|The intellectual giants of Isaac Newton, whose shoulders he claimed to have stood on, in regards to his 1672 theory of light. |
The framework for this idea of standing on someone's shoulders, in science, is found in English physicist Isaac Newton’s 1676 correspondence comment to his warring rival English polymath Robert Hooke: 
“What Descartes did was a good step. You have added much several ways, and especially in taking the colors of thin plates into philosophical consideration. If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”
Researcher Robert Merton’s 1965 book On the Shoulders of Giants is said to give the fullest etymology of the origin of Newton’s aphorism, in pre-Newtonian terms. 
Into his age 19 written notebook Philosophical Questions, a set of forty-five queries into a foundation for a new philosophy, Newton inserted Aristotle's name in sequence: Amicus Plato amicus Aristotles magis amica veritas, which means: 
"Plato is my friend, but truth my greater friend."
|Einstein, in the 1920s, when queried about standing on Newton's shoulders, he replied "No, I stand on Maxwell's shoulders."|
The main intellectual giant to the mind of Nikola Tesla (1856-1943) was Johann Goethe (1749-1832), whose philosophy of science he read to the exclusion of all others. Tesla also, supposedly, committed himself to the reading of the works of Voltaire.
In a similar vein to Newton, the three intellectual giants to Albert Einstein (1879-1955) were:
Galileo Galilei (1564-1642), James Maxwell, (1831-1879), and Michael Faraday (1791-1867), whose portraits he kept on his mantle, as well as Johann Goethe (1749-1832), whom he kept a bust of in his study.
In the 1920s, however, Einstein made an explicit statement about whose shoulders he stood on. In particular, during one of Einstein’s visits to Cambridge, one of the hosts asked him: “You have done great things, but you stand on Newton’s shoulders”, to which Einstein replied: “No, I stand on Maxwell’s shoulders.” (Ѻ) (Ѻ)
1. (a) Newton, Isaac. (1676). “Letter to Hooke”, Feb 05, Corres I: 154.
(b) Gleick, James. (2003). Isaac Newton (quote, pg. 98; notes 17-18, pgs. 217-18). Vintage Books.
2. Merton, Robert. (1965). On the Shoulders of Giants: A Shandean Postscript. Free Press.
3. Gleick, James. (2003). Isaac Newton (pg. 26). Vintage.
● Standing on the shoulders of giants – Wikipedia.