Since the artist Samuel Morse annihilated time and distance with his patent for the electric telegraph in 1840, nearly 7 million patents have been awarded in the US. The men and women who were granted those patents made our modem. world by daring to innovate. To them we owe everything that touches our daily lives: the electric light and the airplane, plastics and the pocket calculator, Web browsers and cell phones and everything else. Harold Evans, author of the best-seller “The American Century,” has .pent five years researching America‘s greatest change-makers. His illustrated book “They Made America---From the Steam Engine to the Search Engine: Two Centuries of innovators” came out this month. (October, 2004) PARADE asked Evans to list his 10 top innovators and briefly explain their significance. Let us know what you think.
One thing is sure: Americans will go on innovating.
10. Sarah Breedlove Walker. (1867 - 1919)
Born to freed slaves, she was still doing backbreaking laundry work in St. Louis at age 35 when she reinvented herself as Madam C. J. Walker, a hair and beauty specialist. She barnstormed the country selling and teaching the Walker System extending it to budgeting and women’s independence. She developed it into the largest black business and became the nation’s first black female millionaire and a celebrity, prefiguring Oprah. Her enduring contribution was to show what someone of her race could achieve
9. Gary Kildall (1942 - 1994)
COMPUTER OPERATING SYSTEMS.
He was the true founder of the personal computer revolution and the father of operating systems for the PC software industry In the 1970s, Kildall-the Mozart of computer code-enabled any software to run on any hardware. Bill Gates’ deal with IBM in 1980 for the software used by IBM’s revolutionary personal computer was based on an unauthorized version of Kildall’s innovation.
The good-natured Kildall was averse to suing and went on innovating. He laid down the basis for PC networking, graphical interfaces (GUI) and interactive multimedia. He was always 10 years ahead of his time.
As a ‘60s rebel teaching microbiology at the University of California, San Francisco, Boyer recognized that rapidly reproducing bacteria could be turned into a pharmaceutical factory. All-all!-that had to be done was to trick a bacterium into combining with a gene from a higher organism. In August 1978, he and his associates succeeded. The result was synthetic insulin, followed in July 1979 by growth hormone and the start of the life saving biotech industry. Genentech, founded over a beer when Boyer and Robert Swanson (1947-99) put up $500 each, is now a $51.5 billion company with many breakthrough drugs approved by the FDA.
7. Edwin L. Drake (1819 - 1890)
He was crazy enough to think he could find oil by drilling down to bed-rock. Drake’s barkers pulled the plug but he persisted. On Aug.30, 1859, in Titusville, Pa., he attached 20 feet of pipe to a common hand pump and brought up eight barrels of oil-the “golden flood of petroleum” that is America’s principal source of energy. Fortunes were made - but not by Edwin L. Drake. He died penniless.
6. Amadeo Peter Giannini (1870 - 1949)
POPULAR AMERICAN BANKING.
Before him, Amadeo Peter Giannini, banks were local affairs that would not lend money to the average worker. Then on October 17, 1904, Giannini-the son of immigrant dealers in fruits and vegetables-started his little Bank of Italy in San Francisco. When the ruins of the city moldered after the great 1906 earthquake, he e put a plank on top of two barrels in the wharf area and ran his bank from there, re, speeding the rebuilding. In the Great Depression, his readiness to lend saved California. Gianiini’s people’s bank is today the giant Bank of America.
5. Leo Hendrick Baekeland (1863 - 1944)
Leo H. Baekeland, who came to America at 26, was the creator (in 1907) and manufacturer of Bakelite, the first manmade plastic and first true synthetic. Bakelite was so versatile and superior in its chemical, mechanical and physical qualities, it could be molded into any unbreakable shape and was a perfect insulator.
It quickly transformed modem living, making possible, among other things, the automobile self-starter.
4. Edwin Howard Armstrong (1890 - 1954)
Every time you hear a clear sound on your television or radio or make a call on your cell phone, you are indebted to this New Yorker. Four basic discoveries by Arm- strong, a radio engineer, extended the potential of human communication to the ends of the earth and beyond the planet.
He first demonstrated his invention of frequency modulation-FM- in 1935, and that was just the crowning achievement. Impeded by RCA, which was heavily invested in the inferior AM radios it was manufacturing, Armstrong started the first FM sta-
tion on July 18, 1939, in Alpine, N.J. Sixty-two years later, when New York City broadcasters lost their TV signals in the World Trade Center attack, they rushed to
install antennas on Armstrong’s 425-foot tower.
3. Henry Ford (1863 - 1947)
THE PEOPLE’S CAR.
Ford didn’t invent the automobile,
nor was he the first American carmaker.
His greatness was his determination to make a tough, versatile car that ordinary people could afford: Ford’s 1908 Model “ T “ engine could be hooked up to saw logs, pump water and chum milk to cheese. The automobile was for the rich until Ford introduced the mass-production assembly line and single-handedly fought the legal battle to break the cartel that was keeping car prices high. He brought practical reality to the rhetoric of American democracy.
2. Wilbur Wright (1867 - 1912)
Orville Wright (1871 - 1948)
They solved the mystery of flight, which had perplexed great minds for centuries. Far from being semiliterate bicycle mechanics who stumbled on that secret through random trial-and-error tinkering, the two young bachelor brothers from Dayton, Ohio, were disciplined researchers who sustained each other in pursuit of a singular vision. And the Wright brothers had courage: It tends to be forgotten that flight required someone brave enough to be the world’s first test pilot.
1. Thomas Edison (1847 - 1931)
His legacy is our electrified world: light, heat, power.
Every one knows Edison invented the incandescent bulb in 1879, but it would have been a mere novelty had he not worked out how to build the dynamos, cable systems and connections to light New York City. He planted the acorn from which grew the giant General Electric. He also made Alexander Graham Bell’s imperfect telephone work properly, and his phonograph and the kinetograph were the beginning of recorded music and movies. Edison also owned 1093 patents, a U. S. record, but he also invented a method of inventing. His New Jersey lab was the forerunner of the modern industrial research lab.
PARADE Magazine, October 24, 2004, (pgs. 4-6)
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