Greatest Canadian Invention: Insulin

Last week the CBC aired the results of its “Greatest Canadian Invention” poll. The top three picks were:

1. Insulin (1921) – Banting and Best
2. Light bulb (1874) – Woodward and Evans
3. Telephone (1876) – Bell

Americans might be surprised to see the light bulb and telephone, two quintessentially “American” inventions, topping a list of Canadian innovations. But both have connections to Canada.

Alexander Graham Bell, inventor of the telephone, was born in Scotland and moved to Canada in 1870 at the age of 23. In 1872 he moved to Boston to take a teaching job and pursue his interest in telephony. He became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1882 but spent most of his later life at his estate in Nova Scotia. He died and was buried there in 1922. In 1874 Thomas Edison bought the patent rights for a carbon filament light bulb from two Canadians, Henry Woodward and Mathew Evans, for $5000. His famous 1879 patent was an improvement on their design. The number 1 invention, insulin, was first isolated and produced in 1921 by Univ. of Toronto researchers Charles Best and Frederick Banting.

See for details about all 50 inventions in the poll, a teacher’s resource guide and numerous facts about inventing and patenting.

Some other quick facts about Canadian patents:

  • The first “Canadian” patent was granted in 1791 by the Legislature of Lower Canada to American inventor Samuel Hopkins.
  • Canada’s first federal patent statute was enacted in 1869. Canada’s first federal patent was issued on August 18, 1869.
  • Canadian inventors file more patent applications abroad (primarily in the U.S.) than at home. In 2005, Canadian inventors filed 5,102 patent applications in Canada and 8,309 applications in the U.S. They received 1,461 Canadian patents and 3,368 U.S. patents.
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