Who Is The Greater Innovator, Thomas Edison or Steve Jobs?

The Washington Post is running a survey asking who was a greater innovator, Jobs or Edison, and the crowd goes wild, tilting way toward Edison. The comments are scathing, ranging from:

Jobs is a marketing expert of electronic goods and toys. Edison and his company invented things. If you don't understand the difference you are a fool.


It is horribly unfair to Thomas Edison to compare him to Steve Jobs. Edison INVENTED things. Jobs marketed them. Steve Jobs never invented anything.


Edison invented many things which benefited mankind, including the light bulbs which allowed us to read books late into the night. Jobs, on the other hand, invented a device that has put more people out of work than any other in history of mankind.

I wonder what that was. But in fact, Edison did not invent many of the things that the the commenters credit him with, including the light bulb, which he improved from earlier designs with a little help from Nicolae Tesla. His big deal was the marketing of it, the matching of it to a power generation and distribution system; on its own it was useless. And he was lousy at marketing it, losing out to George Westinghouse and Tesla and alternating current.

With the record player, Edison built on the work of others to develop the phonograph, the first machine to play back recorded sound (Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville invented a machine to record sound 20 years earlier but could not play it back) Again, Edison was a lousy marketer, sticking with cylinders when Emile Berliner's gramophone disks could be stamped out at far lower cost.

Jobs didn't invent the personal computer, but he made it popular. He didn't invent the MP3 player, but he developed the system of itunes that makes it easy to use. He didn't invent the cellphone, but he turned it into a computer that with its big brother, the ipad, is eating his own earlier businesses. Unlike Edison, he built the most valuable corporation in the world.

I'm not saying they got it wrong in the Washington Post, but they credit Edison with a lot of things that he didn't do, and deny Jobs the credit for the things that he did. What do you think?

Tags: Steve Jobs