(p. A13) Mr. Baker is good at pointing out the unanticipated consequences that arose from some inventions: Richard Jordon Gatling, inventor of the Gatling gun, a fearsome instrument of battlefield butchery still in use in some forms today, believed that his contribution would save lives–depending on which side of the gun you were on–because one man operating the weapon would reduce the need for other soldiers. The inventor who created television, Philo Farnsworth, believed that his device could bring about world peace. “If we were able to see people in other countries and learn about our differences, why would there be any misunderstandings?” he wrote. “War would be a thing of the past.” And you wouldn’t need the Gatling gun.
Like Farnsworth, many of the inventors in “America the Ingenious” came from impoverished upbringings and had little formal education. Walter Hunt, creator of the safety pin, was educated in a one-room schoolhouse but went on to invent scores of other items, including a device that allowed circus performers to walk upside-down on ceilings. Elisha Graves Otis, of Otis elevator fame, was a high-school dropout who, according to his son, Charles, “needed no assistance, asked no advice, consulted with no one, and never made much use of pen or pencil.” Of the innovators who undertook world-changing engineering feats, it is remarkable how often they brought them in under budget and ahead of schedule, among them the Golden Gate Bridge, Hoover Dam and New York’s Hudson and East River railroad tunnels.
For the full review, see:
PATRICK COOKE. “BOOKSHELF; The Character of Our Country; Copper-riveted jeans, the first oil rig, running shoes, dry cleaning and the 23-story-high clipper ship–as American as apple pie.” The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Oct. 5, 2016): A13.
(Note: the online version of the review has the date Oct. 4, 2016.)
The book under review, is:
Baker, Kevin. America the Ingenious: How a Nation of Dreamers, Immigrants, and Tinkerers Changed the World. New York: Artisan, 2016.