Edison tops Jobs as world's greatest innovator

The inventor of the light bulb and phonograph was named the greatest innovator of all time among 52 percent of the young people polled, surpassing the late Apple leader at 24 percent.

Lance Whitney Contributing Writer
Lance Whitney is a freelance technology writer and trainer and a former IT professional. He's written for Time, CNET, PCMag, and several other publications. He's the author of two tech books--one on Windows and another on LinkedIn.
Lance Whitney
2 min read

A group of 1,000 young people consider the world's greatest innovator to be Thomas Edison, whose crowning left the late Steve Jobs in second place.

Edison, the creator of the light bulb and phonograph, among many other inventions, earned the top title among 52 percent of those polled by Lemelson-MIT, a program that tries to honor inventors who have improved our lives and gauge peoples' perceptions about innovation.

Often lauded for his spirit of creativity, especially following his death, Jobs took second place with 24 percent citing him as the greatest innovator of all time.

The results surprised the researchers at Lemelson-MIT since the survey was aimed at people in the U.S. from 16 to 25 years old, an age group considered part of the "Apple generation." In fact, when asked how smartphones and tablets influence their lives, 40 percent of those polled said they couldn't imagine their lives without such devices.

In a further nod to past innovators, those polled put Alexander Graham Bell in third place for his invention of the phone, followed by Marie Curie for her work in the field of radioactivity.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg took the fifth spot, with aviator Amelia Earhart up next. Rounding out the list was Temple Grandin, who has earned respect as a doctor of animal science and inventor despite being autistic.

Both Earhart and Grandin have been the subjects of recent movies.

Looking beyond the list, Lemelson-MIT found that people value innovation but feel it doesn't merit the attention it deserves. Around half of those polled think that a lack of invention will hurt the U.S. economy. But they don't necessarily feel qualified to take up the mantle themselves

A full 60 percent believe there are certain factors that would prevent them from pursuing an education or job in science, technology, math, and related fields. And almost half (45 percent) don't think that invention receives enough attention in their schools.

"Hands-on invention activities are critical, but few too many students have opportunities to learn and develop their inventive skills," Leigh Estabrooks, the Lemelson-MIT Program's invention education officer, said in a statement. "This year's survey revealed that less than half of respondents have done things like used a drill or hand-held power tool, or made something out of raw materials in the past year. We must engage students in these types of invention experiences as well as provide a strong STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education to drive future innovators."

Now in its 16th year, the latest Lemelson-MIT Invention Index polled 1,010 people altogether between December 9 and 15 of last year.

Thomas Edison's labs, up close and personal (photos)

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