I've never been one to
support conspiracy theories, but many inventions have had more than
one inventor working on them at the same time. So while you might
not recognize the names of Elisha Gray, Lizzie Magie or Nikola
Tesla, you certainly know the inventions they may -- or may not --
Who's on the phone -- Bell or Gray?
While it is Alexander Graham Bell who is credited with inventing
the telephone in 1876, there was another person who tried to patent
the telephone during the same year as Bell. In fact, Elisha Gray
arrived at the patent office to apply for a patent for his version
of the telephone on the very same day as Bell -- just two
Bell was awarded the patent, but the case went to court; in fact,
it went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Since Bell kept
better records of his design than Gray did, his patent was
sustained, and the rest, as they say, is history. Elisha Gray did go
on to invent and patent the facsimile telegraph system in 1888,
while Bell went back to working with deaf children, after giving
all of his American Bell Telephone Company stock to his new
bride on their wedding day.
Other inventors later staked a claim to inventing the telephone.
Bell's patent, which to this day remains the most valuable patent in
history, faced more than 600 lawsuits. None changed Bell's status as
the official inventor of the telephone, though.
Did Charles Darrow have a monolopy on the world's best-selling
Not many people recognize the name of Lizzie Magie as the
inventor of the board game Monopoly, but then again, not too many
people recognize the name of the person who is widely considered to
be the inventor of the game, Charles Darrow. In 1904 Lizzie created
"The Landlord's Game" to teach people the unfairness of realty and
tax systems. Soon people were customizing the game to reflect their
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Charles Darrow of Germantown, Pa., played one of these games at a friend's
house. He then began manufacturing the games himself and selling them
for $4 each. When he couldn't keep up with demand, he wrote to Parker
Brothers to see if they would license it from him. The company rejected
him at first, citing 52 fundamental flaws with the game. When they heard
how well the game sold during the Christmas season of 1934, they
reconsidered. More than half a billion people have played Monopoly
"Marconi is a good fellow. … He is using 17 of my patents."
While many inventors contributed to the development of radio,
Nikola Tesla is probably its main inventor. Guglielmo Marconi,
though, is the one who received credit -- and wealth -- for the
invention of radio.
Tesla filed his basic radio patent applications in 1897, three
years before Marconi filed his; as a result, Marconi's applications
were turned down. Yet it was Marconi who was the first to transmit
and receive signals across the Atlantic Ocean, when he signaled the
letter "S" from Cornwall, England, to Newfoundland, Canada, in 1901.
When one of Tesla's engineers said, "Looks as if Marconi got the
jump on you," Tesla replied, "Marconi is a good fellow. Let him
continue. He is using 17 of my patents." But in 1904, for some
unknown reason, the patent office suddenly reversed its rulings and
awarded the main patent to Marconi. The history books began to refer
to Marconi as "the father of radio" when he won the Nobel Prize in
1909, prompting Tesla to sue the Marconi Company for infringement.
Tesla lost because he didn't have the funds to finance the case. The
patent office reversed its decision in 1943 when the Marconi Company
sued the U.S. government for use of its patents in World War I. When
it was all said and done, though, Marconi had become a wealthy man
while Tesla had gone broke.
Paul Niemann may be reached at
Copyright Paul Niemann 2006