This video clip from the Family Guy animated sitcom depicts Thomas Edison stealing the ownership of the inventions of the lightbulb and phonograph.

While the Family Guy is a fictional show, an announcer reinforces the claim:

Look it up. Edison was a dick!

I don't believe that Thomas Edison stole these inventions.

There are other articles on the internet making similar claims:

Did Thomas Edison steal the invention of the light bulb and the phonograph?

  • 9
    Edison has enough claims about him that he deserves his own tag.
    – Golden Cuy
    Commented Mar 31, 2018 at 9:47
  • 1
    Well, as far as we know, he wasn't above stealing other people's pets just to electrocute them, in an attempt to smear Tesla's work, so I wouldn't put him above stealing those inventions.
    – T. Sar
    Commented Mar 31, 2018 at 10:26
  • 2
    I don't know about inventions, but Georges Méliès was pretty convinced that Edison had engaged in some pretty egregious intellectual property theft regarding La Voyage Dans La Lune (that old silent movie where a bullet-shaped space ship hits an anthropomorphic moon square in the eye socket). en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Trip_to_the_Moon#Release
    – GordonM
    Commented Mar 31, 2018 at 16:01
  • FWIW: Edison did not invent the incandescent light bulb, but he did work many long hours to turn it into a viable product. Also, the light bulb was only half of the picture: The other half was the electric company. The light bulb was just the "killer app" that got people to sign up to get electricity in their homes. Commented Apr 3, 2018 at 21:30

1 Answer 1


Edison was often portrayed as Tesla's rival in early literature about Tesla, which is not quite true. There is no evidence that Edison "stole" ideas from Tesla in the sense of breaking the law. Rather, Tesla worked for an Edison company at one point and came up with many ideas which Edison profited from. Tesla's comparative lack of interest in business and profitability made this arrangement seem unfair to some biographers, and Tesla himself felt that Edison ran his business in a way that put profits before people. See my answer here for details: Did Edison refuse to pay Tesla, saying “You don't understand our American humor”?

When Tesla became independent and competed with Edison with the help of more businesslike partners, Edison used many marketing techniques to try to win the battle, including some we would regard as inhumane. Details here: Did Edison publicly electrocute people's pets to present AC current as dangerous?

There is no evidence for Edison "stealing" or maliciously being a dick to Tesla. The relationship between them was not one of abuser and victim. Rather, Edison desired to capitalize on his company's electric innovations sometimes even to the detriment of public safety or scientific merit, while Tesla was more interested in seeing innovations adopted based wholly on their merit and regardless of economic benefit. It would be fair to say that Edison and Tesla had different enough value systems that statements like "Edison was a dick" can be produced from the comparison, based on the speaker's own opinions.

  • 3
    I don't know if it's apocryphal, but there's a story that Edison promised Tesla $50,000 for some project. After it was finished, Edison wouldn't pay because it was a "joke", meaning, Tesla misunderstood. If true, that sounds kind of like stealing.
    – user11643
    Commented Mar 31, 2018 at 14:52
  • @fredsbend I answered this in the first link
    – Avery
    Commented Mar 31, 2018 at 20:00
  • "in the sense of breaking the law" - what about in the moral sense?
    – einpoklum
    Commented Feb 3, 2020 at 16:23
  • @einpoklum I answered this in the final paragraph
    – Avery
    Commented Feb 3, 2020 at 18:07

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