Throwback Thursday: Who Were the Greatest Innovators?

Following Steve Jobs’ recent death, the debate was sparked soon after about his rank among inventors in American lore. Free recently surveyed its Facebook followers on the matter, with some interesting results. The “odd facts” about Jobs and Nikola Tesla are likely the best part. (And if you visit the link above, be sure to read the somewhat profane, yet comically scathing rebuke of Thomas Edison):

We got hundreds of responses and found an interesting difference between the men and the women. The overwhelming majority of male respondents (81%) said engineer, physicist and futurist Nikola Tesla was the greatest innovator of the last 100 years (maybe our male Facebook followers are fans of The Oatmeal?). Facebook follower Jason Carter notes, “He IS the father of the information and the industrial age.” R. Keith Hunter responded, “Without him, we would not be technologically where we are today.”

Female respondents gave Apple guru Steve Jobs a slight edge, with 55% of women saying he was the greatest innovator. Barbara Spitznogle explained her vote, “He changed our world with his brilliant ideas and he applied them to our daily lives.”

Inventor Thomas Edison and Microsoft’s Bill Gates tied for third place among all respondents, while automotive pioneer Henry Ford was a solid fourth.

Here’s a bit more about the top two greatest innovators of the last 100 years, as decided by voters on the American Free Enterprise Facebook page.

Nikola Tesla

Tesla was born the son of a Serbian Orthodox priest in Smiljan, Croatia. He credited his innovative quest to his mother, a homemaker who created appliances such as a mechanical eggbeater to help with the home and farm. He emigrated to the United States at 26 years old and worked for Thomas Edison, who eventually became Tesla’s rival.

The list of inventions that Tesla pioneered reads like the history of the 20th century: Radio, radar, the induction motor, the Tesla coil, alternating current dynamos, arc light systems, and electric vehicles were all conceived by Tesla. He also developed concepts such as the use of X-ray machines, telegeodynamics, robotics, and early computer-logic principles.

Fun Fact: Tesla held over 700 patents in 26 countries when he died in New York in 1943.

Odd Fact: Nikola Tesla claimed to have invented a death ray which he called teleforce in the 1930s and continued the claims up until his death

Steve Jobs

Jobs was born in San Francisco in 1955, and adopted by Paul and Clara Jobs of Santa Clara, Calif.Jobs attended high school in Cupertino, Calif., the city where Apple is based. In 1972, he briefly attended Reed College in Portland, Ore., but dropped out after a semester. He returned to California in 1974 and landed a job with Atari, where he met his eventual business partner, Steve Wozniak. The two founded Apple in the 1970’s, ushering in the age of the personal computer with the introduction of the Apple II line in 1976. In 1985, amid a sales slump, Jobs lost a corporate power struggle with his board and left Apple. He went on to found NeXT and Pixar before returning to Apple to rescue it from near-bankruptcy.

Under his second tenure at Apple, Jobs spearheaded the introduction of the iPod, iTunes, iPhone and the iPad. He died from pancreatic cancer six weeks after stepping down from his duties at Apple in August 2011.

Fun Fact: Jobs held over 300 patents which were displayed in a Smithsonian exhibit in 2012.

Odd Fact: As a student, at Reed College, Jobs came to believe that if he ate only fruits he would eliminate all mucus and not need to shower anymore.

Adding Up the Patent Numbers

Good news: The U.S. produced more global patents in 2011 than the year before. The not so good news: Our overall share decreased, while Japan and China recorded significant increases.

Over 181,900 international patents were filed in 2011, up 10.7 percent from 2010, according to estimated data from the World International Patent Organization (WIPO). China, Japan and the U.S. accounted for 82% of the total growth, the highest since 2005.

Estimated data was collected from the WIPO-administered Patent Cooperation Treat (PCT) system. The PCT system facilitates the process of seeking patent protection across its over 140-member countries by postponing the requirement to file a separate application in each country until after a centralized processing and initial patentability evaluation have taken place.

The U.S., with an estimated 48,596 filings (26.7 percent of all patents filled worldwide in 2011), remained the largest user of the PCT system. The U.S. was followed by Japan (38,888 fillings; 21.4 percent of all patents filled), Germany (18,568 fillings; 10.2 percent of all patents filled) and China (16,406 fillings; 9.0 percent of all patents filled).

However, the U.S. (0.7 percent decrease) saw a drop in its shares of total filings, while China (1.5 percent increase) and Japan (1.8 percent increase) each increased their share by more than a percentage point.

The report also looked at patent fillings in 35 technology sectors. Digital communication technologies (7.1 percent published applications) accounted for the largest share of estimated PCT applications in 2011. It was followed by electronic machinery (6.9%), medical technology (6.6%) and computer technology (6.4%). Electronic machinery (23.2%) saw the fastest growth between 2010 and 2011, and another 11 sectors experienced double-digit growth.