Battle of the Brains

For as long as inventors have had breakthrough ideas, they’ve been arguing over who gets the credit. A look at a few of history’s high-profile kerfuffles.

By Janelle Nanos | Boston Magazine |

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Calculus: Gottfried Leibniz versus Isaac Newton

The Controversy: Leibniz published an article outlining his calculus method in 1684. Newton and his colleagues insisted that he had notebooks proving he’d invented calculus as early as 1666.
History’s Verdict: In 1713 the Royal Society ruled for Newton, but today both men are credited with inventing and developing calculus independently.


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Radio: Nikola Tesla versus Guglielmo Marconi

The Controversy: Tesla first demonstrated radio-wave technology in 1893. The more financially savvy Marconi applied for a patent for his radio system in 1896, and went on to build a commercial radio network.
History’s Verdict: After the courts debated the matter for nearly 40 years, Tesla was finally given the credit … a few months after his death in 1943.


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Airplane: Orville and Wilbur Wright versus Samuel Langley

The Controversy: The Wright brothers made their first flight in 1903, nine days after the failed launch of secretary of the Smithsonian Institute Samuel Langley’s own craft. The Smithsonian displayed Langley’s craft anyway, saying it was “capable” of flight.
History’s Verdict: In 1944 the Smith-sonian finally acknowledged that the Wright brothers were first.


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Telephone: Alexander Graham Bell versus Elisha Gray

The Controversy: Both Bell and Gray submitted telephone patents on February 14, 1876, setting off a series of lawsuits between Gray and the Bell Telephone Company. Bell was more than once accused of paying the patent officers to show him Gray’s work.
History’s Verdict: Bell got the credit, both in court and in the history books.


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Lightbulb: Joseph Swan versus Thomas Edison

The Controversy: Swan was the first to demonstrate a working incandescent bulb, in 1879, but his stayed lit for only a short time. Edison introduced his own version a few months later, and it burned for 150 hours. He’s now credited with creating the first “practical” light bulb for commercial use.
History’s Verdict: Here in the States, it’s Edison. In the U.K., it’s Swan.

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Facebook: Winklevoss twins versus Mark Zuckerberg

The Controversy: Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss conceived of a social networking website, Harvard Connection, and hired Zuckerberg to help develop it. Zuckerberg pulled out of the project and created his own social network: the Facebook.
History’s Verdict: As of press time, Zuckerberg was putting the finishing touches on an IPO estimated at $100 billion.