The Most Famous

INVENTORS from United States

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This page contains a list of the greatest American Inventors. The pantheon dataset contains 426 Inventors, 118 of which were born in United States. This makes United States the birth place of the most number of Inventors.

Top 10

The following people are considered by Pantheon to be the top 10 most legendary American Inventors of all time. This list of famous American Inventors is sorted by HPI (Historical Popularity Index), a metric that aggregates information on a biography’s online popularity. Visit the rankings page to view the entire list of American Inventors.

Photo of Thomas Edison

1. Thomas Edison (1847 - 1931)

With an HPI of 89.06, Thomas Edison is the most famous American Inventor.  His biography has been translated into 181 different languages on wikipedia.

Thomas Alva Edison (February 11, 1847 – October 18, 1931) was an American inventor and businessman. He developed many devices in fields such as electric power generation, mass communication, sound recording, and motion pictures. These inventions, which include the phonograph, the motion picture camera, and early versions of the electric light bulb, have had a widespread impact on the modern industrialized world. He was one of the first inventors to apply the principles of organized science and teamwork to the process of invention, working with many researchers and employees. He established the first industrial research laboratory. Edison was raised in the American Midwest. Early in his career he worked as a telegraph operator, which inspired some of his earliest inventions. In 1876, he established his first laboratory facility in Menlo Park, New Jersey, where many of his early inventions were developed. He later established a botanical laboratory in Fort Myers, Florida, in collaboration with businessmen Henry Ford and Harvey S. Firestone, and a laboratory in West Orange, New Jersey, that featured the world's first film studio, the Black Maria. With 1,093 US patents in his name, as well as patents in other countries, Edison is regarded as the most prolific inventor in American history. Edison married twice and fathered six children. He died in 1931 due to complications from diabetes.

Photo of Henry Ford

2. Henry Ford (1863 - 1947)

With an HPI of 78.77, Henry Ford is the 2nd most famous American Inventor.  His biography has been translated into 146 different languages.

Henry Ford (July 30, 1863 – April 7, 1947) was an American industrialist and business magnate. As the founder of the Ford Motor Company he is credited as a pioneer in making automobiles affordable for middle-class Americans through the system that came to be known as Fordism. In 1911 he was awarded a patent for the transmission mechanism that would be used in the Model T and other automobiles. Ford was born in a farmhouse in Springwells Township, Michigan, and left home at the age of 16 to find work in Detroit. It was a few years before this time that Ford first experienced automobiles, and throughout the later half of the 1880s, he began repairing and later constructing engines, and through the 1890s worked with a division of Edison Electric. He founded the Ford Motor Company in 1903 after prior failures in business, but success in constructing automobiles. The introduction of the Ford Model T automobile in 1908 is credited with having revolutionized both transportation and American industry. As the sole owner of the Ford Motor Company, Ford became one of the wealthiest persons in the world. He was also among the pioneers of the five-day work-week. Ford believed that consumerism could help to bring about world peace. His commitment to systematically lowering costs resulted in many technical and business innovations, including a franchise system, which allowed for car dealerships throughout North America and in major cities on six continents. Ford was known for his pacifism during the first years of World War I, although during the war his company became a major supplier of weapons. He promoted the League of Nations. In the 1920s Ford promoted antisemitism through his newspaper The Dearborn Independent and the book The International Jew. He opposed his country's entering World War II, and served for a time on board of the America First Committee. After his son Edsel died in 1943 Ford resumed control of the company, but was too frail to make decisions and quickly came under the control of several of his subordinates. He turned over the company to his grandson Henry Ford II in 1945. Upon his death in 1947 he left most of his wealth to the Ford Foundation, and control of the company to his family.

Photo of Samuel Morse

3. Samuel Morse (1791 - 1872)

With an HPI of 76.24, Samuel Morse is the 3rd most famous American Inventor.  His biography has been translated into 91 different languages.

Samuel Finley Breese Morse (April 27, 1791 – April 2, 1872) was an American inventor and painter. After having established his reputation as a portrait painter, in his middle age Morse contributed to the invention of a single-wire telegraph system based on European telegraphs. He was a co-developer of Morse code in 1837 and helped to develop the commercial use of telegraphy.

Photo of Samuel Colt

4. Samuel Colt (1814 - 1862)

With an HPI of 70.63, Samuel Colt is the 4th most famous American Inventor.  His biography has been translated into 66 different languages.

Samuel Colt (; July 19, 1814 – January 10, 1862) was an American inventor, industrialist, and businessman who established Colt's Patent Fire-Arms Manufacturing Company (now Colt's Manufacturing Company) and made the mass production of revolvers commercially viable. Colt's first two business ventures were producing firearms in Paterson, New Jersey, and making underwater mines; both ended in disappointment. His business affairs improved rapidly after 1847, when the Texas Rangers ordered 1,000 revolvers during the American war with Mexico. Later, his firearms were used widely during the settling of the western frontier. Colt died in 1862 as one of the wealthiest men in America. Colt's manufacturing methods were sophisticated. His use of interchangeable parts helped him become one of the first to use the assembly line efficiently. Moreover, his innovative use of art, celebrity endorsements, and corporate gifts to promote his wares made him a pioneer of advertising, product placement, and mass marketing.

Photo of Steve Wozniak

5. Steve Wozniak (b. 1950)

With an HPI of 69.99, Steve Wozniak is the 5th most famous American Inventor.  His biography has been translated into 82 different languages.

Stephen Gary Wozniak (; born August 11, 1950), also known by his nickname "Woz", is an American technology entrepreneur, electrical engineer, computer programmer, philanthropist, and inventor. In 1976, he co-founded Apple Computer with his early business partner Steve Jobs. Through his work at Apple in the 1970s and 1980s, he is widely recognized as one of the most prominent pioneers of the personal computer revolution. In 1975, Wozniak started developing the Apple I: 150  into the computer that launched Apple when he and Jobs first began marketing it the following year. He was the primary designer of the Apple II, introduced in 1977, known as one of the first highly successful mass-produced microcomputers, while Jobs oversaw the development of its foam-molded plastic case and early Apple employee Rod Holt developed its switching power supply. With human–computer interface expert Jef Raskin, Wozniak had a major influence over the initial development of the original Macintosh concepts from 1979 to 1981, when Jobs took over the project following Wozniak's brief departure from the company due to a traumatic airplane accident. After permanently leaving Apple in 1985, Wozniak founded CL 9 and created the first programmable universal remote, released in 1987. He then pursued several other businesses and philanthropic ventures throughout his career, focusing largely on technology in K–12 schools. As of June 2024, Wozniak has remained an employee of Apple in a ceremonial capacity since stepping down in 1985. In recent years, he has helped fund multiple entrepreneurial efforts dealing in areas such as GPS and telecommunications, flash memory, technology and pop culture conventions, technical education, ecology, satellites and more.

Photo of Eli Whitney

6. Eli Whitney (1765 - 1825)

With an HPI of 69.43, Eli Whitney is the 6th most famous American Inventor.  His biography has been translated into 44 different languages.

Eli Whitney Jr. (December 8, 1765 – January 8, 1825) was an American inventor, widely known for inventing the cotton gin in 1793, one of the key inventions of the Industrial Revolution that shaped the economy of the Antebellum South. Whitney's invention made upland short cotton into a profitable crop, which strengthened the economic foundation of slavery in the United States and prolonged the institution. Despite the social and economic impact of his invention, Whitney lost much of his profits in legal battles over patent infringement for the cotton gin. Thereafter, he turned his attention to securing contracts with the government in the manufacture of muskets for the newly formed United States Army. He continued making arms and inventing until his death in 1825.

Photo of George Westinghouse

7. George Westinghouse (1846 - 1914)

With an HPI of 69.35, George Westinghouse is the 7th most famous American Inventor.  His biography has been translated into 53 different languages.

George Westinghouse Jr. (October 6, 1846 – March 12, 1914) was an American entrepreneur and engineer based in Pennsylvania who created the railway air brake and was a pioneer of the electrical industry, receiving his first patent at the age of 19. Westinghouse saw the potential of using alternating current for electric power distribution in the early 1880s and put all his resources into developing and marketing it. This put Westinghouse's business in direct competition with Thomas Edison, who marketed direct current for electric power distribution. In 1911 Westinghouse received the American Institute of Electrical Engineers's (AIEE) Edison Medal "For meritorious achievement in connection with the development of the alternating current system". He founded the Westinghouse Electric Corporation in 1886.

Photo of Robert Fulton

8. Robert Fulton (1765 - 1815)

With an HPI of 69.17, Robert Fulton is the 8th most famous American Inventor.  His biography has been translated into 62 different languages.

Robert Fulton (November 14, 1765 – February 24, 1815) was an American engineer and inventor who is widely credited with developing the world's first commercially successful steamboat, the North River Steamboat (also known as Clermont). In 1807, that steamboat traveled on the Hudson River with passengers from New York City to Albany and back again, a round trip of 300 nautical miles (560 kilometers), in 62 hours. The success of his steamboat changed river traffic and trade on major American rivers. In 1800, Fulton had been commissioned by Napoleon Bonaparte, leader of France, to attempt to design a submarine; he then produced Nautilus, the first practical submarine in history. Fulton is also credited with inventing some of the world's earliest naval torpedoes for use by the Royal Navy. Fulton became interested in steam engines and the idea of steamboats in 1777 when he was around age 12 and visited state delegate William Henry of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, who was interested in this topic. Henry had learned about inventor James Watt and his Watt steam engine on an earlier visit to England.

Photo of Ruth Handler

9. Ruth Handler (1916 - 2002)

With an HPI of 68.28, Ruth Handler is the 9th most famous American Inventor.  Her biography has been translated into 37 different languages.

Ruth Marianna Handler (née Mosko; November 4, 1916 – April 27, 2002) was an American businesswoman and inventor. She is best known for inventing the Barbie doll in 1959, and being co-founder of toy manufacturer Mattel with her husband Elliot, as well as serving as the company's first president from 1945 to 1975. The Handlers were forced to resign from Mattel in 1975 after the Securities and Exchange Commission investigated the company for falsifying financial documents. Handler was prominently characterized in the 2023 film Barbie.

Photo of Jimmy Wales

10. Jimmy Wales (b. 1966)

With an HPI of 68.20, Jimmy Wales is the 10th most famous American Inventor.  His biography has been translated into 177 different languages.

Jimmy Donal "Jimbo" Wales (born August 7, 1966; Jimbo Wales as a user of Wikipedia and other Wikimedia projects), is an Internet entrepreneur, webmaster, and former financial trader. He is a co-founder of the non-profit free encyclopedia, Wikipedia, and the for-profit wiki hosting service Fandom (formerly Wikia). He has worked on other online projects, including Bomis, Nupedia, WikiTribune, and WT Social. Wales was born in Huntsville, Alabama, where he attended the Randolph School. He earned bachelor's and master's degrees in finance from Auburn University and the University of Alabama, respectively. In graduate school, Wales taught at two universities; he departed before completing a PhD to take a job in finance and later worked as the research director of Chicago Options Associates. In 1996, Wales and two partners founded Bomis, a web portal known for featuring erotic photographs. Bomis provided the initial funding for the free peer-reviewed encyclopedia Nupedia (2000–2003). On January 15, 2001, with Larry Sanger and others, Wales launched Wikipedia, a free open-content encyclopedia that enjoyed rapid growth and popularity. As its public profile grew, Wales became its promoter and spokesman. Though he is historically credited as a co-founder, he has disputed this, declaring himself the sole founder. Wales serves on the Wikimedia Foundation Board of Trustees, the charity that he helped establish to operate Wikipedia, holding its board-appointed "community founder" seat. For his role in creating Wikipedia, Time named him one of "The 100 Most Influential People in the World" in 2006.

People

Pantheon has 131 people classified as American inventors born between 1742 and 1997. Of these 131, 20 (15.27%) of them are still alive today. The most famous living American inventors include Steve Wozniak, Jimmy Wales, and Bob Kahn. The most famous deceased American inventors include Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, and Samuel Morse. As of April 2024, 14 new American inventors have been added to Pantheon including George Devol, Jacob Perkins, and Orville Gibson.

Living American Inventors

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Deceased American Inventors

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Newly Added American Inventors (2024)

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Overlapping Lives

Which Inventors were alive at the same time? This visualization shows the lifespans of the 25 most globally memorable Inventors since 1700.