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quotations about invention and inventing

Necessity [is] the mother of invention.


Necessity first mothered invention. Now invention has little ones of her own, and they look just like grandma.

E.B. WHITE, The New Yorker, Jun. 19, 1937

Invention breeds invention.

RALPH WALDO EMERSON, Society and Solitude

Endless invention, endless experiment,
Brings knowledge of motion, but not of stillness.

T.S. ELIOT, The Rock

Invention consists in the capacity of seizing on the capabilities of a subject, and in the power of moulding and fashioning ideas suggested to it.

MARY SHELLEY, introduction, Frankenstein

Over the years, I have learned that every significant invention has several characteristics. By definition it must be startling, unexpected, and must come into a world that is not prepared for it. If the world were prepared for it, it would not be much of an invention.

EDWIN H. LAND, "A Talk with Polaroid's Dr. Edwin Land", Forbes, April 1, 1975

Every invention eventually becomes obsolete.


Think for a moment of the great agents and engines of our civilization, and then think what shadowy ideas they all once were. The wheels of the steamship turned as swiftly as they do now, but as silent and unsubstantial as the motions of the inventor's thought; and in the noiseless loom of his meditation were woven the sinews of the printing-press, whose thunder shakes the world.

E. H. CHAPIN, Living Words

Although human ingenuity may devise various inventions which, by the help of various instruments, answer to one and the same purpose, yet will it never discover any inventions more beautiful, more simple or more practical than those of nature.

LEONARDO DA VINCI, Thoughts on Art and Life

Men are in fact, quite unable to control their own inventions; they at best develop adaptability to the new conditions those inventions create


You don't want to be Tesla. He was one of the greatest inventors, but it's a sad, sad story. He couldn't commercialize anything, he could barely fund his own research. You'd want to be more like Edison. If you invent something, that doesn't necessarily help anybody. You've got to actually get it into the world; you've got to produce, make money doing it so you can fund it.

LARRY PAGE, CNNMoney interview, May 1, 2008

Invention, it must be humbly admitted, does not consist in creating out of void, but out of chaos.

MARY SHELLEY, introduction, Frankenstein

How little inventiveness there is in man,
Grave copier of copies.


Invention, using the term most broadly, and imitation, are the two legs, so to call them, on which the human race historically has walked.

WILLIAM JAMES, Talks to Teachers on Psychology and to Students on Some of Life's Ideals

If we have learned one thing from the history of invention and discovery, it is that, in the long run — and often in the short one — the most daring prophecies seem laughably conservative.

ARTHUR C. CLARKE, The Exploration of Space

Inventors and geniuses have almost always been looked on as no better than fools at the beginning of their career, and very frequently at the end of it also.


To invent, you need a good imagination and a pile of junk.

THOMAS EDISON, attributed, Behavior-Based Robotics (Arkin)

An invention that is quickly accepted will turn out to be a rather trivial alteration of something that has already existed.

EDWIN H. LAND, attributed, Insisting on the Impossible: The Life of Edwin Land

Everything that we call Invention or Discovery in the higher sense of the word is the serious exercise and activity of an original feeling for truth, which, after a long course of silent cultivation, suddenly flashes out into fruitful knowledge.

JOHANN WOLFGANG VON GOETHE, The Maxims and Reflections of Goethe

The test of an invention is the power of an inventor to push it through in the face of staunch--not opposition, but indifference--in society.

EDWIN H. LAND, attributed, Insisting on the Impossible: The Life of Edwin Land


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