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Great American Inventors: What Separates them from Mediocrity

Updated on January 20, 2010
Alexander Graham Bell   Inventor of the Telephone   Source: Wikipedia
Alexander Graham Bell Inventor of the Telephone Source: Wikipedia
Sketch of the telephone invented by Bell
Sketch of the telephone invented by Bell
Protype of the telephone by Bell
Protype of the telephone by Bell
Henry Ford, inventor of the Model T   Source:
Henry Ford, inventor of the Model T Source:
Ford's Assembly Line
Ford's Assembly Line
Ford's 1915 Model T   source:Google image
Ford's 1915 Model T source:Google image
Thomas Alva Edison, inventor of the light bulb & Motion picture   Source:wikipedia
Thomas Alva Edison, inventor of the light bulb & Motion picture Source:wikipedia
Edison's first public use of light bulb, 1879   Source: Wikipedia
Edison's first public use of light bulb, 1879 Source: Wikipedia
Thomas A. Edison Industries Exhibit, Primary Battery section, 1915   Source: Wikipedia
Thomas A. Edison Industries Exhibit, Primary Battery section, 1915 Source: Wikipedia
Garret Augustus Morgan, inventor of the stoplight
Garret Augustus Morgan, inventor of the stoplight
Morgan's Gas Mask
Morgan's Gas Mask
Stoplight invented by Garrett Morgan
Stoplight invented by Garrett Morgan
Madam C.J. Walker, Self-made Millionaire
Madam C.J. Walker, Self-made Millionaire
Madam C.J. Walker Preparations - Madam C.J. Walker Manufacturing Company, Indianapolis, Indiana, advertisement. From New York Age, January 17, 1920    Source:
Madam C.J. Walker Preparations - Madam C.J. Walker Manufacturing Company, Indianapolis, Indiana, advertisement. From New York Age, January 17, 1920 Source:

Five American Inventors

The world as we know it would not be the same without the inventions of many of the geniuses of the past, present and the future. We all can visualize the image of an inventor as a crazy scientist or engineer working tirelessly in his workshop, usually solo and being driven to the brink of insanity because of his inexhaustible drive to discover a device that will enhance the human causes. Many inventors do not think primarily of advancing the human cause, but rather finding a solution to an annoying problem that he/she is convinced that there is a more efficient way of doing things. Some of these devices are the telephone, the polio vaccination, the automobile, the air conditioner, the sewing machine, the airplane, the light bulb, the stoplight, and countless other useful gadgets, instrument and therapies. Can you imagine what our lives would be without any of these inventions? I certainly can't imagine walking around wearing woven vines instead of clothes or not being able to travel all over this wonderful world or communicate instantly with friends and relatives locally or internationally.

Like many people, I am fascinated with inventors and their contributions to the improvement of the human conditions. I will also hasten to acknowledge that many of inventions have also contributed to the destruction of humans and the environment. This post will take a cursory look at some North American inventors who have positively impacted our world. I will share with you the works of such amazing inventors as Alexander William Bell, Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, Garret Augustus Morgan and C.J. walker. These five inventors represent a diverse group of men and woman who saw a need in their communities and decided to do something about improving the situation. Their life's work has earned international recognition and acclaim for themselves and their continent. I am curious to find out what separates these inventors from the rest of us. I want to understand what their philosophy of the world was and what drove them to be such remarkable contributors to the world. I can definitely learn something about their drive for success.

Alexander Graham Bell

He was born in Scotland in 1847 to a mother who was deaf and his father taught people with a hearing impairment to speak using his method of "Visible speech". Bell was therefore exposed at a very early age to devices that enhanced the speech of persons with a hearing impairment. Bell moved to North America, living in Canada for a while and then on to Boston where he taught at Boston University. It was there that he met his wife, who was deaf as a result of Scarlet fever.

In 1874 Bell and Thomas Watson built a phonautograph--a device that could draw the vibrations of a human voice--to teach his deaf students how to visualize sound. The device they invented later become the telephone. On February 14, 1876 Bell patented his invention and there after secured the rights to make telephones in the US for the next nineteen years.

Bell’s lifelong interest in nature and science also led to a variety of other invention ideas, including years of experiments with flight, from designing kites to airplanes. Bell found inspiration in the natural world through careful observation of how things work--the vibrations in the bones and membrane of the human ear, the flight of birds, and the properties of wind. The other source was his lifelong habit of reflection, often done out of doors. He found space and time to think and dream. It is said that Bell was not a good student. He got bored with school, even though he liked reading, math, and science. He was more interested in doing experiments and discovering things on his own. He had a curiosity about his environment.

Henry Ford

Ford was born on July 30, 1863 in Dearborn Michigan, USA. His parents were Irish immigrants who were farmers. He was the eldest of six children. Ford began his career as an apprentice machinist in 1879. Henry Ford had always enjoyed mechanical things and was always trying to improve or create more useful machinery. In 1893 he created his first gasoline driven buggy or Quadricycle that was completely self propelled. He then started the Detroit Automobile Company with several other investors to improve on his design, but soon after, the company went bankrupt. Ford then started the Henry Ford Company, which he also left, and eventually started the Ford Motor Company in 1903.

The Ford Motor Company released the successful Model T car in 1908. By installing a moving assembly line in his factory, workers began to build cars one piece at a time – with each individual responsible for a specific job. This division of labour allowed cars to be produced both more quickly and efficiently. With the addition of the world's first automatic conveyor belt, Henry Ford's factory in Michigan was soon producing a car every 93 minutes. Ford's assembly line invention accelerated the American Industrial Revolution, and factories continue to employee the concept to this day. In 1918, half of the total number of cars in the United States was Model T's; about 15 million cars were sold, and production of the Model T was finally stopped in 1927.

Ford had strong views on labour and how the workforce should be treated. He paid his workers more money for fewer working days and made the 5 day 40 hour working week a normal part of working life. Henry Ford created the Ford Foundation in 1936 to promote human welfare through research grants, educational grants and development

Today Ford Motor Company is a multinational corporation and is the fourth largest automaker company in the world. In addition to the Ford, Lincoln and Mercury brands, Ford also owns Volvo Cars of Sweden, and a small stake in Mazda of Japan and Aston Martin of England.

Thomas Edison

Thomas Alva Edison was born on February 11, 1847 in Milan, Ohio. He was an American inventor, scientist and businessman who developed many devices that greatly influenced life around the world. The devices he invented including the phonograph, the motion picture camera, and electric light bulb. He was one of the first inventors to apply the principles of mass production and large teamwork to the process of invention, and therefore is often credited with the creation of the first industrial research laboratory.

Edison spent only three months in the formal school system and was home schooled by his mother, Nancy Edison. He was always a very curious child and taught himself much by reading on his own. This belief in self-improvement remained throughout his life. By the time Edison was sixteen, he was proficient enough to work as a telegrapher full time. Edison moved to Boston in 1868, where he changed his profession from telegrapher to inventor.

In 1876 Edison moved his family to Menlo Park, twenty-five miles southwest of New York City. Edison established a new facility containing all the equipment necessary to work on any invention. This research and development laboratory was the first of its kind anywhere. Even though his first invention, the tin foil phonograph, was a failure, he did not give up. Eventually Edison's achievement was inventing not just an incandescent electric light, but also an electric lighting system that contained all the elements necessary to make the incandescent light practical, safe, and economical. Edison's various electric companies continued to grow until in 1889 they were brought together to form Edison General Electric. When Edison General Electric merged with its leading competitor Thompson-Houston in 1892, Edison was dropped from the name, and the company became simply General Electric.

While working on the phonograph, Edison began working on a device that, "does for the eye what the phonograph does for the ear", this was to become motion pictures. Edison first demonstrated motion pictures in 1891, and began commercial production of "movies" two years later. Edison began to develop an alkaline battery in 1899. It proved to be Edison's most difficult project, taking ten years to develop a practical alkaline battery. Even though by then gasoline operated cars had become popular, Edison's alkaline battery was proved useful for lighting railway cars and signals, maritime buoys, and miners lamps. He had paved the way for the modern alkaline battery.

Garret Augustus Morgan

Garret Augustus Morgan was born on March 4, 1877 in Paris, Kentucky. He was the seventh of eleven children born to Sidney and Elizabeth Morgan. His mother, Elizabeth had been a slave freed by the Emancipation Proclamation. Morgan's early days were spent on his family farm while he attended elementary school; which is the extent of his education. At age fourteen he went to Cincinnati, Ohio to look for work. He hired a tutor as he wanted to continue his study of the English Grammar. Morgan moved to Cleveland, Ohio in 1895 working for a clothing manufacturer as a sewing machine repairman. During his employment, he invented a belt fastener for the sewing machine.

He became a businessman in 1907 with the opening of his own sewing equipment and repair shop. He included a tailoring shop in 1909 that employed 32 employees. Morgan’s new company began to market coats, suits, and dresses. These clothes were made with the equipment that Morgan himself had made.

In 1909 Morgan accidentally discovered an hair straightening fluid. He marketed the product under the name the G. A. Morgan Hair Refining Cream and sold by his G. A. Morgan Refining Company, which became a very successful business. In 1912, Morgan developed another invention, the Safety Hood and patented it as a Breathing Device, but the world came to know it as a Gas Mask. Morgan intended the device to be used "to provide a portable attachment which will enable a fireman to enter a house filled with thick suffocating gases and smoke and to breathe freely for some time therein, and thereby enable him to perform his duties of saving lives and valuables without danger to himself from suffocation. Morgan's Gas Mask was used by engineers, chemists, and the US army during WWI.

The electric traffic light signal was invented by Morgan. As he drove around and witnessed accidents between automobiles, pedestrians and horse-drawn carriage, he saw the need for a signal to direct traffic and thus prevent accidents. Morgan sold the rights to his device to the General Electric Company for the astounding sum of $40,000.00 and it became the standard across the country. Today's modern traffic lights are based upon Morgan's original design.

Madam C.J. walker

Madam C.J. Walker was born Sarah Breedlove. She was born on December 23, 1867 in Delta, Louisiana. She was the first person in her family to be born in freedom. She was orphaned at age seven. Sarah and her older sister worked in the cotton fields of Delta and Vicksburg, Mississippi. She was married at age fourteen and her husband died shortly after. She moved to St. Louis to join her four brothers who had established themselves as barbers. She worked as a laundry woman and saved enough money to educate her daughter. In 1905 she moved to Denver where she married Charles Joseph Walker and changed her name to Madam C.J. Walker.

Madam Walker founded her own business and began selling her own product called Madam Walker's Wonderful Hair Grower, a scalp conditioning and healing formula. To promote her products, she embarked on an exhausting sales drive throughout the South and Southeast selling her products door to door, giving demonstrations, and working on sales and marketing strategies. In 1908, she opened a college in Pittsburgh to train her "hair culturists." Madame Walker’s aggressive marketing strategy combined with relentless ambition led her to be labelled as the first known African-American woman to become a self-made millionaire.

These American inventors are known worldwide because of their ingenious inventions. These were mechanics, teachers, scientists, businessmen, sales persons who became inventors who have changed the course of modern life as we know it. These renowned men and woman, from an early age knew the value of hard work, dedication and positive self-worth. Most of them did not have formal education, but had a strong desire for continual learning. They were all from humble beginnings and through their passion and determination gained enormous amount of wealth. They saw a need in their communities and set about doing something to address the situation. They were visionaries who were on the frontier of the American industrial revolution. They were doers, not complainers. As a result of their drive to understand their world and to improve the status quo, they have created much needed devices, strategies and therapies that have remained relevant to today.

In closing, I leave you with the words of Madam C.J. Walker, "There is no royal flower-strewn path to success. And if there is, I have not found it for if I have accomplished anything in life it is because I have been willing to work hard."


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    • DynamicS profile imageAUTHOR

      Sandria Green-Stewart 

      9 years ago from Toronto, Canada

      salimbag, thanks for your comment. Edison was definitely a genius in marketing/selling. He established marketing as we now know it. Thanks for stopping by and for your input.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Edison invented... inventing. Establish there's a market, get backers, publicize the product while in development. That process is his real legacy, not gadgets.

    • DynamicS profile imageAUTHOR

      Sandria Green-Stewart 

      9 years ago from Toronto, Canada

      frogyfish, thanks for your coment. Indeed these great inventors are inspiring even after over 100 hundred years. That is the mark of true heroes; their work live on even after they're long past.

    • frogyfish profile image


      9 years ago from Central United States of America

      Very interesting info, and inspiring to read - appreciating the hard work that brought successes. Thank you for sharing YOUR hard work here too! Enjoyed learning!

    • DynamicS profile imageAUTHOR

      Sandria Green-Stewart 

      9 years ago from Toronto, Canada

      Quicksand, you should definitely finish that hub re Edison. I am looking forward to reading it. Who are the other two?

      Edison is truly an inspiration and I have heard of him from a few books that I've read recently. Authors like Napolean Hill, Clement Stone and Jack Canfield have referred to him in their writings. I now understand their admiration.

      Take care.

    • quicksand profile image


      9 years ago

      Sure, DynamicS. In fact is in my "top three." I had written a mini article on him sometime back which I had withdrawn after enrolling with HubPages. I meant to tweak it up and publish it on HP, but have not been able to find the time.

      Cheers! :)

    • DynamicS profile imageAUTHOR

      Sandria Green-Stewart 

      9 years ago from Toronto, Canada

      Hi quicksand, Edison is one of the great American Inventor, scientist and businessman. We can definitely learn from his life and be inspired by his achievements.

      Thanks my friend. I always look forward to your comments.

      Have an awesome day.

    • quicksand profile image


      9 years ago

      I think Edison stands right on top, high above the others. Thanks for this very interesting essay, DynamicS! :)

    • DynamicS profile imageAUTHOR

      Sandria Green-Stewart 

      9 years ago from Toronto, Canada

      Thanks ralwua, she definitely summed it up. Even though many have found weath and fame - their notion of success, without hardwork. We've often see/hear however that their wealth or fame was fleeting.

      Thanks for stopping by and for yoru comment.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Madam Walker seems to have summed up this interesting hub. Hard work.

    • DynamicS profile imageAUTHOR

      Sandria Green-Stewart 

      9 years ago from Toronto, Canada

      James, thank for your kind comment. Coming from a great American, I appreciate your approval. I am amazed by these inventors because of their mega contribution to our world. The good thing is that they were ordinary men and women who saw a need and did something about improving the situation. I am inspired by their ingenuity and their respect for the human condition.

      Thanks for stopping by.

    • James A Watkins profile image

      James A Watkins 

      9 years ago from Chicago

      Excellence! I very much enjoyed your article about great American inventors. It is written with flair. Well done.


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