An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump, 1768 (oil on canvas), Joseph  Wright of Derby (1734-97) / National Gallery, London, UK

Creating Something from Nothing: Our Favorite Inventors

It takes a one-of-a-kind mind to be able to take an idea and make it a reality. Below, we’ve put together a list of those individuals who made it their life’s work to change society for the better, through new ideas and technology. Draw some inspiration from these inventors who changed the world (and our world) for the better through perseverance, inspiration, and open minds.

“I can excuse everything but boredom. Boring people don’t have to stay that way.” Hedy Lamarr

Franz Lehar and Hedy Lamarr in Vienna, 1929 (b/w photo) / © SZ Photo / Scherl
Franz Lehar and Hedy Lamarr in Vienna, 1929 (b/w photo) / © SZ Photo / Scherl

Known primarily as a leading lady film star in the 1930s and ’40s, this Austrian actress became a pioneer in the field of wireless communications. Lamarr co-developed the Secret Communications System to combat Nazis in WWII, which manipulated radio frequencies at irregular intervals between transmission and reception. While this invention was only put into use in the 1960s by the US Army, it was responsible for paving the way for wireless technology utilized today by cell networks, Bluetooth devices and WIFI.

Austria / USA: Hedy Lamarr (born Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler, 9 November 1914 - 19 January 2000), Austrian and American film actress and inventor, publicity photo, MGM / Clarence Bull, 1940 / Pictures from History Lamarr appeared in numerous popular feature films, including Algiers (1938), I Take This Woman (1940), Comrade X (1940), Come Live With Me (1941), H.M. Pulham, Esq. (1941), and Samson and Delilah (1949). At the beginning of World War II, Lamarr and composer George Antheil developed a radio guidance system for Allied torpedoes, which used spread spectrum and frequency hopping technology to defeat the threat of jamming by the Axis powers. Though the US Navy did not adopt the technology until the 1960s, the principles of their work are now incorporated into modern Wi-Fi, CDMA, and Bluetooth technology, and this work led to their being inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2014.); Pictures from History; it is possible that some works by this artist may be protected by third party rights in some territories
Austria / USA: Hedy Lamarr (born Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler, 9 November 1914 – 19 January 2000), Austrian and American film actress and inventor, publicity photo, MGM / Clarence Bull, 1940 / Pictures from History

“Investment in knowledge pays the best interest” – Benjamin Franklin

When They Were Young: Benjamin Franklin, Jackson, Peter (1922-2003) / Private Collection / © Look and Learn
When They Were Young: Benjamin Franklin, Peter Jackson (1922-2003) / Private Collection / © Look and Learn

Benjamin Franklin, one of the United States’ Founding Fathers,  had taken an interest in electricity. After discovering the electrical force in lightning after his famous kite experiment, he created a lightning rod that would protect peoples’ homes from damage. He also invented bifocal glasses and the Franklin stove – a metal lined fireplace.

Benjamin Franklin, 1782 (oil on canvas), Joseph Wright of Derby, (1734-97) / Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, USA
Benjamin Franklin, 1782 (oil on canvas), Joseph Wright of Derby, (1734-97) / Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, USA

“Where there is no vision, there is no hope.” – George Washington Carver

Portrait of George Washington Carver in a laboratory / Mondadori Portfolio
Portrait of George Washington Carver in a laboratory / Mondadori Portfolio

Born into slavery, the American botanist and inventor revolutionized agriculture. Carver invented new uses for everyday crops (most famously peanuts, but also soybeans), which included adhesives, bleach, buttermilk, ink, shoe polish, synthetic rubber, pavement and more.

George Washington Carver, 1906 (b/w photo), Johnston, Frances Benjamin (1864-1952) / Private Collection / Photo © PVDEGeorge Washington Carver, 1906 (b/w photo), Frances Benjamin Johnston (1864-1952) / Private Collection / Photo © PVDE
George Washington Carver, 1906 (b/w photo), Johnston, Frances Benjamin (1864-1952) / Private Collection / Photo © PVDEGeorge Washington Carver, 1906 (b/w photo), Frances Benjamin Johnston (1864-1952) / Private Collection / Photo © PVDE

“If we worked on the assumption that what is accepted as true really is true, then there would be little hope for advance.” – the Wright Brothers

The Wright Brothers (b/w photo) / Private Collection / Peter Newark American Pictures
The Wright Brothers (b/w photo) / Private Collection / Peter Newark American Pictures

The ambitious bike-shop owners Orville and Wilburn Wright, affectionately known as the Wright brothers, set their sights on the sky. In 1903 they created the first airplane with aircraft controls that made fixed-wing powered flight possible, jump-starting the commercial aviation industry.

The Wright Brothers, Orville and Wilbur Wright, 1909 (b/w photo) / Private Collection / Prismatic Pictures
The Wright Brothers, Orville and Wilbur Wright, 1909 (b/w photo) / Private Collection / Prismatic Pictures

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” Thomas Edison

Edison's experimentation with light bulbs, English School, (20th century) / Private Collection / © Look and Learn
Edison’s experimentation with light bulbs, English School, (20th century) / Private Collection / © Look and Learn

Educated at the prestigious university The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, this American inventor held over 1,093 US patents in his name. He is best known for inventing the electric light bulb in addition to the phonograph (predecessor to the record player), which was a machine that would record a spoken voice and play it back, and the motion picture camera called the Kinetoscope (the original GIF). Explore our exclusive collection of inspired Thomas Edison footage.

Thomas Alva Edison (1847-1931), Portrait / Private Collection / J. T. Vintage
Thomas Alva Edison (1847-1931), Portrait / Private Collection / J. T. Vintage

“Don’t let yourself be tainted with a barren skepticism.” – Louis Pasteur  

Louis Pasteur (1822-95) in his Laboratory, 1885 (oil on canvas), Albert Gustaf Aristides Edelfelt (1854-1905) / Musee d'Orsay, Paris, France
Louis Pasteur (1822-95) in his Laboratory, 1885 (oil on canvas), Albert Gustaf Aristides Edelfelt (1854-1905) / Musee d’Orsay, Paris, France

The French chemist and microbiologist invented pasteurization (taken from his own name), the process that prevents food spoilage in milk, beer and wine. He also was one of the pioneers of the Germ Theory of disease, which states that some diseases are caused by microorganisms, helping him create the first vaccine for rabies.

Louis Pasteur (1822-95) (b&w photo), French Photographer, (19th century) / Private Collection
Louis Pasteur (1822-95) (b&w photo), French Photographer, (19th century) / Private Collection

“‘Mr. Watson — Come here — I want to see you.’ [First intelligible words spoken over the telephone]” Alexander Graham Bell

Alexander Graham Bell making the first call between New York and Chicago, 1892 (b/w photo), American Photographer, (19th century) / Private Collection / The Stapleton Collection
Alexander Graham Bell making the first call between New York and Chicago, 1892 (b/w photo), American Photographer, (19th century) / Private Collection / The Stapleton Collection

The Scottish-born teacher, scientist, inventor and engineer (whose death was 95 years ago this coming August 2nd) changed how people communicate, as he is credited with inventing the first telephone.  Bell also dedicated his life to working with the deaf and founded the Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.

Alexander-Graham Bell / © SZ Photo
Alexander-Graham Bell / © SZ Photo

Every day sees humanity more victorious in the struggle with space and time.” – Guglielmo Marconi

Guglielmo Marconi (1874-1937), Italian physicist and inventor. Radio pioneer. Marconi with typical apparatus, including 10-inch induction coil spark transmitter (right), morse inker and 'grasshopper' key in centre. Photograph. / Universal History Archive/UIG
Guglielmo Marconi (1874-1937), Italian physicist and inventor. Radio pioneer. Marconi with typical apparatus, including 10-inch induction coil spark transmitter (right), morse inker and ‘grasshopper’ key in centre. Photograph. / Universal History Archive/UIG

Guglielmo Marconi (who died 80 years ago this year on July 20th) was Italian inventor and electrical engineer known for his pioneering work on long-distance radio transmission and a radio telegraph system. He is also famous for implementing and developing Marconi’s law which established the relationship between the height of antennae and the maximum signaling distance of radio transmissions.

Guglielmo Marconi (1874-1937) ingenieur electricien et inventeur italien Photographie par Pach Bros ici en 1908.
Guglielmo Marconi (1874-1937) ingenieur electricien et inventeur italien Photographie par Pach Bros ici en 1908.

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