The 15 Most Popular Inventors

Illustration of ten popular inventors

Illustration by Melissa Ling. ThoughtCo.

There have been many important inventors throughout history. But only a handful are usually recognized simply by their last name. This short list of some of the esteemed inventors are responsible for major innovations such as the printing press, light bulb, television and, yes, even the iPhone.   

The following is a gallery of the most popular inventors as determined by reader usage and research demand. Read on to learn more about these well-known, influential inventors.

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Thomas Edison 1847-1931

American inventor Thomas Edison in lab
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The first great invention developed by Thomas Edison was the tin foil phonograph. A prolific producer, Edison is also known for his work with light bulbs, electricity, film and audio devices, and much more.

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Alexander Graham Bell 1847-1869

Alexander Graham Bell
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In 1876, at the age of 29, Alexander Graham Bell invented his telephone. Among one of his first innovations after the telephone was the "photophone," a device that enabled sound to be transmitted on a beam of light.

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George Washington Carver 1864-1943

George Washington Carver
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George Washington Carver was an agricultural chemist who invented three hundred uses for peanuts and hundreds of more uses for soybeans, pecans, and sweet potatoes. His contributions changed the history of agriculture in the south.

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Eli Whitney 1765-1825

Eli Whitney
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Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin in 1794. The cotton gin is a machine that separates seeds, hulls and other unwanted materials from cotton after it has been picked.

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Johannes Gutenberg 1394-1468

Johannes Gutenberg
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Johannes Gutenberg was a German goldsmith and inventor best known for the Gutenberg press, an innovative printing machine that used movable type.

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John Logie Baird 1888-1946

John Logie Baird
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John Logie Baird is remembered as the inventor of mechanical television (an earlier version of television). Baird also patented inventions related to radar and fiber optics.

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Benjamin Franklin 1706-1790

Benjamin Franklin
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Benjamin Franklin was known for being a iconic statesman and a founding father. But among his many other accomplishments was the invention of the lightning rod, the iron furnace stove or 'Franklin Stove', bifocal glasses and the odometer.

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Henry Ford 1863-1947

Henry Ford in front of a Model T
Getty Images

Henry Ford did not invent the automobile as many people mistakenly assume. But he did improved the "assembly line" for automobile manufacturing, received a patent for a transmission mechanism, and popularized the gas-powered car with the Model-T.

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James Naismith 1861-1939

Dr. James Naismith
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James Naismith was a Canadian physical education instructor who invented basketball in 1891.

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Herman Hollerith 1860-1929

Herman Hollerith
The Hollerith tabulator and sorter box was invented by Herman Hollerith and used in the 1890 United States census. It 'read' cards by passing them through electrical contacts. Closed circuits, which indicated hole positions, could then be selected and counted. His Tabulating Machine Company (1896) was a predecessor to the International Business Machines Corporation (IBM). Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Herman Hollerith invented a punch-card tabulation machine system for statistical computation. Herman Hollerith's great breakthrough was his use of electricity to read, count, and sort punched cards whose holes represented data gathered by the census-takers. His machines were used for the 1890 census and accomplished in one year what would have taken nearly ten years of hand tabulating.

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Nikola Tesla

Nikola Tesla
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Due to overwhelming public demand, we had to add  Nikola Tesla to this list. Tesla was a genius and much of his work was stolen by other inventors. Tesla invented fluorescent lighting, the Tesla induction motor, the Tesla coil, and developed the alternating current (AC) electrical supply system that included a motor and transformer, and 3-phase electricity.

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Steve Jobs

Apple CEO Steve Jobs
Apple CEO Steve Jobs. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Steve Jobs was best remembered as the charismatic co-founder of Apple Inc. Working with co-founder Steve Wozniak, Jobs introduced the Apple II, a popular mass market personal computer that helped usher in a new era of personal computing. After being forced out of the company that he founded, Jobs returned in 1997 and assembled the team of designers, programmers and engineers responsible for the groundbreaking iPhone, iPad and many other innovations.    

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Tim Berners-Lee

British Physicist-Turned-Programmer Tim Berners-Lee Devised Much Of The Programming Language That Made The Internet Accessible To The Public. Catrina Genovese/Getty Images

Tim Berners-Lee is an English engineer and computer scientist that's often credited with inventing the World Wide Web, a network that most now people use to access the internet. He first described a proposal for such a system in 1989, but it wasn't until August of 1991 that the first web site was published and online. The World Wide Web that Berners-Lee developed was comprised of the first web browser, server and hypertexting.  

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James Dyson


Sir James Dyson is a British inventor and industrial designer who revolutionized vacuum cleaning with the invention of the Dual Cyclone, the first bagless vacuum cleaner. He later found the Dyson company to develop improved and technologically advanced household appliances. So far, his company has debuted a bladeless fan, a hair dryer, robotic vacuum cleaner and many other products. He also established the James Dyson Foundation to support young people to pursue careers in technology. The James Dyson award is given to students who come up with promising new designs.    

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Hedy Lamarr

Public Domain

Hedy Lamarr is often recognized as an early Hollywood starlet with film credits such as Algiers and Boom Town. As an inventor, Lamarr made significant contributions to radio and technology and systems. During World War II, she invented radio-guidance system for torpedoes. The frequency-hopping technology has been used to develop of Wi-Fi and Bluetooth

Changing the World

It's no coincidence that some of the most famous inventors come from all walks of life. Henry Ford was a savvy business entrepreneur. James Naismith, the inventor of basketball, was a physical education teacher. But what they all had in common was an idea and vision to deliver what they felt would make the world a better place.