#3. Mikhail Kalashnikov, Creator of the AK-47
We're guessing that in every war your country has participated in during your lifetime, the bad guys were all using the same gun. You can thank Mikhail Kalashnikov.
Uhh... way to go?
In the 1940s, Kalashnikov was a strapping young lad enlisted in the Soviet Army. While in the hospital after having been wounded in World War II, he started designing guns in his spare time. In 1947, he came forward with a rifle he called the Automat Kalashnikov, which you know as the AK-47.
See, Mikhail and his fellow soldiers were fed up with the rifles in use by the Red Army, agreeing that they all pretty much sucked gopher balls.
"That's correct, sir. Gopher balls."
The AK-47 turned out to be one of the most awesome things ever to shoot bullets. It can take a mountain of abuse--from getting dropped in a river to having its barrel loaded with sand--and it will still work like a charm. It's easy to produce and idiot-proof to operate and, in 1949, it became the official rifle of the Soviet Union.
It is also the official rifle of Ice Cube.
Today, it's the most popular assault rifle in the world. Between the real ones and the knockoffs manufactured in China and elsewhere, there are thought to be 100-million fucking AK-47s in circulation in more than 60 countries.
And at least one of those is made completely out of bacon.
With those and just two magazines of ammo for each, you could shoot every man, woman and child on planet Earth.
So this guy has to be the Bill Gates of the gun world, right? The damned thing has his name on it, even if they just sent him $10 for every one sold (and they sell for as much as $500) the man would be a billionaire.
So How Did the Creator Make Out?
Yeah, if you read the Tetris entry up there, you know how this turns out. If the Soviet Union of 1984 wasn't paying off its inventors, the 1947 version sure as shit wasn't. Yes, this is why Communism sucks. Kalashnikov is living in a one-bedroom apartment on the state pension.
The Soviet Union just gave Mikhail a small bonus to thank him for his contribution to the collective and asked him to please build more legendary shit. In 1999, the Izhevsk Machine Shop finally patented the AK-47 after 52 years of heroically ignoring billions of dollars in royalties. Though, we're pretty sure a patent is basically useless at this point. We doubt the Taliban is going to start mailing them royalty checks any time soon.
And even if they did, he probably wouldn't open the envelope.
Recently the Russian government celebrated Kalashnikov's 90th birthday and threw him a nice party. We're sure that totally made up for a lifetime not spent lounging in a gigantic swimming pool shaped like a machine gun, surrounded by Russian models.
#2. Daisuke Inoue, Inventor of Karaoke
Karaoke is a man's sport. It takes a lot of balls to go up on stage and show your friends that you can only remember the chorus to any given song. But it's a challenge drunks all over the world have been unable to back down from since the 90s. In Japan, weekly karaoke performances are a legal requirement for all citizens [Citation Needed].
With millions of these machines sitting in bars and living rooms all over the world, the inventor must have the kind of cash that would make millionaires the world over tremble with bitter envy.
"THAT SON OF A BITCH!"
Just ask its inventor, Daisuke Inoue...
So How Did the Creator Make Out?
Or, maybe you shouldn't. Inoue was a businessman who, in the 1970s, played the drums in a band that would go to bars and let other businessman get up on stage and try their hand at singing. At one point, Daisuke's band couldn't make a show, so he improvised by setting up a speaker and microphone with some pre-recorded music so the audience could still get up on stage and sing along.
There you go--the birth of a cultural phenomenon. That's the guy you can thank the next time you're listening to your friends screech the lyrics to some Journey songs.
He and his band then built 11 of the machines and leased them out to various bars. Over the years some giant corporations took notice and started manufacturing them by the millions.
It's at this point we should probably point out that Daisuke Inoue never thought to patent his invention. The companies that got rich off it didn't have to pay him a penny. He did later start a company based around acquiring the rights to music to play on karaoke machines. It went out of business not long after. Today the only money he makes off karaoke is from a patent he secured for a method to stop cockroaches from nesting in the machines and destroying the circuits.
Pictured: cash cows and/or roaches
It's estimated his failure to fill out those patent forms has cost him an estimated $150-million.
However, Daisuke really doesn't seem to give a shit. He's something of a national hero in Japan, and there was even a movie made about him and the story of his invention in 2005. The guy is just stoked that everyone in the world seems to enjoy his creation. Well, the people using it enjoy it, not so much the people around them. Kind of like the AK-47 now that we think about it.
#1. Harvey Ball, Creator of the Smiley Face
After serving 27 years in the military, and then another six in the Army Reserves, Harvey Ball was pretty fucking tired of war.
"As you gentlemen can see, I'm pretty fucking tired of war."
So he retired from the service to become an advertising artist and, in 1963, the State Mutual Life Assurance Company asked Harvey to come up with a design to cheer people up. See, even though they had just bought out another company, their employee morale was extremely low. The whole company was just one big collection of anger, and everyone knows that a business built on white hot fury never does well in the long run.
Except for this one, which has enjoyed marginal success.
Along comes Harvey, who, in 10 minutes, comes up with one of the most iconic symbols ever created. State Mutual loved the design, printing out pins and giving them to their employees; because if your employees are pissed off the absolute best response is to make them wear a button with a happy face on it. Eventually other people wanted the smiley pins too and, by 1971, 50-million of the things had been sold.
So How Did the Creator Make Out?
Harvey earned just $45 for his design. Less than a dollar for every million buttons. Less than a microscopic fraction of a penny for every use of the fucking thing on T-shirts and hats and all the billions of other items that have born the image.
He never trademarked it, copyrighted it or made any attempt whatsoever to make any more cash off of it. He didn't want to. He was just a nice guy. We guess we should have guessed that the inventor of the smiley face would be a fun-loving guy, unburdened by the cares of the material world. Though our second guess would have been that he was a serial killer.
Today, Harvey's button has become the basis for every emoticon on the Internet, and is currently being wielded by Wal-Mart to show their employees exactly how happy they are supposed to be at all times.
He's slashing his wrists with a box cutter.
Find out how we made sure all six of these stories were true in Hacking Wikipedia Means You're Never Wrong.
For patents as ridiculous as the karaoke roach-repeller, check out The 10 Most Ridiculous Inventions Ever Patented. Or find out about some guys who probably wished they never had that one great idea, in 6 Geniuses Who Saw Their Inventions Go Terribly Wrong.
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