. Everything is theoretically impossible until it is done.
. Robert Anson Heinlein
Invention characterises our effort to adapt to the environment. It is found in the animal kingdom as well as in humankind. In Africa monkeys have been seen to use a stick to get at food which is out of reach: they have invented a tool. This ability is not restricted to mammals: birds can be watched dropping thick shells on rocks in order to break them and then eating the molluscs inside. Animal inventions are limited, and traditionally the history of inventions starts with the appearance of humans. Here are a few more great inventions and their inventors who we can call, with justification, geniuses.
25 April 1874 – 20 July 1937
The early history of the radio is complex, but one of the most important and successful inventors was the Italian inventor Guglielmo Marconi, who helped bring radio into everyday use. He was born in Bologna, Italy to an Italian father and an Irish mother. From an early age, he took an interest in science and was particularly interested in electricity. In late 1894, Marconi became aware of the experiments of the German physicist Heinrich Hertz (1857-1894), who succeeded in proving the existence of radio waves during the late 1880s.
Hertz produced radio waves by sending a rapidly alternating current up and down a vertical antenna, and detected the waves up to 20 metres away. Marconi also read about a demonstration that the English physicist Oliver Lodge (1851-1940) had recently performed. Lodge sent Morse-code messages wirelessly, using ‘Hertzian’ waves. At the time, telegraph messages in Morse code could only be sent as electric pulses along wires, and Marconi was excited at the prospect of ‘wireless telegraphy’.
Marconi decided to carry out experiments of his own, with the aim of making wireless telegraphy a useful, practical technology. He set up a laboratory in the attic room of his family home and assembled the necessary components. He was soon sending and receiving Morse code wirelessly over increasingly large distances. In 1896 he patented his system. On being refused funding by the Italian government, he decided to travel to Britain to seek interest there.
Below is shown an example of Marconi’s telegraphic receiver.
Following a series of impressive demonstrations during 1887, Marconi got the support of the Post Office, which was in charge of Britain’s telegraph system at the time. In that year he formed the Wireless Telegraph and Signal Company to expand his work. In 1900, he decided to try extending the range of his transmissions yet further: across the Atlantic Ocean. In 1901, he created a worldwide sensation when he announced the successful transmission of a Morse code letter ‘S’ (three short bursts of radio) from Poldhu, in Cornwall, England to St John’s, Newfoundland (then a British colony, now in Canada).
Below is the Marconi Memorial Monument in Poldhu, Cornwall.
After suggestions that he had faked the transmission, he carried out another, carefully monitored experiment the following year. Abroad a ship close to the Canadian coast, he received signals from Cornwall more than 3,200 kilometres away. During the years that followed, Marconi made several important improvements to his system of radio transmission, and in 1907 he instigated the first commercial trans-Atlantic radio service.
Below is Marconi’s Morse device.
He found fame again when the British ocean liner RMS Titanic hit an iceberg and sank in 1912. A Marconi-radio operator abroad the sinking ship managed to broadcast radio distress signals and summon help from nearby ships.
Shown below is the Titanic, on which Morse code was used and was instrumental in saving the people in life-rafts fleeing the sinking ship.
During the 1920s, Marconi experimented with much higher-frequency radio waves. These short waves can be focused by a curved reflector behind the transmitter, like the parabolic dishes used to receive satellite communication. This arrangement made radio more efficient and less power-hungry since the waves were concentrated into a beam and not radiating in all directions. By this time, radio operators, including Marconi, were transmitting not only Morse code but also speech, music, and audio signals.
In 1931, Marconi experimented with even higher-frequency, shorter-wavelength radio waves-microwaves, and a year later, he installed a beamed, microwave radio-telephone system between the Vatican and the Pope’s summer residence.
From South Wellfleet station, Massachusetts, in 1903, Marconi sent a message from US President Theodore Roosevelt to King Edward VII, in London – a distance of more than 5,000 kilometres.
Marconi did not invent the radio, but he did make several important improvements to it, and his determination to turn a complicated laboratory curiosity into something useful and commercially successful helped make the world feel a bit smaller. In 1909, he received the Nobel Prize for Physics, for his contribution to wireless telegraphy, and in 1930, he became president of the Royal Italian Academy.
PS There is something, in my view, important, about Theodore Roosevelt that many people are not aware of, that the teddy bear was invented in his honour. Here is the story: he was invited by the Mississippi Governor to a hunting trip taking place on November 14, 1902, near Onward, Mississippi. It was noticed that unlike other hunters, President Roosevelt had not located any bear. His assistants cornered and tied a young bear to a willow tree and summoned the President and suggested that he shoot it. Theodore Roosevelt (bless him!) refused to shoot the little bear.
Clifford Berryman’s cartoon in 1902 gave the idea to a New York shopkeeper to create a stuffed toy of the bear. He asked Theodore Roosevelt permission to call his toy ‘Teddy Bear’. The toy gained rapidly worldwide popularity, and most people had a teddy in their childhood; many kept their teddy forever.
WILBUR AND ORVILLE WRIGHT
16 April 1867 – 30 May 1912 and 19 August 1871 – 30 January 1948
At the dawn of the twentieth century, two brothers from a small town in the USA became the first to achieve sustained, powered flight. The key to their success was the combination of their inventive, mechanical skill with the application of scientific principles to flight. Prudently, they learned to become pilots in a gradual, thoughtful way, rather than risking everything on one short trial, like so many other pioneers.
The brothers grew up in Dayton, Ohio, in a family of seven children, although two died in childhood. They were mechanically minded from an early age: in 1886, they built their own lathe; in 1888, they built a printing press, which they used to produce their own local paper; and in 1892, they opened a bicycle repair shop. They used the profits of the shop to finance their efforts in aviation. The dream of human flight stretches back to antiquity – Icarus’s tragic attempt at flying on wings that were glued with wax and had fallen apart when the sun melted the wax.
In the late 18th century people finally took to the air with the help of the invention of ‘lighter-than-air’ balloons. In the nineteenth century, scientists and inventors began giving serious consideration to the idea of flying. During the 1880s and 1890s, people flew in unpowered gliders and kites. In 1899, the Wright brothers built a large box kite. Wilbur hit on the idea that by twisting the box shape, it would be possible to change the airflow over the wings and make the kite bank and turn. He called this ‘wing warping’, and it would be crucial to the brothers’ later success.
It was Wilbur who was first struck by the desire to build a powered flying machine, after reading a magazine article about Otto Lilienthal (1848-1896), a German gliding pioneer. Lilienthal realized that to develop successful flying machines, any inventor needed to understand the scientific principles behind flight but also needed first-hand experience of flying. The Wright brothers took the same approach and paid tribute to Lilienthal as their inspiration.
Lilienthal began his quest to fly by studying birds, and then carried out a huge amount of research into aerodynamics. In the 1890s, he made nearly 2000 flights, mostly from an artificial hill near Berlin, in gliders he had designed and constructed. During what was to be his last flight, a gust of wind made him stall at an altitude of 15 metres. He crashed to the ground and died the next day from his injuries. According to legend, his last words were: “Sacrifices must be made.”
After their kite performed well, the brothers decided to build full-size, piloted gliders, with wing warping effect via control cables. They constructed their first glider in 1900, and also added a front ‘wing’, called an elevator, for pitch control. They chose an open area on the coast, near the tiny fishing village of Kitty Hawk in North Carolina, for its steady on-shore winds.
During 1901 and 1902, the brothers built and tested two more gliders, and carried out hundreds of experiments in a homemade wind tunnel in their bicycle shop back in Dayton. By analysis and practical trials, the brothers became the first to realise that controlling an aircraft required the banking control (wing warping or aileron), rudder, and elevator all to be used continuously in combination. They were now ready to make a powered version of their flying machine.
For powering their aeroplane, they designed and built large wooden propellers, and, with the mechanic from their bicycle-shop, Charlie Taylor, they built in 1903, a lightweight, powerful engine. It was relatively light, thanks to the fact that the cylinder block was made of aluminium. In December 1903, at Kill Devil Hills, the Wright brothers were ready to put all their ideas, experiments, and calculations to the test. The first successful flight took place on December 17. There were four flights that day, two by each brother. The first, with Orville piloting, lasted 12 seconds and covered 37 metres. The final flight of the day, with Wilbur as the pilot, lasted 59 seconds and covered 260 metres, By 1905, the Wright brothers’ flying machines were routinely staying in the air for several minutes at a time, taking off, landing, and manoeuvering with ease. At first, the world was slow to recognize the Wrights’ achievement, despite the fact that there were several witnesses on the day. This was partly because the media and the public were unwilling to believe that the age-old dream of flight had finally come true, but also because the brothers became secretive about their work, hoping to sell their invention to a government or large corporation.
Wilbur and Orville were awarded a patent in 1906, for a ‘Flying Machine’. Three years later they founded The Wright Company, to take advantage of the patent. Unfortunately, Wilbur died within three years, from typhoid. Orville went on to become a long-time advisor to the US Government’s National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics and was able to appreciate the incredibly rapid developments in aviation that took place within a few decades of those first flights.
Above is shown Henri Farman in the Voisin 1907 biplane winning the Archdeacon Prize for the first closed-circuit kilometre flight in Europe.
A brick has been also found in Sumer dating from the 3rd millennium BC. It was an unfired brick, which was left to harden in the sun and with which thick walls were built, using clay or bitumen as mortar. This material apparently resisted the rain better than the action of the sun, which resulted in it becoming crazed. The bricks were prepared in wooden moulds.
More recent findings were discovered in Southern Turkey at the site of an ancient settlement around the city of Jericho.
In India, there are remains of a 3rd-century Hindu brick temple in Tamil Nadu.
This was the only type of brick known in antiquity until the Greeks invented the fired brick in the 4th century BC. The Roman legions operated mobile kilns, and built large brick structures throughout the Roman Empire, stamping the bricks with the seal of the legion.
The use of the brick, unfired or fired, depended firstly on what other materials were available in the area in which the building was taking place. In the whole of Mesopotamia, there was no wood or stone, and so the brick was widely used since it constituted the principal building material.
In Egypt, where stone was available, brick was only a secondary material used to build people’s dwelling houses. The Greeks themselves did not make much use of the fired brick. The increase in population and the rising cost of stone nevertheless assured the growing success of the fired brick. It even found its place in certain parts of noble buildings like the cathedrals at Lubeck and Ratzeburg in the Middle Ages.
And the rest is history
I decided to add a small part of this post to the invention that helped to create the cities and magnificent world of today’s architecture.