Mind Candy

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5 famous inventors who stole the invention that made them famous

Posted by mandyf on September 12, 2011

As a high school teacher once told his advanced chemistry class; “Get a patent for everything because scientists are thieving bastards.” While that was certainly amusing to hear and sounded like the ramblings of a discontented old man, is there any validity to it? The history books in school would say no, but reality tells us something different. Some – not all – but some scientists are in fact thieving bastards. Who would have thought it? Actually, it seems the bigger the supposed achievement the more likely it was to be stolen – or borrowed without the intent to return for those who prefer to be politically correct.

With that in mind, here are five well known scientists to ponder.  We’ll look at what invention they received credit for, and who they stole it from. The names may shock you, but if time has taught us anything, history has revised itself time and again to make for a better story. Prepare to be educated and amused – and if you have any doubt there is plenty of documentation to prove it all.

Brilliant - Yes! Thieving bastard....yup....

Galileo Galilei is the inventor of the telescope – the books all say so and he has four moons orbiting Jupiter to prove it. When you say Galilei, people automatically reply telescope! It’s been that way for nearly 400 years. Actually that is incorrect. Galilei built a telescope in 1609 to be sure, but only after Hans Lippershey built and applied for a patent on one in 1608. The telescope worked, but for some unknown reason his patent was denied – but the application for it and the specs were recorded. While Galileo enjoyed fame that transcends centuries, Lippershey got a crater on the Earth’s moon named after him. That’s a pretty raw deal.

Sir Alexander Fleming enjoys a legendary reputation that changed the course of history. The way it breaks down is that Fleming’s father saved a young lad from drowning, and to show his appreciation the child’s father vowed to send Fleming’s son – Sir Alexander -to school to be whatever he wanted to be. Skipping ahead, Fleming goes to med school, stumbles upon the healing power of penicillin, which is later on used to the save the life of Winston Churchill whose life was threatened by a severe pneumonia. Oh, by the way, the little drowning boy was Winston Churchill.

As cool as that all sounds, you could fertilize every Farmville farm on Facebook with it. The easiest thing to point out is that Fleming never discovered penicillin. Secondly, Churchill did have a pneumonia, but it wasn’t treated with penicillin. It is known that Ernst Duchesne was using penicilium glaucoma in 1897 to cure typhoid in guinea pigs. For whatever reason, he never applied for a patent, but his notes and correspondence with other scientists that clearly thought he was crazy do prove he was using penicillin for medicinal purposes.

Sir Alexander Fleming - Nobel Prize Winning thieving bastard!

Fleming did “discover” penicillin after Duchesne passed away, and he did truly believe his discovery was a first because he never cared to research if anyone had worked with it before. He worked with it briefly, declared it useless, and discarded it like trash. Thankfully other scientists perked up at the announcement, went back to Duchesne’s research, continued where he left off and eventually learned it’s uses and how to mass produce it. So even though he was years behind the actual discovery and had no idea what it was, what it could do, and considered his time working with it to be a complete waste, he was more than happy to claim the credit for everyone else’s work.

Alexander Graham bell invented the first telephone and everyone knows it because we learned it on Schoolhouse Rock and our teachers pounded it into our heads. Actually…Antonio Meucci displayed a working telephone in 1860 that he called the “teletrofono.” In 1871 he filed for a temporary patent on it. In 1874 when the time came to pay the $10 fee for the patent, for some reason he didn’t. Speculation is that he was in poor health and destitute because he put everything he had into making working models of the teletrofono. Maybe that is why, maybe not – it’s one of history’s mysteries.

What is known is that in 1876, Bell put in a patent for his “telephone” which was a duplicate of Meucci’s. Meucci tried to sue, he sent in his designs to Western Union for comparison, but they somehow misplaced them. Considering Bell was working for western Union is it any wonder they got lost? Bell became known as the father of the telephone while Meucci died penniless.

We like Einstein here at Mind Candy so we'll just say he liberally borrowed a lot of theory and math from elsewhere and presented it in a possibly less than ethical way.

When you think of Albert Einstein you think of one of two things immediately – the theory of relativity or E=mc2. We know those belong to Einstein because again – that is what we were taught and it’s on a buttload of tee-shirts and bumper stickers. The problem is – to be blunt – Einstein doesn’t deserve the credit for either. It would be cool if he did, but sadly it’s a load of bull.

You have to go back to the 19th century and check out a dude named Henri Poincare. Back in the day he was pretty rad guy that had some mind blowing ideas nobody really seemed to get. If you had a question about math – the kind most people will never ever get – you asked Poincare. If you had ideas on relativity that you wanted to bounce off someone – you went to Poincare. Here is the part that really gets people irate – Einstein was a thief – a plagiarist specifically. Professors today have said that if Einstein turned his work in now as he did then, with the use of computer software to match text he would have been busted for academic plagiarism.

If you have the time and desire and are willing to plow through it, go to your bookshelf and dust off your copy of “On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies” and have a read with a highlighting pen in hand. This is the book that contains Einstein’s theories on relativity- it’s a famous book – a real big deal. The problem is – as you will notice – Einstein never cited a single thing. Not a footnote, not even a shout out to his dawgs. If you believe what you read every thought was his own.

Here’s the problem – a lot of this stuff was already on Poincare’s notes and manuscripts – actually a really really really lot of it! Some say that is proof of nothing because Einstein was a genius, the man of the century, and incidentally he was a sex maniac for what it’s worth. Einstein insisted he never read other scientists papers, that it muddied his thought process and was counterproductive to original thought. Here’s the thing, Einstein belonged to an organization known as the Olympia Academy, and what they studied often and at great depth was Poincare.

If you go through their theories side by side, you see Einstein basically ripped Poincare at the wholesale rate, like he got a discount or something. Oh sure, it’s all circumstantial, and just haters trying to down the Stein, but is it? If you don’t believe, at the end of the article peruse all the sources you like and notice how Poincare precedes Einstein, and how about 100 years later – give or take a few years – Poincare finally started getting his due, not that anyone is paying attention because then what would retailers do with all that cool Einstein swag?

The really big stuff you’ll need to download, but if you’re really curious that’s the way to go. Just keep in mind that in all fairness – Poincare copped his ideas from dudes before him – he just had the courtesy to cite them and give proper credit. People argue each side of this and from hundreds of subtly different angles, but the thing is Einstein in no way shape or form came up with the theory of relativity as has been taught for years.

Thomas Edison was a great inventor, a prolific inventor, and an inventor that didn’t mind swooping in like a vulture to grab ideas to quickly patent whether or not they were necessarily his own. Edison holds a world record 1,093 patents, but a load of them were crap, and some of the best were stolen. There are so many patents Edison holds for things he claimed to invent that the bandwidth requirements needed to discuss each in depth are staggering. This is the easy way out – Edison did not invent the light bulb. End of story – sorta.

Edison was not only a thieving bastard, he was a ruthless bully that preyed on the weak and sick...yet we revere him for it

Edison did play around with perfecting the light bulb, but the credit for that really goes to Heinrich Goebel. Goebel had it working in 1854 – and he actually tried to sell it to Edison who refused and dismissed it as an impractical triviality – unlike Edison’s face vacuum which was going to be huge. Seriously, you can look that up. Goebel wound up dying as everyone does eventually, and when his widow was flat broke and desperate along came the generous Edison that that bought the light bulb for a fraction of what it was worth. It was an easier option than fixing his own model that either fizzled out or blew up on moist tries.

Still, Edison was too lazy to bother filing for the patent for whatever reason, and then Joseph Wilson Swan developed and received a patent for the light bulb. Edison filed a challenge claiming he invented it first, but the problem was he couldn’t really document it so he basically bought Swan off and formed the Ediswan United Company. Eventually Edison built up mad stacks of cheddar and just fully bought out Swan and then revised history enough so that only his name appeared on the records for the light bulb patent.

The sad thing is you’ll always hear about Edison inventing the light bulb, and occasionally you’ll hear about Swan because that was a pretty tough thing to fully erase, but when did you ever hear about Goebels, the guy that actually did it first? It’s just another example that sometimes the story you get isn’t quite what it seems to be.



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