And the answer: Thomas Edison.
Widely known as the inventor of the incandescent lightbulb, it is rarely mentioned that Edison patented over 1,000 other inventions. He is credited with inventing the movie camera, the phonograph, the carbon button microphone, and many other revolutionary devices.
In 1868, Thomas Edison applied for his first patent at just 21 years old. The very first of his inventions was a vote-counting device, yet the idea was just one of over 1,500 other approved and unapproved patents. After reaping enormous revenue from the patent and success of the lightbulb, Edison built a laboratory in Menlo Park, New Jersey. Armed with a dream and the means to make it reality, he hired a staff of several dozen—each with distinct talents—and set to work creating the world’s first invention factory. In many ways, Edison inadvertently created a model not unlike that of a modern research institution.
Even more impressive than the sheer volume of Edison’s patents was the fact that the bulk of them were not one-off, kitschy inventions. Many of the ideas Edison and his team put forth led to strides in technology, science, and industry. For example, although Samuel Morse had already invented the telegraph back in the 1830s and 40s, it was Edison’s innovation that greatly improved the device—extending its recording capabilities from a measly 20 to 40 words per minute, to around a whopping 1,000.
Another significant Edison invention was the phonograph, an idea which came from his experimentation with long distance communication. While developing his telephone transmitter, Edison got the idea of creating a machine that could record and play back telephone messages. This idea led him to imagine being able to record music and other sounds, and just one year later, Edison had created (you guessed it!) a patent for the idea. Edison’s phonograph was hugely popular, helping the inventor enhance his reputation. Eventually, he began to market and sell the machines.
Learn more about Edison’s contributions to technology and innovation here.