Invention Myths People Still Believe

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There’s something mythical about inventors throughout history. People who were able to see the need for something that had never existed before and make it come to life. It’s a kind of genius that many aspire to but few ever achieve.

And while the world would look like little more than a group of scared cavemen in the woods without the long history of invention, it’s worth noting that sometimes inventors get lost in the shuffle. Ideas get stolen, or just built upon, and we lose track of who the real innovators were. Sometimes myth overshadows truth, and we all take for granted that we know a story that, well, we actually don’t.

10. Abner Doubleday Didn’t Invent Baseball

Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig once referred to Abner Doubleday as the father of baseball. It’s quite the lofty title to be giving to someone, labeling him as the creator of America’s most famous pastime. (The field at the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York is also named in his honor.) But it’s also not a valid moniker to give to Doubleday, as he was not the creator of baseball.

A major general in the Civil War, Abner Doubleday once wrote a letter in 1871 asking for equipment that his men could use to play baseball. If that makes you the father of baseball, then perhaps he does fit the bill. Most would argue that this is not the case, however. And the fact remains, that is Doubleday’s sole contribution to the game.

History credits baseball as having evolved from the British games of cricket and rounders. The story says that Doubleday invented baseball in 1839 in New York. In fact, Doubleday was at West Point in 1839 and apparently never once in his life even claimed to have invented baseball. 

Baseball had existed in America for a long time before Doubleday was even born. There were even amateur baseball leagues and teams playing the game in and around the time that Doubleday was credited with having invented it. The entire rumor seems to have been created by the sporting goods industry and AJ Spalding in the early 1900s as a way to rope in customers with a good story.

9. Apple Didn’t Invent the iPod

Remember iPods? Back in 2001 if you were cool you had an iPod. If you didn’t have an iPod, you were not cool. They were the only way to listen to mp3s. That means that most kids today have no idea what this entry is even talking about. Before cell phones became the go-to tool for listening to music, playing games, watching movies, and living life to the fullest, this was the thing, though. It’s what made Apple even bigger than it already was. And it wasn’t even theirs.

In 2008, Apple was defending itself in court against Burst.com, which claimed that they were the inventor of iPod technology.  Apple had an ace up their sleeve in the form of a man named Kane Kramer. Kramer, a British inventor, claimed that he had invented the iPod back in 1979. Kane was flown in to give testimony and show off his drawings of the little iPod-like device that he had made plans for back in the day.

Thanks to Kramer, Apple was able to prove they didn’t steal the idea from Burst. At the same time they admitted that it wasn’t their idea to begin with, either. 

8. Samuel Morse Didn’t Invent the Telegraph

The reason most people know Samuel Morse’s name today is thanks to Morse code. The reason you know Morse code today is thanks to the telegraph, the machine that allowed Morse code to be transmitted in a series of beeps to relay messages. The belief is that Morse created the telegraph specifically to transmit information, and there’s even a story that he came up with the idea over dinner with friends one evening. It’s not true.

Morse definitely improved on the telegraph design, but there were actually a handful of people who created basically the exact same machine at almost the exact same time. Aside from Morse, there was also Charles Wheatstone, Edward Davey, Sir William Fothergill Cooke, and Carl August von Steinhiel, who rolled out similar machines on a confusing enough timeline that none could get the patent.

Joseph Henry discovered that coiled wire could boost electromagnetism, and it was Samuel Morse who used that coil wire technique to boost the strength of the telegraph. Older models used numerous wires, while his could be refined down to one. Even the Morse Code system was actually invented by his partner Alfred Vail.

7. Edison Didn’t Invent the Movie Projector

When people think of the greatest inventors in history, Thomas Edison‘s name is usually at the top of the list. Those who have dug deeper into the story of Edison also know that he was a bit of an unscrupulous character, and not above taking credit for things that weren’t necessarily his ideas, while trying to sabotage others. The movie projector is another case where credit was given to Edison that he didn’t earn.

Thomas Armat and Charles Francis Jenkins worked on a machine that would display movie images to a large audience and though the first version failed, Armat went on to create his Phantoscope in 1893. It was inspired by the Kinetoscope, a device Edison can take credit for, which was made to show moving images to one viewer at a time, peep show style.

Armat showed his Phantoscope to Edison who dismissed it as not that impression but still had it manufactured under his own name.

6. Parker Brothers didn’t create Monopoly


According to the Monopoly wiki there are literally thousands of versions of this popular board game in existence ranging from the classic version to ones based on TV shows like “Game of Thrones” and others based on bass fishing. Parker Brothers first sold the game in 1935 and then it fell under the Hasbro banner in 1991 when they bought the gaming brothers out.

Even though Parker Brothers popularized the game, it was not theirs to begin with. Lizzie Magie can be credited with making the game back in 1904. In her version, called the Landlord’s Game,  players learn about the inequality of the landlord tenant system and how monopolies were essentially a bad thing. She held the patent for the game until 1935 when she sold it to Parker Brothers who opted to print a different game called Monopoly that a man named Charles Darrow claims to have invented. Darrow’s version of the game can be traced right back to Magie’s version, proving that she was the creator of the idea in the first place. 

5. Marconi Didn’t Invent Radio

For as much as the modern world seems to love Nikola Tesla, he was not given much of the credit he was due for what he did during his own lifetime. For instance, Tesla should really be credited with inventing radio, even though Guglielmo Marconi is often cited as being the inventor of the technology. 

While Marconi definitely did contribute to the advancement of radio, Tesla was actually credited a patent before him. In 1897 he filed for and received the first patent for radio technology. The issue that seems to have held Tesla back for his rightful credit is that he never dwelled on ideas. He had created the technology and made use of it then moved on to other things. Marconi, on the other hand, focused on and improved the technology and is often seen as the creator of it as a result. 

4. Galileo Didn’t Invent the Telescope

When you look to the stars these days there are a lot of innovators who helped us get to the point where we can understand our universe, from Copernicus to Carl Sagan. Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei also holds a place in history and is considered the father of observational astronomy. He analyzed sunspots, saw the Rings of Saturn, discovered moons of Jupiter and more. But, though he is often credited with creating the telescope he used to do all these things, he did not. 

In 1608 the first ever telescope patent was filed by Dutch inventor Hans Lipperhey, a man who had been a maker of glasses and optical devices. To his credit, the story goes that Galileo had simply heard of the invention and, understanding its potential, created a telescope of his own afterwards that was obviously very effective. So while he improved upon the idea, he can’t be credited with actually inventing it. 

3. George Washington Carver Didn’t Invent Peanut Butter

No one in history is as closely tied to the peanut as George Washington Carver. An environmentalist and scientist from Alabama, Carver is credited with making literally hundreds of peanut products. Problem is, he didn’t invent all of those things and also never claimed to have invented them. So it’s a curious thing to debunk the claims made on his behalf since he never made them for himself.

The confusion seems to come from the fact Carver did publish a book called “How to Grow the Peanut and 105 Ways of Preparing it For Human Consumption.” He was not claiming to have created those 105 ways, he was just sharing them. So the common belief he invented peanut butter was never one he came up with and, in fact, peanut butter had existed for centuries prior, having been created by Aztecs and a US patent for its manufacture had already been issued in 1884.

2. Alexander Graham Bell Did Not Invent the Telephone

The history of the telephone system can be traced directly to Alexander Graham Bell whose presence is so linked to this one invention that the largest phone company in the world, Bell System, bore his name until the monopoly it represented that absolutely dominated the telephone landscape was broken apart in the 1980s after more than a century in existence.

 AT&T was born from the dissolution of Bell, and Bell Canada is still that country’s largest phone company. But their namesake, Alexander Graham Bell, didn’t actually invent the technology that made him such a dominant world force.

Antonio Meucci was actually working on telephone technology for years before Bell was involved. Bell received the first patent for the phone, but Meucci had filed for a temporary patent for his talking telegraph system 5 years earlier. Word is that he was unable to mail in the $10 fee for renewal and his patent ended in 1874 as a result. Bell got his patent in 1885.

Meucci actually tried to sue Bell but was unable to get the original sketches of his invention that he’d sent to the lab at Western Union as they’d mysteriously gone missing. 

1. Edison Didn’t Invent the Light Bulb

Though many of us take light bulbs for granted, and probably don’t even think about them until we notice they’re not working, they are one of the most important inventions in history. They’ve also become symbolic of the very idea of invention. We talked about having those light bulbs moments, and cartoons to pick a light bulb appearing over someone’s head when they’ve had a moment of inspiration. That speaks to the value and importance of the light bulb in the history of invention.

Even though Thomas Edison’s name is still tied to the light bulb to this day, there had been over 20 patents issued to different inventors for light bulbs prior to Edison even coming onto the scene. The first of these inventions dates back to 1806. Sir Humphry Davy had an electric lamp that he showed off to the Royal Society at that time and though it did not last long that doesn’t discount the fact he created it.

As for Edison, he greatly improved the technology and allowed for electric light to become viable and widespread. The innovations his company came up with ensured bulbs could burn hundreds of hours. But those didn’t come until the 1870s, three-quarters of a century after Davy first created the bulb.


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