Think of some of the greatest inventions and creations you have seen in your life. History has seen many great minds who have improved the world with their contributions to the arts and sciences. History has also seen many more scumbags who let others do all the hard work and then swooped in at the last moment to steal all the glory. This is what happens when those two types collide.
Laser Inventor Didn’t Understand Patents
Scientists are still people, and they can make some pretty boneheaded moves just like the rest of us. And there’s no greater example of this than the story of Gordon Gould, the most gullible genius ever. He started his career contributing to the Manhattan Project. But he sabotaged himself by marrying a communist. Gould was quickly fired and blackballed. But in 1957, during a booze- and cigarette-fueled weekend, Gould wrote a nine-page thesis inventing not just a way to create light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation, but also inventing its more iconic name: the laser. Realizing this was his ticket back into the fold of respectability, he immediately went to have his work notarized, which was smart. The place he decided to do it at was the neighborhood candy store, which was not smart.
After consulting his jellybean jurists, Gould was convinced by a lawyer that he needed to have a working prototype before he could get the patent for his invention. Which is a lie, but sure was a windfall for the private company he joined so he could have access to the materials to build said prototype. They immediately filed for a government grant to develop the laser, and the government then classified Gould’s notes and booted him off the project because of, again, the communist thing.
With Gould no longer in control of his own invention, his colleague Charles H. Townes not only took over the project and claimed its patent, but also published the work without crediting Gould at all. Gould tried to stop Townes from taking credit by finally filing patents of his own, but the heartbroken scientist had to sit and watch as Townes received the Nobel Prize for Science in 1964. After 30 years of fighting, Gould did manage to at least gain the royalties, netting him a cool $30 million. Gould died rich and relatively happy in 2005, but the odds that his name will wind up in any school textbooks remain laser-thin.
Duchamp’s Toilet Fountain Was Made By A Baroness In Philadelphia
Marcel Duchamp, famed Dadaist and inventor of that annoying hipster trend of putting mustaches on everything, is perhaps best-known for his upturned urinal sculpture Fountain. But not just anyone can put a toilet on its back and call it a work of art. And that apparently includes the guy who’s credited with it.
In 1917, Fountain had been submitted anonymously, but everyone just “knew” that it was Duchamp’s, which the artist never denied. They figured that the signature “Richard Mutt” from Philadelphia was merely one of his alter egos. But in 1982, a letter was uncovered from Duchamp to his sister, in which he wrote: “One of my female friends who had adopted the pseudonym Richard Mutt sent me a porcelain urinal as a sculpture.” And it didn’t take long for scholars to find her: Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhove.
Never heard of Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven? She is seen as the first great Dadaist in America. She moved to Philly with her baron/busboy husband after fleeing war-torn Europe, and became a conceptual artist celebrated by such luminaries as Ezra Pound and Ernest Hemingway.
Further evidence backing her claim on Fountain was that she, like any good alternative type, was into found object art long before anyone else, including Duchamp. She’d previously made several other found art pieces with ironically grand titles, like a piece of wood named Cathedral and a plumber’s tool she called God.
So why didn’t the Baroness call Duchamp out on his passive plagiarism? Bad timing, mostly. When Fountain debuted in 1917, it was ridiculed by her own movement. Why call dibs on a massive failure? It was only years after her death in 1927 that it became an iconic artwork championed by the later Surrealists and their leader, Andre Breton. Breton also attributed the work to Duchamp, which — Duchamp never bothered to correct. Instead, like any good radical artist who refuses to play by society’s rules, he commissioned several replicas of Fountain and made a lot of money.
Slave Invents A Revolutionary Cotton Picking Machine, Master Gets All The Money
With enough hard work and ingenuity, you too can invent something that doesn’t merely improve society, but will also make you filthy rich in the process. Or your captor, at least. This was the fate of Ned (no last name), a blacksmith and the inventor of a new machine to “scrape” cotton, taking away a lot of the backbreaking work of picking it. And Ned would know something about that, because he was enslaved on a plantation when he invented it. But like everything a slave does, Ned never got to enjoy the fruits of his hard labor, because the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office only allows people to file patents — and according to the U.S. government back then, a Ned was three-fifths of a people.
Of course, Ned’s owner, Oscar Stewart, did what his ilk does best and profited off someone else’s work. Stewart tried to convince the courts that since his “property” invented something, that thing should become his property as well. The sticklers at the Patent Office saw differently, so no one was allowed to patent the cotton scraper. Undeterred, Stewart simply started selling the machine without a patent, knowing that Ned wasn’t in a position to hire a lawyer and sue him.
It gets worse. Not only did Stewart refuse to grant Ned his freedom for making him filthy rich, but he even used the invention to fight abolitionism. In his advertisements, the sociopath said that since such a great and useful machine was invented by a slave, it exposed “the lie to the abolition cry that slavery dwarfs the mind of the Negro.” He went even further by claiming “When did a free Negro ever invent anything?” Here’s hoping he died a torturous death.
The Husband Of A Famous Novelist Locked Her In A Room And Took Credit For Her Work
Henry “Willy” Gauthier-Villars, a middling Parisian writer, had to admit that his wife’s writing was much better than his, and he could no longer see the point of doing it himself. Even before his “great success,” Henri had a reputation for being a plagiarist, taking full credit for all his work despite having several collaborators. But no collaborators were found when he published his first grand novel, Claudine a L ’Ecole (Claudine At School) in 1900, about a tough but clever 16-year-old country girl. It became a hit. Its success then spawned a whole series, and a range of merchandising tie-ins, like Claudine perfume and Claudine cigarettes (remember, we’re in France).
More importantly, Claudine was hailed as the voice of a new generation of women, which made it even more suspicious that it had been written by a 40-year-old dog most famous for being a C-list celeb. Of course, it wasn’t Willy who had hidden depths as an author, but his wife, 27-year-old Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette. She’d written the novel based on her own formative years. It hadn’t taken long for Willy to realize that his young bride was a brilliant novelist, which he then exploited by demanding she write a novel that he could claim as his own. When Collette confronted Willy and asked for due credit, he did what any supportive partner would do – locked her in a room, refusing to let her out until she finished writing.
By the time Colette had the strength and support to leave her abusive relationship, she had written four Claudine novels for Willy to steal – work for which she never saw a cent, as her husband had also stolen the copyright. However, after freeing herself from Willy, her creative career flourished. She published several classics, such as La Vagabonde and Gigi, and in 1948 was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature. Meanwhile, Willy squandered all of the Claudine money on gambling and booze, and is now only remembered as a jerk.
She Cured Leprosy, Then Was Robbed By Her College President
For a while, doctors knew that the cure for leprosy involved chaulmoogra oil. The oil was deemed impossible to administer effectively. When rubbed on the skin it did jack squat, when ingested it caused such horrific vomiting that many preferred to just die, and when injected it would cause rotting blisters that made it look “as if the patient’s skin had been replaced by bubble wrap.” But in 1920, all those ghoulish side effects were made irrelevant by the Dean Method, named after chemist Arthur Dean. It was a way to administer chaulmoogra that not only negated its side effects, but also dramatically boosted its effectiveness. A true miracle cure. Just one thing: The brilliant inventor of this treatment was Alice Ball.
Ball was both the first woman and the first African-American to graduate with a master’s degree from the University of Hawaii. She dazzled her professors so thoroughly that she was offered a position at the school. While teaching, she was approached by Harry Hollmann, a doctor who was working on a cure for leprosy. Only 23, Ball immediately made a breakthrough, finding a technique that modified chaulmoogra oil so that when injected, it would get absorbed by the body instead of making that body look like the Michelin Man.
Tragically, Ball was never able to publicize her findings, as she suddenly became ill and died at 24. After her death, her work was continued by the president of the University of Hawaii, none other than Arthur Dean, who spent the next few years doing the scientific equivalent of opening an already-loosened pickle jar. When the serum was finally ready to go public, Hollman insisted it should be named after her. But being the boss has its perks, so Dean simply ignored Hollman’s pleas and claimed sole credit.
While Dean saved all the back-pats for himself, the Ball Method saved thousands of lives, and was the first great step toward eradicating one of the oldest plagues ever. And today Ball is finally getting the recognition she deserved, as we all start to realize how many people have been written out of history because some mediocre white guys couldn’t handle being outclassed.