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12 Inventors Who Received Little To No Reward For Their World Changing Inventions

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Generally speaking, people who invent groundbreaking pieces of technology end up filthy rich, habitually bathing in money as their names are written forever into the history books. But that isn’t always the case. Some pioneers of industry, science, or tech, get lost in time; condemned to be an interesting footnote about the genesis of everyday applications.

These are some of those people.

Here is a list of inventors and trailblazers sho didn’t get the recognition they deserve:

 

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Who?

Harvey Ball

What?

The Smiley Face

Why?

Ball created the iconic smiley face for a 1963 advertising campaign for State Mutual Life Assurance Company, with the brief to make people smile. He received $45 for the design and chose not to copyright it. A decade later and more 50 million items featuring his joyous creation later, you’d think he wouldn’t be smiling much himself after missing out on that money.

Well, you’d be wrong.

As his son recalled him saying when asked about his iconic drawing and the money it could have generated:

‘Hey, I can only eat one steak at a time, drive one car at a time.’

Technically, he isn’t wrong.

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Who?

Alexey Pajitnov

What?

Tetris

Why?

Alexey developed the time-consuming puzzle game in a Soviet laboratory in Moscow, initially designing it to test the capability of new hardware his team was developing. It proved massively popular with his workmates, eventually leading to it being ‘smuggled’ out the Soviet Union and into the wider world. It wasn’t until 1996, when Pajitinov regained the rights from the Russian government, that he started collecting royalties for his accomplishments.

Its fair to say he may have missed its heyday.

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Who?

Edwin H.Armstrong

What?

FM Radio

Why?

Despite the dominance of AM radio, Armstrong’s development of the better sounding FM frequency was a groundbreaking moment in media history and quite literally revolutionized the medium of how households received information. However, attempting to change the accepted norm has its cost and, due to prolonged legal battles with the Radio Corporation of America and AT&T (both massive proponents of AM radio and active lobbyists against its proliferation), Armstrong would take his own life in 1954.

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via Flickr
Who?

Todd Mills

What?

Doritos Locos Taco

Why?

Mills, who worked at the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce and, wrote a letter to Fito-Lay in 2009 pitching the idea of making a taco shell out of everybody’s favorite cheesy snack. Despite initially getting rejected, Mills continued with his foody quest, even setting up a Facebook page to push his new age taco agenda.

Fast forward three years, and Todd received a letter from the snack giant explaining that they were going ahead with his concept, calling it Doritos Locos Taco. The company would make billions out his idea and, despite respectful overtures from Frito-Lay, Mills never received or asked for any royalties for his idea.

He would pass away 2013 after battling brain cancer.

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Who?

John Walker

What?

Matches

Why?

Discovered by accident in 1826 (when the English chemist accidentally spilled some chemicals on a mixing stick and it caught fire), John Walker refused to patent the idea despite its mass popularity, believing himself to be a scientist first and thus more concerned with noble pursuits than commercial ones.

In 1828, Samuel Jones of London would patent an almost exact replica of Walker’s ‘Friction Matches’ and call them ‘Lucifer Matches’.

Today, over 500 billion matches are used every in the US alone.

At least Walker got to keep his dignity.

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Who?

Mikhail Kalashnikov

What?

AK-47 Assault Rifle

Why?

The idea for the iconic weapon came to Kalashnikov when he was recovering in a hospital during WWII and a fellow soldier asked him why the Soviet Army had no comparable weapon to the automatic guns carried by the German Army. Seven years later, and the AK-47 (Avtomat Kalashnikova or ‘Kalashnikov’s Automatic Rifle’) was introduced into service for almost all Soviet Units. Almost seven decades after that, and there are still over 100 million AK-47’s in official use.

Kalashnikov, ever a servant to his country, received plenty of accolades from his fellow countryman but very little to no financial benefits.

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Who?

Geoffrey Dummer

What?

The Microchip

Why?

British engineer Geoffrey Dummer presented the idea for an integrated circuit (or microchip in modern parlance) during a conference in Washington, DC in 1952, but no company came forward with the money necessary to fund the concept. Jack Kilby of Texas Instruments patented an almost identical idea six years later, although Dummer seemed to infer blame lay with the British government, explaining:

“I have attributed it to war-weariness in one of my books, but that is perhaps an excuse. The plain fact is that nobody would take the risk. The Ministry wouldn’t place a contract because they hadn’t an application.”

Still, not like we use microchips in anything these days…

 

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Who?

Rosalind Franklin

What?

DNA

Why?

Not invented but discovered, Franklin was the first person to capture an image of DNA using X-Ray diffraction. Unfortunately for her, a colleague at King’s College London showed her image (without permission) to James Watson and Francis Crick, who would go on to claim the Nobel Prize in 1962 for their work heavily influenced by Franklin’s findings. Franklin received no official credit.

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Who?

Elizabeth Magie

What?

Monopoly

Why?

Originally designed in 1903 as a way of teaching the dangers of private land monopolies, the family destroying boardgame was eventually brought to the attention of the Parker Brothers by a certain Clarance Darrow, who sold an updated version of the game to the company. Elizabeth received $500 for her original patent. Darrow became a millionaire.

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Who?

Louis Le Prince

What?

First Moving Picture

Why?

Before he jumped on a train and was never see again, Le Prince filmed the first ever moving image in Leeds, England in 1888 (a few years before Thomas Edison released his experimentations with moving images). His disappearance and Edison’s massive influence have contributed to the myth that Edison ( or even the Lumiere Brothers) were, in fact, the creators of the moving image.

You can check out his groundbreaking work here

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Who?

Daisuke Inoue

What?

Karaoke

Why?

Karaoke is Japan’s greatest export after tentacle porn, yet for the man who created the first ever Karaoke machine, it wasn’t a particularly lucrative one. Originally, Daisuke Inoue was a drummer in a literal backing band, performing at bars where patrons would jump on stage and provide the vocals to well-known songs. In an act of classic Japanese automation, Inoue created a machine that replaced the band and allowed people to perform on their own. As he assembled his first Karaoke machine using other pieces of technology, he didn’t think he could patent it and thus has made very little money out of what is now a multi-billion dollar industry.

He did, however, receive an Ig Nobel Prize (a parody award used to celebrate obscure or trivial inventions) in 2004.

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