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Steve Jobs wasn’t the next Thomas Edison – he was the next AP Carter

Internet pundits have made many historical comparisons generated by the passing of Steve Jobs, the most common comparisons being to Henry Ford and Thomas Edison.   People remember Henry Ford  for improving the manufacturing process.  People remember Edison for his inventions.  People remember Steve Jobs for improving the design of existing products and expert marketing of those products.  To me, these sound like three different people.

Carter Family Fold-exterior-side with mural-detail copy © by Southern Foodways Alliance

I think the most accurate Steve Jobs comparison is that he was the next A.P. Carter – one of the founding fathers of country music.  No one remembers AP for musical ability or vocal talent.  People do remember his band, the Carter Family  and their iconic music, both for style and material.

AP spent years scouring the countryside, learning and refining songs that would otherwise have been lost to history.  He also arranged the songs to better fit with the recording technology of his day (the 1930s).  He even popularized many songs to such a high degree that people often credit him with writing songs that are either century old traditional songs or obscure songs by known composers.

The similarities are

  • Not remarkable for technical knowledge (in music or electronics/programming)
  • Quite remarkable for spotting hits, either songs or products
  • Quite remarkable in their ability to polish existing material so much that people forget that the songs or the product existing before they laid hands on it

To me, Steve Jobs has the most in common with AP Carter than anyone else.  That would also make Steve Wozniak the second coming of Maybelle Carter  (a comparison that would probably please them both.)

For more information check out Mark Zwonitzer’s excellent biography “Will You Miss Me When I’m Gone?  The Carter Family and their legacy in American Music“.

That’s my two cents anyway.


Editor’s Note

This blog post originally appeared on the Profit Awareness Blog – as that app is up for sale, it has been consolidated into the main Digital Tool Factory blog.

Oct 11

Written By Steve French


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