Many inventors have been lost to the history books, their work unnoticed until long after their deaths. A lot of that has to do with timing and even patent issues. As The Baltimore Sun explains, most big breakthroughs are a series of little steps, making it difficult to assign credit to a single individual.
There are also plenty of simple gadgets we're all familiar with — but who made them possible? Nikola Tesla was an inventor whose contributions to the use of electricity are often overshadowed by the work of Thomas Edison. Tesla's experiments revolved around alternating current, while Edison’s experiments dealt with direct current. Both inventors made important contributions before during and after the famous War of the Currents, but because Tesla sold the majority of his patents to Westinghouse, his name isn't as widely associated with the feat as it should be.
So with Tesla in mind — after all, his birthday is July 10 — here are some other forgotten inventors who deserve recognition.
Computers have become the most integral cog in the machine that keeps our world running. They are an essential component of our society, yet many don’t know who’s responsible for the basic theories behind computer programming. The credit goes to Ada Lovelace.
Lovelace, who was the daughter of poet Lord Byron, had an incredible knack for mathematics. Her mentor, Charles Babbage, took her under his wing when she was in her late teens. Babbage was a mathematician and inventor who created the difference engine and developed the concept for the analytical engine, which were designed to compute mathematical equations.
In 1842, when translating an article by mathematician and engineer Luigi Federico Menabrea on the analytical machine (which had not yet been created), Lovelace added a series of notes. Her notes gave a more detailed description of the machine’s capacities, and also allowed her to stumble upon some significant predictions.
While Babbage’s analytical engine involved only numbers, Lovelace predicted that such a machine could also compute letters and other various symbols. In figuring out that the machine was capable of more than previously thought, Lovelace was able to develop an algorithm for how symbols, letters and numbers could be simultaneously computed. Lovelace essentially created the methods for developing the software that accompanies the hardware.
The smiley face graphic has left an indelible mark on pop culture. It's been reminding us to cheer up for years, so isn't it about time we knew who starting this smiling revolution?
Graphic designer Harvey Ball invented the smiley face in 1963. He was asked by insurance company Worcester-Guarantee to create an image that could boost the low morale that loomed over the office. Ball seemed to think that a simple smile could make all the difference.
According to the Worcester History Museum, the smiley face was put on buttons, posters and desk cards that were distributed throughout the office. The infectious design soon caught on and could be found on buttons in various shops.
According to Smithsonian magazine, Ball was paid $45 for the iconic design, but he never patented the image. Many other companies made variations of the design, eventually making it impossible for Ball to patent the original design himself.
It wasn’t always easy for humans to create fire, but chemist and druggist John Walker invented the friction match in 1827. Walker was interested in finding various chemical compounds that could create fire easily without the threat of explosion.
Walker began experimenting with various chemical mixtures, coating wood with the mixtures. While working with one particular compound, Walker created an accidental friction on his hearth, and the coated piece of wood caught fire. Impressed with his discovery, Walker then took small cardboard sticks, coated them in sulfur, and put his newfound chemical compound on the tip of the sticks. The match was lit by striking the stick on a piece of sandpaper, which he attached to the box in which the matches were stored and sold.
Walker’s first sale of the friction match was April 7, 1827. Walker never patented his creation because he felt that the matches still had flaws. Eventually Walker’s design was copied completely, and someone else patented the invention.
Household cleaning has become an easier task over the years, but Susan Hibbard didn’t have such an easy time patenting a common household invention.
Hibbard invented the feather duster. She created the device using discarded turkey feathers and attaching them to a wooden stick, according to PBS.
Hibbard was able to patent her invention in 1826, but the battle was hard fought. During Hibbard’s lifetime, women were not able to patent their own inventions. Hibbard’s husband attempted to take the credit, and there was an ensuing court battle. Luckily, Mrs. Hibbard was able to win the case, a huge leap forward for female inventors.
Karaoke can make you feel like a glamorous pop star or a drunken idiot. Whether you’ve impressed the crowd or completely embarrassed yourself, you'll benefit from knowing the story behind it.
Daisuke Inoue invented the karaoke machine in 1969, but it didn’t make its way to the market until 1971. It was originally called the Juke 8.
Inoue was a musician at a nightclub in Kobe, Japan, and it was the request of a businessman that sparked the idea for the karaoke machine. Inoue's patron was planning to meet out-of-town clients at another club, and he expected he would be asked to sing. The patron asked if Inoue would record some music for him to sing along to.
Inoue recorded a number of songs onto an open-reel tape recorder, and the songs were a huge success. The businessman came back a few days later and asked Inoue if he would record more songs.
Inoue was soon struck by the idea for the Juke 8. He conceptualized putting together an amplifier, a coin machine, an 8-track player and a microphone. Inoue took his idea to a friend, and 11 machines were assembled. The machines were sent to various clubs and over time, they became a huge hit.
Like many other inventors, Inoue didn't patent his creation. A 2005 article from Topic Magazine re-posted by theappendix.net quotes Inoue saying, “I didn’t build the thing from scratch. I had the idea for the business model. The amp, the microphone, the eight-track player — even the ¥100 box machine — all had patents on them.” Inoue simply felt it would be too difficult to patent his idea given that all the parts were already owned by big names.
The term karaoke is a shortened version of a Japanese phrase that means “empty orchestra.” In 1999, Inoue was later recognized as one of top 20 people to have influenced the 20th century by Time magazine.