- Johannes Gutenberg's printing press (invented in the
- The discovery and use of electricity
- Indoor plumbing (early records place its origin between 2500
B.C. and 1700 B.C.)
- Penicillin, first discovered by Sir Alexander Fleming (1928)
- The mass-produced automobile (1903)
Today we reveal the most important inventor in our nation's
230-year history, and the answer may surprise you. Since some of our
inventors made major contributions to society in ways other than
their inventions, we include those contributions.
Where to start? The staff here at Invention Mysteries World
Headquarters has already narrowed it down to five inventors. In
alphabetical order, they are George Washington Carver, Thomas
Edison, Henry Ford, Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson
George Washington Carver: Born to slaves, Carver faced the
most difficult odds of any of these inventors. Born to slaves in
Missouri and kidnapped by Confederates, he was known as "The Plant
Doctor" and invented more than 300 uses for peanuts. Some of the
products resulting from his work are adhesives, axle grease, bleach,
buttermilk, chili sauce, ink, instant coffee, linoleum, mayonnaise,
meat tenderizer, shaving cream, shoe polish and talcum powder. He
became head of the Department of Agricultural Research at the
Tuskegee Institute at age 36.
Thomas Edison: Once deemed "too stupid to learn" as a
6-year-old by one of his early teachers, Edison turned out to be the
most prolific inventor of all time (at least in the United States).
He held more than 1,000 patents; some of these led to the creation
of brand-new industries, such as the incandescent light bulb and the
phonograph. His Menlo Park invention lab became the model that the
labs of many innovative companies were patterned after.
Henry Ford: While Ford did not invent the automobile, it was
his mass-production method that allowed the masses to own
automobiles. This made the mass-produced automobile one of the five
greatest inventions of all time. Henry Ford does not compare to
Edison as an inventor, nor to Franklin or Jefferson in their overall
contributions to society, though.
Ben Franklin: Like Henry Ford, Franklin was also
responsible for one of the five greatest inventions of all time.
Just as Ford did not invent the automobile, Ben Franklin did not
invent electricity, but he showed the world that we could harness
its power with his kite-and-key experiment.
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in this article]
He also signed the Declaration of Independence and co-authored
the Treaty of Paris. He established our nation's first fire
department and served as our first postmaster general. In addition,
Franklin also invented bifocals, the odometer, the lightning rod,
the Franklin Stove and the glass harmonica, just to name a few.
He was also the first to suggest the idea of daylight-saving
time, which was years ahead of its time. He was the first person to
appear on a U.S. postage stamp. He also wrote and published the
best-selling book "Poor Richard's Almanack," under the pen name of
Richard Saunders, and the book is still available more than 200
years after Franklin's death. Some of his inventions and ideas are
still being used today.
Thomas Jefferson: Like Ben Franklin, Jefferson's
accomplishments went far beyond his inventions, of which there were
many. For example, he was our nation's third president. He helped
establish the U.S. patent office in 1790, and he was our nation's
first patent commissioner. He also founded the University of
Virginia. Oh, yeah, he also wrote and signed the Declaration of
Jefferson's inventions included a moldboard plow, a wheel cipher,
a spherical sundial, a portable copying press, automatic double
doors, the swivel chair, the dumbwaiter and a macaroni machine. He
also introduced french fries, ice cream, waffles and macaroni to the
So the winner is… Ben Franklin.
I can just see the letters of complaint pouring in already: "How
can you choose Ben Franklin over Thomas Edison? Without Edison's
light bulb, you wouldn't be able to see in the dark!"
Without Franklin's discovery of electricity, we wouldn't have
Edison's light bulbs. Case closed.
"Then why not Thomas Jefferson and all of his inventions, plus
the fact that he was a U.S. president? Ben Franklin was not a
Since this is a nonscientific contest, we'll settle it in a
nonscientific way: Ben Franklin's image is on a $100 bill, while
Thomas Jefferson's image is on a $2 bill.
Paul Niemann is the author of the "Invention Mysteries" book, which
is available through his
website and at fine
bookstores everywhere. He may be reached at
© Copyright Paul Niemann 2005