Bibliography: For adults :: Smithsonian Lemelson Center
Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation, Smithsonian Beanie Illustration
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A selective bibliography of some the best books on invention

Thousands of books have been written on the subject of invention. Here are a few that can get you started on your own path of discovery!
Above: Edison light bulb. Smithsonian photo 1873-77.
For adult readers
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Books for adults

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On the history of invention

General histories of invention

Frank Bachman, Great Inventors and Their Inventions (1918; 2nd ed., 1941).

Roger Burlingame, March of the Iron Men (1938).

L. Sprague de Camp, The Heroic Age of American Invention (1961).

Ira Flatow, They All Laughed: From Light Bulbs to Lasers, the Fascinating Stories Behind the Great Inventions That Have Changed Our Lives (1992).

Sigfried Giedion, Mechanization Takes Command (1948).

National Geographic Society, Inventors and Discoverers: Changing Our World (1988).

Abbot Payson Usher, History of Mechanical Inventions (1929; 2nd ed., 1954).

The invention process

George Basalla, The Evolution of Technology (1988).

Wiebe Bijker, et al., Social Construction of Technological Systems (1987).

Wiebe E. Bijker and John Law, eds., Shaping Technology/Building Society: Studies in Sociotechnical Change (1992).

W. Bernard Carlson, "Understanding Invention as a Cognitive Process: The Case of Thomas Edison and Early Motion Pictures, 1888-1891," Social Studies of Science 20 (1990): 387-430.

Eugene Ferguson, "The Mind's Eye: Nonverbal Thought in Technology," Science 197 (1977): 827-36.

Sean Collum Gilfillan, The Sociology of Invention (1935).

Michael Gorman and W. Bernard Carlson, "Interpreting Invention as a Cognitive Process: The Case of Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Edison, and the Telephone," Science, Technology, and Human Values 15 (1990): 131-164.

Douglas Harper, Working Knowledge (1987).

Brooke Hindle, Emulation and Invention (1981).

Thomas P. Hughes, Elmer Sperry: Inventor and Engineer (1971).

Thomas P. Hughes, "Inventors: The Problems they Choose, The Ideas They Have, and the Inventions They Make," in Patrick Kelly and Melvin Kranzberg, eds., Technological Innovation: A Critical Review of Current Knowledge (1978).

Louis C. Hunter, "The Heroic Theory of Invention," in Edwin T. Layton, Jr., ed., Technology and Social Change in America (1973), pp. 25-46.

Reese Jenkins, "Elements of Style: Continuities in Edison's Thinking," in Margaret Latimer, et al., eds, Bridge to the Future (1984), pp. 149-162.

John Jewkes, David Sawers and Richard Stillerman, The Sources of Invention (1958; 2nd ed., 1969).

Vera John-Steiner, Notebooks of the Mind: Explorations of Thinking (1985).

Waldemar Kaempffert, Invention and Society (1930).

Arthur Koestler, Act of Creation (1964).

Winston E. Kock, The Creative Engineer: The Art of Inventing (1978).

William Lazonick, Competitive Advantage on the Shop Floor (1990).

Arthur P. Molella, "Inventing the History of Invention," American Heritage of Invention and Technology 4 (1988): 22-30.

Lewis Mumford, Technics and Civilization (1934).

David Noble, America by Design (1977).

Henry Petroski, The Evolution of Useful Things (1992).

Nathan Rosenberg, Perspectives on Technology (1976).

Joseph Rossman, The Psychology of the Inventor (1931).

Jacob Schmookler, Invention and Economic Growth (1966).

Walter G. Vincenti, What Engineers Know and How They Know It: Analytical Studies from Aeronautical History (1990).

Robert J. Weber and David N. Perkins, eds., Inventive Minds: Creativity in Technology (1992).

Robert J. Weber, Forks, Phonographs, and Hot Air Balloons: A Field Guide to Inventive Thinking (1992).

Ron Westrum, Technologies and Society: The Shaping of People and Things (1991).

Lynn White, Machina ex Deo: Essays in the Dynamism of Western Culture (1968).

History of the patent system

Geof Bowker, "What's in a Patent?," in Wiebe E. Bijker and John Law, eds., Shaping Technology/Building Society: Studies in Sociotechnical Change (1992), pp. 53-74.

Carolyn C. Cooper, Shaping Invention: Thomas Blanchard's Machinery and Patent Management in Nineteenth-Century America (1991).

Carolyn Cooper, "Social Construction of Invention through Patent Management," Technology and Culture 32, no. 4 (991): 960-998.

H.I. Dutton, The Patent System and Inventive Activity during the Industrial Revolution, 1750-1852 (1984).

Zvi Griliches, ed. R&D, Patents, and Productivity (1984).

Paul Israel and Robert Rosenberg, "Patent Office Records as a Historical Source: The Case of Thomas Edison," Technology and Culture 32, no. 4 (1991): 1094-1101.

Steven Lubar, "'New, Useful, and Nonobvious'," American Heritage of Invention and Technology (1990).

Steven Lubar, "The Transformation of Antebellum Patent Law," Technology and Culture 32 (1991): 932-959.

Martha Moore Trescott, "The Bicycle, a Technical Precursor of the Autmobile", Business and Economic History, 2nd. ser., 1976, 51-75.

Robert Post, "Liberalizers vs. Scientific Men in the Antebellum Patent Office," Technology and Culture 17 (1976): 24-54.

Nathan Reingold, "U.S. Patent Office Records as Sources for the History of Invention and Technological Property," Technology and Culture 1 (1960): 156-67.

Kenneth Sokoloff and B. Zorina Khan, "The Democratization of Invention during Early Industrialization: Evidence from the United States, 1790-1846," Journal of Economic History 50 (1990): 363-78.

Steven W. Usselman, "Patents Purloined: Railroads, Inventors, and the Diffusion of Innovation in 19th-Century America," Technology and Culture 32 (1991): 1047-1075.

Floyd L. Vaughan, The United States Patent System (1956).

Specific inventions


Martha Moore Trescott, The Rise of the American Electrochemicals Industry, 1880-1910 (1981).

Communications (Telegraphy, Telephony, Radio)

Hugh Aitken, Syntony and Spark: The Origins of Radio (1976).

Susan J. Douglas, Inventing American Broadcasting, 1899-1922 (1987).

Electric light & power

W. Bernard Carlson, Innovation as a Social Process: Elihu Thomson and the Rise of General Electric, 1870-1900 (1991).

Robert Friedel and Paul Israel, Edison's Electric Light: Biography of an Invention (1985).

Paul Israel, From Machine Shop to Industrial Laboratory: Telegraphy and the Changing Context of American Invention, 1830 - 1920 (1992).

A.J. Millard, Edison and the Business of Innovation (1990).

William S. Pretzer, ed., Working at Inventing: Thomas A. Edison and the Menlo Park Experience (1989).

Leonard S. Reich, The Making of American Industrial Research: Science and Business at GE and Bell, 1876-1926 (1985).

Wyn Wachhorst, Thomas Alva Edison: An American Myth (1981).

George Wise, Willis R. Whitney: General Electric and the Origins of U.S. Industrial Research (1985).


Reese Jenkins, Images and Enterprise: Technology and the American Photographic Industry, 1839-1925 (1975).


Edward W. Constant, The Origins of the Turbojet Revolution (1980).

Louis Hunter, Steamboats on the Western Rivers (1949).

Peter L. Jakab, Visions of a Flying Machine: The Wright Brothers and the Process of Invention (1990).

Eric Schatzberg, "Ideology and Technical Choice: The Decline of the Wooden Airplane in the United States, 1920-1945", Technology and Culture (1994): 34-39.


Robert Friedel, Zipper (1994).

On inventors

African American inventors

Nathan Aaseng, Black Inventors (1997).

James M. Brodie, Created Equal: The Lives and Ideas of Black American Innovators (1993).

Rayvon Fouché, Black Inventors in the Age of Segregation: Granville T. Woods, Lewis H. Latimer, and Shelby J. Davidson (2003).

Burt McKinley, Black Inventors of America (1989).

Louis Haber, Black Pioneers of Science and Invention (1970).

James Haskins, Outward Dreams: Black Inventors and Their Inventions (1991).

James Haskins, African American Entrepreneurs (1998).

Portia P. James, The Real McCoy: African-American Invention and Innovation, 1619-1930 (1989).

Carroll W. Pursell, ed., A Hammer in Their Hands: A Documentary History of Technology and the African-American Experience (2005).

Bruce Sinclair, ed., Technology and the African-American Experience: Needs and Opportunities for Study (2004).

Patricia Carter Sluby, Creativity and Inventions: The Genius of Afro-Americans and Women in the United States and Their Patents (1987).

Patricia Carter Sluby, The Inventive Spirit of African Americans: Patented Ingenuity (2004).

Wini Warren, Black Women Scientists in the United States (1999).

Biographical compilations

Kenneth A. Brown, Inventors at Work: Interviews with Sixteen Notable American Inventors (1988)

Women inventors

Frances A. Karnes and Suzanne M. Bean, Girls and Young Women Inventing (1995).

Anne L. Macdonald, Feminine Ingenuity: How Women Inventors Changed America (1992).

Carroll Pursell, "Women Inventors in America," Technology and Culture 22, no. 3 (1981): 545-549.

Minnie J. Reynolds, Women as Inventors (1908).

Joan Rothschild, ed., Women, Technology and Innovation (1982).

Ellen H. Showell and Fred M.B. Amram, From Indian Corn to Outer Space: Women Invent in America (1995).

Autumn Stanley, Mothers and Daughters of Invention (1993).

Martha Moore Trescott, ed., Dynamos and Virgins Revisited: Women and Technological Change in History (1979).

Martha Moore Trescott, New Images, New Paths: A History of Women in Engineering, 1850-1980 (1996).

Ethlie Ann Vare and Greg Ptacek, Mothers of Invention: From the Bra to the Bomb, Forgotten Women and Their Unforgettable Ideas (1987).

Ethlie Ann Vare and Greg Ptacek, Women Inventors and Their Discoveries (1993).

Ethlie Ann Vare and Greg Ptacek, Patently Female: From AZT to TV Dinners, Stories of Women Inventors and Their Breakthrough Ideas (2002).

Deborah J. Warner, "Women Inventors at the Centennial," in Martha Moore Trescott, ed., Dynamos and Virgins Revisited: Women and Technological Change in History (1979), pp. 1-29.

Women Inventors, Cobblestone Magazine, vol. 15, no. 6 (June 1994).

On becoming an inventor

Download the Lemelson Center's Inventor's Guide to the Preservation, Protection, and Donation of Personal Papers (PDF).

Howard F. Bronson, Great Idea! Now What? (1995).

Joy L. Bryant, A Guide to Protecting An Idea (1997).

Bob Coleman and Deborah Neville, The Great American Idea Book (1993).

Stephen Elias, Patent, Copyright and Trademark (1997).

Ramon D. Foltz and Thomas A. Penn, Handbook for Protecting Ideas and Inventions (1996).

Andy Gibbs, Ironman Inventing: Hard Core Training for the Invention Business Game (1996).

Fred E. Grissom and David Pressman, The Inventor's Notebook (1996).

Richard C. Levy, The Inventor's Desktop Companion: A Guide to Successfully Marketing and Protecting Your Ideas (1995).

Jack Lo and David Pressman, The Patent Drawing Book: How to Prepare Formal Drawings Required by the U.S. Patent Office (1997).

Stanley I. Mason, Inventing Small Products for Big Profits Quickly (1997).

Thomas E. Mosley, Jr., Marketing Your Invention (1997).

David Pressman, Patent It Yourself (1997).

Ken Tarlow, Mind to Money (1994).

Tennessee Inventors Association, Inventor's Guide (1997).

Robert J. Thomas, New Product Development: Managing and Forecasting For Strategic Success (1993).

United Inventors Association of the USA, Inventor's Resource Guide (1997).

Victor N. Vic-Vincent, The Inventor's Cookbook Your Recipe for Success: How to Patent, Protect, Produce and Profit from your Ideas and Inventions Yourself (1995).


Last Update: 12 Jan 2012

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