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American Innovators

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Great American Innovators America has gone through great change from its foundation to present day. Many people have helped to shape the great country in which we proudly call home. Our nation has produced some of the great innovators who shaped the industrial revolution, modern day communications and the use of electric light bulb. The simplest things that we take for granted once were the greatest innovations of their time. Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell and Henry Ford are three of the greatest men that have contributed directly to a many things that we use in our day to day lives and without these men we would not be the advanced society that we are today. Reaching for a light switch is something we do every day. This is possible due to the contribution of Thomas Alva Edison, the inventor of the light bulb. Edison was born on February 11, 1847, in Milan, Ohio (Frith 5). He did not attain a formal education due to the poor family in which he was raised instead he started working on the railroad at age 12(Frith 14). Although Edison did not complete school, he continued to learn and experiment. Edison set up a printing press in the baggage car on the train and sold his own newspaper to the passengers (Frith 17). He retold the news from one end of the rail line to the other end of the rail line, allowing the people to be better informed of their neighboring towns. He was also able to have a small lab to perform scientific experiments, at least until his chemicals mixed together and started a fire in the baggage car (Firth 18). Edison then went to work at Western Union as he was fascinated with the telegraph. He was also consulted to improve on a very new technology, the telephone. It was a disappointment to not be the first to discover the telephone, as he had been tinkering with his own ideas on speech delivered over wire (Firth 45). His improvements made it possible to hear and be heard more clearly (Firth 44). He continued to experiment with sound, and invented the phonograph, a device that would allow sound to be recorded and reproduced again and again. He was successful, and his discovery was reported in Scientific America (Firth 49). Edison continued to experiment and at age 32, invented the electric powered light bulb, a great improvement of its early counterpart, gas lights. Edison was one of the great minds of his time and has many inventions that changed the way our country functioned at the time.

Another thing that most people use in their daily life is a telephone. Alexander Bell, born March 3, 1847 in Edinburgh, Scotland, made this possible (Carson 3). Bell chose his middle name Graham at age 11 to stand apart from his father and grandfather (Carson 13). Alexander did not have the normal childhood of his time, along with attaining a formal education, he spent most of his time working with his father and grandfather on ways to improve life for the deaf (Carson17). Consequently, He became a teacher at the Weston House Academy for Boys. He was a very unorthodox teacher as he was only sixteen years old; most of his pupils were older than he was. He taught music and speech in exchange for his room, board, tuition, and a salary of ten pounds sterling, equivalent to seventy-five dollars a year (Carson 22). He taught until 1870, when the family immigrated to Canada, and then settled in Boston (Carson 24). Once in Boston, Bell then became a teacher for the deaf. It was a natural position for Bell, as his mother, a concert pianist, was almost completely deaf. Bell’s father was the inventor of the Visible Speech, a system that teaches the deaf to enunciate words through pictures of the positions of the mouth (Carson 36). It seemed that young Alexander was following in his father’s footsteps, trying to improve the quality of life for the deaf, but he had other plans. Bell was very interested in electricity and the telegraph. (Frith 37). It was this interest that sparked the idea that sounds could be transmitted over wire, just as the dots and dashes of Morse code were (Frith 37). While procuring equipment at a local machine shop Bell met Thomas Watson, and the two formed a friendship after Alexander told him of his idea about transmitting speech over a wire (Carson 46). The first sound was transmitted by accident; a spilled battery caused Bell to shout for Watson. Watson heard it through the receiver in another room (Carson 57). It would not take long for the telephone to be a fixture in every home in America. Today we take the telephone for granted, but once, it was the single greatest evolutionary jump in communications. Previously, the only way to communicate was through the telegraph with Morse code traveling over wire dotting and dashing the message. Bell made it possible to speak and be heard over the wire. Lastly, most Americans depend on an automobile to take them from place to place. This is possible due to Henry Ford, the innovator who put in place the assembly line that made it affordable for every person to purchase a car. Henry Ford was born on July 30, 1863, just outside of Detroit, Michigan. He was a very inquisitive child, often taking apart anything with moving parts just to see how it worked, then putting it back together perfectly (Mitchell 8). Henry, at age 12 was able to repair pocket watches as expertly as watchmakers (Mitchell 8). While traveling with his father, Henry encountered a steam engine on four wheels traveling towards them. Just the sight of this mechanical invention was enough to change Henry’s life. It became his sole ambition to improve upon this wondrous thing. He left school at age 15 to work in a machine shop, with the intention of learning everything he could about machines (Mitchell 13). Later, he took a job at Edison Electric Illuminating Company repairing steam engines. He still continued work on his idea of the horseless carriage. During conversation, he was encouraged by Edison himself to perfect his idea of a horseless carriage, commenting that his idea had true merit, as a gas powered engine would allow for farther travel than steam or electricity (Mitchell 18). It would take many tries to perfect the engine he was working on but finally, he developed an internal combustion engine that was fueled by gasoline rather than steam power (Mitchell 17) .He left Edison’s employ to work in the automotive field, it was a very competitive market, with 500 companies making automobiles (Mitchel 18). His idea was to produce an automobile that all could afford, not just the wealthy. He felt that to be truly successful in his quest, the product needed to be available to everyone. In order to be able to bring this idea to life, he needed to bring interest to his company. Ford decided to build a racecar. The public was fascinated by how fast the car could travel. His success and the publicity from it brought much interest to his automobile. He priced it much more affordably that the competitors, but it was not enough for Ford. He and his company continued to work on ways to make it more time efficient to produce a single vehicle. Ford also believed that the previous model should be able to be upgraded with a newer year’s parts, creating the idea of replacement parts (Mitchell 23). Finally, Ford perfected his idea of the car, and the Model T was proudly brought to the public. The affordability of Model T allowed many Americans to be able to purchase a vehicle. The demand Ford’s car is what brought about the idea of the assembly line. Ford decided that if the car was moving and not the employee, the work should take a shorter amount of time. It did, the time it took to manufacture after the moving assembly line was reduced to 93 minutes from 728 (Mitchell 28). Henry Ford was successful in bringing the automobile to the everyday American. Previously, it was not possible for many to own an automobile due to the high cost. It was only the elite upper class that could afford an automobile; many still depended on the horse and carriage for transportation. Ford was the first employer to implement a minimum wage, bonuses for his workers, and a five day workweek (Mitchell 32). These three things kept all of his employees working hard and remaining loyal to the Ford Company.

Our lives today would not be the same without the foresight of these three men. Edison’s invention of the light bulb allows us to brighten our homes during the dark hours of the night. Edison also through the invention of the phonograph provided the technology that we later developed into vinyl records, followed by cassette tapes and compact discs, this technology is still evolving even today. Alexander Graham Bell, with the invention of the telephone, gave us the means to converse with people all over the world. The telephone has not been replaced in today’s society like the phonograph, but it has evolved into portable technology in the handheld cellular phone that we use today. Henry Ford’s creation of the assembly line has changed not only America, but the entire world. Almost everything we use today was produced on an assembly line. America is the land of opportunity which these three proved to all of us. Even today, we still recognize their great minds and the impact that they have had on the way on our daily life.

Works Cited

Carson, Mary Kay. Alexander Graham Bell: Giving Voice to the World. New York: Sterling, 2007. Print.

Frith, Margaret, and John O'Brien. Who Was Thomas Alva Edison? New York, NY: Grosset & Dunlap, 2005. Print.

Mitchell, Don, and Lee A. Iacocca. Driven: A Photobiography of Henry Ford. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic, 2010. Print.

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