Young Americans place Steve Jobs second to Edison as ‘Greatest Innovator of All Time’

The 2012 Lemelson-MIT Invention Index*, announced today, indicates that young Americans are acutely aware of the importance of invention and innovation in their personal lives, and within the context of the nation’s economy. Yet most feel there are factors that would prevent them from furthering education in or entering inventive fields, posing a threat to the pool of future U.S. innovators and the country’s economic prosperity.

A Threat to U.S. Innovation

The annual Lemelson-MIT Invention Index, which gauges Americans’ perceptions about invention and innovation, surveyed Americans ages 16 – 25. When asked about how new technology like smartphones and tablets influences and impacts their personal lives, 40 percent of respondents said they couldn’t imagine their life without it. Americans also have a clear understanding of the role invention and innovation play in the health of the nation with nearly half (47 percent) saying that a lack of invention will hurt the U.S. economy. Those surveyed, however, may not be the ones to take-on the challenge; 60 percent say there are factors that could keep them from pursuing an education or career in science, technology, engineering or math – fields that yield invention and lead to innovation.

Thomas Edison Chosen over Steve Jobs as Greatest Innovator

Though part of the “Apple Generation,” many young Americans surprisingly chose Thomas Edison (54 percent) over Steve Jobs (24 percent) as the greatest innovator of all time, demonstrating that education around the history of invention exists in today’s curriculum. However, it may not be strong enough to inspire young Americans to make the leap into innovative fields themselves. When asked what other factors would stop them from pursuing innovation-driving fields, nearly half (45 percent) said that invention is not given enough attention in their school. Additionally, 28 percent said their education left them unprepared to enter these fields.

2012 Lemelson-MIT Invention Index Greatest Innovator of All Time

“Hands-on invention activities are critical, but few too many students have opportunities to learn and develop their inventive skills,” said Leigh Estabrooks, the Lemelson-MIT Program’s invention education officer. “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 education to drive future innovators.”

Driving Future Innovators

American youth feel that education is most in need of a new, inventive solution, more than other fields like healthcare, energy and finance. They also believe there are several ways to generate aspiring inventors by reforming learning experiences both in and out of the classroom. Fifty-four percent said including invention projects during school, or a creative field trip could be a solution; while 52 percent said simply giving students a place to develop an invention could do the trick.

Outside of the classroom, a majority (80 percent) expressed interest in education training courses to help them become more inventive and creative. Fifty-eight percent said an opportunity to participate in an invention-related national service co-op, such as a training program where aspiring inventors can “shadow” working professionals in science, technology, engineering and math would encourage aspiring inventors in the U.S.

Joshua Schuler, executive director of the Lemelson-MIT Program, supports such ideas. “These encouraging statistics show that young Americans have an interest in learning more about invention. At the Lemelson-MIT Program our mission is to celebrate and inspire invention. We invite communities to join us by giving youth access to role models and hands-on programs like InvenTeams to help them become more inventive in their personal and professional lives.”

Now in its ninth year, the Lemelson-MIT InvenTeam Initiative inspires and empowers youth to invent by engaging students in creative thinking, problem-solving and hands-on learning. Granted up to $10,000 each, InvenTeams create and pursue a yearlong invention project addressing real-world problems such as energy efficiency and disaster relief.

he Lemelson-MIT Program celebrates outstanding innovators and inspires young people to pursue creative lives and careers through invention.

Jerome H. Lemelson, one of U.S. history’s most prolific inventors, and his wife Dorothy founded the Lemelson-MIT Program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1994. It is funded by The Lemelson Foundation and administered by the School of Engineering. The Foundation sparks, sustains and celebrates innovation and the inventive spirit. It supports projects in the U.S. and developing countries that nurture innovators and unleash invention to advance economic, social and environmentally sustainable development. To date The Lemelson Foundation has donated or committed more than U.S. $150 million in support of its mission.

*The 2012 Lemelson-MIT Invention Index survey was conducted by Kelton Research December 9-15, 2011, using an internet-based, multiple-choice format. The sample size of 1,000 respondents, ages 16-25, at the 95 percent confidence level would equate to + or – 3.1 percent margin of error had this been a random sample.*Please refer to the survey as the Lemelson-MIT Invention Index.

Source: Lemelson-MIT Invention Index

[Thanks to MacDailyNews Reader “Eric W.” for the heads up.]


    1. How smart can they be if they don’t know the truth about Thomas Edison? I don’t mean the myth portrayed in films about his ‘genius’ either. He was a cruel, stupid, ignorant and superstitious man who electrocuted animals as publicity stunts and tried to have congress outlaw AC power.

  1. I guess nobody’s ever heard of Tesla…makes sense, since everything is based on Edison’s DC nowadays…oh wait.

    Seriously, how could Tesla not make the list?

    1. Ditto. And Jobs should be much higher. When you consider the sheer number of industries he changed forever — computers, music, movies, phones, retail — his innovation effects everyone’s life.

    2. Ditto on Tesla, frankly I’m a little curious about Amelia Earhart too. How about Philo Farnsworth, Edward Teller, Wright Brothers, Ford, Colt, Eli Whitney and a host of others

      Shows the ignorance of people that a zuckerberg could top any of these people.

  2. Zuckerberg? Sure…Facebook ranks right up there with the light bulb! We could all sit in darkness illuminated somewhat by a smokey oil lamp…but don’t forget to update your status.

  3. On behalf of most men, and nearly 50% of world population (at least), I’d like to thank the innovator of TV’s remote control. All other innovations, including TVs themselves rank after this.

    1. The only problem with putting Leonardo on that list is that, as Steve Jobs put it, “real artists ship.” Leonardo’s notebooks show an astonishing array of inventions across multiple disciplines, but—they weren’t produced during his lifetime.

      One could say the same of Charles Babbage and his Analytical Engine. (His pal Ada Lovelace (the first computer programmer) did ship, however—luckily for those of us who might otherwise be running trench scrapers today!)

  4. And they cut shop classes at the high school level for college bound kids. Most kids, make that Americans, even the really smart ones, don’t have a clue as to all of the really fantastic things that have to happen to send a text or make a cell phone call. Life is a giant cloud with the label “… and then a miracle occurs” on it.

    1. A local high school had a shop class, until an explosion killed a student days before graduating. He was cutting into an empty drum that used to hold, IIRC, peppermint oil. Sounds safe, hell we eat peppermint-flavoured stuff all the time, but it’s apparently very volatile in natural form. The drum was long empty, but residue had vapourized inside, and ignited when exposed to flame. Staff had failed to observe proper hazardous materials handling procedures.

      The unfortunate reaction was to cancel further shop classes, rather than learn and improve safety training for staff involved. And so another generation loses out on hands-on experience.

      1. I was greatly surprised to discover that not only have shop and wordworking classes survived at my high-school but they have added a robotics class 5 years ago!
        learning is not dead everywhere!

  5. At the risk of upsetting Apple fans everywhere, of which I am one too, I would suggest Jobs wasn’t as much of an inventor as he was an enhancer. Meaning, he took most often what someone else had done and perfected it for the masses, making it simpler in design and function. This makes him the world’s best enhancer, but not so sure it would qualify him for second best, or even in the top-ten of significant inventors.

    When you see who was polled, you realize why the answers show as they do. Most of our current generation reverberates with what they see / hear / touch, and DaVinci doesn’t qualify, nor do many of the other inventors who have changed life on this earth for the good.

    1. One thing I kept misreading about this headline is that it says INNOVATORS, not INVENTORS. As much as I hate Edison (and admire Tesla), he may deserve to be on the top of the list. And Jobs, being an “enhancer”, as you term it, may very well belong at #2. Depends on how you define “innovator”, I guess. Is innovating changing an entire industry? If so, Jobs definitely belongs in the top 3.

    2. Yeah, but how much out there is true invention if you hold that high a standard. You should watch the video by Kirby on Youtube, under the “Everythingisaremix”. Apple is much of Part 3, but all the parts are excellent, showing how lots of people and so-called inventions were inspired by prior work.

  6. Most of the public is brainwashed stupid. It’s is sad to have to say that, but its is true.

    This survey is one example of proof for that. The Edison myth is so ingrained in every schoolchild in America that they totally believe the cartoon versions of these characters. As another example, they did a survey in England to see what was considered the greater invention/discovery. Partial list for consideration was a bicycle, DNA, Microchips(or transistor), flight, the PC and others. The public chose…..yep thats right…..the bike!!!

  7. Archimedes with his bad-ass catapults, heat rays, and claws, and assorted goodies like the differential gear, the planetarium, the odometer, the block and tackle, the principle of buoyancy, and the screw pump. ‘Course he also tossed off a bunch o’ minor goodies, like integral calculus.

  8. FYI: According to the CREATRIX test, innovation has two drivers, risk & creativity.

    Creativity Drivers Risk Taking Drivers
    Ambiguity Authenticity
    Independence Resiliency
    Inner-Directedness Self-Acceptance

    This list seems very short sighted.

      1. So that’s what Al did.
        Solomon: It’s the glory of God to conceal a thing, and an honor fit for kings to search out a matter.

        By the way, the formatting got goofed up above, should be more like –

        Creativity Drivers:

        Risk Taking Drivers:

Reader Feedback

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.