Steve Jobs was no Thomas Edison or Henry Ford. Or was he?

Even as the remembrances and kudos came this week, others were cautioning against overstating [Steve] Jobs’s contributions. They noted that while his genius was unquestionable, it’s unclear that he will be seen in the same light as a Thomas Edison, the Wright brothers, or Henry Ford.

Apple’s innovations made personal computers fun and easier to use, writes Rick Newman, chief business correspondent with US News and World Report.

But it’s unlikely the company’s products have had the socially far-reaching effects of automobiles, light bulbs, and aircraft. Edison’s novel bulbs, he writes, “ushered in sweeping second- and third-order changes” that included safer homes (fewer fires from candles, oil, or gas lamps) and improved working conditions in factories. With the cheap automobile came suburbs and interstate highways. Aircraft literally shrank the world.

Jobs’s influence, Newman suggests, was in “showing his utilitarian competitors how to devise an artful user interface, which usually trickles down to cheaper generic devices once Apple has moved on to version 4 or 5.”

The accolades and cautions highlight the fuzzy line between inventor and innovator. The invention – a light bulb – can be immediately transformative. Or it might languish, its potential unrealized, until the innovator comes along with the vision to see that potential, and the imagination and marketing savvy to modify it and popularize it.

Read More: Steve Jobs another Thomas Edison or Henry Ford? Maybe not. –

"So we went to Atari and said, 'Hey, we've got this amazing thing, even built with some of your parts, and what do you think about funding us? Or we'll give it to you. We just want to do it. Pay our salary, we'll come work for you.' And they said, 'No.' So then we went to Hewlett-Packard, and they said, 'Hey, we don't need you. You haven't got through college yet.'" -- Apple Computer Inc. founder Steve Jobs on attempts to get Atari and HP interested in his and Steve Wozniak's personal computer. Image courtesy of Apple Computer.

‎100 years ago, Thomas Edison took Tesla’s technology and turned it into a cheap and affordable device called the lightglobe. Now, every street in the world is lit with his technology, albeit not his brand.

50 years ago, Henry Ford took the luxury item known as the automobile and made them affordable to the everyman thanks to the production/assembly line. He enabled competitors like Volkswagon (credited to Hitler, actually) to jump on the bandwagon and flood the market with their own brands, using the same technology/concepts.

20 years ago, Steve Jobs took the elitist, expensive device called the computer, then a specialist machine operable only via DOS commands, and made them accessible to the everyman, by inventing the Graphical User Interface. The Personal Computer (the first Macintosh) was born.

The Personal Computer is the invention Steve Jobs should be remembered for, and that’s much more significant than just the current generation of iPads and iPhones and iGadgets. Next time you boot up your cheap Dell at work, remember that Microsoft copied Jobs just like General Electric copied Thomas Edison, just like Volkswagen copied Henry Ford, just like Nokia copied Motorola’s Martin Cooper, the inventor of the first handheld cellphone.

It’s thanks to Jobs (and Steve Wozniak) that there are now more personal computers in the average household than lightbulbs lighting the streets outside.

In conclusion, yes, every technology breakthrough is, in a way, an extrapolation of improvements and discoveries somebody else made. By that measure, Jobs, Ford and Edison are absolutely in the same league: they took pre-existing inventions and made them accessible to the layperson. Not only that, they did so with a most elegant and forward-thinking product design, a true form-factor invention.

I doubt (especially given the retarding effects to innovation of the current global economic climate) I will have the privilege to see another original innovator with the foresight to the scale of Steve Jobs in my lifetime. If we do, god I hope it’s the directed toward the humble battery.



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Categories: Business, People, Science, Technology

Author:Andrew Beato

CEO, Chief Editor and founder of Intentious. Passionate comment enthusiast, amateur philosopher, Quora contributor, audiobook and general knowledge addict.

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5 Comments on “Steve Jobs was no Thomas Edison or Henry Ford. Or was he?”

  1. October 10, 2011 at 8:47 am #

    “Everyone will be famous for 15 minutes.”

    Yes Steve Jobs is as famous as Edison and Ford. Will he be remebered the same way. Doubtful.

  2. James Hill
    October 10, 2011 at 8:50 am #

    Neither Jobs nor Apple computers invented the GUI. Apple didn’t invent the mp3 player, and Jobs didn’t even invent the iPod. Jobs was the pitch man for Apple. He was a master of managing media hype and he understood the importance aesthetic appeal, but he was certainly no Edison. It’s a testimony to the cult of personality that Jobs built up around himself that we’re even having this discussion. No one would suggest with a straight face that Bill Gates invented Windows 7 or Exchange Server, but somehow we collectively believe that Jobs created the iPhone. For what it’s worth, Apple products are not accessible to the everyman: what Jobs did was turn consumer electronics into a status symbol, sick Rims for the middle classes. If we can credit Jobs and Apple with anything, it’s making software and hardware developers think more about the user experience and the aesthetic appearance of electronic devices, but that’s it.

    • October 10, 2011 at 6:30 pm #

      Well see, this is where I think you’re spot on but then I go: but wait, Edison didn’t invent the lantern, and he didn’t invent electricity, he just made a sexy product out of the two…

  3. October 11, 2011 at 9:00 am #

    Andrew: I was going to say the same thing. The point is, he is sort of the Edison of our time. He puts a face and a personality to a technology.


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