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5 Famous Inventors (Who Stole Their Big Idea)

It has become clear that it's up to the Cracked staff to re-educate America. See, we slept through high school, so we were lucky. We avoided the years and years of brainwashing that accompanies a standard education.

To those of you unfortunate enough to have been subjected to a lifetime in the public school system, we've got some bad news for you that you probably won't find in your text books: Every brilliant inventor you've ever loved is a huge, thieving asshole.

#5.
Galileo Galilee

Galileo Galilee or "Gal-Gal," as he is more commonly known, was an Italian astronomer, physicist and mathematician. If you asked the average high schooler what Galileo's lasting contribution to science was, they would most likely reply "the telescope" before going off to listen to their Rhianna records and play with their Digimon, (Is that what high schoolers do these days? We don't even know anymore). Well, put down that Digital Monster, high schooler, because we are about to blow your mind: Gal-Gal did not invent the telescope. Also, Rhianna sucks.

Who Actually Invented It?
While everyone was probably looking up at the stars, no one was doing it quite as hard as Dutchman Hans Lippershey. In 1608, Lippershey completed the first ever telescope and attempted to receive a patent for it, but was denied for no discernible reason.


Lippershey's telescope (internet re-creation)

A few countries over, when Galileo heard about Lippershey's work, he quickly built his own telescope in 1609. A telescope, it should be noted, that could see just a little bit further than Lippershey's.

Necessary? Not particularly. Emasculating? Oh, you betcha. While Galileo never registered a patent for his telescope, the fact remains that his name is synonymous with the telescope, while Lippershey was most likely absent from your old textbooks.

In a final shot to show just how fairly each scientist was rewarded, four moons surrounding Jupiter are named after Galileo, and do you know what carries Lippershey's name? A crater. A fucking crater on Earth's moon will forever be known as Lippershey's Crater. The Moon's Ass Crack.

#4.
Alexander Fleming

Sir Alexander Fleming is the name people think of when penicillin is brought up. There's even a charming little story that goes along with it. According to the legend, Fleming's father saved a little boy from drowning in Scotland, and the father of this boy vowed to fund the young Fleming's education to repay the kindness. Eventually, Fleming graduates med school and discovers the healing nature of penicillin which eventually saves Winston Churchill's life when he is stricken with pneumonia. And who was the little boy that Fleming's father saved in the first place? Winston motherfucking Churchill.

This would all be very cozy, if it wasn't for the fact that it's total horseshit on several counts. For one, Churchill wasn't treated with penicillin and, for another, Fleming wasn't the guy who discovered it. He was just some asshole.


Fuck you

Who Actually Discovered It?
Difficult to say. North African tribesmen have been using penicillin for thousands of years. Also, in 1897, Ernest Duchesne used the mold penicillum glaucoma to cure typhoid in guinea pigs which, OK, was about the stupidest waste of time in the history of science, but proof that he understood the possibilities of penicillin all the same.

Other scientists at the time didn't take him serious, due to his age and strange preoccupation with guinea pigs, so he never received a patent for his work. He died about 10 years later from a disease that would have been completely treatable with penicillin and he was survived by his healthy, yet totally indifferent guinea pigs.

Even when Fleming did accidentally discover penicillin years later, he didn't think it could actually be used to help anyone, so he stopped working on it and moved on. Meanwhile, a few other scientists, Howard Florey, Norman Heatley, Andrew Moyer and Ernst Chain started working on penicillin and eventually mastered penicillin as well as figured out a way to mass produce it.

So even though Fleming wasn't the first person to discover penicillin, and even though he didn't actually believe penicillin was in any way useful, he will forever go down in history as a penicillin-inventing, Winston-Churchill-saving genius.

#3.
Alexander Graham Bell

Ah, Bell. The man behind the telephone and a good guy all around. Bell spent a whole lot of time working with deaf people. His wife was deaf, his mother was deaf and he was even Helen Keller's favorite teacher. With this time-consuming near-obsession with deaf people, it's amazing that Bell found time to invent the telephone. Wait, not "amazing." "Impossible." That's the one.

Who Actually Invented It?
In 1860, an Italian named Antonio Meucci first demonstrated his working telephone, (though he called it the "teletrofono," mostly because Italians are wacky). Eleven years later, (still five years before Bell's phone came out), he filed a temporary patent on his invention. In 1874, Meucci failed to send in the $10 necessary to renew his patent, because he was sick and poor and Italian.

Two years after that, Bell registered his telephone patent. Meucci attempted to sue, of course, by retrieving the original sketches and plans he sent to a lab at Western Union, but these records, quite amazingly, disappeared. Where was Bell working at this time? Why, the very same Western Union lab where Meucci swore he sent his original sketches. Eventually, Meucci died penniless and faded away into obscurity.

Did Bell, given his convenient position at Western Union, destroy Meucci's records and claim the telephone as his own invention? It's difficult to say. One source says "Yes, definitely," while others just say "probably." It makes sense, if you look at the facts: Bell already had a number of important inventions under his belt; it isn't unreasonable to assume he just got greedy and didn't want to see anyone else succeed. Further, why would Bell even need a phone? Both his wife and mother were deaf. Who the hell was he gonna call?

#2.
Albert Einstein

According to all of your science books and that one episode of Animaniacs, Albert Einstein, Time Magazine's Man of the Century, invented the theory of relativity. Certainly, when you hear the name Einstein, you undoubtedly will think "He discovered relativity" or "He came up with that E=mc2 equation" or "He was a total sex maniac." Only one of those things is true. (It's the sex maniac part.)

Who Actually Invented It?
Henri Poincaré, mostly. Poincaré was the foremost expert on relativity in the late 19th century and was most likely the first person to formally present the theory of relativity. If you were Einstein and you wanted to write about relativity, you might consider meeting with the foremost expert on relativity, yes? If you answered "yes" to that question, then you're not Einstein at all.

According to Einstein's famous On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies, which contains his theories on relativity, Poincaré, despite publishing 30 books and over 500 papers, is not worth mentioning. It's true, pick up Einstein's paper if you don't believe us, (you won't): Poincaré doesn't receive a single reference, unless you consider plagiarism to be some kind of indirect reference. As a matter of fact, Einstein does not reference, footnote or cite a single goddamn source in his entire paper.

Really? Not one source? Even we cite sources, Albert, and we're friggin' Cracked. What the hell?


Einstein, photographed with God

We don't want to jump to any conclusions here. Maybe Einstein's paper didn't contain any sources because he genuinely didn't read any other current physics texts or papers. Maybe he was seriously that smart. According to Peter Galison's Einstein's Clocks, Poincaré's Maps: Empires of Time, Einstein and a small group of his fellow nerdlings formed a group called The Olympia Academy and would regularly gather to discuss their own works as well as the works of current scientists. The book goes on to specifically mention how Poincaré was one of the scientists that Einstein and his battalion of nerds would discuss.

Shoots that whole "maybe Einstein didn't read any other papers" theory right to shit, doesn't it? It's interesting that Einstein sat studying and discussing the work of Poincaré for years, published a book that featured a theory that was startlingly similar to Poincaré's, and then didn't reference Poincaré once in the entire book. Wait, that isn't interesting? It's plagiarism. It's total bullshit plagiarism. Good luck sexing your way out of this one, Einstein.


Einstein in 1951 (age 72)

#1.
Thomas Edison

Thomas Edison. The "Wizard of Menlo Park." Described as one of the "world's most prolific inventors" with a record-breaking 1,093 patents to his name. You know, a guy could round up and kidnap a buttload of children and keep them forever, but would you call that guy the "world's most prolific father?" No, of course not. A "soulless monster," maybe. A "skilled thief," if you're being generous. Perhaps even the "King of Pop." But you wouldn't call that guy "the world's most prolific father," because those aren't his kids. He stole them. Such is the case with Thomas Edison.

Sure, Cracked's staunchly anti-Thomas Edison stance is already fairly well documented, but we're afraid one article detailing what a prick this prick was just isn't enough. Edison is still celebrated in schools across the country for inventing the light bulb, the motion picture, electricity and a shit-ton of other important crap he had very little to do with.


Edison's only original invention, the "Face Vacuum."

Since there literally isn't enough space on the internet to cover all of the inventions that Edison didn't invent, we're just going to focus on the light bulb today.

Who Actually Invented It?
Everyone else. We all know how Edison exploited and took advantage of the poor, but brilliant Nikola Tesla, but who else did Edison step on? Sit back.

Plenty of people messed around with the idea of the light bulb, (Jean Foucault, Humphrey Davy, J.W. Starr, some other guys you'll never read about in a history text book), but Heinrich Goebel was likely the first person to have actually invented it, back in 1854. He tried selling it to Edison, who saw no practical use in Goebel's invention and refused. Shortly thereafter, Goebel died and, shortly after that, Edison bought Goebel's patent, (you know, the one he saw no merit in), off of Goebel's impoverished widow at a cost much lower than what it was worth.


One of nine light bulbs Edison accidentally got wedged in his anus during its development

Screwing over just one inventor might be alright for Galileo, but Edison was a dreamer and he couldn't be satisfied with just one, dead disgraced inventor under his belt. So, after Goebel, and a year before Edison "invented" his light bulb, Joseph Wilson Swan developed and patented a working light bulb. When it was clear Edison's "Fuck Swan" defense wouldn't hold up in court, he made Swan a partner, forming the Ediswan United Company and effectively buying Swan and his patent.

Soon enough, Edison acquired even more power and bought out Swan completely leaving all records of the light bulb under the care of the Edison Company. Sure, Swan had money, but in buying all of the records, Edison could take sole credit for the light bulb. So, he's got a laundry list of inventors he's either stepped on, bullied, exploited or bought out to his name, but what do they say about Edison in the textbooks? Father of the fucking light bulb.

If you liked that, you'll probably enjoy Dan's look at The 5 Most Badass Presidents of All Time. Or, head over to the blog and read his musings on why Boondock Saints doesn't need a sequel. For a look at some more modern douchebags, watch Cracked.com's Week In Douchebaggery.

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