American Inventors

More than six million patents have been granted to American inventors, since 1790, by the US Patent Office. With the impetus of the American industrial revolution fueling it even further, there was a dramatic increase in the number of patents issued in the 19th century. In fact, the middle to the latter half of the 19th century was regarded as the golden age of American inventors and their inventions, with stalwarts like Thomas Edison and Alexander Graham Bell exemplifying it. The technological breakthroughs made by them, from the light bulb to the computers that are so ubiquitous today, have improved the lives of people all over the world. Of course, there are many American inventors, and their numbers continue to grow, with each of them, along with their invention, impacting the society in unique ways. So, here are a few of them.

Samuel F. B. Morse: He was born on the 27th of April 1791 and died on the 2nd of April 1872. It was in 1832 that he got the idea of an electromagnetic telegraph, and subsequently constructed a prototype in 1835. However, it was in 1844, that he actually made a workable system, when he constructed a line from Baltimore to Washington D.C. He applied for a patent, which was granted in 1849, wherein it is described as a system of marking dots and dashes on paper. In the next 10 years, 23,000 miles of telegraph wires crisscrossed all over the country. Morse’s invention had a profound effect in the development of the West, making travel by railroad much safer, along with enabling businessmen to carry out their business in a more profitable manner.

Thomas Alva Edison: Born on the 11th of February, 1847, Thomas Edison is famous for inventing the light bulb, which he did towards the latter part of 1879. In fact, the version he created in 1880, had practically all the features of the modern light bulb, including an incandescent filament in an evacuated and transparent glass bulb, along with a base that could be screwed on to a holder. He is also credited for inventing the phonograph and the fluoroscope, which is an X-ray machine that has a source of X-ray along with a fluorescent screen, which enables direct observation. He died on the 18th of October, 1931.

Alexander Graham Bell: He was born on the 3rd of March 1857, and died on the 2nd of August 1922. He was one of the most eminent American inventors. It was in the early part of the 1870s, while he was experimenting with the telegraph, when Alexander Graham Bell realized that perhaps the human voice could be transmitted through a wire, with the help of electricity. In fact, he had made a transmission by the month of March, in 1876. However, the sound that was carried was very faint. He continued working on it, and on the 26th of November, he demonstrated that sound could be transmitted clearly, during a critical test, between Cambridge and Salem, in Massachusetts. The instrument functioned as a transmitter as well as a receiver.

The Wright Brothers: Orville Wright, who was born on the 19th of August 1871 and died on the 30th of January, and Wilbur Wright, born on the 16th of April 1867 and died on the 30th of May 1912, are credited with inventing the airplane, as well as making the first controlled and powered human flight, which they demonstrated on the 17th of December 1903. Within two years of that first flight, they developed their flying aircraft into a fixed wing airplane, the first of its kind.

Vladimir Kozmich Zworykin: Born on the 30th of July 1889, he was a Russian born American inventor who pioneered television technology. He was the inventor of a television system that transmitted and received signals using cathode ray tubes. He was partly instrumental in the development of television from the early part of the 1930s, which included charge storage type of tubes, infrared image tubes, as well as the electron microscope. Many biographers have named him the real inventor of television, although others dispute it. He died on the 29th of July 1982.

Raymond Samuel Tomlinson: Born in 1941, he graduated from MIT. He is one of the pioneering figures of the Internet, since he worked on ARPANET, which was the precursor of the Internet. His greatest gift to society was an email system, which he devised in 1971, thus fostering the global communication system of today.

Charles Darwin Biography

Charles Darwin was born in Shrewsbury in England on 12th February, 1809. His father was a wealthy doctor and financier, Robert Darwin and his mother was Susannah Darwin. Although Robert Darwin was a freethinker, Charles was baptized in the Anglican Church in keeping with his mother’s religious beliefs. Charles had 5 siblings and they attended the day school run by the preacher of a Unitarian Chapel.

Early Years

Robert Darwin wanted his son to become a doctor, and even sent him to University of Edinburgh to study medicine. But seeing the brutality of surgery, Charles neglected his studies. He pursued his interests in taxidermy, natural history, marine biology, botany and zoology. He joined the Plinian Society which was a student group interested in natural history. He also became a pupil of Robert Edmund Grant who followed Lamarck’s theory of evolution by advanced characteristics. He also attended Robert Jameson’s natural history course and learned geology and plant classification.

His father recognized his son’s lack of interest in medicine and enrolled him into the Bachelor of Arts program at Christ College. This way he thought that his son would become a clergyman and get a good income. But Charles was just not interested. He studied botany with the Reverend John Stevens Henslow. He was also enthusiastic about William Paley’s writings about the divine design in Nature. When his exams were due, Charles managed to pass them.

Career as a Naturalist

Charles joined the geology course of Reverend Adam Sedgwick. Reverend Henslow then sent a letter to Robert FitzRoy, who was the captain of the HMS Beagle, recommending Charles as his gentleman companion on his voyage to chart the coastline of South America. The voyage lasted 5 years. Darwin spent a majority of that time on land and collected a variety of fossils and specimens of living organisms, studied many a geological features and made extensive notes. These were later published as ‘The Voyage of the Beagle’. Since that voyage, Charles suffered from frequent bouts of fever.

Charles observed in this voyage, that the landmasses were rising with the passage of time. He concluded this by observing the geological strata, marine and plant life, fossils and observing the variety of birds present on the islands of South America. Studying the mockingbirds and tortoises in the area, the theory of the origin of the species began to take root in his mind. Meanwhile Charles kept sending back specimens and letters describing his findings, which became greatly admired.

In 1836, when he returned from his voyage, he was already quite famous. He had proved himself as a competent naturalist. Upon his return, Henslow also advised him to find naturalists to describe and catalog his collections, while Henslow took his botanical specimens. Through Charles Lyell, Darwin met Richard Owen and began to analyze the various fossils that he had found on his voyage. The results were astounding. The fossils contained bones of huge sloths and the extinct Glyptodon.

In 1837 he presented his paper on the rising landmasses to the Geological Society of London and presented his mammal and bird specimens to the Zoological Society. He also moved to London and interacted with several prominent members of the scientific society, including Charles Babbage and John Herschel. He also received a grant of 1000 Pounds for his book ‘Zoology of the Voyage of the HMS Beagle’.

Darwin’s health began to suffer. He was under a lot of pressure to complete his book. He began to have heart palpitations and went to Maer Hall to visit his maternal cousins and to relax. It was then that he also studied earthworms. He used this information to deliver a paper to the Geological Society about the process of soil formation and the role of the earthworms. This was when he met Emma Wedgwood.

In 1838, Darwin became the secretary of the Geological Society. Meanwhile he continued with his studies of transmutation of the species. At that time, Darwin read Malthus’ ‘An Essay on the Principle of Population’ which proved to be an inspiration to his theory of natural selection.

In 1837, Charles visited his maternal cousins. That was where he first met Emma Wedgwood. She was nine months older to him. During 1838, he kept on falling ill on and off. It was during this time, that he began to contemplate marriage. He wanted to marry Emma, but kept putting it off. He even visited her once in July 1838, but did not propose. He returned to Maer Hall in November and finally proposed to Emma. She accepted. They were married in January 1839. Charles and Emma had 10 children of which 2 died in infancy and his daughter Anne died when she was 10 years old. Charles was quite an attentive and devoted father.

Whenever any of his children fell ill, he greatly feared that his children may have inherited weaknesses. This was because Emma was his cousin and he studied the effects of inbreeding among the species as a matter of course. The death of Anne left him devastated and destroyed any feeling he had for a benevolent God.

Charles Darwin and The Theory of Evolution

Throughout this time Charles was working on his theory of natural selection. However, he feared revealing the theory to the world at large because he saw the critics debunk similar theories posed by other scientists such as Alfred Russel Wallace. Also several prominent scientists of the time like Thomas Henry Huxley were dead set against evolution. However, he did manage to convey a brief idea of his theories to his botanist friend Joseph Dalton Hooker who showed a positive response and a keen interest. These and similar events urged him on. The death of his daughter Anne also contributed to creating a feeling within him that there was no benevolent God.

Meanwhile he published a book on coral reefs and also published his research on barnacles. In November 1859, his book The Origin of Species was published and was sold out. The book generated a lot of controversy and criticism. Yet, the common man was hooked on to the theory. The Church reacted and stood against him; chief among those anti this theory were his old teachers Henslow and Sedgwick. However, Darwin was too ill to take part in these debates and was defended by his friend Joseph Dalton Hooker. He also wrote to several people and garnered a lot of support for his work.

He pursued with his work nevertheless. He wanted to clarify certain aspects of his book in later works. But his daughter fell ill and he accompanied her to a seaside resort. There he developed an interest in orchids and the process of pollination and cross fertilization.

Finally as the amount of his writings grew and grew, in 1871, he published ‘The Descent of Man, and The Selection in Relation to Sex’. In 1872 he published ‘The Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals’. In this book he focused on the process of the evolution of man’s psychology and how it related to animal behavior. This was the birth of evolutionary psychology as we know it today. He also wrote a book titled ‘The Power of Movement in Plants’ where he focused on methods of fertilization in plants and also on the effect of earthworms in soil formation.

Charles Darwin died on the 19th of April, 1882. He is buried in Westminster Abbey, quite close to where John Herschel and Isaac Newton have been buried.