Fourth of July is coming up this weekend! Independence Day, as most of you know was a defining moment in our history. So we’re celebrating by recognizing some of the greatest American invention makers of all time.
An accident, but a welcomed one. Call it a fluke or fate, the fortuitous discovery of the microwave oven was made by the self-taught engineer and one of the greatest American invention makers, Percy Spencer. It all started back in 1945 thanks to his work with magnetrons, a type of vacuum tube that’s used as the frequency source for radars. One day he noticed that a peanut butter candy bar was starting to warm up and melt inside his pocket. He quickly came to the conclusion that this was due to the microwaves produced by the magnetrons. In 1946, the first commercial microwave oven, the Raytheon Radarange, was released to the public. This behemoth of an appliance originally retailed for $5,000 (which equates to almost $70,000 today), weighed 750 lbs and was a towering six feet tall.
Indeed, his discovery became the foundation of a number of other inventions. In fact, his research and findings on magnetron technologies are used in satellites, monitor weather conditions and rain structures, and police radar guns to detect a vehicle’s speed.
In the early 20th century, scientists were learning much about polymeric materials; materials made of long, repeating chain of molecules. As a result, these materials have unique properties. For example, some polymers like rubber can bend and stretch. Others such as glass are strong and stiff.
Our understanding of how these chains of molecules form is largely thanks to the chemist and one most famous American invention makers in the world, Wallace Carothers. As the director of Du Pont Corporation’s research center, one of his goals was to discover a synthetic fiber that could be used in industrial applications.
In 1934, he was able to create artificial fibers by combining three chemicals and creating a condensation reaction. Nonetheless, as almost all American invention makers feel about their own projects, he knew there was room for improvement. Condensation is the process of water vapor turning back into liquid water. He quickly realized the distilled water was returning to the chemical mixture prevented more polymers from forming. Once he found a way to remove the water, the results were remarkable. Fibers were long, strong, and incredibly elastic. And that’s how the invention of nylon was born.
Unfortunately, Carothers passed away in 1937, before he was able to fully enjoy the fruits of his labors. Today, we use nylon in any many household goods. Whether it’s our toothbrush, fishing lines or clothing, we can find nylon in almost everything we use.
You didn’t think we’d leave out Edison, one of the most celebrated American invention makers in the world, did you? While making improvements to the telegraph and the telephone, Thomas Edison invented the phonograph in 1977. This device could record and reproduce sound through indentations on a surface. In his initial experiments, he used paper to record the indentations. However, he ended up changing this to a metal cylinder wrapped in tin foil.
You might not know this, but Edison didn’t build this phonograph himself. He made the sketch and requested his mechanic, John Krusei to build this groundbreaking device. Upon completion of this device, he attempted to record the famous nursery song Mary Had a Little Lamb. It became the first recording on the phonograph.
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