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Here Are All The Things That Thomas Edison Didn't Actually Invent, But Took The Credit For Anyway

Updated April 30, 2019 72.7k views8 items

Thomas Edison was one of the greatest inventors of all time - or was he? Most people think Edison was the inventor of the light bulb, but that doesn't seem to be the case, which begs the question, "Who truly invented the light bulb?" There is a lot of contention over famous stolen inventions, and unfortunately it's impossible to not bring up Edison when it comes to the subject.

The list of things Edison didn't invent is as long as the list of things he did, but he was really good at taking credit for the ideas and inventions of others. Edison was incredibly skilled at improving upon the inventions of others and adding the contributions of his colleagues - not stolen inventions, per se, but that may depend on who you ask. As a result, Edison made some enemies throughout his career - most notably Nikola Tesla - and it's understandable, given the wealth and acclaim Edison received and how many people he stepped on to get there. 

  • Photo: Thomas Hawk / flickr / CC-BY-NC 2.0

    Edison Bankrolled The Electric Chair To Undermine His Competition

    Thomas Edison didn't invent the electric chair, but one of his workers did. Edison promoted the chair so he became associated with its origins. In the 1880s, Edison's employee Harold P. Brown came up with a design based upon George Westinghouse's design, which used alternating AC current. Edison favored direct current and even consulted Tesla about how best to use electricity, but dismissed his advice to use alternating current in his own work.

    Despite publicly criticizing George Westinghouse's invention for being brutal and denouncing capital punishment as a whole, Edison continued to fund Brown's invention. Brown and Edison executed countless animals, as they attempted to prove electrocution was more humane than hanging, which led to New York state adopting the electric chair in 1890.

  • Photo: Internet Archive Book Images / flickr / No known copyright restrictions

    Movie Cameras Weren't Something Edison Knew A Lot About But He Took Credit For Them Anyway

    Thomas Edison received a patent for his Kinetograph, or movie camera, in the 1890s after building upon the work of still-life photographers Joseph Nicephone Niepce and Louis Daguerre, as well as the first motion-picture camera made by Edward Muybridge in 1877.

    Edison also oversaw the invention of the Kinetoscope, a peep-hole motion picture viewer. Most of the work on the Kinetoscope was carried out by William Dickson, one of Edison's assistants, in 1888.


  • Photo: byzantiumbooks / flickr / CC-BY 2.0

    Edison Worked With A Team Of Scientists To Invent The Light Bulb

    Precursors to the modern light bulb were in the works in Italy and England as early as 1800; Alessandro Volta and Humphry Davy, respectively, developed ways to generate electricity and arcs of light before Warren de la Rue and William Staite improved upon their inventions in the 1840s. Over the next two decades, British scientist Joseph Swan came up with a light bulb that had a carbon filament, one that Edison improved upon in the 1870s.

    The two later teamed up after some legal struggles over patent infringement, but the competition only continued when Edison designed over 3,000 models of a light bulb at his Menlo Park, NJ, lab between 1879 and 1880. In 1879, Edison and his entire scientific team were granted a patent for a light bulb that could burn for more than 1,200 hours

  • Photo: KirstyMcL / flickr / CC-BY-ND 2.0

    Thomas Edison Didn't Invent The Record Player But Did Invent A Record Recorder

    Even though Edison has been credited with inventing the record player, he didn't actually do that. He did, however, invent a phonograph which was used to record sound on a record. There were rudimentary devices as early as the 1850s which could be used to record, but Edison is generally considered to be at the forefront of sound recording when it comes to the invention of the phonograph. The first words ever recorded were "Mary had a little lamb." 

    There is an earlier contender for the invention of sound recording, however. In 1857, Edouard-Leon Scott de Martinville invented the "phonautograph" which recorded sounds on paper through a series of lines and squiggles.