6 Inventors Who Got Jack Shit for Changing the Modern World
We all grew up listening to our parents tell us how talent, dedication and hard work would get us far in life. But the reality is that even if you go out and change the world, there's no guarantee you'll be rewarded for your efforts.
There have been plenty of people throughout history that made amazing contributions to modern culture and got precisely dick in return.
Alexey Pajitnov, Creator of Tetris
There are some games in life that everyone plays at some point. Checkers, chess, Monopoly, doctor and motherfucking Tetris.
In 1984, Alexey Pajitnov was working as a programmer at the Russian Academy of Science, a research and development center you'd think would be busy designing nuclear warheads during the Cold War. His field was artificial intelligence, however, which meant he could spend a lot of time at his desk creating puzzles and games while pretending to work.
Purely to amuse himself he created the falling-block game Tetris over the course of just a couple of weeks. Everybody in the office got addicted to it and over the next few years deals were made to sell the game abroad.
It has since sold more than 70-million copies, earned a couple of billion dollars in revenue and is available on nearly every single video game-playing device in the world.
And occasionally human skin, apparently.
So How Did the Creator Make Out?
The game was invented in a still-Communist Russia, which usually didn't believe in the whole concept of doing things for personal gain. So for creating the most popular videogame ever, Alexey got a big fat check made out to "Fuck Your Balls" in the amount of "With a Hammer."
Actually, Pajitnov's superiors did make him a deal: They would help him get the game published in the West, and they would keep the money. The Soviet government did graciously say that after 10 years they would revisit the issue and maybe see about sending him some of the cash, but long before that deadline was reached, the Soviet government itself collapsed. Maybe there's some abandoned office in Moscow where Tetris royalty checks continue to land in some bureaucrat's inbox, and squirrels are making a nest out of them.
This story does sort of have a happy ending. Pajitnov did manage to secure the rights to Tetris... in 2004. Twenty fucking years and countless millions in missed royalties later.
George Romero, Writer/Director of Night of the Living Dead
The father of the zombie film is unquestionably George Romero. He's the braaaaaaains (get it?) behind Night of the Living Dead, which many consider to be the basis for the whole modern horror genre. Friday the 13th, Halloween and A Nightmare on Elm Street were all influenced by Romero's groundbreaking directorial debut.
Groundbreaking, get it? OK seriously, we'll stop now.
Of course it spawned several sequels and countless knockoffs and remakes, and the film itself has been selling on video and DVD for 40 years. Not bad, George.
So How Did the Creator Make Out?
Thanks to his functionally retarded distributor, George Romero has earned virtually nothing from his movie in the decades since release. See, back in the 60s you had to blatantly add a copyright notice into your films, essentially forcing people to slap a big "This Shit Is Mines" onto their movie's title slide, or else it immediately belonged to everybody. Well, the distributor did that, but then they went back and changed the title. Hilariously, they forgot to re-add the copyright notice.
"Wait, that shit is mines!"
So Night of the Living Dead is actually a free movie, technically part of the public domain. The whole thing is posted on YouTube, and you can find remastered versions in the Wal-Mart bargain bin--literally anyone can release their own copies of the movie, and they can legally keep all of the profits.
Today the Internet Movie Database lists 23 different goddamn versions. Somewhere, buried among them, is the one version that actually pays Romero.
The Winstons, Creators of One of the Worlds Most Famous Pieces of Music
The modern world is full of little sound clips that you know somebody has to have invented, but you never know who. Like that ding that every elevator does right before the door opens, the sound Windows makes when it boots up or the chirp you get when you turn off a car alarm.
Or like the sound of face being smashed beneath our powerful fists.
The Amen Break is kind of like that.
It's a five-second snatch of drums that has been sampled on hundreds--or thousands--of songs. You've heard it this week. You can find the Amen Break in countless hip-hop, acid house, trance and rave songs. You'll even hear it in ads. Its been slowed down, sped up, spliced, chopped, split, dismembered and used as the basis for seemingly every other song that doesn't use a live band. Experts have even tried to figure out the scientific reason as to why it's so popular.
Maybe they should ask The Winstons, since they came up with it. The Amen Break is just a five-second loop of a drum solo from the middle of one of their songs (called "Amen, Brother") which was just a B-side to a single released in 1969.
So How Did the Creators Make Out?
The Winstons played in an era when trying to establish copyright on a five-second hunk of drums seemed insane. We're guessing their drummer (G.C. Coleman) didn't finish playing and think, "Damn, I bet that drum solo is going to become the cornerstone of several genres of music a generation from now!"
"It'll take two generations, at least."
But even after people started "borrowing" it at will, The Winstons intentionally let the Amen Break spread without ever trying to collect from anyone... even after another company named Zero G copyrighted the Amen break as their own so they could try to cash in instead.
Either The Winstons have reached a greater plane of enlightenment, or they've just been higher than Sputnik for the past 40 years.
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.
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 .
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.
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.
Do you have something funny to say about a random topic? You could be on the front page of Cracked.com tomorrow. Go here and find out how to create a Topic Page.