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40 Famous Inventors Who Made Their Mark on History

We can thank these creators for video games, life-saving transportation devices, and more.

Headshot of Jamie BallardBy Jamie Ballard
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We have a lot to thank history’s inventors for. Every time you turn on a TV, drive a car, style your hair, iron your clothes, or do almost anything else throughout the course of your day, it’s likely because one of these famous inventors came up with something to help you do so. In fact, inventors are responsible for you reading this article on your phone, tablet, or computer right now. Without people creating technologies like the one you’re using, our world would be drastically different.

From Thomas Edison, who invented the lightbulb, to Joy Mangano, who made it easier for busy parents to keep the house clean, all of these inventors have left their marks on history in their own ways. Although many of these names and products will be familiar to you, there are also engineers, scientists, and mathematicians on this list who you might not know. But that doesn’t mean their contributions to science are less significant—in fact, many of them formed the basis for later inventions and widespread technologies.

Keep reading to learn fun facts about these famous inventors.

Madam C.J. Walker

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Madam C.J. Walker, who was born Sarah Breedlove in 1867, invented a hair care treatment for Black women. She traveled around the country demonstrating the “Walker Method,” which involved a pomade that Walker formulated, a brushing technique, and heated combs. She was inspired to invent the revolutionary hair care treatment because of her own experience with a condition that caused hair loss.

Related: How Madam C.J. Walker Invented Her Hair Car Products

Thomas Edison

american inventor thomas edison
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Arguably one of the most famous inventors of all time, Thomas Edison is credited with inventing the first commercially viable incandescent lightbulb. But this was just one of his many inventions. He’s also the inventor of the Universal Stock Printer, which was used to synchronize stock tickers’ transactions, the quadruplex telegraph, and the phonograph, among others. During his lifetime, he was granted more than 1,000 U.S. patents for various inventions.

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Alexander Graham Bell

alexander graham bell famous inventors
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Alexander Graham Bell is best known for being the primary inventor of the telephone. He founded Bell Telephone Company in 1877 and then went to work on other inventions, including flying machines. In addition to his inventions, Bell is known for establishing the scientific facilities Volta Laboratory, the American Association to Promote Teaching of Speech to the Deaf, and Science magazine.

Related: How Alexander Graham Bell Helped Helen Keller Defy the Odds

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Frederick Jones

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Inventor Frederick Jones was a self-taught engineer, best known for his creation of portable refrigeration units. These units were essential during World War II, as they allowed trucks to transport food, blood, and medicine to army hospitals and soldiers on the frontlines. During his lifetime, he received over 60 patents related to refrigeration technologies, engines, sound equipment, and X-ray machines.

Joy Mangano

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If you’ve ever used a Miracle Mop, you have Joy Mangano to thank. The 67-year-old created the innovative cleaning tool in 1990, which she marketed and sold herself. A couple of years after inventing the device, she appeared on QVC to sell it, where more than 18,000 mops were sold within a half hour. In addition to the Miracle Mop, Mangano is the creator of Rolykit, Huggable Hangers, and Forever Fragrant.

Read More about Joy Mangano

Nikola Tesla

nikola tesla famous inventors
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Nikola Tesla is credited for the design of the alternating current electric system that’s still used around the world today. That’s just the beginning: He also invented the first AC hydroelectric power plant and the Tesla coil, an inductor that’s still used in radio technology today. And if you’re wondering if Elon Musk’s company Tesla Motors is named after the famed inventor, the answer is yes.

Related: Why Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla Clashed During the Battle of the Currents

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John Deere

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John Deere is best known for being an inventor in the agricultural space. When the blacksmith noticed he was often making the same repairs to wood and cast-iron plows used by farmers, he began experimenting with more durable plow designs, which he then sold to local farmers. His steel plows exploded in popularity among many farmers, with Deere’s company (also called John Deere) producing 1,600 plows in 1850. That same year, the company started producing other tools in addition to plows.

Charles Babbage

famous inventors charles babbage 1791 1871 english mathematician difference engine for calculation of log tables, and analytical engine wood engraving published london 1871
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If you’re reading this on a computer, you have mathematician and inventor Charles Babbage to thank. Although he didn’t invent the computer as we know it today, his ideas laid the groundwork for modern computers. Because of this, he’s often referred to as “the father of computing.”

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Sarah Boone

sarah boone stands for a portrait, she wears a dark dress with several buttons on the torso, her left hand rests on a chair back and her right hand rests on her hip with her elbow out

Dressmaker and inventor Sarah Boone is credited with the creation of the ironing board. Most dressmakers of the time were ironing their clothes on a wooden plank resting on two chairs, but Boone came up with the idea of creating a narrower, curved board with padding that could slip inside bulky dresses and could collapse for simple storage (in other words, the ironing boards we have today). When she received her patent in 1892, she became one of the first Black women in American history to be awarded one.

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Jan Matzeliger

jan matzeliger in an old black and white photograph, he looks past the camera and wears a buttoned up suit jacket, polka dotted bow tie and light collared shirt

Jan Matzeliger, who was born in Suriname (known then as Dutch Guiana), came up with a revolutionary shoe-making technology. Historically, the body of a shoe had to be attached to the sole by hand as part of a process called lasting. However, in 1883, Matzeliger invented a lasting machine, which held the shoe in place and mechanically nailed the pieces together. It could produce 700 pairs of shoes per day, more than 10 times the number of shoes a person could complete.

Charles Goodyear

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Inventor Charles Goodyear accidentally discovered the process of vulcanizing rubber in 1839. He struggled to patent it before his death in 1860, though the very successful Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company was posthumously named after him when it was founded almost 40 years later.

Wilbur Wright

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Wilbur Wright, along with his brother Orville, is credited with inventing the world’s first power-driven airplane. In 1903, the brothers succeeded in flying the world’s first free, controlled flight of a power-driven airplane for 59 seconds over a distance of more than 800 feet. In 1908, Wilbur traveled to Europe in hopes of selling their invention. While both brothers are credited with the invention of the airplane, Wilbur was the one who eventually served as president of the Wright Company until his death in 1912.

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Orville Wright

famous inventors orville wright 1871 1948 american aeronautical pioneer, the younger of the wright brothers photograph
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Along with his brother Wilbur, Orville Wright is considered one of the fathers of modern aviation. After his brother’s death in 1912, Orville took over the presidency of the Wright Company but found he didn’t enjoy the business side of the work and sold the company in 1915.

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Philo T. Farnsworth

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Philo T. Farnsworth created of the first electronic television. Although much of his career was spent in legal battles regarding his invention, he eventually accepted a deal from RCA, allowing them to market and sell the first electronic televisions for home consumers. In addition to the television, he worked on technologies including radar, infrared telescopes, and nuclear fusion.

Steve Jobs

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Along with Steve Wozniak, Steve Jobs was an inventor behind Apple Computers. As the now-famous story goes, Jobs and Wozniak started Apple Computers in Jobs’ family’s garage in 1976, and the work they did there made computers more accessible and more affordable for consumers. Jobs left Apple in 1985, but he returned in 1997 and revitalized the company, leading to the creation of products like the iPod and iPhone.

Read More about Steve Jobs

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Steve Wozniak

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Along with Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak is one of the founders of Apple Computers and an inventor of the Apple I computer. Wozniak also personally invented the next model, the Apple II computer, which was a major step towards Apple’s domination in the personal computer market. Although he left Apple in 1985, he continued working on technologies related to the universal remote control and wireless GPS technology.

Read More about Steve Wozniak

Lonnie Johnson

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If you’ve ever enjoyed an epic Super Soaker fight in the backyard, it’s all thanks to Lonnie Johnson. He worked for the U.S. Air Force and NASA before accidentally creating the water toy we now know and love. He set out to create an environmentally friendly heat pump that relied on water instead of Freon, but when he went to test it in his bathroom, he shot a powerful stream of water from the device, realized he could market this invention as a toy, and sold it to the Larami Corporation in 1989.

Read More about Lonnie Johnson

Eli Whitney

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Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin, a device that could take green-seed cotton and quickly extract the fibers using a system of hooks, wires, and a rotating brush. The device was so popular that farmers began building their own versions of it despite Whitney’s patent. He spent years in legal battles and ultimately made very little profit, despite the revolutionary nature of his invention. He went on to champion interchangeable parts for weapons, though there is some debate on whether he was truly the first person to pioneer the technology.

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Elijah McCoy

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Elijah McCoy was a mechanical engineer and inventor. He’s credited with inventing a lubrication device that distributes oil over an engine’s moving parts. This was revolutionary for train travel, because it allowed them to run for long periods of time without stopping for maintenance.

Samuel F.B. Morse

famous inventors samuel finley breese morse 1791 1872 american artist and inventor engraving published 1872 showing him with his printing telegraph on table beside him
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The inventor of the telegraph, Samuel Morse also created the communication method known as Morse code. He worked with inventor Alfred Vail, and in 1842, the pair demonstrated the usefulness of their invention at the U.S. Capitol. A telegraph line between Washington D.C. and Baltimore was constructed, and Morse sent out the first message: “What hath God wrought!”

Read More about Samuel Morse

Headshot of Jamie Ballard
Jamie Ballard
Contributing Writer

Jamie Ballard (she/her) is a freelance writer and editor who covers news, lifestyle, and entertainment topics, including sex and relationships, TV, movies, books, health, pets, food and drinks, pop culture, shopping, and personal finance. She regularly contributes to Cosmopolitan, Woman’s Day, Good Housekeeping, and YouGov, among other publications. When she’s not working, you can find her running, traveling, or scrolling TikTok. Follow her on Twitter.

Famous Inventors

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