Vaclav Smil pens an excellent article comparing Thomas Edison’s and Steve Job’s accomplishments:
Some 130 years after Edison’s remarkable creation of the electricity system, there still remains no doubt about the fundamental and truly epochal nature of his contributions: the world without electricity has become unimaginable. I bet that 130 years from now our successors will not be able to say the same about Apple’s sleek electronic devices assembled from somebody else’s components and providing services that are not fundamentally different from those offered by competitors. I have no doubt that the world without iPhone or iPad would be perfectly fine.
Scott Berkun points out:
The major critique I have with the core comparison is the same problem that surfaces when sports fans try to compare great players from the 1950s to players from today. There are too many variables to make a fair analysis.
In defense of Jobs, electricity was already invented when he was born. He had no choice but to make use of it and a thousand other inventions that predated his birth. And Thomas Edison did precisely the same thing, as he did not invent paper, pens, desks, laboratories, chemistry, etc. Alternatively, If Edison could have used cheap 3rd party sources from China for components in his products he probably would have, given the business sense it would have made. The fact workers in his lab invented everything is more a factor of necessity than ability.
Either way, you should read the Smil article.