Where would we be today without some of the most famous inventors in history? We owe board games, the way we plant crops, automobiles, medicinal breakthroughs, and our greatest current lifeline, computers to these creative people. I have always enjoyed discussing famous inventors and inventions with my students. They begin to think about how one day they may be able to join the ranks of these marvelous minds. The sky is truly the limit. 💙 You never know what those minds may think of next. (Although I’d really like one of them to create a multiplicity machine, so I could be in more than one place at a time. Cleaning my house would be a breeze! 😂😉) So without further ado… here are 28 famous inventors your students NEED to know!
Alexander Graham Bell — While teaching deaf students, he became intrigued with the different ways that people communicate. This led him to create a device where people could communicate with their voice through a wire. Can you imagine what the world would be like today without the telephone?! 🤯
Grace Hopper — As one of the only women during her time to hold a Ph.D. in Math, she enlisted in the Navy reserves. While there, she worked on creating the first calculator. She also worked on developing different computer languages, and all of her research led to the creation of the first computer! 🖥
Lisa Gelobter — How many of you love GIFs?! Lisa is the smart lady who invented them. She also worked for TV (Black Entertainment Television), as well as helped to create Hulu. Later on, Lisa worked for the US Department of Education under President Barack Obama. She now oversees a company whose mission is to create equity in the workforce.
Samuel Morse — Most of us are well aware of Morse Code. This man is the creator of that code we all love to play with and crack the “secret messages”.
Shirley Jackson — Shirley has been a pioneer in many areas of life. She was one of the first African Americans to attend MIT, and the first black woman to get her doctorate from there. Her work in science led to many inventions, including the fax machine, touch-tone phones, and caller ID.
Eli Whitney — He created a machine that quickly separated the seeds out of cotton, so that the cotton fiber could be turned into clothing, sheets, etc.
George Washington Carver — George was born during the time of slavery and raised on a plantation. While there, he spent time learning about plants. After the resistance and revolts caused the end of slavery, George went to college, where he continued learning about plants and became a teacher. George helped farmers in the south by teaching them methods for their crops to get the right amount of nutrients. He is also known as “The Peanut Man”, as he discovered 300 ways to use peanuts! 🥜
Benjamin Banneker — As a young boy, Benjamin Banneker was interested in astronomy. He particularly liked eclipses, even correctly predicting when one would occur. Because of his accuracy in predicting astronomical events, he published almanacs during his lifetime and became a well-known surveyor.
Margaret Knight — Margaret Knight began her inventing at a very young age. She was well-known in her town for the kites and sleds that she invented. Later in life, she invented a system that made cotton looms operate more safely. But what she is most famous for is her invention of the paper bag. We owe our lunch sacks to Margaret Knight!
Benjamin Franklin — No inventors list is complete without Benjamin Franklin. Famous for his key tied to the kite experiment, which then led to the lightning rod. Ben also contributed to public schools, the U.S. currency, and was one of the few men who drafted the Constitution.
Lewis Howard Latimer — After being promoted to draftsman, Lewis began creating his own inventions. He invented an air conditioning unit and a bathroom for railroad cars. Later, he helped to draw the images of the telephone Alexander Graham Bell worked on. Latimer created the first carbon filament for the inside of a light bulb. This lasted much longer than the paper filament invented by Thomas Edison. Lewis went on to oversee the installation of public street lamps in cities across the world.
Henry Ford — Think what our world would be like today without cars? 😳 Henry Ford is the mastermind behind automobiles. He invented the car, which ran on gas and didn’t need to be pulled by horses. He also created the assembly line, so cars could be made faster and for less money. Making them affordable to more people and not just a luxury for the wealthy.
The Wright Brothers — Orville and Wilbur don’t really need an introduction, as we all know what they invented. They became curious about flying machines and began studying birds and creating engines that could help a plane stay off the ground. After many attempts, they finally created a plane that could glide in the air and achieved their dream of flight.
Thomas Edison — Most famous for his invention of the light bulb, Thomas Edison also invented many other items. Those include one of the first movie projectors, a long-life battery, and phonographs.
Elizabeth Magie — Most of us have probably played the game of Monopoly at some point in our lives. Even though that particular game was invented by Charles Darrow, the original idea for the game came from Elizabeth Magie. She was very interested in economics and wanted to teach people about “land grabbing”, so she developed a game she called “The Landlord’s Game”. Interesting fun fact for your day! 😉
Milton Hershey — Mr. Hershey is by far my favorite inventor! LOL!🍫 He started out creating caramels, then sold his business to make something with chocolate. In the end, he didn’t just build a chocolate factory, he built an entire town and it was named Hershey.
Nadia Khan — Nadia was like all of us moms, trying to find ways to get her children to drink milk. She found that if she flavored it, they would drink milk. But all of the flavored syrups had way too much sugar in them. So she set out to create a flavored syrup that was healthy. She started with strawberry and then branched out to other flavors. Her syrups are sold in stores today.
Nancy Johnson — “I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream for Ice Cream!” Nancy Johnson is the genius who invented the first ice cream maker. By creating this invention that used ice, milk, and salt, she was able to make the tasty treat affordable to anyone who wanted it. 🍦
Ruth Handler — Did you play with Barbie dolls growing up? If so, then you own those memories to Ruth Handler. While on vacation, Ruth saw a doll that did not look like a baby doll, but a grown woman. This gave her an idea, and so she created the Barbie doll that we know today. Fun fact… Barbie and Ken are named after Ruth’s two children (Barbara and Ken). 😊
Ruth Wakefield — Another inventor that I am so glad to have is Ruth Wakefield. She is the creator of chocolate chip cookies! 🍪 One day, she decided to toss some chocolate pieces into cookie dough and her customers loved it. She even sent her famous chocolate chip cookies overseas to the troops during World War II.
Fatima Al Fihri — After suffering losses early in her life, Fatima Al Fihri decided to open a mosque where people could come together to worship and learn. She insisted on being a part of the construction every step of the way. Upon its completion, her mosque (Al-Qarawiyyin) became an educational center and later the world’s first university. This university is still graduating students today! 🤩
Jan Ernst Matzelinger — When Jan was alive, shoes were made by hand. A shoemaker had to work very hard to keep up with the demand of their customers for pairs of shoes. He created a machine that made this process much faster. Now shoemakers could make 3 times the number of shoes each day! This made shoes less expensive for customers and created many jobs in the industry. 👟
Josephine Cochrane — After getting married, Josephine found herself washing lots of dishes after all of their dinner parties. She thought that there “had to be an easier way” to do this. Josephine created the first dishwasher that actually worked. She measured a variety of dishes, to make sure that the racks were the right size. Her dishwasher quickly became successful and was in businesses everywhere.
Marie Van Brittan Brown — Marie and her husband worked long hours and would come home late at night. They were concerned for their safety, so Marie was looking for ways to increase the security in their home. She wanted to be able to see who was on the other side of the door before opening it. So, she invented a special camera. This paved the way for the first home security system.
Marjorie Joyner — Do you like curling your hair? If so, then Marjorie Joyner is your gal. She developed the first hair curling system after taking a look at the coils used in cooking a pot roast. She never made a lot of money on her invention, she simply saw a problem and decided to create a solution.
Sarah Breedlove Walker — At a young age, Sarah developed a scalp disorder and worked hard to create beauty products to help stop hair loss. She later began creating hair treatments specifically for African Americans. She quickly became successful and created more products and even opened up her own beauty school. Sarah was one of the first women to become a self-made millionaire.
Stephanie Kwolek — Stephanie and her colleagues were working on ways to reinforce tires when she created a material that was five times stronger than steel. She named this new material Kevlar. We use Kevlar in a variety of items, such as sports equipment, boats, airplanes, and most importantly bulletproof vests.
Madame Curie — She is most famous for becoming the first woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize. (And she did it twice!) Madame Curie helped to create the X-ray machine, as well as open an institute for cancer research.
Help spark creativity and imagination in your students by studying these 28 famous inventors that your students need to know. I can’t wait to see what they are able to accomplish in this lifetime. We would love to continue to add to this valuable resource. If you have any recommendations on famous inventors we should add, please post them in the comments below. 👇🏼
Written by: Janessa Fletcher
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