Due to the extraordinary responses of our international readers, I think it is important to provide some context for my last post.
Inventing in the United States is something of a national pastime. It’s a little like baseball. Many, many people are engaged in the process. In my years in industry, every company and shop I have been to has a few people working on new inventions. From metal workers who are experimenting with a new design for a home gym to electricians experimenting with wind power. Sometimes for personal use, because people are unsatisfied with what is available, sometimes because people are trying to solve broad problems.
Are we a nation of inventors? I think so. And occasionally we have some extraordinary successes. Jobs and Wozniak of Apple selling stock shares and computers out of the trunk of an old car. Hewlett and Packard developing sophisticated test electronics out of their garage. The current explosion of the Maker Bot is the result of a teacher in Brooklyn New York who came up with an inexpensive 3D printer “for the masses”.
Are Americans inventors more than any other country? That is a proposition that can, on it’s face, is absurd and not to be proven. I think inventing is in the nature of man. But the idea of inventing has to do with finding solutions to problems that we experience in daily life, and making existing things better than they were before.
When the Syrians first invented the vertical axis wind mill with ducted air flow, 700 years before Christ, they were looking for a way to make grain for bread so that people could eat. They were finding a solution to hunger.
When Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin, the purpose was to make the work of cotton harvesting less physically demanding. The cotton gin would also have the effect of creating a business that employed people making a product, making a profit for the inventor, and eventually making cotton less expensive and more widely available.
Maybe inventing is a luxury that requires having enough spare time and materials to work with. The prosperity that America has been blessed with may be a subtle contribution to inventing in the US.
Maybe the availability of resources is what attracts foreign inventors to the US. Marconi was Italian and first demonstrated his solution for wireless communication in Italy in 1895. By 1903 there were multiple “Marconi Stations” in the US and a famous exchange between President Theodore Roosevelt and King Edward VII carried across the ocean.
Nicola Tesla came to America and was able to bring his inventions to the world through the support of George Westinghouse. Interestingly Tesla filed for the wireless communications Patent at the same time as Marconi and later, in 1943, the Supreme Court upheld the priority of the Tesla filing. The electric motor is about finding an easier way to do mechanical work of various types. And alternating current is about delivering power over greater distances with greater efficiency.
Did Ford invent the car? Certainly not. He invented a system of manufacturing that lowered the cost of the car and employed tens of thousands of workers. And it made a hefty profit for Henry Ford. Which changed society forever in the US and much of the world.
More to come in the next post.