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10 Famous Inventors Never Made Any Money With Their Inventions

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Inventors are what push us forward as a species – some of them slave for years with dogged determination, and some of them chance upon it by sheer accident – and these inventions fundamentally change the way we live our lives. In this list we tip our hats to the inventors who, for whatever reasons, never made a killing from their inventions. We use all of them to this day and our lives are all the more convenient for it.

1. John Walker – Matchsticks

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This benevolent genius gave us fire, well, he gave us matchsticks and that’s more or less the same thing.

He worked as a small time chemist and he invented matches in the 1820’s which went on to change lives. But he refused to patent his invention against the advice of his friends and well-wishers because he wanted to make sure it was available for everyone.

2. Daisuke Inoue – Karaoke Machine

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Karaoke Machines, although Daisuke is responsible for the invention he never patented it and thus never made any money.

All the fun we have when we go karaoke we owe to Daisuke Inoue and while he made no money from his invention, let’s at least tip our hat to this Japanese businessman. Daisuke made money from playing drums in a backing band which let bar goers sing. One time he could not make a gig and so he put the backing music on a tape and later made 11 karaoke machines which he leased out. But the shortsighted businessman did not patent his invention and so he never made any money off it.

3 . Mikhail Kalashnikov – AK-47

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This soldier was responsible for the AK-47, at least it was named after him – Avtamat Kalashnikova.

Perhaps the most popular assault rifle, the AK-47 was invented by a Soviet Army soldier Mikhail Kalashnikov while he was in the hospital recovering from injuries he sustained in World War II. Since it was invented in 1947 more than 100 million have been manufactured and while the official manufacturer patented the design in the 90s, Kalashnikov never did – he always maintained that he had created it for the benefit of his country.

4 Sir Christopher Cockerell – The Hovercraft

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Although he invested his life in experiments towards the hovercraft, he had to fight to receive his due.

A lot of effort went into Sir Christopher Cockerell’s hovercraft. He conducted extensive experiments with a vacuum cleaner and tin cans to test his theories, and as the idea developed he was forced to sell some of his possessions to fund his work. Although Cockerell patented the design he had to fight for years to receive money that was owed to him by the National Research Development Corporation who put the hovercraft into production.

5 Sir Tim Berners-Lee – The Internet

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We owe this man our convenient lives, for he gave us the World Wide Web and he gave it to us for free.

We owe this article we are reading, and almost every aspect of our daily existence that has been simplified to a click of a button to Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the man who created the web to help scientists working at the European research laboratory at CERN. The first website was built at CERN in 1991, and from there the internet was developed. Sir Tim did not patent his idea and to this he has attributed the success of his invention, the fact that it was made available freely.

6 Harvey Ball – The Smiley


A bit of harsh irony behind the most positive symbol of them all – the smiley!

Before the smiley went on to explode into its own language of emoji it was invented by Harvey Ball who first designed the emoticon in 1963. It was used to boost employee morale at an insurance company and he earned 45 dollars for the original design. He never patented it and the smiley took off and became very popular.

7 Nick Holonyak Jr – LED Bulb

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Did not seek recognition after inventing the LED Bulb, not even the Nobel Prize.

Nick Holonyak Jr invented the light emitting diode or LED in 1962 and predicted it had the potential to replace Edison’s lightbulb. While Holonyak’s colleagues believed he deserved the Nobel prize for his invention, the modest inventor said “It’s ridiculous to think that somebody owes you something. We’re lucky to be alive, when it comes down to it.”

8 Trevor Bayliss – Wind-Up Radio

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The Wind-Up Radio still has high sales, but the inventor lost ownership of his product when the design was upgraded.

The man behind the wind-up radio and several other inventions Trevor Bayliss has said, “Most of us don’t do it for the money but for the buzz. I know that at least I’ve left my mark with the radio, the wind-up torch and other things I’ve invented.” Sir Trevor’s device was invented in response to the need to communicate about AIDS to people in Africa. Although recently it was said that he could no longer afford to live in his home in Twickenham, London, because despite the high sales, the company he went into business with were able to tweak his design and he lost control over the product and profits.

9 Douglas Engelbart – Computer Mouse


He invented the computer mouse even before people figured out what to do with it.

Douglas Engelbart’s invention was ahead of its time, he invented the computer mouse and patented it in 1968, when he came upon the idea. But the patent expired in 1987 and it was only after that the technology became widely used – since then nearly a billion computer mice have been sold.

10 Laszlo Biro – Ball-Point Pen


Ball-Point Pen was Biro’s invention, but he sold too quick to BIC before he could make any money.

Exasperated with leaky fountain pens, Laszlo Biro invented and patented the ballpoint pen in 1938. But Biro sold it to Marcel Bich shortly after in 1945 whose company BIC pocketed a huge chunk of the cash from the 1090 billion pens that have been sold since.

And so that brings us to the end of yet another list. While some of these inventors believed their inventions were for the benefit of the people, the others were gypped out of what was rightfully theirs. Least we can afford them is recognition.

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