The Atlantic: Is Elon Musk the “Greatest Living Inventor?”


Elon Musk at SpaceX

Elon Musk at SpaceX

On the cover of The Atlantic magazine is Tesla CEO Elon Musk.

Elon Musk on Cover of The Atlantic

Elon Musk on Cover of The Atlantic

Musk is widely considered one of today’s leading innovator, but is he today’s “greatest living inventor?”

The Atlantic leads with Musk on the cover (other notable living inventors are included in the actual article), so the magazine must have reason to believe that the answer is yes.

What The Atlantic did in choosing Musk was to turn to some of today’s leaders.  As you’ll see below, those who nominated Musk are notable individuals themselves.

Here’s The Atlantic’s take on why Elon Musk may well be today’s “greatest living inventor.”

Elon Musk

Co-founder, PayPal, SpaceX, and Tesla Motors

NOMINATED BY: Adam Cahan, senior vice president, Yahoo; Mark Hurd, co-president, Oracle; Susan Wojcicki, senior vice president, Google

In the spirit of inveterate and wide-ranging tinkerers like Leonardo da Vinci and Benjamin Franklin, Musk has transformed virtually every field he’s taken an interest in, from electronic payments to commercial spaceflight to electric cars.

Raised in South Africa, Musk studied physics and business in the U.S. Like any good entrepreneur, he dropped out of a Stanford graduate program to launch his first company, an online mapping and directory service whose sale enabled the launch of what would become PayPal—and Musk’s ticket to big-time innovation.

Elon Musk - Tesla

Elon Musk – Tesla

Like many of his PayPal colleagues, Musk used his fortune from the sale of that company to fund a flurry of new ventures, including Tesla, a manufacturer of electric cars, and SpaceX, a commercial spaceflight operation. He splits his time between the companies’ facilities in Palo Alto and Los Angeles, and at one point resorted to taking loans from friends to keep Tesla alive.

The range and scale of Musk’s ambitions have attracted skepticism, but over time, he has proved himself to be not only an ideas man but an astute business thinker. “He’s a guy who dreams big dreams,” says Hurd, “and then makes them happen.”

Musk’s latest dream is the Hyperloop, a giant pneumatic tube that would transport passengers from L.A. to San Francisco in 35 minutes. It sounds crazy, but as Wojcicki points out, “Elon Musk is one of the few people who can propose the Hyperloop and be taken seriously.”

Source: The Atlantic

Categories: General, Tesla

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24 Comments on "The Atlantic: Is Elon Musk the “Greatest Living Inventor?”"

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Simple question: How many patents is he listed as the inventor?

Good businessman? Yes. Greatest living inventor? Unsupported.

That doesn’t prove anything. He’s got the money that pays for the patents. Of course his name will be on it. It’s like science publications out of universities; just because their name on it doesn’t mean they actually did anything. Even I have papers out there that I did all the work, but you still have to put your boss’s name on it.

Then why did you ask how many patents is his name on?

That’s some great arguing…how many patents is his name on? It doesn’t count if his name is on patents.

Yay! There are intelligent people on the internet. I find it funny that everyone calls him the real life Tony Stark. I’m pretty sure Tony Stark is a genius scientist and engineer, which Musk is not. In interviews Musk even says he’s a businessman and not a scientist.

It’s more accurate to compare Musk to Obadiah Stane.

@Taser54 SpaceX chooses not to patent everything they do to prevent competitors and governments to see what they are doing. You can’t easily sue China or Russia. However, Tesla has tons of patents, and the people on the patents know who did what.

I tend to agree. Musk works in a different space than what we would conventionally call an “inventor”. Dean Kamen is an inventor. I think of Elon Musk as a Technologist. And for the title of greatest living technologist, I think he takes it no contest.

Tesla Motors commercialised EV technology licensed from Alan Cocconi of AC Propulsion who learnt his trade designing GM’s solar race car which evolved into the the powertrain in the EV1.

In fact the powertrain in the Roadster came from an AC Propulsion proto-type called t-zero.

Tesla Motors in fact don’t have many patents. Musk gets 10/10 for taking massive commercial risks but no disrespect, he’s hardly the next Nikola Tesla!

Also, it’s not hard to take risks when it’s $500 million in tax payer money and not your own.

Not true. Musk risked his own money to capitalize Tesla, and nearly lost it.

The DOE loan did not come until later, and it paid off handsomely.


I wish they had said visionary. He is much more than a businessman but not so much an inventor.

No… he’s the greatest man alive

He may be an alien. SpaceX may be building his ride back home. The jury is still out 😉

I’d say Dean Kamen should get this title before Elon Musk.

I think Elon Musk is a great organizer in that he has been very good at getting a team of very intelligent people together to basically reinvent the electric car and rockets. Such as Tesla and SpaceX wouldn’t have happened if Elon Musk hadn’t of organized the companies that specialize in these kinds of things none of this would have happened.

Musk, new Edison:)))))))))))))))))

Aside from the sickening, and typical glorification of people simply because they have money,
note that Elon choose to be photographed with a Sextant in hand. That choice probably says far more about Elon than anything written in the article.

Are you suggesting masonic connections???

You’ve managed to stun me. I suggest you read up on what a “mason” is, then go read what a sextant is.

Visionary, yes. Risk taker, yes. Promoter, yes. Inventor … not so much. Not that any of those other things are bad.

I agree with the other posters – not so much an inventor.

I also want to quibble with the whole term “inventor”. Frankly, this is a word that should be stricken from the language. Most modern items aren’t invented, they are engineered by teams. An iterative process was applied, building on previous technology (standing on the shoulders of others). Who invented the electric vehicle? No one. Who iterated on previous designs to improve performance, range, manufacturability, reliability and so on? Engineering teams at Tesla. The days of the guy in his garage producing a world changing invention are long past.

When ever I see some one promoted as an inventor, I think “hack marketing and PR”. Sadly, the terms innovation and visionary are going that direction as well. There are actually companies with a “chief innovation officer”.

Musk invents by eliminating complexity:
Simplify the EV by using standard LI cells.
Use simpler induction motors instead of PM.
Buy an existing auto assembly plant from Toyota (and GM)
Eliminate the complex/inefficient dealer-based marketing system.
Use the already-invented (by GM) skateboard EV platform.
Use the Nordstrom-based nothing-is-too-much focus of customer service for the high-end market. (note that several of his mall stores are almost adjacent to Nordstroms)
Use this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to join a team creating a truly “new” automotive product path to attract the best and brightest from the mainstream auto industry to sweat the details.

I don’t know rockets, but bet that Space-X is configured similarly. Nothing really “new” at the patent-level, just simplifying and distilling the existing technology to its essence, then doing it insanely well. He probably poached the best and brightest aerospace engineers who would have been working for Grumman, Lockheed, Raytheon, etc but grew to hate the mega-bureaucracy of large corporations linked so intimately with the government, over-budget/long-behind-schedule military schemes, and dying NASA programs.

For a fuller view of the man, ask , what was his name? Martin Eberhardt?

I have no clue why all the hype on ELon,,,,,anyone knows he has a team of people who has done all the work and the creativity…he just signs off on the sh#* and puts up the money to move forward…..DUH…..

People gave this guy way to much credit……….for what? If the goverment gave us all 500million and we had a team like he has…..we could be in the same boat …..

Think people…..