Cover image for Inventing modern America : from the microwave to the mouse
Inventing modern America : from the microwave to the mouse
Brown, David E., 1969-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Cambridge, Mass. : MIT Press, [2002]

Physical Description:
xi, 209 pages : illustrations (some color) ; 29 cm
General Note:
"A publication of the Lemelson-MIT Program for Invention and Innovation."
Added Corporate Author:
Format :


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T20 .B76 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks-Oversize
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Inventing Modern America profiles 35 inventors who exemplify the rich technological creativity of the United States over the past century. The range of their contributions is broad. They have helped transform our homes, our healthcare, our work, our environment, and the way we travel and communicate.

Author Notes

David E. Brown is a New York-based freelance writer and editor.
James Burke is a London-based writer and television producer best known for his series Connections.
Lester C. Thurow is Jerome and Dorothy Lemelson Professor of Management at MIT's Sloan School of Management

Reviews 4

Booklist Review

Three upbeat new books profile inventors both famous and little known and celebrate once-momentous, now-commonplace innovations. Brown introduces 35 practitioners of American ingenuity in this peppy survey, neatly profiling inventors in the fields of medicine, consumer products, transportation, energy, computing, and telecommunications. Shared traits include a preternatural attention to detail, a gift for following up on "serendipitous flashes," gumption, and the ability to withstand ridicule and ruthless competition, the latter acknowledged in Raymond Damadian's name for the first MRI machine: Indomitable. Another example of the truth Brown reveals--that behind every invention, there's a story of inspiration, hard work, and luck--is found in the profile of Garrett Morgan. The son of former slaves, he confronted racism to bring his inventions to fruition, a prototype for the gas mask and the first traffic signal. Ierley, author of The Comforts of Home (1999), an overview of household technologies, writes with zest about the "original impact" of modern technology as he offers pithy, illuminating discussions of Americans' initial reactions to the railroad, the telephone, the typewriter, and its descendant almost exactly a century later, the personal computer, and the world of images, from photography to television. The most enjoyable aspect of his insightful overview is his impressive fluency in technology coverage in newspapers and popular magazines, advertisements and owner's manuals, and even private letters and journals. Ierley also scrutinizes children's toys and books to assess the assimilation of various machines, and marvels at our "mastering of complexity," the ability to rapidly learn and employ new technology-driven skills. Like Brown, Vare and Ptacek are much enamored of inventors and their amazing stories of perseverance. An informal sequel to Mothers of Invention (1988), Patently Female records some improvement in the recognition of women innovators, a development they're determined to encourage, and their conviction infuses their book with energy and pride. Women have always been inventors by necessity, as evident in the tales of secretary and single mom Bessie Nesmith, who gave the world liquid paper (and a rock star), and Mary Anderson, the inventor of the windshield wiper. And onward they march, the clever and resilient women inventors of Scotchguard, Lactaid, the first computer language, the first library database, chemotherapy, AZT, the Mars rover (named the Sojourner Truth), the bra, Barbie, and many more. Donna Seaman

Publisher's Weekly Review

Ole Evinrude, designer of the outboard boat motor; Stephanie Kwolek, creator of Kevlar; and Henry Ford, architect of the moving assembly line are just a few of the American inventors profiled in Inventing Modern America: From the Microwave to the Mouse by freelance writer and editor David E. Brown. Along with contributors Lester C. Thurow and James Burke, Brown simplifies technical data and uses an enthusiastic, almost proselytizing tone: "We can all be inventors, just like the ones in this book. They show us the way." These words may restrict the primary audience for this volume to those under legal voting age, but full color photographs, diagrams and intriguing tidbits like how a "tiny mistake led to the invention of the modern pacemaker" make this a good book for most to browse. ( Dec.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Both of these books discuss the technology that has transformed U.S. life over the past 150 years. Freelance writer Brown approaches the topic by focusing on U.S. inventors of the 20th century, while Ierley concentrates primarily on the late 19th to the mid-20th century, stressing on technology's social aspects. Neither work is intended to be comprehensive. Commissioned by the Lemeson-MIT Program for Invention and Innovation, Brown's work has five major subdivisions "Medicine and Healthcare," "Consumer Products," "Transportation," "Energy and Environment," and "Computing and Telecommunications" each with six to eight chapters devoted to one individual and his or her invention(s). Although men dominate, women and minorities are represented. While some items are to be expected the television, microwave oven, and video game others are delightful surprises, such as the traffic signal, computer mouse, pacemaker, balloon catheter, and naturally colored cotton. Individually and cumulatively, the short chapters on these and other inventions produce an excitement about the process of inventing.Ierley (The Comforts of Home), a well-known author on U.S. history and technology, divides his book into three sections: "Transportation," "Communications," and "Entertainment." Within each section are four to six chapters focusing on separate topics. The six chapters in "Communications," for example, are devoted to the telegraph, telephone, typewriter, copy machine, FAX machine, and home computer. Ierley is concerned not with the nitty-gritty of the invention but with how it was perceived by society as a contribution, how it was used, how people reacted to its introduction, and how there have been parallel reactions to new inventions throughout the decades. Both works are highly recommended, particularly for history of science and public library collections. Public libraries will want to highlight Inventing Modern America for young adults and raise their enthusiasm for the process of inventing. Michael D. Cramer, Cigna Healthcare, Raleigh, NC (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Brown, a freelance writer and editor, profiles 35 US inventors of the 20th century selected by the Lemelson-MIT Program for Invention and Innovation. Those chosen are not the 35 most important US inventors of the past century, but those who have made significant contributions and whose stories are inspiring, interesting, and not well known. The inventors and their innovations are grouped into five sections: medicine and healthcare, consumer products, transportation, energy and the environment, and computing and telecommunications. Each section is introduced by James Burke, author of several books including The Pinball Effect (CH, Feb'97). He comments on the inventors' shared characteristics and on their significant historical or social influences. Each profile includes picture, biography, descriptions and images of the inventor's most familiar inventions, and comments concerning what inspired the inventor and what impact the invention had on him/her and on society. This attractive large-format book, with many illustrations and lively and engaging writing, succeeds well in suggesting to young adults and aspiring inventors that they can be innovators. The book is enhanced by a Web site . Two similar, recent books are David Hillman's Century Makers (1999) and Stephen Van Dulken's Inventing the Twentieth Century (2000). General readers; lower-division undergraduates; two-year technical program students. M. Mounts Dartmouth College

Table of Contents

Lester C. ThurowJames BurkeRaymond DamadianThomas FogartyWilson GreatbatchDean KamenMary-Claire KingRobert LangerRosalyn YalowLeo BaekelandHarold "Doc" EdgertonPhilo T. FarnsworthStephanie KwolekJerome LemelsonJacob RabinowPercy SpencerOle EvinrudeHenry FordRobert GoddardPaul MacCreadyGarrett MorganElmer Ambrose SperryGeorge Washington CarverCarl DjerassiSally FoxR. Buckminster FullerAshok GadgilStanford OvshinskyJohn ToddNolan BushnellDouglas EngelbartAl GrossErna Schneider HooverGrace Murray HopperRaymond KurzweilCarver MeadSteve Wozniak
Forewordp. viii
Introductionp. 2
Medicine and Healthcare
Introductionp. 4
MRI scanner, magnetic resonance imaging (1977)p. 6
Balloon embolectomy catheter (1961)p. 12
Implantable cardiac pacemaker (1958)p. 18
Portable medication technology (1970s)p. 24
Advances in the treatment of breast cancer (1990)p. 30
Biomedical applications of polymers (1980s)p. 34
RIA, radioimmunoassay (1959)p. 38
Consumer Products
Introductionp. 44
Bakelite, the first modern plastic (1907)p. 46
Stop-action photography (1931)p. 52
Electronic television (1927)p. 58
Kevlar (1964)p. 62
Apparatus for driving tape in a cartridge (1972)p. 68
Self-regulating clock (1954)p. 74
Microwave oven (1947)p. 80
Introductionp. 84
Outboard boat motor (1907)p. 86
Assembly line (1913)p. 90
Liquid-fueled rocket (1926)p. 94
Human-powered airplane (1977)p. 100
Traffic signal (1923)p. 106
Gyrocompass (1911)p. 112
Energy and Environment
Introductionp. 118
Industrial applications for agricultural products (1910s)p. 120
Nontoxic pest-control products (1960s)p. 124
Naturally colored cotton (1989)p. 128
Geodesic dome (1950)p. 134
Ultraviolet water purification system (1993)p. 140
Mass production of photovoltaic cells (1983)p. 144
Ecosystems for combating pollution (1984)p. 148
Computing and Telecommunications
Introductionp. 154
Video game (1971)p. 156
Computer mouse (1968)p. 162
Walkie-talkie (1937)p. 168
Computerized telephone switching system (1965)p. 172
Computer compiler (1952)p. 178
Optical reading machine for the blind (1976)p. 182
Very-large-scale integrated circuits (1971)p. 188
Personal computer (1976)p. 194
Sources and Further Readingp. 198
Indexp. 201
Acknowledgmentsp. 207
Photo Creditsp. 208