Electricity, vaccinations voted the world’s greatest inventions — but many don’t know who invented them

LONDON — Where would the world be without electricity? A survey finds electrical power, telephones, and vaccinations are the greatest things man has ever created. Unfortunately, that same poll finds many people can’t tell you who actually made these breakthrough inventions.

The survey of 2,000 adults in the United Kingdom finds the internet, television, computers, cars, and airplanes made the top 10 best inventions. While the lightbulb finished fourth among all inventions all-time, one in five couldn’t name Thomas Edison as its inventor.

Over half the poll (52%) incorrectly named Henry Ford as the person who conceived the idea for the car. One in five respondents didn’t know the Wright brothers created the first successful airplane and one in six failed to name the inventor of the telephone, Alexander Graham Bell.

“While many may not know who invented what, there is definitely appreciation for their efforts as the world would not look like it does today without their ingenuity,” Claudia Caron, a spokeswoman for Mattel, says in a statement. “The results have also reflected a huge appreciation for some incredible British innovation both in the past and present day.”

‘Never too late to explore life-changing inventions and their stories’

The survey, commissioned by Thomas & Friends, found that those who did know some of these famous pioneers believe Bell is the most iconic British inventor. The mastermind behind the telephone finished ahead of Edward Jenner, creator of vaccinations, and Tim Berners-Lee, designer of the first world wide web.

When Brits were asked which famous thinker they’d like to have been, a majority picked the discoverer of penicillin, Sir Alexander Fleming. Researchers also tipped their hats to child inventors, like 15-year-old Albert Sadacca, who created Christmas lights in 1917.

A majority of respondents admit their knowledge about these world-changing achievements pales in comparison to their elders. Sixty-six percent say older generations know more about inventors and their respective creations than they do. One in four adults confessed they’ve pretended to know who invented something to avoid embarrassment.

“It’s never too late to discover and explore these life-changing inventions and the stories behind them,” British space scientist and inventor Dr. Maggie Aderin-Pocock added. “And while it’s always great to discover new things, it’s also nice to look back on some of the marvelous developments we so often take for granted in the modern age.”


  1. Electricity
  2. Telephone
  3. Vaccination
  4. Lightbulb
  5. The internet
  6. Television
  7. Computer
  8. Car
  9. Anesthesia
  10. Airplane
  11. Radio
  12. Steam train
  13. Camera
  14. Printing press
  15. Clock
  16. Optical lens
  17. Compass
  18. Boats
  19. Helicopter
  20. Tractor

The survey was conducted by the research firm OnePoll.

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About the Author

Chris Melore

Chris Melore has been a writer, researcher, editor, and producer in the New York-area since 2006. He won a local Emmy award for his work in sports television in 2011.

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