History's 15 Most Popular Inventors

Illustration of ten popular inventors.

ThoughtCo / Melissa Ling

There have been many important inventors throughout history, but only a handful are usually recognized simply by their last name. This shortlist is of some of the esteemed inventors who are responsible for major innovations such as the printing press, the 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

Black and white photo of American inventor Thomas Edison in his lab.

FPG / Staff / Getty Images

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.

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Alexander Graham Bell 1847-1922

Black and white photo of Alexander Graham Bell.

Historical / Contributor / Getty Images

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

Black and white photo of George Washington Carver.
Bettmann / Contributor / Getty Images

George Washington Carver was an agricultural chemist who invented 300 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

Pencil drawing of Eli Whitney.

traveler1116 / Getty Images

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

Color drawing of Johannes Gutenberg.

Stefano Bianchetti / Contributor / Getty Images

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

Black and white photo of John Logie Baird.

Hulton Deutsch / Contributor / Getty Images

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

Pencil sketch Benjamin Franklin flying a kite during a storm.

FPG / Getty Images

Benjamin Franklin was known for being an 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

Black and white photo of Henry Ford in front of a Model T.

Handout / Getty Images

Henry Ford did not invent the automobile as many people mistakenly assume. But he did improve 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

Black and white photo of Dr. James Naismith.

Bettmann / Contributor / Getty Images

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

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Herman Hollerith 1860-1929

The Hollerith tabulator and sorter box.

Hulton Archive / Stringer / 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 10 years of hand tabulating.

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Nikola Tesla

Black and white photo of Nikola Tesla.
Bettmann / Contributor / Getty Images

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, and the Tesla coil. He developed the alternating current (AC) electrical supply system that included a motor and transformer, as well as three-phase electricity.

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Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs holding an iPhone.

Matthew Yohe / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 3.0

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

Color photo of Tim Berners-Lee looking at camera.

Knight Foundation / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Tim Berners-Lee is an English engineer and computer scientist who is often credited with inventing the World Wide Web, a network that most people use to access the internet. He first described a proposal for such a system in 1989, but it wasn't until August 1991 that the first website 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

James Dyson posing for the camera.

CHRISTOPHE ARCHAMBAULT / Contributor / Getty Images

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 founded the Dyson company to develop improved and technologically advanced household appliances. So far, his company has debuted a bladeless fan, a hairdryer, a 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

Black and white photo of Hedy Lamarr.

AustinMini 1275 / Flickr / 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 a radio-guidance system for torpedoes. The frequency-hopping technology has been used to develop 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 a vision to deliver what they felt would make the world a better place.

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Bellis, Mary. "History's 15 Most Popular Inventors." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, thoughtco.com/top-popular-inventors-1992000. Bellis, Mary. (2023, April 5). History's 15 Most Popular Inventors. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/top-popular-inventors-1992000 Bellis, Mary. "History's 15 Most Popular Inventors." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/top-popular-inventors-1992000 (accessed June 6, 2023).