seldom as much as, say, Leonardo Da Vinci. He was a jack-of-all-trades, didn’t shy away from accomplishing art, technology, and science, and all more or less in the same span of time!

Leonardo was an illegitimate descendant of a Florentine nobleman, and a peasant woman, and was born in the year 1452. He had a predilection for nature, probably from his mother, and studied it closely for his inventions, and art. At an early age (14 years!) he moved to Florence and worked there in the studio of the artist Verrocchio. However, he soon became better than the Master himself, and he acquired a reputation.

In 1482, at the age of thirty, he appeared at the court of Ludovico Sforza, and under his aegis he continued to paint, but also to investigate human anatomy (by dissecting corpses) and technique. We have notes of all his studies, written by his own (left) hand, although reading them can be difficult, because he wrote everything in mirror writing. He also sketched complex drawings and plans of machines that would have to go up in the air. He carefully studied the wing movement of birds for this. His design was never put to the test in his own lifetime, but it turned out to be the blueprint for the much later invented helicopter.

He was also a physician and was the first to discover how blood flows through the body. His life was drawing to a close when he went to Rome in 1513 to work for the Pope. In 1515, however, he grew too old for this (the age of 63 was quite a bit at the time), and he retired to the countryside, in a castle in Amboise. Here he spent the last years of his life, and died in 1519.

2. Galileo – and yet she moves


Galileo Galilei was born in Florence in 1564, less than 50 years after Leonardo. He came from a poor but noble family, and showed exceptional intelligence from an early age. His parents saw this and pushed him to a medical career. Unfortunately, Galileo had other plans. At the University of Pisa, he decided to change direction, namely astronomy.

He therefore studied mathematics and soon became a professor in it. He was a very consistent man, and he held this professorship for over eighteen years. During this period he investigated gravity, the inertia of mass and developed the precursor of the thermometer. He was also very much involved with kinetic energy. But we know Galileo mainly for his contribution to astronomy.

He pursued the idea of ​​a heliocentric universe, meaning ‘sun’ (helio) ‘in the middle’ (centrism). It was simply the belief that the sun did not revolve around the earth, but vice versa, the earth revolved around the sun. This sounds simple to our ears, but it was a revolutionary position at the time, and it went directly against the teachings of the Church. Bad idea…

He wasn’t the only one with these ideas, by the way. Other scientists, Johannes Kepler and Copernicus for example, shared his view. But Galileo was able to confirm it by inventing a telescope, and thus scanning the sky. He found, among other things, that Saturn has beautiful rock rings orbiting around it, that the moon is not smooth in surface, but very pockmarked, and that Jupiter has many moons, which in turn circle Jupiter, not the sun, as all planets do.

He was aware that publishing such an idea was heretical, but he nevertheless did not consider it necessary to “believe in a god who created us with reason and intellect, but denies us to use it.” However, the church took drastic measures. His classes were first banned, and soon Galileo himself was arrested and held captive.

He was convicted of heresy and forced (and they could be very ‘convincing’ at the time) to retract his comments. He did so, but nevertheless remained under house arrest for the rest of his life.

In addition to heliocentrism, Galileo also supplied us with models of the compass, and of the thermometer. His contribution was mainly in the improvement. He died in 1642, at the age of 78.

1. Tim Berners Lee – the modern age

Tim Berners-Lee.
photo: Paul Clark / wikicommons

Tim Berners Lee, an unknown name perhaps? I suspect all of the above names sounded familiar to you, but maybe not this one. However, Tim Berners Lee nevertheless has one of the most important inventions ever on his conscience. We owe more or less to him that we can share this article with you!

Tim is a computer scientist who invented the World Wide Web (WWW). He designed the system of linked ‘web’ pages, and is today one of the directors of the W3C, the worldwide web consortium, an institution that controls the internet around the world.
He was born on June 8, 1955 in London, England. He went to Oxford University, among other things, and initially got a ‘nice job’ at a publisher, in Plessey Poole. He then worked for a company at CERN, in Switzerland, and this role required a lot of consultation with scientists in different geographic locations. Slow and tiring, even with telephony, he thought. And so he invented the Internet.

Mind you, the ‘internet’ is something that we have had since 1960, although definitely not in the form it takes now. It was not until 1990 that Tim and Robert Cailliau launched the World Wide Web, the first widely accessible global network of web pages. in 1991 it snapped ‘online’, and the web address of the very first website was

Tim is still alive, by the way, and is still as outspoken as ever about freedom of expression and information. In 2011, he was rightfully awarded the ‘Man who changed the World’ prize. He married twice and has three children. An entire book has been written about him, so if you want to know more, feel free to read it.

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