April 25, 2014 3:46 pm

There may be as many myths about the origin of famous inventions as there are inventions themselves. Many individuals have found themselves mis-credited for the work of others when their great contribution was actually improvements on a product or intellectual property…or they were simply the first to patent a product. Let’s take a look at and then dispel some of the most widely held myths.

True or False: Civil War hero Abner Doubleday invented the game of baseball in Cooperstown, NY, during the summer of 1839.

FALSE! Doubleday himself never made this claim, which was put forth decades after his death by a panel brought together in part to solve this very mystery. A member of the panel was a close friend of Doubleday’s, and several other members of the commission had reason to declare baseball an American-invented sport, though its origins are thought to date back to the English game of Rounders. Interestingly enough, the Baseball Hall of Fame was built in Cooperstown, but Doubleday himself was never inducted into it.

True or False: Al Gore invented the World Wide Web while a member of Congress.

FALSE! During Al Gore’s run for president in the 2000 Presidential race, he was often derided for making the claim that he invented the Internet. The former VP made no such claim, though he did state that while in Congress, he was part of the initiative that created the Internet. What’s the difference? The long process that brought to life ICanHasCheesburger.com and other such important sites began in 1961, in the mind of one Leonard Kleinrock. Various modifications on the idea, including the “Intergalactic Computer Network,” developed through the 1960s and 70s, with the final major contribution coming from Tim Berners Lee, who developed HTML language in 1990. At least Gore can truthfully say that he helped save a lot of whales and maybe some polar icecaps.

True or False: Henry Ford invented the automobile.

You know the pattern now:

FALSE! Karl Benz, a German inventor, powered an automobile in 1885 through use of his four-stroke cycle gasoline engine. He was granted a patent for the engine the following January. What Ford did produce, in contrast to the namesake of Mercedes Benz, was a number of relatively inexpensive mass-produced cars. He developed assembly-line production plants that adapted conveyor belts to keep production rolling. His Model T was the most popular in America from 1908 until 1928, when it was replaced by Ford’s own Model A.

True or False: Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone. 

“Mr. Watson, come here, I want to tell you that is….FALSE!” Though Bell was credited with uttering the famous words “Mr. Watson. Come here. I want to see you” to his assistant waiting on the other end of the line, he was not the first person to make a telephonic transmission. This honor went to Antonio Meucci and his teletrofono in 1860. Meucci paired an electro-magnetic transmitter with a receiver to create the world’s first—and possibly worst—telephone. Upon expiration of his patent in 1874, Meucci was not able to pay the continuation fee. To compound his bad luck, his experiment notes were lost…in the same lab where Bell later worked. In March 1876 Bell was granted a patent for the telephone and he and Watson have lived on in infamy.

Until next month, when we explore famous inventions in history and their myths. Share with us some of your favorites!


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