The 11 Most Profitable Inventions of All Time

Most aspiring Biz Kids have similar daydreams: what if the gadget, gizmo, or service that fills their notebooks ends up being a runaway success? What if it makes them a millionaire? Or better yet, what if it goes down in the history books as one of the most important, most incredible, most profitable inventions of all time? While such visions may sound like pipe dreams, they probably felt that way to the inventors who did find such success, too. Here, we look back at 11 inventions that have stood the test of time (and made some of the entrepreneurs behind them quite wealthy).

11. Streaming video: In our digital-everything era, streaming video may not sound like it would be one of history’s most profitable inventions. But when you consider the billions of dollars spent on creating content, and the percentage of Americans’ lives devoted to consuming it, it’s easy to see how such an influential piece of our lives could be a revenue-generating one as well.

10. Online shopping: It’s hard to think of a time when buying things online wasn’t the norm, but Jeff Bezos remembers the time well. That’s when he began selling books on the internet, with visions of someday building an “Everything Store.” His vision is now a reality, as is his place on Forbes’ list of the wealthiest people in the world.

9. Social media: Launched in the early 2000s by various individuals and companies, most notably Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook, social media has transformed the way people communicate, making it possible for people to connect with others around the world. But the hyper-specific ways that advertising can now be tailored according to people’s interests has also made social media an incredibly profitable platform for its investors.

8. Smart phone: When Steve Jobs took to the stage in 2007, few people could have imagined how ingrained the device would become in our daily lives. People now interact with their phones for everything from catching up with Grandma to viewing a menu to booking a flight. Few gizmos have had more impact than the smart phone, one that was nowhere to been seen decades ago, yet today fills literally billions of pockets.

7. The internet: Part of what makes the smart phone so powerful is its connection to the internet. Invented in the late 20th century by multiple individuals and organizations, including Tim Berners-Lee, the internet has transformed the way people access and share information, making it possible for people around the world to connect and communicate in ways that were previously unimaginable.

6. Personal Computer: Before the internet could improve so many corners of our lives, hardware had to bring it closer to home. For that, we primarily have Steve Jobs and Bill Gates to thank. Gates and Jobs took a technology that was reserved primarily for industrial and university settings and made it possible for individuals to have powerful computing capabilities in their homes and offices.

5. Airplane: Believe it or not, there used to be a day when living on opposite sides of the country meant that you wouldn’t see each other much, if ever. Invented by the Wright Brothers in the early 20th century, the airplane revolutionized travel and transportation, making it possible to travel long distances in a fraction of the time it would take by other means.

4. Automobile: If the airplane sounds revolutionary, consider the car. In the late 19th century, Karl Benz and Henry Ford disrupted transportation by transforming the stagecoach concept previously powered by horses – literally – to one powered by machine. Along the way, Ford also pioneered the assembly line concept, bringing more efficient manufacturing to multiple industries.

One Biz Kid who’s certainly glad Henry Ford paved the roads he did? Fabulous Coaches…


3. Telephone: Before the smart phone made FaceTiming with grandma a cinch, the airplane made seeing her simple, and the car made driving her easy, the telephone made talking at a distance reality. Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone made letter-writing cute, rather than crucial.

2. Light bulb: Perhaps one of the most disruptive inventions of all time is the one that eradicated the importance of day and night – the light bulb. When Thomas Edison channeled the power of fire into an electric orb, people could work longer, play longer, and yes, invent things late into the night.

1. Printing press: But before any other kind of gadget or gizmo made communication easy, we lived in a world where communication was one-to-one. Basically, your options for conveying an idea were to speak in person or through letter-writing. Then Johannes Gutenberg came along. His orienting press made books and other printed materials much more affordable and accessible to the general public. All of a sudden, ideas could spread with easy.

One great use of the printing press? Our best-selling book for teens: