1) Nikola Tesla
I can’t even explain a lot of Tesla’s inventions and how they work. But I do know that, aside from providing the city of Buffalo, NY, with hydroelectric power, inventing alternating current (AC) power, the lightning rod, ways to use x-rays, and a host of other transmitters and transformers, Tesla was the first to envision a main characteristic of modern life—wireless communications and energy transmission. Think about that the next time you talk on your cell phone.
2) Thomas Edison
Let’s just get it out of the way: the light bulb, phonographic recording, movies, voting machines, and even tattoo stencils—the man had over 1,000 patents before he died. Revival of interest in the struggle between Edison and Tesla around 1886 has produced a lot of books and documentaries showing Edison to be a real jerk. (Try to find footage of the film he produced of an elephant being killed using Tesla’s alternating current—actually…no, don’t.) But he is indisputably the giant of American ingenuity (well, until those Google guys came along).
3) Johannes Gutenberg
The Chinese may have invented a version of moveable clay tiles in the 1300s, but it’s Gutenberg’s 1438 invention that ushered in 600 years of books, newspapers, and every sort of printed material, and consequentially, mass literacy among the merchant classes of Europe.
4) Philo T. Farnsworth
The man who invented television (and his wife, whom he always gave equal credit) is almost completely forgotten by history—due in part to the selling of his patent to RCA Victor, which led to a classic little-guy vs. big-corporation battle. (You don’t have to guess who won).
5) Bo Diddley
Aside from his rightful claim as being “The Originator” of the link between country and blues to create rock 'n’ roll, Bo Diddley truly was the creator of the “Bo Diddley Beat”—heard in his namesake song, his hit “Who Do You Love?”, the Buddy Holly song “Not Fade Away,” and countless other crossover hits.
1) Henry Ford
Ford often is erroneously credited with inventing the car. He didn’t. But he did create the assembly line, which revolutionized heavy industry and made the United States the world’s leading superpower.
2) Tim Berners-Lee
A group of super-smart American nerds invented the Internet (aided by massive Congressional funding spearheaded by then-Senator Al Gore). Berners-Lee wasn’t one of those folks, but the British-born computer scientist did invent the World Wide Web, which made the Internet accessible to the average guy and gal. It’s just a guess, but he’s probably not too thrilled that most people use his invention to look at porn or to goof off at work.
3) Orville and Wilbur Wright
Let’s get this straight; Ohio is the birthplace of flight. Yes, North Carolinians, I’m looking at you. The Wright Brothers were from Dayton, they developed their ideas about flight in Dayton, and they even did their early testing in Dayton. The Wrights only moved to North Carolina because the lighter winds and lower air density made it easier for their plane to take off.
4) Les Paul
If Les Paul was nothing more than a jazz guitarist, his place in history would be secure. But Paul pioneered the invention of the solid-body electric guitar, and created recording innovations such as multitrack recording, overdubbing, delay effects and phasing effects. If you listen to recorded music, you’ve heard some of Paul’s inventions.
5) Otto Rohwedder
Who’s Otto Rohwedder? He’s the Chillicothe, Mo., man who invented sliced bread.