American Inventors

 
Edwin Armstrong on the beach with his wife and his portable superheterodyne radio 1923

Yesterday, @richardeaston wrote a post Affirmative Action in Inventions in which he noted that in recent years a black female, Dr. Gladys West, has been given credit for inventions associated with GPS for which the credit belongs to others. I was going to comment on Richard’s post; but, my comment got too long and I think this post can stand on its own.

Unfortunately, I don’t think what Richard found is a one-off honest mistake. Rather, there appears to be a concerted effort to overstate the accomplishments of black Americans in some fields. This becomes apparent when searching various terms using the most popular Internet search engine: Google. For example, searching the term “American Inventors” gives the following result.

The top 20 American Inventors according to Google;

According to Google, the top 20 American inventors include seventeen African-Americans plus Thomas Edison (sixth place), Alexander Graham Bell (12th place) and Eli Whitney (20th place). The list is headed by Garrett Morgan whose most notable invention was a smoke hood. Lonnie Johnson (seventh on the list) is most noted as the inventor of the Super Soaker water gun. This is not meant to demean Mr. Johnson (who seems an impressive fellow based on his Wikipedia bio) or any of the other African-Americans on the list; but, the Super Soaker water gun is not as meaningful an invention as the electric telegraph, the airplane or thousands of other inventions by Americans. All of the people on the list are accomplished individuals who made positive contributions to the world. They just don’t belong on such a list.

The “American Inventors” list based on a Bing search is a little less biased.

The top twenty American inventors is headed by Thomas Edison, which is good. However, the remaining nineteen includes eleven African-Americans plus Benjamin Franklin (third), Alexander Graham Bell (fourth), Nikola Tesla (eighth), Eli Whitney (14th), Samuel Morse (16th), George Eastman (18th), Steve Jobs (19th), and Robert Fulton (20th).

This same sort of political correctness seems to occur in only some selected fields, and in all cases Google is the worst offender. Below is Google’s result for “American Mathematicians:”

The list of the top 20 American mathematicians includes thirteen African-Americans plus John Nash (eigth), Albert Einstein (11th), Solomon Lefschetz (12th), John von Neuman (13th), Claude Sherman (14th), John Milnor (15th) and Claude Reason (17th).

Searching “American Scientists” on Google yields the following list:

This list consists of eleven African-Americans plus Albert Einstein (fifth), Enrico Fermi (eigth), James Watson (12th), Thomas Edison (14th), Alexander Graham Bell (16th), Carl Sagan (17th), Hans Bethe (18th), Richard Feynman (19th) and Dian Fossey (20th).

The Google lists drop most (but not all) of the political correctness once they leave the United States. Here’s the Google list of British scientists:

The list is far from perfect but it does at least include many who do belong on such a list. The same can be said for other fields outside of STEM. Here are Google’s “American Economists” results:

Whatever one thinks of it, all of those on the list are or were serious economists (even Krugman was once a serious thinker before he became a partisan hack.)

And, here’s the Google results for “American Painters”;

I have no comment on the list other than to note the type of political correctness that infected the STEM lists is not present.

I don’t know exactly what to make of it. Somehow I think it has its origins in the ongoing campaign to turn K-12 education into political indoctrination a part of which is as I understand it that history books have quotas as to the amount of time that various groups (blacks, women and so forth) must be taught regardless of merit. Whatever the reason it does no favors to those who wish to learn history.

As I was writing this post I got to wondering what a list of the twenty or so most significant American inventors should look like. The list below is derived from Charles Murray’s Human Accomplishment which was published 15 years ago. Murray’s book is an exploration and study of human achievement in the arts and sciences across civilizations from 800 B.C. to 1950 A.D. Based on Murray’s method this list works out as follows (I’ve included a very brief description of what each is most noted for);

  1. Thomas Edison – polymath
  2. Benjamin Franklin – polymath
  3. Samuel Morse – electric telegraph
  4. Orville & Wilbur Wright – airplane
  5. John Mauchly – computers
  6. Edwin Armstrong – radio
  7. Robert Goddard – rocketry
  8. Eli Whitney – cotton gin
  9. George Westinghouse – A/C power distribution
  10. Oliver Evans – the steam engine
  11. Lee De Forest – triode vacuum tube
  12. Joseph Henry – electromagnetism
  13. Robert Fulton – steamboat
  14. Edwin Land – photography
  15. Charles Goodyear – vulcanized rubber
  16. Henry Ford – assembly line, automobiles
  17. Vannevar Bush – scientific administration
  18. Herman Hollerith – data processing
  19. William Kelly – steel
  20. Thomas Midgley Jr. – chemical processing
  21. William Shockley – semiconductors
  22. Samuel Colt – firearms, interchangeable parts
  23. George Eastman – photography
  24. John Fitch – steamboat
  25. John Hyatt – celluloid
  26. Cyrus McCormick – mechanical reaper

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There are 26 comments.

  1. ctlaw Coolidge

    tigerlily: Lonnie Johnson (7th on the list) is most noted as the inventor of the Super Soaker water gun. This is not meant to demean Mr. Johnson (who seems an impressive fellow based on his wikipedia bio) or any of the other African-Americans on the list; but, the Super Soaker water gun is not as meaningful an invention as the electric telegraph, the airplane or thousands of other inventions by Americans.

    Johnson is the cover story on the USPTO home page:

    https://www.uspto.gov/

    • #1
    • February 16, 2019, at 6:43 AM PDT
    • 5 likes
  2. Barfly Member

    Heh. Over on @richardeaston‘s post I commented:

    Barfly (View Comment):

    The more one has competence in any objective skill, or for that matter deep factual knowledge on any topic, the wider the gulf one will find between the truth and the public narrative constructed and maintained by the left.

    There is no overarching conspiracy, it’s just that people of the left value the content of their mind over the external reality.

    but what I said about “no conspiracy” was kind of stupid. 

    They do conspire, of course. That means they tacitly agree, between them, to elevate their joint idea over reality? Trying to understand the mechanism by which minds so readily do such casual evil as you document here.

    • #2
    • February 16, 2019, at 8:14 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  3. Miffed White Male Member

    My understanding is that achievements by People Of Color must be emphasized because POC children can’t relate to the achievements of white people and therefore are wasting their potential.

    But somehow white kids are supposed to be able to relate to and be inspired by the achievements of POCs.

     

    • #3
    • February 16, 2019, at 8:18 AM PDT
    • 7 likes
  4. Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… Member

    And they wonder why we don’t like them.

    The really horrible thing about this racist, sexist, and deviant-ist Left wing propaganda is that it actually nudges me toward animus against the supposed victim groups. I think that I overcome this, but the relentless stream of lies and slanders prompts a defensive response within me.

    In find that my only, very minor impulses toward something akin to racism or sexism occur in response to precisely this sort of malicious falsehood.

    • #4
    • February 16, 2019, at 9:19 AM PDT
    • 5 likes
  5. Flicker Inactive

    Barfly (View Comment):
    They do conspire, of course. That means they tacitly agree, between them, to elevate their joint idea over reality? Trying to understand the mechanism by which minds so readily do such casual evil as you document here.

    Well, if it’s evil, it’s a conspiracy, right? Evil doesn’t exist in a vacuum.

    • #5
    • February 16, 2019, at 9:47 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  6. ctlaw Coolidge

    I and others have posted here and elsewhere on this issue.

    Note

    2016: http://www.unz.com/isteve/great-moments-in-google-american-inventors/

    What is particularly interesting is the addition in the current list of Patricia Bath who has done nothing in the last two years to earn a spot.

    • #6
    • February 16, 2019, at 10:58 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  7. ctlaw Coolidge

    tigerlily:

    Based on Murray’s method this list works out as follows (I’ve included a very brief description of what each is most noted for);

    1. Thomas Edison – polymath
    2. Benjamin Franklin – polymath
    3. Samuel Morse – electric telegraph
    4. Orvile & Wilbur Wright – airplane
    5. John Mauchly – computers
    6. Edwin Armstrong – radio
    7. Robert Goddard – rocketry
    8. Eli Whitney – cotton gin
    9. George Westinghouse – A/C power distribution
    10. Oliver Evans – steam engine
    11. Lee De Forest – triode vacuum tube
    12. Joseph Henry – electromagnetism
    13. Robert Fulton – steamboat
    14. Edwin Land – photography
    15. Charles Goodyear – vulcanized rubber
    16. Henry Ford – assembly line, automobiles
    17. Vannevar Bush – scientific administration
    18. Herman Hollerith – data processing
    19. William Kelly – steel
    20. Thomas Midgley Jr. – chemical processing
    21. William Shockley – semiconductors
    22. Samuel Colt – firearms, interchangeable parts
    23. George Eastman – photography
    24. John Fitch – steamboat
    25. John Hyatt – celluloide
    26. Cyrus McCormick – mechanical reaper

     

    I would add a factor/filter. If this person or these people had never lived, would the world have been different?

    That’s going to downgrade several of these.

    The Wright brothers were just first to fly among many attempting to and eventually doing so around the same time. Their fundamental invention was wing warping for control. They also supposedly made good propellers based on NACA data.

    Their basic pusher design was a dead end.

    Had they never lived, development of aircraft would hardly have been hindered and might well have been advanced because superior designs would not have had to fight dubious patent battles with the Wrights.

    • #7
    • February 16, 2019, at 11:10 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  8. ctlaw Coolidge

    Hypothetically, the search “american inventors”could be unintentionally biased by bleed-over from “african-american inventors”.

    But searching for “US inventors” only partially eases the bias:

    This list brings the top Jew to #21 (Jonas Salk) whereas the “american inventors” search has Einstein at #35.

    • #8
    • February 16, 2019, at 12:42 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  9. TBA Coolidge
    TBA

    Miffed White Male (View Comment):

    My understanding is that achievements by People Of Color must be emphasized because POC children can’t relate to the achievements of white people and therefore are wasting their potential.

    But somehow white kids are supposed to be able to relate to and be inspired by the achievements of POCs.

    I’ve not noticed that black children have any trouble relating to phones, televisions, computers, cars, or any other trappings of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. 

    • #9
    • February 16, 2019, at 1:12 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  10. TBA Coolidge
    TBA

    For the sake of argument, might it be that the top inventors of a search engine are chosen by the number of times that name/invention is searched for? 

    If so, it may be that black history month has helped these inventors punch above their weight through the power of web-homework. 

    • #10
    • February 16, 2019, at 1:17 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  11. TBA Coolidge
    TBA

    Argument #1) PoC/Women/Other have, in the past, had very little opportunity to either gain the knowledge for, or had access to time and materials for creative or inventive work and thus don’t appear in the record. True. 

    Argument #2) But they did historically create and their stuff is just as good as anyone else’s despite having virtually no opportunities. False, and also how would that even be possible? 

    • #11
    • February 16, 2019, at 1:22 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  12. Full Size Tabby Member

    TBA (View Comment):

    For the sake of argument, might it be that the top inventors of a search engine are chosen by the number of times that name/invention is searched for?

    If so, it may be that black history month has helped these inventors punch above their weight through the power of web-homework.

    I did wonder if the results would be different if this search were done in a month other than February.

    Black History Month being yet another ignorantly race-based insult to Black Americans. 

    • #12
    • February 16, 2019, at 1:25 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
  13. TBA Coolidge
    TBA

    Full Size Tabby (View Comment):

    TBA (View Comment):

    For the sake of argument, might it be that the top inventors of a search engine are chosen by the number of times that name/invention is searched for?

    If so, it may be that black history month has helped these inventors punch above their weight through the power of web-homework.

    I did wonder if the results would be different if this search were done in a month other than February.

    Black History Month being yet another ignorantly race-based insult to Black Americans.

    I can’t help but wonder what happens to self-esteem built on unstable platforms. 

    • #13
    • February 16, 2019, at 1:30 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  14. tigerlily Member
    tigerlily Post author

    Full Size Tabby (View Comment):

    TBA (View Comment):

    For the sake of argument, might it be that the top inventors of a search engine are chosen by the number of times that name/invention is searched for?

    If so, it may be that black history month has helped these inventors punch above their weight through the power of web-homework.

    I did wonder if the results would be different if this search were done in a month other than February.

    Black History Month being yet another ignorantly race-based insult to Black Americans.

    No, I don’t think so Tabby. I’ve been aware of this for a couple of years.

    • #14
    • February 16, 2019, at 1:32 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  15. tigerlily Member
    tigerlily Post author

    TBA (View Comment):

    Argument #1) PoC/Women/Other have, in the past, had very little opportunity to either gain the knowledge for, or had access to time and materials for creative or inventive work and thus don’t appear in the record. True.

    Argument #2) But they did historically create and their stuff is just as good as anyone else’s despite having virtually no opportunities. False, and also how would that even be possible?

    Regarding Argument #2 – There were more than a few black engineers/inventors/scientists with notable achievements during the Jim Crow era and it’s good to acknowledge and remember them and their work. For example, Elijah McCoy, who is ranked 7th on the Bing list of American Inventors had 50+ patents his most important being automatic oilers for the lubrication of certain moving parts of the steam engine. It’s said (although unverified) that the expression “The Real McCoy” came about by railroad men who considered his oiler superior to any other. The problem is that some want to exaggerate these real achievements way out of proportion for one reason or another.

    • #15
    • February 16, 2019, at 1:48 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
  16. CarolJoy, Above Top Secret Coolidge

    If my son was still 14, he would state how you are all wet as far as the importance of the super soaker water gun. Besides, who uses a telegraph much these days?

    • #16
    • February 16, 2019, at 4:28 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
  17. CarolJoy, Above Top Secret Coolidge

    Barfly (View Comment):

    Heh. Over on @richardeaston‘s post I commented:

    Barfly (View Comment):

    The more one has competence in any objective skill, or for that matter deep factual knowledge on any topic, the wider the gulf one will find between the truth and the public narrative constructed and maintained by the left.

    There is no overarching conspiracy, it’s just that people of the left value the content of their mind over the external reality.

    but what I said about “no conspiracy” was kind of stupid.

    They do conspire, of course. That means they tacitly agree, between them, to elevate their joint idea over reality? Trying to understand the mechanism by which minds so readily do such casual evil as you document here.

    This has been going on for at least five or six years, with regards to how Google lists scientific research. An indie researcher makes a discovery regarding some sacrosanct science program, for instance: GM foods. Then industry brings forward a new study that rebuts the indie research.

    A while ago, both studies would be given equal weight. Now it is almost impossible to find the actual original citation, unless you remember the name of the researcher and the name of the journal where such was published. The hundreds if not thousands of corporate sponsored links are there, quite prominently displayed, and even if you wade through all of them, you might not find the name of the researcher who set off the controversy.

    • #17
    • February 16, 2019, at 4:59 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  18. iWe Reagan
    iWe

    tigerlily: Henry Ford – assembly line, automobiles

    The assembly line was not Ford’s invention. It grew from the ground-up in the factory, being recognized by management only several years after it already existed. The assembly line was the ultimate crowd-sourced invention.

     

    • #18
    • February 16, 2019, at 8:59 PM PDT
    • 7 likes
  19. iWe Reagan
    iWe

    Also, any newer history needs to include the inventors who made the computer age happen – the key inventors of microprocessors, memory, storage, etc.

    • #19
    • February 16, 2019, at 9:00 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  20. tigerlily Member
    tigerlily Post author

    iWe (View Comment):

    Also, any newer history needs to include the inventors who made the computer age happen – the key inventors of microprocessors, memory, storage, etc.

    My list went through 1950 only although it does include one or two who advanced computing – John Mauchly (ENIAC, UNIVAC) and Herman Hollerith (data processing).

    • #20
    • February 16, 2019, at 10:14 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  21. TBA Coolidge
    TBA

    tigerlily (View Comment):

    TBA (View Comment):

    Argument #1) PoC/Women/Other have, in the past, had very little opportunity to either gain the knowledge for, or had access to time and materials for creative or inventive work and thus don’t appear in the record. True.

    Argument #2) But they did historically create and their stuff is just as good as anyone else’s despite having virtually no opportunities. False, and also how would that even be possible?

    Regarding Argument #2 – There were more than a few black engineers/inventors/scientists with notable achievements during the Jim Crow era and it’s good to acknowledge and remember them and their work. For example, Elijah McCoy, who is ranked 7th on the Bing list of American Inventors had 50+ patents his most important being automatic oilers for the lubrication of certain moving parts of the steam engine. It’s said (although unverified) that the expression “The Real McCoy” came about by railroad men who considered his oiler superior to any other. The problem is that some want to exaggerate these real achievements way out of proportion for one reason or another.

    Got no quarrel with McCoy/other black inventors and creators. He/they should be honored and celebrated according to their merit. I hope it doesn’t take anything away from McCoy’s achievements to point out that inventing a lubrication system for a steam engine is innately less amazing than inventing a steam engine in the first place. 

    • #21
    • February 16, 2019, at 11:17 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  22. CarolJoy, Above Top Secret Coolidge

    iWe (View Comment):

    Also, any newer history needs to include the inventors who made the computer age happen – the key inventors of microprocessors, memory, storage, etc.

    I was a personal friend of a man named Jeff Morriss, who developed the USB. I knew him a good while before he came up with this invention. It didn’t surprise me to find this out, as when he worked at Illinois Bell, he was responsible for more patents than anyone else there at the age of 28.

    • #22
    • February 16, 2019, at 11:21 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  23. tigerlily Member
    tigerlily Post author

    TBA (View Comment):

    tigerlily (View Comment):

    TBA (View Comment):

    Argument #1) PoC/Women/Other have, in the past, had very little opportunity to either gain the knowledge for, or had access to time and materials for creative or inventive work and thus don’t appear in the record. True.

    Argument #2) But they did historically create and their stuff is just as good as anyone else’s despite having virtually no opportunities. False, and also how would that even be possible?

    Regarding Argument #2 – There were more than a few black engineers/inventors/scientists with notable achievements during the Jim Crow era and it’s good to acknowledge and remember them and their work. For example, Elijah McCoy, who is ranked 7th on the Bing list of American Inventors had 50+ patents his most important being automatic oilers for the lubrication of certain moving parts of the steam engine. It’s said (although unverified) that the expression “The Real McCoy” came about by railroad men who considered his oiler superior to any other. The problem is that some want to exaggerate these real achievements way out of proportion for one reason or another.

    Got no quarrel with McCoy/other black inventors and creators. He/they should be honored and celebrated according to their merit. I hope it doesn’t take anything away from McCoy’s achievements to point out that inventing a lubrication system for a steam engine is innately less amazing than inventing a steam engine in the first place.

    We agree.

    • #23
    • February 16, 2019, at 11:33 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  24. Muleskinner, Weasel Wrangler Member

    tigerlily: The list is far from perfect but it does at least include many who do belong on such a list. The same can be said for other fields outside of STEM. Here’s Google’s “American Economists” results;

    The National Science Foundation includes Economics (at least economics outside business administration) in STEM. Besides the heavy math requirements (at least outside the Austrian, Marxian, Institutionalist, and other heterodox schools of thought), undergraduate work in Agricultural and Applied Economics, for example, has a fairly rigorous science requirement–physics, biology and chemistry.

    But it isn’t like the American Economics Association isn’t trying to promote more women. But if economics can’t at least give the appearance of a meritocracy, something is very wrong at the core. So by my count of the 51 or so images that came up on the google search 31 won a Nobel Prize, or more accurately, the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences, and of the 20 who didn’t, at least five died before the prize was awarded. There were four women in the list, and one, Elinor Ostrom, won a Nobel Prize, and I don’t think many economists would argue that Anna Schwartz doesn’t belong in the list. Another three of the 20 who haven’t won a Nobel Prize, at least yet, Ben Bernanke, Alan Greenspan, and Janet Yellin, were Fed chairs, and another handful are known mostly as bloggers or writers, including Thomas Sowell and John Kenneth Galbraith. 

    • #24
    • February 17, 2019, at 12:22 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  25. iWe Reagan
    iWe

    Muleskinner, Weasel Wrangler (View Comment):
    I don’t think many economists would argue that Anna Schwartz doesn’t belong in the list

    She rocked. I met her. 

    • #25
    • February 17, 2019, at 4:15 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  26. Bill Nelson Member

    The sources you provide are not to be relied upon. So let it go.

    All that matters is the contribution of a team or an individual, how someone rates them does not matter. When James Alexander Dewar invented Twinkies, I am sure he had support from many people of many races and creeds.

    Bigger things to worry about.

    • #26
    • February 18, 2019, at 9:01 AM PDT
    • 3 likes