The mother of invention is teamwork

The Atlantic has a collection of stories, demonstrating how major inventions usually have more than one "Father". The stories we like to tell each other about one dude who had one great idea and changed the world are usually just that—stories. Reality is more complicated. For instance, the telegraph was invented by Samuel Morse ... and Charles Wheatstone, Sir William Fothergill Cooke, Edward Davy, and Carl August von Steinhiel. Pretty much all at the same time.


  1. Simultaneous discovery doesn’t mean that they were working together.  One stealing it off another doesn’t mean that they were working together.

    1. But they weren’t stealing things from each other – they all had similar ideas independently.

      Really, once you have electromagnets and wire, the telegraph is pretty freakin’  obvious.  Look – I close a switch here, and the electromagnet across the room makes makes a ‘click’.  Ta Da!  Remote communication by electrical wire!

      It doesn’t exactly take an act of creative genius to go from that to the telegraph.  It’s an obvious, logical extrapolation.

      It’s just Steam Engine Time is all.

  2. But, but, but…

    That can’t be true… it totally ruins the narrative used to support the value of the patents system*…

    If that were true it would demonstrate that patents are both unfair and counter-productive, that must mean it’s all a bunch of lies !

    * or not, as This isn’t a name demonstrates.

  3. I heard many ideas occur to (“einfallen,” literally “fall into”) multiple separately-working individuals relatively simultaneously. Wish I knew more about this, yet as a consumer I’m grateful, especially if it means we can circumvent some of this frustrating deliberate incrementalism. I also noticed when traveling that so many countries had their own invention stories for the railroad, we couldn’t sort them out. Every nation invented trains.

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