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An Invention History Lesson:
Emoji-cally Speaking

The light bulb. The car. Even the smartphone you stare at all day. There are so many inventions that we just can't live without. In fact, they're so ingrained in our culture that they even appear in emoji form on that very same smartphone.

Don't believe us? Just click on the menu below to see some of the most popular emojis around. Then, meet the innovation pioneers behind each invention. Each and every one of them is an Inductee of the National Inventors Hall of Fame!


Signal Flares Used by Ships

Signal Flares Used by Ships

Inventor: Martha Coston

US Patent Number: 115,935
Inducted into National Inventors Hall of Fame: 2006

Martha Coston


Following rough sketches left by her late husband, a naval scientist, Martha Coston developed a system of pyrotechnic flares that she sold to the United States Navy. The system of night communication gave the Union a decided advantage in the Civil War, and the company Coston founded for production of the flares remained in business until the late twentieth century. Coston spent ten years testing and refining her process of night flares before patenting it in 1859.


Automatic Engine Lubricator

Automatic Engine Lubricator

Inventor: Elijah McCoy

US Patent Number: 129,843
Inducted into National Inventors Hall of Fame: 2001

Elijah McCoy


Elijah McCoy received his first patent for an automatic lubricating device in 1872. Previously, engines had to be stopped before necessary lubrication could be applied. McCoy’s invention allowed engines to be lubricated while they ran, saving precious time and money. McCoy continued to create improvements on his device, and soon, long distance locomotives, transatlantic ships, and factory machines were using his lubricating invention. His reputation spread, and users of heavy equipment were wary of buying cheap substitutes.




Inventor: Alexander Graham Bell

US Patent Number: 174,465
Inducted into National Inventors Hall of Fame: 1974

Alexander Graham Bell


Alexander Graham Bell’s invention of the telephone grew out of his research on improving the telegraph. Born in Edinburgh, Scotland, he spent one year at a private school, two years at Edinburgh’s Royal High School, and attended lectures at Edinburgh University and at University College in London, but he was largely family-trained and self-taught.


Electric Lamp

Electric Lamp

Inventor: Thomas Edison

US Patent Number: 223,898
Inducted into National Inventors Hall of Fame: 1973

Thomas Edison


One of the outstanding geniuses in the history of technology, Thomas Edison earned patents for over a thousand inventions, including the incandescent electric lamp, the phonograph, the carbon transmitter, and the motion picture projector. He also created the world’s first industrial research laboratory.


Fountain Pen

Fountain Pen

Inventor: Lewis Edson Waterman

US Patent Number: 293,545
Inducted into National Inventors Hall of Fame: 2006

Lewis Edson Waterman


Lewis Waterman invented a superior fountain pen that made inkwells and dip pens obsolete. With only five years of schooling, he worked as a teacher, carpenter, and book salesman before becoming an insurance agent. He is said to have vowed to invent a better writing instrument when an inferior pen leaked on an important insurance contract, delaying him long enough that he lost the client.




Inventor: Guglielmo Marconi

US Patent Number: 586,193
Inducted into National Inventors Hall of Fame: 1975

Guglielmo Marconi


In 1895 Italian inventor Guglielmo Marconi built the equipment and transmitted electrical signals through the air from one end of his house to the other, and then from the house to the garden. These experiments were, in effect, the dawn of practical wireless telegraphy or radio.




Inventor: Louis and Auguste-Marie Lumiere

US Patent Number: 591,858

Inducted into National Inventors Hall of Fame: 2007

Louis and Auguste-Marie Lumiere


Louis and Auguste-Marie Lumiere, innovators in photography, designed a camera and projector apparatus called the Cinèmatographe, which became the basis for contemporary cinematic projection. Patented in 1895, the Cinèmatographe was unlike its predecessor, Thomas Edison’s Kinetoscope. Movable and hand-operated with a claw foot to advance the film, the new camera allowed the Lumieres to record footage outside a contained environment.


Transmission Mechanism

Transmission Mechanism

Inventor: Henry Ford

US Patent Number: 1,005,186

Inducted into National Inventors Hall of Fame: 1982

Henry Ford


Pioneering automotive engineer Henry Ford held many patents on automotive mechanisms. He is best remembered, however, for helping devise the factory assembly approach to production that revolutionized the auto industry by greatly reducing the time required to assemble a car.




Inventor: Wright Brothers

US Patent Number: 821,393

Inducted into National Inventors Hall of Fame: 1975

Wright Brothers

Wright Brothers

Orville and Wilbur Wright, American inventors and aviation pioneers, achieved the first powered, sustained, and controlled flight of an airplane. The Wright brothers are considered inseparable in their aeronautical work.


Vacuum-sealed Ice Cream Freezer

Vacuum-sealed Ice Cream Freezer

Inventor: Beulah Henry

US Patent Number: 1,037,762
Inducted into National Inventors Hall of Fame: 2006

Beulah Henry


Beulah Henry became known as "Lady Edison" for the number and variety of devices she invented that made daily life easier. The first of her inventions, a vacuum-sealed ice cream freezer, was patented in 1912. Henry went on to be considered the most prolific woman inventor of the 1920s, and continued to innovate for several decades.


Solid Fuel Rocket

Solid Fuel Rockets

Inventor: Robert Hutchings Goddard

US Patent Number: 2,397,657

Inducted into National Inventors Hall of Fame: 1979

Robert Hutchings Goddard<


Robert Hutchings Goddard pioneered modern rocketry and space flight and founded a whole field of science and engineering. In 1915 he proved that rocket engines could produce thrust in a vacuum and therefore make space flight possible. During World War I, Goddard succeeded in developing several types of solid-fuel rockets to be fired from hand-held or tripod-mounted launching tubes.


Three-way Traffic Signal

Three-way Traffic Signal

Inventor: Garrett Morgan

US Patent Number: 1,475,024
Inducted into National Inventors Hall of Fame: 2005

Garrett Morgan


In 1923, Morgan patented his best-known invention, the three-way traffic signal. As an early enthusiast of automobiles, Morgan quickly recognized the need for better traffic control on congested city streets. His signal was based on signs that signaled stop and go. He sold his patent rights for $40,000 to General Electric, which developed an electric version.


Television System

Television System

Inventor: Philo Taylor Farnsworth

US Patent Number: 1,773,980

Inducted into National Inventors Hall of Fame: 1984

Philo Taylor Farnsworth


Philo Taylor Farnsworth’s electronic inventions made possible today’s TV industry, the TV shots from the moon, and satellite pictures. In 1926 Farnsworth joined the Crocker Research Laboratories in San Francisco. At the age of 20 he produced the first all-electric television image.




Inventor: Maurice Hilleman

US Patent Numbers: 3,555,149 & 4,459,286

Inducted into National Inventors Hall of Fame: 2007

Maurice Hilleman


Maurice Hilleman is recognized as the most prolific vaccine scientist of the 20th century, saving more lives than any other scientist. Most of his long career was at Merck, where he led the development of more than three dozen vaccines. Among these are vaccines for hepatitis A and B, Haemophilus influenzae type B (Hib), varicella, and the combined vaccine for measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR).


Modern Athletic Shoe

Modern Athletic Shoe

Inventor: William Bowerman

US Patent Number: 3,793,750
Inducted into National Inventors Hall of Fame: 2014

William Bowerman


Bill Bowerman spent 24 years as the head track coach at the University of Oregon where he constantly worked to improve both procedures and equipment, including athletic shoes. His Waffle Trainer sole, first prototyped using his wife’s waffle iron, featured raised nubs similar to those on modern mountain bike tires which gave the shoe traction while maintaining a low weight. In 1964, Bowerman entered a partnership with one of his former athletes, Phil Knight, forming Blue Ribbon Sports, now known as NIKE.


Video Games

Video Games

Inventor: Ralph Baer

US Patent Number: 3,728,480

Inducted into National Inventors Hall of Fame: 2010

Ralph Baer


Engineer Ralph Baer, a pioneer in the field of interactive video games, invented what became known as the Magnavox Odyssey Home Video Game System. Baer developed a number of games that became part of his “Brown Box,” a multi-game console, including ping-pong, handball, soccer, volleyball, target shooting, checkers, and golf. Sanders licensed the technology to Magnavox, which introduced the Odyssey system in 1972.





Inventor: Vinton Cerf, Robert Kahn

US Patent Number: 6,574,628

Inducted into National Inventors Hall of Fame: 2006

Vinton Cerf, Robert Kahn

Cerf and Kahn

Vinton Cerf and Robert Kahn designed the architecture of the Internet and the procedures known as the Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol, or TCP/IP, that allow supercomputers and desktop PCs to share the Internet.



Digital Camera

Digital Camera

Inventor: Steve Sasson

US Patent Number: 4,131,919

Inducted into National Inventors Hall of Fame: 2011

Steve Sasson


In 1974, Kodak supervisor Gareth Lloyd asked electrical engineer Steve Sasson to investigate whether charge-coupled devices could be used to create an image sensor for a camera. After a year in the laboratory, Sasson created a device that captured an image, converted it to an electronic signal, digitized the signal, and stored the image - the first digital camera.



>Solar Thermal Storage Systems

Solar Thermal Storage Systems

Inventor: Maria Telkes

US Patent Number: 3,986,969
Inducted into National Inventors Hall of Fame: 2012

Maria Telkes


Originally from Hungary, Telkes came to the U.S. in 1925, working initially as a biophysicist at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation and then a research engineer at Westinghouse. Later after joining MIT, she worked on the Dover Sun House, which employed a method using sodium sulphates to store energy from the sun. During World War II, she developed a solar distillation device that was included in the military’s emergency medical kits and which saved the lives of downed airmen and torpedoed sailors.


Personal Computer

Personal Computer

Inventor: Steve Wozniak

US Patent Number: 4,136,359

Inducted into National Inventors Hall of Fame: 2000

Steve Wozniak


In 1976, Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs founded Apple Computer, Inc. with Wozniak’s Apple I personal computer. The following year, he introduced his Apple II personal computer, featuring a central processing unit, a keyboard, color graphics, and a floppy disk drive. The Apple II was integral in launching the personal computer industry.



Li/SVO Battery Technology

Li/SVO Battery Technology

Inventor: Esther Sans Takeuchi

US Patent Numbers: 5,389,472 & 6,221,534
Inducted into National Inventors Hall of Fame: 2011

Esther Sans Takeuchi


Energy storage expert Esther Takeuchi led efforts to invent and refine the lifesaving lithium/silver vanadium oxide (Li/SVO) battery technology, utilized in the majority of today’s implantable cardioverter defibrillators (ICDs). Takeuchi’s work was conducted during 22 years at Greatbatch, Inc., a major supplier of pacemaker and ICD batteries. Today, over 300,000 ICDs are implanted every year.

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