Great minds thinks alike. When Johann Vaaler patented his paperclip in 1901, there already were similar designs by William Middlebrook and Cornelius Brosnan. Vaaler is credited with being the first to design a paperclip because of drawings he made as early as 1899.
In 1669, the principles of differential calculus were determined by Sir Isaac Newton in England and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz in Germany at about the same time. (The name is derived from the Latin word for “pebble,” referring to the use of pebbles for counting.)
One hour before Alexander Graham Bell registered his patent for the telephone in 1876, Elisha Gray patented his design. After years of litigation, the patent went to Bell.
Gray invented the first electronic musical instrument. He had accidentally discovered that he could control sound from a self-vibrating electromagnetic circuit and in doing so invented a basic single note oscillator. The “Musical Telegraph” used steel reeds whose oscillations were created and transmitted over a telephone line by electromagnets. At the same time, around 1874, Bell had also designed an experimental “Electric Harp” for speech transmission over a telephone line using similar technology to Gray’s.
At 10h35 on Friday 17 December 1903, Orville Wright took the Flyer that he and his brother Wilbur built into the air for what has come to be known as the first powered flight. Earlier, unbeknownst to them, Gustave Whitehead and Richard Pearse were also experimenting with flying machines. Who actually took first to the sky remains a controversy.
In 1926 in Scotland, John Logie Baird demonstrated a machine that transmits movie pictures using radio technology, calling it a “televisor.” It was based on a 1884 idea by German Paul Nipkow. At the same time, Philo Fansworth was toiling away in San Francisco on his concept for television. The two men met a few months later, and Baird had to agree that Farnsworth’s electronic design was the better. They weren’t the only ones working on a TV model, though. Vladmir Zworykin, a Russian immigrant to New York, was working on athode-ray tubes, with the backing of David Sarnoff, the tech-savvy marketer who started NBC. In 1928, Farnsworth’s television sets made it to the market first, at $75 apiece.
Without the one knowing about the other, Jack Kilby from Texas and Robert Noyce from California invented the integrated circuit in 1958. However, their idea is not new – Briton GW Dummer had suggested such a design in 1952.
Great designs did not only bring great fun, they brought great growth. In the 1400s, global income rose only 0,1% per year. Today it often tops 5%. For the past 200 years, inventors often ranked as some of the richest in the world: Colt, Deere, Nobel, Goodyear, Edison, Bell, Eastman, Daimler, Gates, to name a few. In the 1990′s companies spent more on communication than on industrial, farming, mining and construction machinery.
Susanna Viljanen of Finland contributed to this story