9 Influential Inventors Who Failed Multiple Times Before Reaching Success

These inventors have gone on to change the world, impacting your life.
Donovan Alexander
1, 2

The award-winning poet Maya Angelou once said, "You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it."

On your journey towards success, you are going to encounter some hiccups and missteps. Failing many times before you reach your end goal is far more common than you think.

The trick is to stick with what you are working at, endlessly pushing. When people talk about the great innovators and inventors from history, they usually talk about their success. However, they rarely bring up the countless hours, mistakes, and missteps that these people made before attaining their goal.

If anything, this article is a reminder that you might fail the first 99 times, but you might get it right the 100th. You only have to be right once.


From top innovators to historical inventors, today we are going to look at the figures who struggled to get their ideas, accepted in the world, people who had started in less than ideal situations, or who simply made countless mistakes only to make history and change the world.

1. Sir James Dyson

9 Influential Inventors Who Failed Multiple Times Before Reaching Success
Source: Michiel Hendryckx/Wikimedia Commons

Famous Quote: "What I've learned from running is that the time to push hard is when you're hurting like crazy, and you want to give up. Success is often just around the corner."

Known inventions/companies: Ballbarrow, Bagless vacuum cleaner, Dyson Airblade hand dryer, Dyson Air Multiplier fans, "Jet engine" Dyson Hot space heater.

Sir James Dyson is no stranger to failure. Yet, the talented Dyson is now a household name. He is now considered one of the most influential inventors of our generation and is also the wealthiest person in the United Kingdom. The inventor first made waves with his vacuum that didn't require bags, which was revolutionary at the time that it was introduced. However, most people did not buy into Dyson's vision, literally. Even more so, it took Sir James Dyson 5,126 vacuum design attempts before he could get a properly working vacuum. Dyson has continued his inventive spirit creating a wide range of products that you see worldwide. In 2017, the Dyson brand made over USD 1.03 billion.

2. Walt Disney

Famous Quote: "We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we're curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths."

Known Inventions/companies: Disney

In one way or another, Disney has gone on to take over the world becoming synonymous not just with film, but with technological innovation. Walt Disney's commitment to imagination and curiosity has become his legacy carrying through his current companies. What Walt Disney has done for the world has been magical. Yet, Disney did not have an easy start. At the age of 22, Walt was fired from his job at a newspaper because he "lacked imagination and had no good ideas." After that, Disney would go on to acquire an animation studio, only to have the animation studio eventually go bankrupt.

It was not until he made his way out to Los Angeles, and he created the iconic Mickey Mouse where everything changed. A lot of people do not know that the technology side of Disney has made some innovative contributions to the world.

3. Henry Ford

9 Influential Inventors Who Failed Multiple Times Before Reaching Success
Source: Wikimedia Commons 

Famous Quote: "Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently."

Known Inventions/companies: Ford Motor Company, assembly line, The Model T, The Model A 

Ford did not just create his legendary vehicle, without making a few big mistakes. Even more so, he started his career much later than most people would expect. At 28 years-old, Ford decided he wanted to become an engineer, working for Edison Illuminating Company, quickly skyrocketing to Chief Engineer within two years. Five years later, he would design and build his own self-propelled vehicle, leading to the founding of the Detroit Automobile Company a year later in 1899. Sadly, the company would fail miserably, bankrupting Ford. However, shortly after Ford would create his legendary Ford Company.

4. Robert Goddard

9 Influential Inventors Who Failed Multiple Times Before Reaching Success

Source: NASA/Wikimedia Commons

Famous Quote: "It is difficult to say what is impossible, for the dream of yesterday is the hope of today and the reality of tomorrow. Every vision is a joke until the first man accomplishes it; once realized, it becomes commonplace. The only barrier to human development is ignorance, and this is not insurmountable."

Known Inventions/companies: Liquid-fueled rockets

You probably know of Robert Goddard for his research and experimentation with liquid-fueled rockets, a technology that would go on to change the modern era. Yet, though his ideas were truly revolutionary, they were not embraced. During his lifetime, his ideas were rejected and even mocked by the scientific community as most people believed that his ideas were completely outrageous and impossible. His ideas would eventually help kick off humanity's space program.

5. Alexander Graham Bell

Famous Quote: The most successful men, in the end, are those whose success is the result of steady accretion.

Known Inventions/companies: The Telephone

The inventor of the telephone had to climb his own personal mountains before inventing his telephone. Could you imagine a world without the telephone, what would have happened if he had given up? Alexander Graham Bell struggled for almost a decade to get his ideas off the ground. He faced legal challenges and tons of bureaucracy, going through one of the longest patent battles in history to fight for his idea.

6. Albert Einstein

9 Influential Inventors Who Failed Multiple Times Before Reaching Success
Source: TriggerHippie4/Wikimedia Commons

Famous Quote: "A hundred times every day I remind myself that my inner and outer life are based on the labors of other men, living and dead and that I must exert myself in order to give in the same measure as I have received and am still receiving."

Known Inventions/companies: Special and General theories of relativity

Albert Einstein helped us better understand the nature of our reality and is considered to be one of the most brilliant minds to have ever lived. Yet continuing on this trend of failures, Albert Einstein was not always considered to be such a great thinker by his peers, from an early age. Einstein did not even speak until he was 4-years-old.

By the age of 16, he took an examination for entrance into the Swiss Federal Polytechnic school located in Zurich but failed to earn a passing score. Even during his time at university, he almost dropped out of school. Einstein spent much of his time trying to figure out what he wanted to do taking a job as an insurance salesman and eventually at a patent office as an assistant. Nevertheless, he would eventually go on to do groundbreaking work in physics and mathematics, eventually earning a Nobel Prize.

7. William and Orville Wright

9 Influential Inventors Who Failed Multiple Times Before Reaching Success
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Famous Quote: "If we all worked on the assumption that what is accepted as true is really true, there would be little hope of advance."

Known Inventions/companies: The flying machine

The Wright Brothers' contributions to history are undoubtedly tremendous. Their inventive efforts changed the way we travel, but before they had us soaring off the ground, they struggled. The brothers had one simple goal, to create a flying machine that stayed in the air for an extended period of time. This didn't come easy. The brothers put together countless hours and prototypes, only to have their plane crash. However, finally, in 1903, the brothers finally got one of their prototypes off the ground for 10 seconds, changing history forever.

8. Thomas Edison

9 Influential Inventors Who Failed Multiple Times Before Reaching Success
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Famous Quote: "Many of life's failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up."

Known Inventions/companies: Carbon Telephone Transmitter, The Light Bulb, Phonograph

Thomas Edison is another enigmatic inventor on our list whose work has changed the course of history. The eccentric talent of Edison, made him a talented showman, too, as he loved wowing audiences with his creations. Nevertheless, Edison will even tell you that he was "too stupid to learn anything" at a young age. Edison even struggled to keep a job getting fired from his first two jobs. One of the most important stories to come from Edison's career was that it took 1,000 unsuccessful attempts before he created his first lightbulb.

9. Steve Jobs

Famous Quote: "Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma - which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of other's opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary."

Known Inventions/companies: Apple

Steve Jobs is one of the most enigmatic inventors and innovators in history. Equally controversial and inspirational, the Apple founder's journey to success has been almost mythical. Though there were plenty of bumps along the road for Jobs, one of his most iconic failures occurred after an altercation with his board of directors caused him to be kicked out of Apple. However, as you know, this was far from the end of Jobs' career.

While away from the company, Jobs acquired Pixar, deeming this period as his "creative period." Upon returning to Apple in 1997, jobs would go on to invent products that you are probably using right now. Major products like iPod, Macbook, iPad, power adapter, and the iPhone have gone on to be described as some of the most critical technologies in modern history.

Add Interesting Engineering to your Google News feed.
Add Interesting Engineering to your Google News feed.
message circleSHOW COMMENT (1)chevron
Job Board