Donald Trump thinks the wheel was invented by Americans

In the latest example of Trump's Used-Car-Salesman tactics of free-association to find any word that sticks with a listener just to close a deal, the Commander In Chief of the US Armed Forces said today on CNBC that the wheel was invented by an innovative American capitalist, as an example of the corporate ingenuity that must be protected at all costs.

It's not particularly notable or remarkable that Trump also credits Thomas Edison with the invention of the light bulb. It is true that Edison (through his company) perfected and patented a practical modern light bulb for use in American homes. But people across the globe had been experimenting with incandescent bulbs for a century before Edison locked it down; in fact, Edison's initial patent was denied because it was too derivative of the work done by William Sawyer.

But of course Edison gets all the credit. And in this case, that's not really an indictment on Trump. It is, however, a painfully accurate metaphor for the kind of "innovators" who actually get rewarded under American Capitalism — savvy business people who navigate legal loopholes to profit off of someone else's labor and ideas.

This all reminds me of something I saw on Twitter once. I can't find the original source right now, but the argument was essentially that American colonists used the wheel to prove their superiority over Native Americans. Read the rest

That time a rando told Thomas Edison that he should invent a speech-to-text engine

David Weinberger writes, "I just blogged about a 1911 letter in the Thomas Edison digital archive in which the former mayor of Kingston, Jamaica, proposed that Edison take his Gramophone one step further and invent a speech-to-text transcriber. Edison replied, albeit curtly." Read the rest

The first film adaptation of Frankenstein was shot in Thomas Edison's studio

Here is a vintage horror gem for your mid-week blues: Back in 1910, when he wasn't coming up with civilzation-changing inventions, Thomas Edison lent his studio in the Bronx out to filmmakers. While the Edison Company began with "actualities" (newsreels, real-life events, etc.), the studio eventually turned to fiction. And, perhaps not surprisingly, science fiction. One of the company's productions was the first ever film adaptation of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, directed and written by J. Searle Dawley. Clocking in at about twelve and a half minutes, it must have been one of the more ambitious projects to come out of Edison's studio and features some dangerous-looking pyrotechnics. (via Geek Tyrant) Read the rest

Turning on a 100-year-old light bulb

Incandescent lights work by turning heat into light. You run an electric current through a filament, the filament heats up, and as it does, it starts to glow. The basic element has been around since 1809. The trick is finding material for a filament that will get hot enough to glow, but won't destroy itself too quickly. In fact, that's really the breakthrough Thomas Edison brought to the table in 1879. His carbonized bamboo filament lasted for 1200 hours—long enough to make the investment in a light bulb worth it. According to sources I found in the Wisconsin Historical Archives while researching my upcoming book on the past, present, and future of electricity, one of Edison's bulbs cost the equivalent of $36 in 1882.

This is not one of the earliest Edison bulbs. It's a later model, with a tungsten filament, dating to 1912. It was found in a time capsule at NELA Park, the General Electric headquarters and research laboratory that was opened that year. There were five light bulbs in the time capsule. This is the only one that GE engineers were able to get to light up. In the video, you can see it faintly glowing, 100 years after it was squirreled away.

Video Link Read the rest