Tag: Inventions

This week on “The Learning Curve,” co-hosts Gerard Robinson and Cara Candal talk with Prof. Paul Israel, Director & General Editor of the Thomas A. Edison Papers at Rutgers University, and author of Edison: A Life of Invention, the definitive biography of America’s greatest inventor. Professor Israel describes Edison’s public and private life, as well as the impact of his world-changing inventions, such as the hot-filament light bulb, the phonograph, and the motion-picture camera. Called the “Wizard of Menlo Park,” Edison is still the American with the most individual patents — 1,093 in the U.S. and 1,200 in 34 foreign countries. They discuss what educators and students in the 21st century can learn from how Edison ran the country’s first industrial research laboratory in New Jersey, and the importance of the U.S. Patent Office in protecting inventors’ exclusive right to profit from their inventions. They also discuss what students should learn about the role inventions have played in the historic success of the United States and in the highly dynamic and competitive global economy. Professor Israel concludes with a reading from his biography.

Stories of the Week:  The Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA) is celebrating its 75th anniversary of providing education for the children of American service members. Today, DoDEA operates 160 schools in eight districts across 11 countries, seven U.S. states and two U.S. territories for more than 67,000 students. (Read Pioneer’s related 2015 report.) In West Virginia, the Professional Charter School Board approved three applications for the state’s first ever charter public schools, which will provide another option for families who want and need a different learning environment.

Inventors Who Got Their Ideas from Sci-Fi


American inventor Simon Lake was captivated by the idea of travel after reading Jules Verne’s “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea” in 1870. He built the Argonaut, the first submarine to operate successfully in the open ocean, in 1898. Verne congratulated him.

Igor Sikorsky invented the modern helicopter, inspired by Jules Verne’s “Clipper of the Clouds.” He quoted Verne: “Anything that one man can imagine, another man can make real.”

Bakelite: The Beginnings of the Plastics Era


About 110 years ago, the plastics era (as we understand that term) began with a material called Bakelite named by its creator and inventor Leo Baekeland.

Leo Hendrick Baekeland was born on November 14, 1863, in Ghent, Belgium, to Karel and Rosalia Baekeland. His father was a cobbler while his mother worked as a housemaid. He was a bright young man who, encouraged primarily by his mother, read anything he could get his hands on.

Leo Hendrick Baekeland.

John Garand: The Forgotten History of the Man Who Invented the Iconic M1 Garand Rifle


“In my opinion, the M1 rifle is the greatest battle implement ever devised.” —  General George S. Patton

Today is John Garand’s Birthday! Any gun nut – er, “firearms enthusiast” – worth their salt has heard of the M1 Garand (it rhymes with “errand,” by the way). This .30-06 semi-automatic rifle is one of the most iconic American firearms of all time, and was the standard-issue weapon for American infantry troops during World War II and the Korean War. Drill teams and honor guards continue to use this in the present day, such is its role as a symbol of the American military.

Fewer, however, know about the life story of the man behind the weapon – John Garand, a Canadian-American engineer and weapons designer. Born one of a whopping 12 children on a Quebec farm, Garand’s father relocated the entire family to Connecticut following the untimely death of the clan’s mother in 1899. All six boys in the family had the official first name St. Jean le Baptiste, however, John Garand was the only one of them who used “Jean” as his first name. The other five used their middle names.

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.

The Inventions That Weren’t


Many years ago in my hometown, I was talking with my barber, Chet. Chet was a talented guy. He could talk and cut hair well at the same time. When I was young, my father took me to another barber, Leroy. Leroy was also a politician and ran a banquet hall. He was a good barber, so long as he didn’t try to talk, too. But, if a call came in or if the customer got Leroy talking, why, anything could happen to one’s hair. And being a state representative, Leroy got a lot of phone calls. So, when I got old enough to drive and have my own money, I went to Chet rather than Leroy when I needed a haircut. It was safe to have a conversation with Chet.

I was maybe 20, and Chet was at least a generation older. His niece had gone to my high school and graduated a year or three before me. And trust me, she was pretty and sweet. Chet had a picture of her on the shelf of his salon stall. That picture was something to look at while I was there, certainly better than looking at her Uncle Chet: male, gray, and balding.

Book Review: Fifty Things That Made the Modern Economy


Today’s economy is complex with many moving parts. Most participants in the world economy are unaware of the parts. Not just unaware of their importance; often people are unaware they exist.

Fifty Things That Made the Modern Economy by Tim Harford examines some of the most important factors in today’s global economy. Fifty Things contains 50 five-page essays about items Harford feels are most indispensable to the modern economy. Some are ancient. The plow permitted civilization to develop. Some, like the iPhone, are from the 21st century.

Harford collects the essays into larger themes, with similar inventions grouped together. Examples are Winners and Losers (inventions which enriched some while leaving others stranded), or Ideas about Ideas (which explores the concept of intangible inventions).