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By Goofyhoofy
June 18, 2002

Posts selected for this feature rarely stand alone. They are usually a part of an ongoing thread, and are out of context when presented here. The material should be read in that light. How are these posts selected? Click here to find out and nominate a post yourself!

Let's see, what did the USA do for us this past century? What did they contribute?
The automobile, the airplane, the electric light bulb, the electric oven, the electric refrigerator, the air-conditioner, the radio, the telephone, the pager, the cellular phone, the television, the computer, the personal computer, the internet, radar, the spaceship, freedom of religion, freedom of expression...

Automobile: many fathers, first popularized in 1895 by what we would consider "production" and "styling" by Benz partner Daimler, who named his most popular model for his daughter Mercedes in 1902. Henry Ford founded his company in 1903. The very very very first car which moved by mechanical power (steam) was demonstrated in 1769 by Nicolas Cugnot in Paris. Origin: Germany.

Airplane: First successful powered flight: Wright Brothers, Kitty Hawk. 1903. Origin: US. Disputed by the Smithsonian Museum for 50 years, which gave credit to a guy named Langley who invented an airplane which had the sad misfortune of not being able to fly, although the Smithsonian said it should have. Langley was nothing if not well connected, and has the ground around the CIA Headquarters named for him, along with a NASA building, and, of course, a wing of the Smithsonian, which was run by a friend of his.

Radio: Guglio Marconi, in 1895. By 1901 he had sent radio signals across the Atlantic Ocean and had three operating "radio stations". Origin: Italy

Telephone: Simultaneously invented by Elisah Gray and Alexander Graham Bell, but Bell beat Gray to the patent office by a few hours so he generally gets the credit. They both, however, based their invention on the prior work of a German, Philip Reis, who invented and demonstrated a crudely functioning telephone years earlier. Reis based his device on the prior technical theories of a Frenchman, Bourseul. It is true that Bell popularized the telephone, it is not wholly accurate to say that he "invented" it. Origin: disputed.

Cell Phone: The first practical wireless phone was invented in 1912 in Japan by Dr. Torigata Uichi. Radio telephone service was in use in many countries for decades, but the few frequencies licensed over wide geographies limited availability. The first commercial "cell phone" system as we know it today was put in operation by NTT Japan in 1979. The first USA system began in 1983. Origin: Japan.

Refrigerator Simultaneously invented in Australia by James Harrison and in the US by Alexander Twining in 1850. Commercialized and popularized by Frigidaire and GE in the US several decades later. Origin: Disputed

Television: Invented by Russian born inventor who immigrated to America. Funded by Westinghouse Electric, first patent issued in 1923, another in 1924, first practical demonstration in 1929. Zworykin moved on to RCA Corp, which planned to refine and commercialize it, but WWII got in the way. Origin: US.

Internet The internet as we know it grew from a US military infrastructure, ArpaNet. However France developed, popularized, and commercialized a decentralized information distribution platform called "Minitel", which was distributed free to telephone customers beginning in 1982, predating "the internet" by a decade and serving as a functioning model which none of the internet "inventors" bothered to know much about. Minitel consisted of a keyboard, a screen and a telephone connection and various official and "unofficial" databases, bulletin boards and other sites which could be accessed, as well as offering "real-time" messaging in text. It survives today in about 20% of French households. Origin: US.

Radar Radar was invented in 1935 by a Scottish physicist,
Sir Robert Alexander Watson. The British seized on it and improved it just in time to help defeat the German air raids in the late 1930's. Origin: Scotland. Fans of Marconi and Nikola Tesla like to claim credit here, too.

Spaceship The first live being in space was a dog, put there by the Russians. The first human being in space was put there by the Russians. Origin: Soviet Union.

Freedom of Religion was invented in England, when the courts struck down a statute which made the Church of England the only legal church. That freedom was codified in the English Bill Of Rights, which predated the Constitution of the United States by over 100 years (passed in 1689). Freedom of Assembly and Speech were also concepts recognized in the English Bill of Rights, although the Crown still tried to use its power to stifle dissent (as did/does the US government in spite of the 1st Amendment). Origin: England.

Incidentally, the only reason Freedom of Religion appears in the US Constitution is because it was added a decade after the country began, following a few of the original colonies adopting or threatening to pass laws mandating an "official religion" for their state. The Federalists in government thought that a particularly bad idea (along with some others) and began circulating a series of amendments to the Constitution to overrule the states and/or buttress basic freedoms on what they thought were important issues. It was the beginning of a Federal view of government, rather than a loosely knit bunch of states all doing whatever they wanted.

I skipped over a couple of MrArbitrages examples, but note that he left out "Electric Toaster" (UK), vaccine (France), safety matches (Germany), and a bunch of other stuff which was invented all over the planet. I also left out "wheel" and "iron" and "glass" as those are sometimes contentious, and people who think the US invented everything are surprised to find out that these things predated the country by several weeks, perhaps even months.

Hey, this was fun. I'm back from vacation; maybe after unpacking and getting my life back in order I'll even have time to write something about AOL!


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