Gregory Coleman – The “Amen Break”
If you pay extra attention to drummers, then you will have heard the “Amen Break” part be played at least once. This is known as the most important 7 seconds of music ever recorded. This short drum break was originally inserted only to fill time; however, it soon turned into the most sampled beat in history. The man who created it sadly died penniless and homeless in 2006.
Daisuke Inoue – Karaoke Machine
Daisuke Inoue invented a device that became an staple in Japan’s party culture: the karaoke machine. In the early 1970s, Inoue was part of a small band that often encouraged audience members in bars to singalong. He came up with the idea of building several machines fitted with tapes and amplifiers, so that people could select the song they wanted to sing to. He never patented the invention
Jonas Salk – Polio Vaccine
Jonas Silk is the developer of the first polio vaccine, regarded as an American hero and a well-loved celebrity. However, his chance of working in anonymity went out the window when he stated in an interview that ‘there is no patent. Could you patent the sun?’. Yep, Salk willingly relinquished a fortune so that the polio vaccine could be distributed as widely as possible.
Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster – Superman
Nowadays, everyone will recognise Superman as one of the most iconic comic book characters of all time. His creators, Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegal, were constantly going from newspaper to newspaper trying to show off their 13 page comic, with little response. DC comics agreed to buy the comic, and the rights to the superman Character, for a measly $130.
Soloman Linda – “The Lion Sleeps Tonight”
In 1939, Soloman Linda’s Evening Birds recorded one of the catchiest songs ever named ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight’ in Africa. The song earned tens of million of dollars from The Lion King soundtrack alone, however its creator made less than $2. Linda sold the rights to the song to Gallo Record Company after recording it – he should have made around $15 million in royalties.
John Walker – Matches
In 1827, English chemist John Walker started selling his new invention of cardboard strips coated in a flammable concoction, which he named “Friction Lights”. An instant hit, now known today as matches. This revolutionized the portability of fire but he went against advice and decided not to patent his invention – meaning hundreds of companies copied it.
Walker Hunt – Safety Pin
Walter Hunt was a 19th-century American inventor who invented numerous contraptions, most of which failed. He did, however, create the knife sharpener, flexible spring, heating stove and fountain pen! He sold off the patent to his greatest success, the safety pin, to pay off debt – taking a measly $400 for it!
Pearle Wait – Jell-O
For an easy, family-friendly dessert, Jell-O is a go to. Its inventor, Pearle Bixby Wait, never really got to enjoy the boom he created. He had the genius idea to combine plain old gelatin with fruit flavoring, sugar and coloring agents back in 1897, making the winning product. He couldn’t sell the item himself, so instead sold it to people in his local area for $450.
Harvey Ball – The Smiley Face
In 1963, freelance artist Harvey Ball was hired by the State Mutual Life Assurance Company of Worcester, Massachusetts, to create a “happy” logo. He doodled for 10 minutes and came up with the iconic image. An instant hit, they made thousands of merch with the symbol… but nobody copyrighted it. Two brothers lated added the slogan “have a nice day”, patented it, and made millions.
John Pemberton – Coca-Cola
John Pemberton created one of the most popular products in history – Coca-Cola. Yet, in 1888, he sold his rights to the drink for a paltry sum of £1,750. He sold shares of his business to various partners, hoping to retain ownership of his patent, despite his battle with stomach cancer. Desperation drove him to sell his remaining share to pharmacist Asa Candler before passing.
Hedy Lamarr – Wi-Fi
Best known for her movies, this Hollywood Golden Age-era actress was an inventor in her spare time. Her biggest achievement didn’t make her even a cent! At the start of World War II, she and George Antheil collaborated to invent a system to jam the radio guidance system of torpedoes. Intended to help the Allied war effort, the invention ultimately became the precursor to Wi-Fi.
Laszlo Biro – the biro
In 1938, this Hungarian-Argentine inventor patented the first modern ballpoint pen. After fleeing Nazi-occupied Europe, he filed another patent in the US in 1943. Two years later, however, he sold this patent to Marcel Bich, founder of BIC, which quickly became the world’s largest producer of the pens.
Urinary catheter – Benjamin Franklin
Inventor Benjamin Franklin is responsible for several creations that he chose not to profit from. Prompted by the plight of his brother, his urinary catheter was the world’s first modern catheter. Developed in 1752 and made from hinged silver tubes, it was a significant improvement on – and less painful alternative to – the rigid tubes then in use.
Tim Berners-Lee – The World Wide Web
Originally envisaged as a means for information sharing by scientists working in different institutions, credit for the invention of the World Wide Web goes to the British scientist, Tim Berners-Lee, then working at CERN. Berners-Lee’s own computer hosted the very first website but when CERN subsequently released the software, they did so with an open licence to allow for widespread public use
Catherine Hettinger – fidget spinner
The American creator of the fidget spinner, Cathering Hettinger, says she couldn’t afford to take out a patent on her invention. An overnight success that looks likely to become a time-honored classic, the fidget spinner is a playground favorite around the world. Hettinger is on the record as saying that she is “pleased” about this.
Sir Christopher Cockerell – hovercraft
The British engineer Sir Christopher Cockerell patented both his creation and the word “hovercraft” after coming up with the design in the years following the Normandy landings. He was inspired by seeing footage of troops struggling to disembark from boats and wade through the water to reach the beach.
Doug Englebart – computer mouse
One of the early computer pioneers, Doug Englebart invented the first mouse in the early 1960s. Planimeters – mechanical area-measuring devices – inspired him to create the wheels that he fitted to his wooden prototype. Eventually, this prototype and others like it, led to the development of today’s modern-day computer mouse.
Mikhail Kalashnikov – AK-47
Mikhail Kalashnikov gives his name to an invention that, some might suggest, the world could have done without: the Kalashnikov rifle, or AK-47. The Soviet and Russian lieutenant-general died a national hero in 2013, having resisted all attempts to prick his conscience over the number of deaths attributable to his invention.
Wes Cherry – Microsoft Solitaire
Procrastinators of the world unite and pay homage to Wes Cherry! Cherry is the man who created one of the world’s best-loved computer games, Microsoft Solitaire. A Microsoft intern at the time of its creation in 1988, Cherry was neither paid for his work nor received any royalties.
Ron Klein – magnetic strip on credit cards
Nicknamed the “grandfather of possibilities”, Ron Klein’s inventions include the magnetic strip on credit cards. He did so in the 1960s, without the help of computers and certainly without the internet. His original invention was for a specific department store, but American Express soon picked it up and used it as their own.
Nick Holonyak, Jr – LEDs
Over his long career, this American engineer worked extensively with light-emitting diodes. One of his most notable successes was the invention of the visible LED. His first prototype device emitted red light but subsequent developments resulted in LEDs that emitted green, blue and, eventually, white light.
Trevor Baylis – wind-up radio
Created by Trevor Baylis, the wind-up radio is the first radio that uses neither batteries nor an external power source. Instead, a user simply winds the crank to power the device. In his biography, Baylis explained how he was inspired by a BBC documentary on AIDS education in Africa and, specifically, how disseminating information was challenging without electricity to power radios.
Edgar Allan Poe – “The Raven”
Although it’s a poem and not a tangible invention, Poe’s “The Raven” was an instant mass-market hit. People loved its narrative structure, classic overtones and supernatural undertones. Much recited, imitated and parodied, the poem nonetheless failed to bring Poe any financial success.
Shane Chen – hoverboard
The creator of the self-balancing hoverboard is a Chinese-American inventor who lives in Washington State. He first created the Solowheel in 2010 and, in 2011, followed it up with the Hovertrax. Unfortunately, very soon afterwards, Chinese factories copied the design and sold it widely around the world.
Dr Spencer Silver and Art Fry – post-it notes
Imagine an office without post-it notes! Thanks to Dr Spencer Silver and Art Fry, this scenario remains the stuff of bad dreams. The sticky notes date back to the late 1960s and attempts to develop a super-strong adhesive. However, instead of developing the hoped-for sticky stuff, the scientists found themselves with a slightly tacky, pressure-sensitive, and reusable substance.
Marie Killick – sapphire stylus
In 1945, an English audio engineer called Marie Killick invented the “Sapphox”. A sapphire-tipped stylus, it was intended for playing gramophone records. Decca offered her £750,000 for the patent rights, which she refused. However, she subsequently faced patent infringements by other companies and eventually went bankrupt.
Alexey Pajitnov – Tetris
Another desktop computer game favorite, credit for Tetris goes to a Russian video game designer and computer engineer, Alexey Pajitnov. He created it while working at the Soviet Union’s Dorodnitsyn Computing Center. Despite its instant and ongoing popularity, Pajitnov received no royalties for his invention.
Karlheinz Brandenburg – MP3 player
A German electrical engineer and mathematician, Karlheinz Brandenburg was a key player in the invention of the MP3 player. The success of the device hinged on its utilisation of the new technology of audio data compression, as developed by Brandenburg and the rest of his team.
John Barry – the theme to “Dr No”
Credit for the score to the Bond movie “Dr No” is contentious. It’s widely acknowledged that the composer Monty Norman developed the score, and that John Barry then went on to arrange it but was uncredited in the final movie. Two court cases looked at “who did what when?” but question marks remain over the extent of Barry’s involvement and whether he was adequately recompensed.
James Cameron – “The Terminator” franchise
Nowadays, perhaps best known for “Titanic”, acclaimed movie director James Cameron also has a definite claim to the “The Terminator” franchise. In 1984, he created the original movie and went on to work on the 1991 sequel. However, he then turned away from the franchise – and much of its financial rewards – until he returned as a producer for the sixth movie.
Randy Schueller – Venom for Marvel Comics
A Marvel fan named Randy Schueller designed a new costume for Spiderman. Black in color and made from unstable molecules, he submitted the concept art to Marvel. Cartoon chiefs liked the design so much that they paid him just over $200. However, they also subsequently used it to create the full character now known as Venom – making themselves far more.
Nils Bohlin – Three-point seat belts
Credit for the three-point seat belt goes to designer Nils Bohlin at car manufacturers Volvo. In turn, kudos goes to company bosses who decided against enforcing the subsequent patent on the basis that the invention promised significant public safety improvements. Indeed, the three-point seat belt very quickly became a feature of most new cars.
Benjamin Franklin – Bifocals
Bifocals are another of the Benjamin Franklin inventions that he considered of such potential public good that he chose not to commercialize them for his own financial benefit. Inspired by his own failing eyesight, he sliced the lenses of his reading and distance glasses across their horizontal and had the resulting half-moons made into a single pair of eyeglasses.
Mary Kenner – sanitary belt
Over her lifetime, Mary Kenner received five patents for various inventions. However, authorities withheld the patent for her most successful and impactful invention – the adjustable sanitary belt – for over 30 years. It’s widely believed that racial discrimination relating to Mary Kenner’s background as an African-American was behind this injustice.
Richard Pearse – the first flying machine
Eyewitnesses reported seeing a New Zealand farmer and inventor, Richard Pearse, take to the air in a flying machine of his own design and creation. Amazingly, the reports date from around nine months before the Wright brothers made their famous – and, supposedly, world first – flight.
Marlon Brando – Conga drum tuner
Marlon Brando wasn’t only an actor. Also a talented percussionist, he favored the conga drums. What’s more, he even invented a new system for tuning those drums. Called the “drumhead tensioning device and method”, he successfully obtained a patent but did not pursue commercial success.
Geoffrey Dummer – the microchip
An electronics’ engineer from England, Geoffrey Dummer is credited with inventing the microchip. Admittedly, it wasn’t the microchip as we know it today. However, his widely-acknowledged conceptual work on integrated circuits undoubtedly paved the way for subsequent specialists in the field to turn his theory into practise.
Louis Le Prince – first moving picture on paper film
This French artist, who also developed one of the earliest motion picture cameras, is believed to have captured the very first moving picture on paper film. Taken in the city of Leeds, United Kingdom, in 1888, a commemorative blue plaque now marks one of his filming spots.
Benjamin Franklin – Lightning rod
Born out of Franklin’s desire to protect buildings from lightning strikes, this 1749 design is remarkably simple. Essentially, it’s just a ten foot iron rod that’s sharpened to a point. However, it was so effective that it was soon in widespread public use across many countries.
Emily Dickinson – poetry
A near-recluse during her life, this American poetry giant only achieved fame and fortune after her death. Only 10 of her estimated 1800 poems, with their inventive use of dashes as punctuation, achieved anonymous publication during her lifetime. Posthumously, they went on to generate seismic waves – and significant sums of money, having remained continuously in print since 1890.