In a few weeks, the earth will be suffused with the glow of millennial hoopla. But just what will we all be celebrating -- our time on this earth? Well, put in proper perspective, we're just blips on the radar screen of the last 1,000 years. Many of us have lived through only 2 or 3 or 4 percent of it, and very few have lived through more than 10 percent. Yet despite the meagerness of our participation in this ending millennium, here we are, watching ourselves move on to a new level of time.
When I try to comprehend the magnitude of 1,000 years, I generally fail. Let's face it -- it's hard to imagine what life was like 100 years ago, much less 1,000. Still, I think that at this time of year (Thanksgiving), at this point in our human timeline (on the cusp of a new millennium, depending on how you calculate it), it might be worthwhile to reflect back as much as we can and to pause to give thanks for some people who took us to new levels in critical aspects of our lives.
So off we go, on a timeline of thanksgiving. Here are a few (of many) people worthy of standing ovations. Maybe if we clap loud enough, they'll hear us, wherever they are.
born in 1398 -- Johannes Gutenberg
Thanks, Johannes, for your advances in printing. Not only did you produce the first printed Bibles, you're also suspected of developing movable type. When we survey our world full of books (and magazines and newspapers) today, we have you to thank. Indeed, our Rule Breaker Amazon.com (Nasdaq: AMZN) has you to thank, as well.
born in 1447 -- Friar Luca Pacioli
Friar Luca Pacioli isn't exactly a household name, but among Foolish investors perhaps he should be. This Franciscan monk is, by many accounts, the father of modern accounting. And without modern accounting, we wouldn't easily (well, sort of easily) be able to figure out how much money the companies we invest in are making. A friend of Leonardo daVinci, Friar Pacioli penned at least 11 books, including the first known printed work on the double entry method of bookkeeping. This method is still in use today. So next time you're flipping happily through an annual report's financial statements, pause a second or two, to think of Friar Pacioli.
born in 1743 -- Thomas Jefferson
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness." What a sentence! In just a few words is the basis for America, a nation where we're protected by numerous rights and are able, if not expected, to pursue happiness. Many, many societies don't have it this good. Their citizens therefore can't easily pursue, among other things, financial independence through stock ownership. Thanks, President Jefferson, for envisioning a Foolish world!
born c. 1791 and 1815 -- Charles Babbage and Ada Augusta King
If you're sitting and reading this at your trusty computer, then you've got Charles Babbage to thank. (You can also thank him if the cowcatchers he invented have spared you from train wrecks and if his speedometer ever alerted you when you were speeding dangerously.) Babbage's "analytical engine" is one of the earliest precursors to the modern computer. Working alongside him as essentially the first computer programmer was Ada Augusta King, Countess of Lovelace. Babbage's work was driven by a dedication to precision. This is a trait that can serve us investors very well. After all, by paying close attention to the performance of our investments, we can overhaul or tweak them as necessary and optimize our results.
born 1854 -- George Eastman
What a great boon to humanity photography has been! Just try and imagine life without it. If you wanted to remember what a loved one looked like, you or someone else would have to sketch a picture. Photography has transformed news, advertising, art, and drivers' licenses, among many other things. Of course there are other important photographic inventors to thank, but George Eastman gets the nod today, for his development of commercially viable dry rolled film and the hand-held cameras that use it. He even took his developments beyond patents, building an enormously successful business out of them, and eventually giving away much of the fortune he amassed. How Foolish!
born 1906 -- Chester F. Carlson
Here's an unsung hero for you. As a longtime admirer of photocopiers, I've known about Mr. Carlson for quite some time. He was Foolish long before the Fool arrived on the scene, demonstrating a relentless search for better solutions. Noticing that inventors often needed to copy drawings and specifications of patents, he developed the xerographic process of "instant copying." He had to present his invention to more than 20 companies before someone finally saw the flash of light -- in 1944. A decade later, Xerox was using the technology in the world's first office copier.
born 1912 -- Julia Child
If you mostly just eat meatloaf, baked potatoes, casseroles and Jell-O, then you might want to skip to the next thankee. But if you've ever dined in America on fish poached in a white wine sauce, Caesar salad, crepes, eggs Benedict, quiche, tuna steak, broiled oysters, lentil soup, chocolate soufflï¿½, creme caramel and eclairs, you've probably got Julia Child to thank. You should also thank her for ushering in an era where we can enjoy learning from all kinds of chefs, and where the world's diversity of food is celebrated and explored. And as if that isn't enough, Julia Child is also a class act, and most Foolish. She's funny, kind, and broad-minded, and has dedicated her life to teaching people and improving their lives. Thanks, Julia!
born c. 1955 -- Tim Berners-Lee
Okay. We've now uttered words of gratitude for giants in the worlds of printing, accounting, freedom, computers, photography, photocopiers, and food. These are all vital to just about every Fool. But for those of us who gather here online regularly, there's one last person to thank: Mr. Tim Berners-Lee, the visionary who first conceived of the World Wide Web as we know it. You may not have heard of him, as he's not a multi-billionaire CEO. However, without his work, many multi-billionaire CEOs might still be tinkering in their garages, borrowing money from their moms for lunch.
As you're probably suspecting, I could go on and on. There's Admiral Grace Hopper, who wrote the first computer languages. Don Sothman, inventor of the popcorn fork. Philo Farnsworth, inventor of the television. Alexander Graham Bell, and the telephone, vital to us all. Lewis Latimer, the son of a runaway slave who developed the long-lasting carbon filament when working with Thomas Edison on the light bulb. (Edison's own bamboo filaments lasted just 30 hours.) There are just so many interesting stories. Like that of Josephine Garis Cochrane, the socialite who grew tired of her servants breaking dishes and decided to wash her own dishes. She found it such maddening work that she invented the dishwasher in response.
But I better stop. I hereby invite you to visit my message board, to pay homage there to the great people you think ought to be thanked. And to wonder what people will be thanking us for, in the year 3000!
Also, if you're a glutton for gratitude, check out my Thanksgiving reports from years past: an Alphabet of Thanks, the Alphabet of Thanks 2.0, and a Calendar of Thanks. And if you just love reading about inventions, visit the Inventors Museum and the National Inventors Hall of Fame.
As Diane Chambers said in a great moment of Cheers...
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