Inventors are visionaries; they're visionaries who live in a different world, and some of them live in a very wealthy world. They're ambitious and they are willing to take chances. Most true inventors likely have a few duds in their past that never took off, but through trial and error some inventors truly hit the jackpot.
One of the greatest inventors of all time, Thomas Edison, described being an inventor in one of the most eloquent, simple ways. He said, “To invent, you need a good imagination and a pile of junk.” And it was by following his own advice that he became a rich man and one of the most influential inventors the world has ever known. He used his imagination to transform “piles of junk” into businesses and into products that had no precedent.
In today’s world, so much of what we know to be innovative and original is digitised, so it's hard to see concrete evidence of truly innovative, novel inventions that aren't tied to the rapidly evolving tech giants of the world. Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Larry Page and all those famous and not-so-famous app developers are some of the greatest inventors of our day and are certainly some of the richest. But for the sake of brevity and a more targeted overview of the history of invention, we're sticking with inventions that fall largely outside the realm of the digital age.
Most inventions fulfil a gap in the market that's so obvious many of us can’t believe we lived without it for so long. Indeed, as Socrates put it so eloquently, “Necessity is the mother of all invention.” Yet, while this holds true for many great inventions, other inventions create a need for us; some of the greatest inventions have caused the very society we live in to evolve, actually altering the course of history. A need we didn’t even know we had.
10 Thomas Edison $178 Million
Thomas Edison is one of the most prolific and game-changing inventors of all time.
Among Edison’s most notable inventions were the electric light bulb, the phonograph, electrical power, battery for an electric car, recorded music, and the motion picture camera. While he may be most well known for his invention of the light bulb, truth be told he didn't truly “invent” the lightbulb; he developed an incandescent, electric light by improving on a 50-year-old idea. His genius was in producing a long-lasting source of light, by using lower current electricity, a small carbonized filament, and a vacuum inside a globe. He brought all the elements together to make incandescent light safe, practical and economical. And in this way, he made his millions.
Edison holds 1,093 patents in the U.S. alone. At the time of his death, it was reported Edison left behind property valued at about $12 million in 1931; with inflation, that translates to well over $178 million by today's standards.
9 Ty Warner $1.7 Billion
Ty Warner is the creator of the legendary beanie baby. Warner is the son of a salesman, and perhaps picked up a thing or two growing up. He dropped out of college and took to the road where he began selling toys, plush toys. It was in 1986 when he began selling his first stuffed animal line. Then there were Beanie Babies, those collectible stuffed little bean bag animals with precious names which became an international phenomenon. Warner recently ran into a spot of trouble, however, when it was discovered he was evading tax by hiding millions in a secret Swiss bank. His net worth took a knock, as he was fined over $60 million for his indiscretions.
8 Brad Hughes $1.95 Billion
An example of invention being born out of necessity, Brad Hughes found himself on a road trip, and stopped at a warehouse to find that it was full. This is when he had his light-bulb idea for Public Storage: A storage unit easily accessible from the highway, or anywhere for that matter. However, in the beginning he called it Private Storage. It wasn't long until he realized this was actually deterring customers, as they thought that meant it was “private” and closed to the public. He remedied that, and soon after they were coming in droves. Public Storage is now America's largest self-storage company.
7 Mario Moretti Polegato $1.8 Billion
Mario Moretti hates smelly feet. Can you blame him? He was so repulsed by smelly feet that he set out to solve this stinky problem. His invention: shoes with holes in the soles that allow the shoe to breathe and release sweat, hence, eliminating stinky feet.
When Moretti tried to sell this idea to Nike, they didn’t think it was that great. But again, as any true inventor would, Moretti pushed on. He established his very own brand, Geox, which is now publicly traded. Geox became such a popular brand that even the Pope is a customer.
6 James Dyson $2.7 Billion
James Dyson is the mastermind behind the super-fashionable Dyson vacuum: an upright device that uses spinning technology to maintain suction without clogging filters. Brilliant.
However, before Dyson stumbled upon the hit prototype, the popular G-Force model, he went through 5,127 different models. This is where serious inventors stand out from the crowd. A serious inventor believes in his idea, with a passion that sees him through all previous failures. Try, try again; 5126 times, in Dyson's case.
Dyson’s tenacity and drive, he hope will inspire students that attend his new school: Dyson School of Design. For he has attached an inspirational motto to the name of his school that comes from the master of inventors, Edison: “Opportunity is missed by most people because it comes dressed in overalls and looks like work.” It’s hard to think of any motto that could be represent Dyson better.
5 Hans Riegel: Up to $3 Billion
Hans Riegel Sr. is credited for founding this confectionery company, Haribo, in 1920. German born, Riegel was the man to bring those sweet, chewy fruit-flavored delights into the world. Yes, gummi bears. Hans Riegel Sr. died in 1945 and his son Hans Riegel, and brother Paul took over.
Gummi bears have obviously become a household name, but other popular sellers include Happy Cola, twin raspberries and cherries. Above and beyond these delicious treats, Riegel is said to have invented more than 200 sweets over his lifetime. Haribo are reported to be secretive about their revenue, and it's unclear exactly how well-off Hans Sr. was upon his death in 1945. However, when Hans Jr. died earlier this year his net worth stood at $3 billion, thanks to the wealth and the company passed down from his father.
4 Chaleo Yoovidhya And Dietrich Mateschitz: Over $6 Billion Each
We all know it, we've probably all had it. It’s Red Bull. Chaleo Yoovidhya And Dietrich Mateschitz made a fortune off this idea. How they came about realising the world need a super-caffeinated carbonated beverage heavy on B-vitamins is unclear, but what's clear is that the public adored it.
The true genius of this idea may have actually been in the marketing. It was directed towards athletes and party crowds. Both groups loved it. These two guys couldn’t have been better matched for this product. Chaleo came up with the tasty ingredients, and his partner provided the marketing flair. It’s hard to say if it would have been such a success if one had come without the other. A match made in energy drink heaven? It seems that way.
3 Ralph Lauren $7.5 Billion
The simplicity of this idea is almost infuriating. You take a polo shirt and…add a little horse decal. Sell for $50. That’s it! But we can’t take too much away from Ralph Lauren - this designer has got serious business smarts. He started out very small, launching Polo with only $50,000 in 1967. In 1994 he sold 28 percent of his business to Goldman Sachs for $138 million. Perhaps something about the simplicity and understated class of Lauren's design just captured the public imagination at the right time but whatever the secret to his secret to success, today this man is known for his classic designs of anything from men’s clothing to women’s clothing to luggage to furniture to fragrances.
2 Benjamin Franklin $10.3 billion
'Your net worth to the world is usually determined by what remains after your bad habits are subtracted from your good ones', so Franklin has been quoted as saying. Despite the well-known fact that Benjamin Franklin did not concern himself with patents, he still became one of the wealthiest inventors of all time. His fortune was amassed through a number of different ventures. However, one project that greatly consumed him was that of electricity. Franklin performed endless experiments and showed that electricity was a “common element.” He furthered our understanding of electricity by demonstrating how it could be passed from one body to another, yet, never destroyed. From there, Franklin went on to his famous lightning rod work, wherein he set out protecting houses from the destructive nature of lightning via the use of a rod fixed atop the roof. Other inventions that improved life for his fellow man was the Franklin furnace, a flexible urinary catheter, the odometer, the long-arm (to reach books) and bifocals, to name just a few.
1 Michele Ferrero And Family $20.4 Billion
If this isn’t telling about our values as a society then nothing is. But this is one we can be proud of...chocolate. The magic of chocolate has never been more clearly defined than in the net worth of Michele Ferrero: over $20 billion.
Though Ferrero has many brands, including Ferrero Rocher, Tic Tac, and Kinder chocolate, among the most notable, and iconic, of his inventions is the Nutella brand. Who knew so many people wanted chocolate for breakfast? Ferrero recognized a niche for spreadable chocolate and the addition of hazelnut proved to a perfect mix. When you reach for your toast and chocolate spread in the morning, thank Ferrero for making it possible! Although, given his net worth, perhaps we've thanked him enough...
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