The World’s Best Inventions Weren’t Made for Profit

1. The computer:
“This came from pure scientific thought, and not at all from an economic need for computing. Business and profit-making played no part in it.”

2. AC power & modern electricity (Nikola Tesla):
“Money does not represent such a value as men have placed upon it. All my money has been invested into experiments with which I have made new discoveries enabling mankind to have a little easier life.”

Yet Tesla died destitute.”

3. Penicillin:
“Florey believed it would be inappropriate to patent penicillin, but learned his lesson when some of his American collaborators did just that… Florey took no profit for himself.”

4. Phone:
“Meucci was recognized as the first inventor of the telephone by the US House.” “[He] was unable to raise sufficient funds to pay for the patent application… In 1861 his cottage was auctioned.”

5. The internet (The government and Tim Berners-Lee).

6. Lightbulb:
“Göbel [invented] the first practical bulb… in 1854, a quarter of a century before Edison’s patent.”

Yes, he died penniless too.

7. Radio:
“Tesla is now credited with inventing modern radio as well; since the Supreme Court overturned Marconi’s patent in 1943 in favor of Tesla’s earlier patents.”

8. Acceleration of every industry through state funding of science, medicine, and university research.

The point? While some of us love for-profit economics, let’s not exaggerate their role either. At best they tend to succeed after state acceleration of new technologies.

Edward Morrill writes for -- liberals who politely attack myths with fury. Read other articles by Edward, or visit Edward's website.

7 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Lloyd Rowsey said on July 25th, 2008 at 3:28pm #

    But modern governments were.

  2. Andy Isan said on July 25th, 2008 at 4:38pm #

    “5. The internet”

    It should The Internet and World Wide Web:

    “I was lucky enough to invent the Web at the time when the Internet already existed – and had for a decade and a half.”

  3. brian said on July 25th, 2008 at 10:22pm #

    Not all inventions help people to have ‘an easier life’.
    Witness the mobile phones and the problems they are causing:
    ‘I fully commend the initiative to establish a Website dedicated to the victims of microwave radiation from mobile telecommunication Base-stations (Cell towers). Since the advent of this technology, an ever-increasing number of people in many different countries have been reporting a similar array of adverse health symptoms of a predominantly neurological kind, such as sleep disturbance, headache, inability to focus and concentrate, impaired memory, confusion, and sensation of pressure in the head. The severity of these symptoms displays a wide range of subjective variation, ranging from mild discomfort to great distress – so great, in some cases, that those affected have been forced to sell their houses at financial loss and move to areas that are less electromagnetically polluted in this way.
    and we all know how annoying the mobile phone mafia can be:
    ‘STOCKHOLM is to curtail the use of mobile phones on public transport. The Swedish capital’s socialist council, siding with those who insist that the phones are a social nuisance and a health risk, has created designated areas in buses, trains and trams where they may be used.
    From August commuters caught using their phones outside the areas risk a fine.

    This is just the tip of a very big iceberg.

  4. Giorgio said on July 26th, 2008 at 5:26am #

    Most intersting and I most heartedly agree!

    In fact I have had a pet notion that History should be the account of all those inventions and developments that have benefited humanity over the ages. NOT the historical account of those elite psychopaths like the Napoleons, Alexander the Greats, Hitlers and Stalins…These should only get a footnote mention for the pain and suffering they have inflicted on humankind.

    That’s the History that children should be taught at school. Even the inventor of the condom deserves a better place in history than any of the above perverts. Therefore, the inventors of the wheel, light bulb, penicillin, Internet and WWW, etc,etc,etc, should take pride of place in historical discourse.

  5. Giorgio said on July 26th, 2008 at 6:15am #

    P.S. Of course, I had to forget mentioning my pet psychopaths:
    GW Bush, Tony Blair, Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfwitz, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera…(à la Yul Brynner in the King and I)…and ad infinitum….

  6. Giorgio said on July 26th, 2008 at 6:20am #

    Holy Moses! and I had to omit my Pet of the pets: ARIEL SHARON, of course….

  7. Jeff Bartlett said on July 27th, 2008 at 10:38pm #

    This is so true.

    And it is continuing today. Still countless scientists dedicate their time and efforts in search of the next great thing, without the proper funding or work stations. They are the people that will, one day, control our fate.