From communication to the cotton gin, our lives have been vastly improved by the work of famous inventors.

An inventor is someone who creates a new device of some kind to make life easier in some way, shape, or form. Most of the devices that are thought up are usually electrical or mechanical, but there are a ton of simple inventions that are just simple molds of plastic. Think about the tips of your shoelaces. Those plastic pieces are called aglets. How many pairs of laces would you have gone through without them? In many cases an invention is just a small adjustment to a previous invention. Thomas Edison is created with the invention of the light bulb, but the fact is that he just had a better and more practical version than everyone else. This is much like the idea of the Iphone. Was it the first smartphone? No, but it was a much better design than the others. In this section we will look at the people behind the inventions, the inventors.

This collection of worksheets offers short reading passages about the lives and work of famous inventors. Students will learn about particular creations covering five hundred years of scientific and engineering innovation. Each short essay is accompanied by two answer sheets (multiple choice and short answer), as well as a one page "organizer," in which students can note short facts about the inventor. Answer keys are provided for each sheet. Project idea: Have your students pick the invention they feel has been the most beneficial and present it to the class.

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Alexander Graham Bell

Bell wanted to develop a machine to transmit speech. This inventors first designs involved the concept of a multiple telegraph.

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Bell Organizer

The history of Bell and the telephone is much more exciting than his scientific developments. The course of history was changed by the passage of a short period of time at the U.S. Patent Office.

Bell Multiple Choice Question

Alexander Graham Bell is also recognized for his great research into hydro foils for boats. His work led to the development of a boat that set the world record speed in 1919.

Bell Short Answer Questions

Bell is credited with hundreds of inventions.

László József Bíró

In the 1800s people used a fountain pen to write with whenever they wanted to write in ink instead of with a pencil. Fountain pens were messy.

Biro Organizer

The fact that he is Hungarian explains why his name has unusual accent marks in the spelling.

Multiple Choice Questions

He decided that a tiny ball at the end of the ink cylinder would be able to spread ink from the cylinder onto paper. The ballpoint pen was born.

Short Answer Questions

In British countries plus Australia and New Zealand people still call a ballpoint pen a biro.

Thomas Alva Edison

Inventor of the Incandescent Lamp

Edison Organizer

In 1878 Edison formed the Edison Electric Light Company whose sole purpose was to invent the incandescent lamp and the means to distribute power and lighting throughout a city.

Edison Multiple Choice Questions

He almost put the candle maker out of business.

Edison Short Answer Questions

He received 1,093 patents in all and filed for some 500 more that were unsuccessful. Edison was good friends with Henry Ford for many years.

Henry Ford - Reading Passage

Early in his career with Edison, Henry Ford built his first gasoline engine, and then in 1896 he built his first gasoline powered car, the Quadricycle.

Ford Organizer

He did not invent the automobile just made the process more streamlined. Henry Ford was not the first man to build an automobile, but his inventive genius came together during the start up of the Ford Motor Company.

Ford Multiple Choice Question

Before Henry started his own company he worked for the Detroit Automobile Company from 1899 until 1901.

Ford Short Answer Questions

Many thought Henry Ford was crazy with his ideas because cars had been built one at a time by just a few men, but over the years the Ford Motor Company became the most successful car company in America.

Benjamin Franklin - Reading Passage

The tenth son of a Boston soap maker made a huge impact on his world.

Franklin Organizer

Before Ben’s invention of the Franklin stove people heated their homes with a fire in an open fireplace.

Multiple Choice Questions

By July of 1750 Franklin had determined that electricity should be described by using the terms positive and negative charges.

Short Answer Questions

We know that Mr. Franklin went on to be very involved in the birth of our Nation as a statesman and was one of the five key authors of the Declaration of Independence.

Charles Ginsburg - Reading Passage

At the age of 20, he was working as a sound technician and later as a studio and transmitter engineer for a local radio station.

Ginsburg Organizer

It's important to remember that the first radio and television programs were broadcast live. This means that whatever happened was transmitted.

Ginsburg Multiple Choice Questions

By 1956 Ginsburg’s team successfully developed a system that used a rapidly rotating recording head to apply high-frequency signals onto a reel of magnetic tape.

Ginsburg Short Answer Questions

Since 1958, NASA has used Ampex recording equipment for all space missions.

Johannes Gutenberg - Reading Passage

The inventor of the printing press that we all know.

Gutenberg Organizer

In 1436 Gutenberg began work on his press in Strasburg. By 1440 Johannes was able to produce documents for the Catholic Church known as Indulgences in large quantities.

Gutenberg - Multiple Choice Questions

Even though Gutenberg had created the printing press, an adequate supply of paper was very necessary for his invention to be a commercial success.

Gutenberg Short Answer Questions

Imagine that it took someone an hour to copy one page by hand. If a person worked 40 hours per week copying by hand, how long would it take to make just one copy of the bible?

Samuel F. B. Morse Passage

Mr. Morse was a reasonable student but not of the highest capability.

Morse Organizer

Most importantly he developed a code that consisted of dots and dashes to represent letters of the alphabet to use with his device.

Morse Multiple Choice Questions

As a result of this breakthrough in electricity, Morse became a very wealthy man.

Morse Short Answer Questions

Although he lived until 1872 he was troubled by the many people who began to doubt whether he actually created this invention by himself or if others helped him and were not credited for their work.

Eli Whitney Reading Passage

Eli Whitney is most remembered for his creation of the Cotton Gin and his development of interchangeable parts.

Whitney Organizer

The name cotton gin is short for cotton engine.

Multiple Choice Questions

Whitney managed to obtain a contract to build thousands of muskets for the United States War Department but he had never built even one firearm.

Short Answer Questions

Another very important but less well known development by Whitney was the accounting concept known as cost accounting.

Wilbur and Orville Wright Reading Passage

They both were quite mechanically inclined and soon were designing and building their own bicycles for sale.

The Wright Bros. Organizer

Their study of other experimenters and of the flight characteristics of how birds bend their wings led them to the idea of wing warping as part the means of controlling how an aircraft would be navigated during flight.

Multiple Choice Questions

While they had some success they had not achieved the success that they felt was necessary to justify the effort of installing an engine.

Short Answer Questions

There were several legal disputes launched against the Wright brothers, but Orville and Wilbur succeeded in the end with their claim as the first to fly.