Top 21 Greatest Inventors in History and Their Inventions

How do we call someone the greatest inventor? That may be a misnomer since there are thousands of inventions that have had a far-reaching impact on human life in their own way. Nonetheless, we still consider some inventions as pathbreaking, those that changed our lives for the better. The greatest inventors are those whose inventions are considered a milestone in history and gave a big fillip in the progress of science and technology. Many of them had multiple inventions to their credit.


Here are some of the greatest inventors of all time and their inventions:

1. Archimedes (BC 287-212)

Greatest Inventors in History

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The Greek mathematician and physicist was undeniably one of the greatest inventors in history. While not much of his life and work is known, Archimedes’ contribution to science can never be questioned. Modern-day technology owes much to Archimedes for inventing the lever, the pulley, the cog, and the catapult. And who can forget the famous Archimedes screw. Fluid mechanics perhaps would have been a non-starter without his Eureka moment.

2. Cai Lun (50-121 CE)

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A leading politician and administrator of the Han dynasty in China, Cai Lun is widely credited for inventing the modern paper as well as the paper manufacturing process. He used raw materials like tree bark, silk, hemp, and fishing nets to make the first form of paper. Over the next hundreds of years, the process was refined and became more scientific. Cai Lun suspended sheets of fiber in water before removing them for drying to make paper.

3. Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519)

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Legendary Italian painter Leonardo da Vinci was a polymath in the true sense. While he may not be an inventor per se, Leonardo had a tremendous interest in science and made several engineering drawings that have resemblance to modern-day objects. These include an early airplane, an armored tank, a machine gun, a helicopter, singe-span collapsible bridges and several other things. He was centuries ahead of his time.

4. Galileo Galilei (1564-1642)

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Italian scientist Galileo Galilei is considered one of the leading scientists ever. He had to face the wrath of the Church for having defied religious and celestial beliefs. He is credited to have invented a powerful telescope and also confirmed several revolutionary theories regarding the nature of the world. Galileo is considered among the greatest inventors in history who also developed an improved compass.

5. Thomas Alva Edison (1847-1931)

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Credited with over a hundred patents, Thomas Alva Edison is unarguably one of the greatest inventors ever. He invented the incandescent electric bulb, the phonograph, the film camera, microphone, and alkaline batteries. He was the archetypical American inventor who epitomized the spirit of entrepreneurship. He is even known to have invented the telephone, though Alexander Graham Bell managed to reach the patent office first.

6. Alexander Graham Bell (1847-1922)

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The world of communication technology owes everything to the Scottish-born scientist and inventor. One of the greatest inventors of all times, Graham Bell invented the microphone and the first acoustic telegraph, which is commonly known as telephone today. He was granted the patent in 1876 for his invention. Earlier, when he was 12, Graham Bell invented a wheat husking machine for his neighbor who worked in a flour mill.

7. Alfred Nobel (1833-1896)

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The Swedish engineer, chemist, businessman, and philanthropist made it to the annals of history for inventing the dynamite. He found that nitroglycerin incorporated is an inert absorbent substance, like diatomaceous earth, was much safer to handle as an explosive. He called it dynamite and got the patent in 1867. The Nobel Prize was instituted in his name and is awarded for significant contribution in science, literature, and peace.

Also Read: 15 Famous Nobel Prize Winners

8. Marie Curie (1867-1934)

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She was the first person to win the Nobel Prize twice and that too in two different domains. The French-Polish scientist won her first Nobel in physics in 1903 for having discovered radioactivity. She then won the Nobel again in chemistry in 1911 for discovering radium and polonium. Marie Curie is widely regarded as one of the most famous female inventors ever and has a fellowship to her name.

9. Nikola Tesla (1856-1943)

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Considered a pioneering inventor, Nikola Tesla was a technical geek and an eccentric scientist. Science has thanked him for the alternating current, remote controlled boats, the modern electric motor and several other inventions. He even tried to invent wireless electricity and had set up a tower for that. But it wasn’t successful. However the coolest electric car is named after him.

10. Isaac Newton (1642-1726)

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Isaac Newton was an astronomer, mathematician, physicist and theologist and widely regarded as one of the most influential scientists ever. He came up with the world’s first practical telescope, and also formulated the laws of motion. Newton proved the laws of planetary movement, the trajectories of tides and comets, and the precision of equinoxes. These were largely theoretical concepts before Newton’s times.

11. James Watt (1736-1819)

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The Scottish inventor of steam engines, James Watt is regarded among the greatest inventors who gave a major fillip to mass transportation systems. Steam engines pulled trains in many countries as late as the 1980s. His invention of the separate condensing chamber was used in water pumps and drilling activities. He developed the first copying systems in 1779. Being a chemist Watt carried out several chemical experiments.

12. Charles Babbage (1791-1871)

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English mathematician and inventor, Charles Babbage created the world’s first mechanical computer that has since revolutionized science, technology, communications, and almost everything under the sun. While Babbage developed the first prototype for modern-day computers, he could not come up with a working model. But talk of famous inventors and inventions and Babbage would be among the top of all of them.

13. Michael Faraday (1791-1867)

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A British scientist with little formal education, Michael Faraday is a revered inclusion in the list of inventors because of his contribution to electrochemistry and electromagnetism. His major discoveries include electromagnetic induction, electrolysis, and diamagnetism. Faraday helped in converting electricity into a format for popular uses. He is also credited with the discovery on benzene and the earliest forms of Bunsen burner. Faraday popularized the terms ‘cathode’, ‘anode’, and ‘electrode’.

14. Samuel Morse (1791-1892)

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Before being a successful inventor, Samuel Morse established himself as a renowned painter specializing in portraits. Denied of painting in the US Capitol Dome, Morse started concentrating on science. He came up with the Morse code, a system of using dots and dashes, used for rhythmic transmission especially during an emergency and sending short message. He is also attributed for the invention of the single-wired telegraph and being one of the pioneers in communication in the 19th century.

Also Read: 15 Ancient Greek Philosophers and their Contributions

15. Humphry Davy (1778-1829)

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Largely forgotten among his more illustrious peers, Humphry Davy was a pioneer in several fields, especially science and humanity. The British scientist is credited with the discovery of potassium, sodium and calcium through the process of electrolysis. He carried out several experiments with nitrous oxide, popularly known as laughing gas. Throughout his career Davy delivered important lectures on science and his scientific experiments. He was once a student of medicine, and later turned to chemistry and electrochemistry.

16. Louis Pasteur (1822-1895)

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The French chemist, biologist, and microbiologist, was known for his work in the field of vaccination and microbial fermentation. He invented the present-day pasteurization process which is widely used in the food processing industry, especially for milk and other dairy products. He also developed the exact technique of preventing beer and wine from souring. The list of inventors can never be complete without the inclusion of Pasteur.

17. Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790)

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One of the founding fathers of the United States, Benjamin Franklin was a polymath in his own right. He was a social activist, printer, a statesman, a diplomat, and most importantly an engineer and inventor. Franklin’s legacy includes the invention of bifocal lenses, the lightning conductor, and according to some claims the first experiments in nanoscience. He is hailed as the first scientist of the US.

18. Luther Burbank (1849-1926)

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A pioneer in agricultural science, Luther Burbank was an American botanist and horticulturist. He was one of the most prominent plant breeders ever and the Burbank potato is the most widely cultivated variety of the vegetable in the world. Though Burbank received only elementary education, he came up with hundreds of new plant varieties. Agricultural invention and inventors have since closely followed Burbank’s technique in horticultural science.

19. The Wright Brothers

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Orville and Wilbur Wright were American engineers, inventors, and aviators, credited for building the world’s first successful airplane. Both brothers are counted among the greatest inventors. They flew the first controlled and sustained flight on 17 December 1903 near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. Although they were not the first to come up with an airplane design, the Wright brothers made the first fixed-wing flight possible.

20. Karl Benz (1844-1929)

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German automobile engineer and engine designer Karl Benz was also a prominent businessman and entrepreneur. He developed the first petrol-powered car. Benz was awarded his first patent in 1879 and the 1885 Benz Patent Motorcar is acknowledged as the first practical automobile. He was also a successful manufacturer. He soon patented the speed regulation system, ignition using electric sparks, and the spark plug. All these are used in modern-day automobiles.

Also Read: 15 Most Prominent Economists of all Times

21. Josephine Cochrane (1839-1913)

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A humble homemaker, Josephine Cochrane was the first person to invent the commercially successful dishwasher. She patented the gadget in 1887. Cochrane’s dishwasher was the first to use water pressure to clean the utensils, instead of the scrubber that didn’t clean the dirt effectively. The American went to win the highest prize for mechanical craftsmanship, durability and adaptation in 1887. She set up her business Gris-Cochrane in 1897 to cater to the demands of the dishwasher from hotels and restaurants.

Checkout complete info on famous inventors and their inventions in a tabular format:

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