The Truth Behind Some Popular Inventions

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Contrary to popular belief, Henry Ford did not invent the automobile. In fact, a few manufacturers were already producing them by the time the legendary entrepreneur got on the scene. Yet given his outsized role in bringing cars to the masses through innovations such as the assembly line, the myth has persisted even to this day. 

Of course, misinformation is rampant everywhere you look. Some people still assume Microsoft invented the computer and that Al Gore created the internet. And while it’s easy to confuse the role various people have played in bringing about some of the most significant achievements throughout history, it’s high time that we at least correct some of the more popular urban legends out there. So here goes.

Did Hitler Invent the Volkswagen?

This is one of those myths that has some degree of truth to it. In 1937, the Nazi party had established a state-controlled car company called Gesellschaft zur Vorbereitung des Deutschen Volkswagens mbH with a directive to develop and produce a fast, yet affordable "people’s car" for the masses. 

A year later, German dictator Adolf Hitler commissioned Austrian automotive engineer Ferdinand Porsche to design an automobile similar to the ones that German car designer Josef Ganz had built only a few years earlier. To ensure that the final design incorporated ideas he had in mind, he met with Porsche to specifications such as fuel efficiency, an air-cooled engine and a top speed of 62 miles per hour.

The resulting prototype became the basis for the Volkswagen Beetle, which went into production later in 1941. So while Hitler didn’t technically invent the popular Volkswagen Beetle, he did play a heavy hand in its creation.

Did Coca-Cola Invent Santa Claus?

Now some of us may be aware that the origins of Santa Claus can be traced back to Saint Nicholas, a 4th century Greek bishop who often gave presents to the poor. As a patron saint, he even had his own holiday where people honored his generosity by giving gifts to children.

The Santa Claus of modern day, however, is something else entirely. He drops down chimneys, rides a sleigh powered by flying reindeer and suspiciously wears a red and white rob -- the same trademark colors of a very known soft drink company. So what gives?

Actually, the portrayal of red-and-white robed Father Christmas had been propagated for some time before Coke began using their own version of his image in advertisements during the 1930’s. In the late, 1800's, artists such as Thomas Nast portrayed him dressed in such colors and another company called White Rock Beverages used a similar Santa in ads for mineral water and ginger ale. Sometimes a coincidence is just a coincidence.

Did Galileo Invent the Telescope?

Galileo Galilei was the first to use the telescope to make astronomical observations and discoveries so it’s easy to mistakenly assume he came up with it. The real honor, however, goes to Hans Lippershey, a lesser known German-Dutch spectacle maker. He’s credited with the earliest existing patent dating back to October 2, 1608.

Although it’s unclear whether he actually built the first telescope, the design featured a positive lens at one end of a narrow tube matched with a negative lens at the other end. And while the Dutch government didn’t grant him the patent due to competing claims by other inventors, copies of the design were widely distributed, allowing other scientists such as Galileo himself to improve upon the device.

Was the Inventor of the Segway Killed by His Own Invention?

This is one of the oddest urban legends out there. But we at least know how it came about. In 2010, British entrepreneur Jimi Heselden bought Segway Inc, the company behind the popular Segway PT, a self-balancing, electric vehicle that uses gyroscopic sensors to allow riders to steer with a steering wheel.

Later that year, Heselden was found dead and appeared to have fallen off a cliff in West Yorkshire. An investigation was undertaken with a coroner’s report concluding that he succumbed to injuries suffered when he fell while riding a Segway. As for the inventor Dean Kamen, he’s alive and well.