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  • feedwordpress 08:01:03 on 2018/05/28 Permalink
    Tags: abolition, , , invention, , Sojourner Truth, , ,   

    “After all, Ginger Rogers did everything that Fred Astaire did. She just did it backwards and in high heels.”*… 

     

    A Victorian-era mathematical genius, [Ada] Lovelace was the first to describe how computing machines could solve math problems, write new forms of music, and much more, if you gave them instructions in a language they could understand. Of course, over the ensuing 100-plus years, dudes have been lining up to push her out of the picture (more on that below).

    Lovelace is hardly the only woman to be erased from the history of her own work…

    From computer programming to nuclear fission to the paper bag machine, it’s time to stop erasing these women from their great works.  Mother Jones restores eight female creators from their undeserved obscurity: “Ladies Last: 8 Inventions by Women That Dudes Got Credit For.

    * Ann Richards

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    As we give credit where credit is due, we might recall that it was on this date in 1851, at the Ohio Women’s Rights Convention in Akron, that Sojourner Truth electrified the gathering with an extemporaneous talk that has come to known as the “Ain’t I a Woman?” speech.

    Born (c. 1797) into slavery in New York, Belle Baumfree (as she was born) escaped with her daughter to freedom in 1826.  She went to court to recover her son in 1828, and became the first black woman to win such a case against a white man.  She gave herself the name Sojourner Truth in 1843 after she became convinced that God had called her to leave the city and go into the countryside “testifying the hope that was in her”– a hope that she expressed as a fervent abolitionist and champion of women’s rights.

    In 2014, Truth was included in Smithsonian magazine’s list of the “100 Most Significant Americans of All Time.”

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  • feedwordpress 09:01:08 on 2018/01/17 Permalink
    Tags: , bifocal, eye chart, George Mayerle, , invention, optometry,   

    “Sympathy is the child of imagination”*… 

     

    This fantastic eye chart — measuring 22 by 28 inches with a positive version on one side and negative on the other — is the work of German optometrist and American Optometric Association member George Mayerle, who was working in San Francisco at end of the nineteenth century, just when optometry was beginning to professionalise. The chart was a culmination of his many years of practice and, according to Mayerle, its distinctive international angle served also to reflect the diversity and immigration which lay at the heart of the city in which he worked. At the time it was advertised as “the only chart published that can be used by people of any nationality”…

    Read more– and see the full chart– at “George Mayerle’s Eye Test Chart (ca. 1907).”

    * Clarence Darrow

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    As we welcome all comers, we might send enlightened birthday greetings to Benjamin Franklin; he was born on this date in 1706.  One of the Founding Fathers of the United States, Franklin was a renowned polymath: a leading author, printer, political theorist, politician, freemason, postmaster, scientist, inventor, civic activist, statesman, and diplomat. As a scientist, he was a major figure in the American Enlightenment and the history of physics for his discoveries and theories regarding electricity. As an inventor, he is known for the lightning rod and the Franklin stove, among other innovations.  And as a social entrepreneur (who grasped the fact that by united effort a community could have amenities which only the wealthy few can afford for themselves), he helped establish several institutions people now take for granted: a fire company (1736), a library (1731), an insurance company (1752), an academy (the University of Pennsylvania, 1751), a hospital (1751), and the U.S. Postal Service (starting as postmaster of the Colonies in 1753, then becoming U.S. Postmaster during the Revolution).  In most cases these foundations were the first of their kind in North America.

    Relevantly to this post, Franklin invented bifocal glasses.

    In a Franklin could be merged the virtues of Puritanism without its defects, the illumination of the Enlightenment without its heat.

    – Henry Steele Commager

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  • feedwordpress 09:01:25 on 2017/11/07 Permalink
    Tags: Drebbel, , invention, , Perpetuum Mobile, , submarine, Tjukanov, ,   

    “Roads are a record of those who have gone before”*… 

     

    From the “Data is Beautiful” thread on Reddit,  Tjukanov‘s rendering (from OpenStreetMap) of “All The Roads and Nothing But Roads.”

    See also his “Optimal routes by car from the geographic center of the contiguous United States to +3000 counties.”

    * Rebecca Solnit, Wanderlust: A History of Walking

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    As we gas up, we might spare a thought for Cornelis Jacobszoon Drebbel; he died on this date in 1633.  The Edison of his era, he was an empirical researcher and innovator whose constructions and innovations covered measurement and control technology, pneumatics, optics, chemistry, hydraulics and pyrotechnics.  He was known for his Perpetuum Mobile ( a clock), an incubator for eggs, a portable stove/oven able to hold heat at a constant temperature by means of a regulator/thermostat, his design of a solar energy system for London (perpetual fire), his demonstration of air-conditioning, his creation of lightning and thunder “on command,” and and his construction of fountains and a fresh water supply for the city of Middelburg.  He was involved in the draining of the moors around Cambridge (the Fens), developed a predecessors of the barometer and thermometer, and built a harpsichords that played on solar energy.

    But he is perhaps best remembered as the architect and builder of the first navigable submarine.  Created for the British Navy, it was tested at depths of 12-15 feet, and could stay submerged for up to three hours (air tubes with floats went to the surface to provide the craft with oxygen).

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  • feedwordpress 08:01:05 on 2017/11/05 Permalink
    Tags: antiquities, , Belzoni, , Hedy Lamarr, , Indiana Jones, invention, spread-spectrum,   

    “Any girl can be glamorous. All you have to do is stand still and look stupid”*… 

     

    By the time American audiences were introduced to Austrian actress Hedy Lamarr in the 1938 film Algiers, she had already lived an eventful life. She got her scandalous start in film in Czechoslovakia (her first role was in the erotic Ecstasy). She was married at 19 in pre-World War II Europe to Fritz Mandl, a paranoid, overly protective arms dealer linked with fascists in Italy and Nazis in Germany. After her father’s sudden death and as the war approached, she fled Mandl’s country estate in the middle of the night and escaped to London. Unable to return home to Vienna where her mother lived,  and determined to get into the movies, she booked passage to the States on the same ship as mogul Louis B. Mayer. Flaunting herself, she drew his attention and signed with his MGM Studios before they docked.

    Arriving in Hollywood brought her a new name (Lamarr was originally Kiesler), fame, multiple marriages and divorces and a foray into groundbreaking work as a producer, before she eventually became a recluse. But perhaps the most fascinating aspect of Lamarr’s life isn’t as well known: during WWII, when she was 27the movie star invented and patented an ingenious forerunner of current high-tech communications…

    The story of the movie star who invented spread-spectrum radio, the secure signal technology that helped the Allies avoid having their radio communications intercepted by the Axis forces, and that lies at the heart of the cellular phone system that we all use today: “Why Hedy Lamarr Was Hollywood’s Secret Weapon.”

    * Hedy Lamarr, who was decidedly not stupid

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    As we give overdue credit where credit is due, we might send adventurous birthday greetings to Giovanni Battista Belzoni; he was born on this date in 1778.  The 14th child of a poor barber in Padua, he was a barber, a Capuchin monk, a magician, and a circus strongman before finding his true calling– explorer (and plunderer) of Egyptian antiquities.

    Belzoni’s call to action came when he met a British Consul-General named Henry Salt who persuaded him to gather Egyptian treasures to send back to the British Museum.  Under extremely adverse conditions he transported the colossal granite head of Rameses II from Thebes to England, where it is now one of the treasures of the British Museum. Later, he discovered six major royal tombs in the Valley of the Kings, including that of Seti I, and brought to the British Museum a spectacular collection of Egyptian antiquities. He was the first person to penetrate the heart of the second pyramid at Giza and the first European to visit the oasis of Siwah and discover the ruined city of Berenice on the Red Sea. He stumbled into the tomb of King Ay, but only noted a wall painting of 12 baboons, leading him to name the chamber ‘Tomb of the 12 Monkeys” (because hieroglyphs had not yet been deciphered, he usually had no idea who or what he had found).

    Belzoni had two habits that have contributed to his legacy:  he was a lover of graffiti signatures, and inscribed “Belzoni” on many of Egypt’s antique treasures, where the carvings survive to this day.  And he carried a whip: which, given that he was one of the models for Indiana Jones, became one of that character’s hallmarks.

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  • feedwordpress 08:01:46 on 2017/10/02 Permalink
    Tags: distribution, Hannah Wilkinson Slater, , , invention, , , , ,   

    “Exploring pi is like exploring the universe”*… 

     

    pi

     

    Pi is an infinite string of seemingly random numbers, but if you break down the first 1000 digits of Pi according to how many times each number from 0 to 9 appears, they’re all just about equal — with 1 being the outlier at 12% (although we wonder if they’d all average to ~10% given enough digits of Pi)…

    More at “Visualizing The Breakdown Of The Numbers In The First 1000 Digits Of Pi Is Fascinating.”

    * David Chudnovsky

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    As we watch it even out in the end, we might spare a thought for Hannah Wilkinson Slater; she died on this date in 1812. The daughter and the wife of mill owners, Ms. Slater was the first woman to be issued a patent in the United States (1793)– for a process using spinning wheels to twist fine Surinam cotton yarn, that created a No. 20 two-ply thread that was an improvement on the linen thread previously in use for sewing cloth.

    A waxen Hannah, at the Slaters’ Mill Museum in Pawtucket, RI

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  • feedwordpress 08:01:53 on 2017/09/28 Permalink
    Tags: ballcock, , , invention, NIST, stone wall, stones, ,   

    “There are no sermons in stones. It is easier to get a spark out of a stone than a moral.”*… 

     

    In 1880 the Census Office and the National Museum in Washington, D.C. conducted a study of building stones of the United States and collected a set of reference specimens from working quarries. This collection was first displayed at the centennial exposition in Philadelphia in 1876 and was subsequently known as the Centennial Collection of U.S. Building Stones. Descriptions of producing quarries and commercial building uses in construction across the country were compiled for the report of the 10th Census of the United States in 1880. This collection of stones, augmented with building stones from other countries, was then placed on display in the Smithsonian Institution.

    In 1942, a committee was appointed to consider whether any worthwhile use could be made of the collection. It was decided that a study of actual weathering on such a great variety of stone would give valuable information… In 1948, a test wall was constructed at the NBS [National Bureau of Standards, now the National Institute of Standards and Technology] site in Washington D.C…

    And it stands to this day.  Visit– and learn about any stone you like– at NIST’s Stone Test Wall.

    * John Burroughs

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    As we take up the trowel, we might send sanitary birthday greetings to Thomas Crapper; he was baptized on this date in 1836 (his birthdate is unknown).  Crapper popularized the one-piece pedestal flushing toilet that still bears his name in many parts of the English-speaking world.

    The flushing toilet was invented by John Harrington in 1596; Joseph Bramah patented the first practical water closet in England in 1778; then in 1852, George Jennings received a patent for the flush-out toilet.  Crapper’s  contribution was promotional (though he did develop some important related inventions, such as the ballcock): in a time when bathroom fixtures were barely mentionable, Crapper, who was trained as a plumber, set himself up as a “sanitary engineer”; he heavily promoted “sanitary” plumbing and pioneered the concept of the bathroom fittings showroom.  His efforts were hugely successful; he scored a series of Royal Warrants (providing lavatories for Prince, then King Edward, and for George V) and enjoyed huge commercial success. To this day, manhole covers with Crapper’s company’s name on them in Westminster Abbey are among London’s minor tourist attractions.

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  • feedwordpress 08:01:54 on 2017/07/17 Permalink
    Tags: , bedtime, Carrier, childhood, , HVAC, invention, social construct, , Willis Carrier   

    “Any kid will run any errand for you, if you ask at bedtime”*… 

     

    Truly, bedtimes are one of the great injustices of American childhood. Turns out, they’re also a pretty good example of how sleep — a biological need that we can’t live without — is intertwined with the much more subjective vagaries of culture. It’s culture, after all, that convinced my parents that I needed to be in bed by 7:30 p.m. in July. And my still slightly simmering resentment of that fact, while anecdotally pretty normal among my late Gen X/early millennial American peers, might not be universal…

    Hit the hay on your own time at: “Don’t Tell The Kids, But Bedtime Is A Social Construct.”

    * Red Skelton

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    As we move into the arms of Morpheus, we might celebrate one of the greatest contributions to a good night’s sleep: on this date in 1902, Willis Carrier completed drawings for what became recognized as the world’s first modern air conditioning system.  He kept improving his design…  and in the process created the air conditioning industry.

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  • feedwordpress 08:01:10 on 2017/07/15 Permalink
    Tags: drinking straw, , , invention, margarine, Mège-Mouriès, straw,   

    “Behold the child, by Nature’s kindly law pleased with a rattle, tickled with a straw”*… 

     

    The plastic straw is a simple invention with relatively modest value: For a few moments, the device helps make beverages easier to drink. And then, due to reasons of sanitation and ease of use, the straws are thrown away, never to be seen again.

    Except, of course, the straw you use in your iced coffee doesn’t biodegrade, and stays around basically forever, often as ocean junk. That, understandably, is leading to chatter around banning plastic straws—notably in Berkeley, California, often the first place to ban anything potentially damaging to the environment.

    And while the rest of the world won’t be banning straws anytime soon, maybe they should start thinking about it, because the problem with straws is one of scale. According to National Geographic, Americans use 500 million straws every single day—more than one per person daily…

    Whence this waste? “A Brief History of the Modern-Day Straw, the World’s Most Wasteful Commodity.”

    [Your correspondent highly recommends Tedium, the original source of this piece.]

    * Alexander Pope

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    As we suck it up, we might recall that it was on this date in 1869 that  Hippolyte Mège-Mouriès patented margarine, the creation with which he won the contest held by Emperor Napoleon III to find a substitute for the butter used by the French Navy.

    A rough contemporary of Jules Verne, Mège-Mouriès was surely one of the reasons for Verne’s scientific and technical optimism:  Mège-Mouriès began his career at age 16 as a chemist’s assistant. By the 1840’s he had improved the syphilis drug, Copahin, after which he patented a variety of creations including tanning, effervescent tablets, paper paste, and sugar extraction.  By the 1850s he had turned to food research and developed a health chocolate (featuring a proprietary calcium phosphate protein) and developed a method that yielded 14% more white bread from a given quantity of wheat.  After 1862, he concentrated his research on fats– the primary product of which was his invention of margarine (though he also scored yet another another patent, for canned meat).

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  • feedwordpress 08:01:41 on 2017/07/14 Permalink
    Tags: Alvin J. Fellows, bread, , , invention, Rohwedder, sliced bread, tape measure,   

    “What was the best thing before sliced bread?”*… 

     

    Rohwedder’s bread slicer in use by the Papendick Bakery Company in St. Louis

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    Some products are so ubiquitous that it can feel as if they were never invented at all.

    Take sliced bread. Around 130 years ago,  the idea of buying a pre-sliced loaf would have been met with confusion, writes Jesse Rhodes for Smithsonian Magazine. “In 1890, about 90 percent of bread was baked at home, but by 1930, factories usurped the home baker,” Rhodes writes. But the two breads weren’t the same thing–”factory breads were also incredibly soft,” she writes, making them difficult to slice properly at home with a bread knife.

    Since breadmaking had moved to factories, why not bread slicing as well? On this day in 1928, in Chillicothe, Missouri, the Chillicothe Baking Company became, in the words of its plaque, “The Home of Sliced Bread.” It was the place where the bread-slicing machine was first installed, wrote J. J. Thompson for Tulsa World in 1989. Thompson was speaking with the son of the bread-slicing machine’s inventor, Richard O. Rohwedder. His father, Otto F. Rohwedder, was a jeweler who started work on the bread-slicing project years before…

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    It took a surprising amount of technological know-how to make the bread that birthed the expression: “Take a Look at the Patents Behind Sliced Bread.”

    * George Carlin

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    As we reach for the PB and J, we might recall that it was on this date in 1868 that Alvin J. Fellows patented his Improvement in Tape Measures– the first spring-click (retractable) tape measure.

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  • feedwordpress 08:01:42 on 2017/04/05 Permalink
    Tags: , , , invention, , , , ,   

    “If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants”*… 

     

    Newton’s reflecting telescope of 1671

    On 11 January 1672, the Fellows of the British Royal Society were treated to a demonstration of Isaac Newton’s reflecting telescope, which formed images with mirrors rather than with the lenses that had been used since the time of Galileo. Afterward, the fellows hailed Newton as the inventor of this marvellous new instrument, an attribution that sticks to the present. However, this linear historical account obscures a far more interesting, convoluted story. Newton’s claim was immediately challenged on behalf of two other contenders, James Gregory and Laurent Cassegrain. More confounding, the earliest known concept of using a curved mirror to focus light predated Newton by more than 1,500 years; the final realisation of a practical reflecting telescope post-dated him by more than a half century…

    For almost any device, claiming one individual as the inventor is problematic to say the least. Conception, demonstration and implementation can be very different things, and the path connecting them is typically not a line but a long, challenging and tortuous route…

    A cautionary tale illustrating the danger of crediting technologies to single inventors: “How many great minds does it take to invent a telescope?

    Pair with this explanation of why men so often get credit for women’s inventions– a phenomenon so common that it has a name, “the Matilda effect.”

    * Issac Newton

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    As we share the credit, we might send scientific birthday greetings to Vincenzo Viviani; he was born on this date in 1622.  A mathematician and engineer, Viviani is probably best remembered as a discipline of Galileo: he served as the (then-blind) scientist’s secretary until Galileo’s death; he edited the first edition of Galileo’s collected works; and he worked tirelessly to have his master’s memory rehabilitated.  But Viviani was an accomplished scientist in his own right: he published a number of books on mathematical and scientific subjects, and was a founding member of the Accademia del Cimento, one of the first important scientific societies, predating England’s Royal Society.

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