Since the mid-19th century, America has been at the forefront of technological advances. U.S. inventors gave the world the cotton gin, the telegraph, the phonograph, the movie camera, the light bulb, the artificial heart, the computer, and the iPad. Countless other inventions were created in the U.S., but most of them the general public has never heard of, and some have been as influential on the way we live as those mentioned above. (For more on patents, see: Setting Asset Valuation: Patents.)

Inventor Thomas Edison is mistakenly believed to be the all-time top patent holder. And although he reputedly held 1,093 patents, there are other inventors who are even more prolific – some with almost four times the number of patents granted to Edison. (For some great inventions, see: Ridiculous Ideas That Made People Millions.)

Among the top patent holders are the following:

Kia Silverbrook Holding 4,747 US patents as of 2020, Australian-born Silverbrook is one of the most prolific inventors of all time. A majority of Silverbrook's inventions are for advances in computer printing, inkjet, and digital paper. But his patents cover more areas than that and range from 3D printing to DNA analysis to nanotechnology. Once an employee of a research subsidiary of Canon, Inc., Silverbrook left the Japanese firm in 1994 to establish his own research, development, and invention licensing company.

Shunpei Yamazaki Securing patents for what seems like an endless stream of inventions for more than 40 years, Yamazaki held 5,614 U.S. patents in 2020. Other inventions of his include a method of producing cold nuclear fusion and an integrated circuit chip of glass, widely used in electronic and computer applications.  He is the president and founder of Semiconductor Energy Laboratory Co., a research and development firm in Tokyo.

Donald Weder Floral and decorative packing are American-born Weder's main creative focus, and he reportedly holds 1,400 U.S. patents. Weder's Highland Supply Company, a small enterprise that he inherited from his father, is now a major player in the floral industry, a result of the younger Weder's managerial skills and inventions. Although Weder's inventions relating to flowerpots, floral paper, and methods of wrapping and packaging are not as transformative as the iPad, they have helped provide the funding for his philanthropic Weder Family Trust. The Trust, along with Highland Supply, has sponsored the preservation of timberlands and the planting of more than 100,000 trees.

Paul Lapstun Laptsun owns or co-owns with his colleague, Kia Silverbrook, mentioned above, approximately 1,292 US patents. Among his inventions are a wide-format inkjet printer, and a device that permits the sending and receiving of emails but only if the sender possesses a special enabling business card.

Leonard Forbes With over 1,100 US patents, Forbes is among the world's most productive inventors. His inventions include semiconductors, random access memory devices, applications for computers, and a wide range of advances in electronic and thin film (microchip) technologies. Canadian-born Forbes is a retired Oregon State University professor of electrical engineering and operates a consulting firm specializing in solar cell technology. 

The Bottom Line

Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell, and Steve Jobs are three of the most universally known inventors; their inventions dramatically changed the way we live. But there are numerous other inventors as well - little-known beyond their field of expertise - who have also contributed to our advanced technological civilization. Their contributions may not have been widely publicized, but they've added in countless ways to our convenience and comfort, and ultimately to our prosperity.