Thomas Edison grew up at a time when children went to work to help support their families. At age twelve or thirteen, he sold newspapers on the train that ran from his hometown, Port Huron, Michigan, to Detroit.
In his free time, Thomas like to read all about science and technology. He also liked to experiment with chemicals. He set up a laboratory in his basement. And he even conducted experiments in the baggage car of the train he worked on.
At age sixteen, Thomas became a telegraph operator for the railroad. But he had to leave his job after a train accident was blamed on him. He then worked for the Associated Press at night. This job allowed him to read and work on experiments during the day.
His first invention was an electric vote recorder. The recorder could be used by members of legislatures to count their votes on bills right away. But it was a failure. Thomas discovered that politicians did not want a fast way to count their votes.
Thomas’s first successful invention was a stock ticker that improved on earlier ones. His stock ticker let investors know quickly what was happening in the stock market.
Thomas Edison’s first big invention was the phonograph. It recorded and produced sound that people could hear clearly. This invention made him famous all over the world. He became known as “The Wizard of Menlo Park.” Menlo Park was his research laboratory complex in New Jersey.
Now it was time for his greatest invention, the incandescent light bulb. Inventors had tried for years to come up with an electric light bulb that would replace gaslight. But no one had found a practical way to do that.
First, Thomas set up the Edison Electric Light Company. Then he worked for years trying to perfect a light bulb. He failed many times until he tried a platinum filament. The light bulb burned for 13 1/2 hours. But Thomas wanted a bulb that would burn much longer and would be cheaper to make.
Thomas had been fishing with a bamboo pole made from bamboo threads. He decided to try a carbonized bamboo filament. And eureka, his light bulb lasted for over 1,200 hours. It was affordable too. Thomas demonstrated his light bulb by lighting up his Menlo Park laboratory complex.
Thomas wasn’t satisfied just inventing a practical light bulb. He wanted to light up everyone’s home, business, and factory. He started the Edison Illuminating Company. Thomas’s first power station went into operation in Manhattan. It lit up a one-mile square area. It was only a matter of time until electric light lit up the world.
His other inventions include a motion picture camera, and a Kinetoscope to project the images on, and the first alkaline battery for electric cars. It was the forerunner of the alkaline batteries we use today.
by K.M. Koystal and Benjamin Franklin, Illustrated by Fred Harper
Discover history through the eyes of one of the smartest, funniest, and coolest figures from America’s past. Ben gives sage advice on everything from good citizenship, manners, friendship, and being happy.
Ben Franklin & the Magic Squares
By Frank Murphy, Illustrated by Richard Walz
A funny, entertaining introduction to Ben Franklin and his many inventions, including the story of how he created the “magic square.” A magic square is a box of nine numbers. They are arranged so that any line of three adds up to the same number, even on the diagonal.
What’s the Big Idea Ben Franklin
By Jean Fritz, Illustrated by Margaret Tomes
A fun historic tale by Newbery Honor-winning author, Jean Fritz! No matter how busy he was, Ben Franklin always found time to try out new ideas. A man of many talents, he was an ambassador, a printer, an almanac maker, a politician, and even a vegetarian (for a time.)
When I Grow Up: Benjamin Franklin
By Annmarie Anderson, Illustrated by Gerald Kelley
Benjamin Franklin is one of America’s most beloved Founding Fathers and a man of many talents. He is most well-known for discovering electricity. But he was also an author, and editor, a printer, and a diplomat. And he invented many things we still use today. This book takes the reader on an exciting journey from Ben’s childhood to his adulthood as a famous American.
Who Was Ben Franklin
By Dennis Brindell Fradin, Illustrated by John O’Brien
Ben Franklin was the scientist who, with the help of a kite, discovered that lightning is electricity. He was also a statesman, an inventor, a printer, and an an author. He was a man of such amazingly varied talents that some people claimed he had magical powers.
Now and Ben: The Modern Inventions of Benjamin Franklin
By Gene Barretta
What would you do if you lived in a community without a library, hospital, post office, or fire department? If you were Ben Franklin, you’d set these up yourself. Franklin also designed the lightning rod. He suggested the idea of daylight savings time. And he invented bifocals. All were inspired by his common sense and intelligence.
Benjamin Franklin (Giants of Science)
By Kathleen Krull, Illustrated by Boris Kulikov
Benjamin Franklin was a famous inventor and multitasker. He’s best remembered as one of America’s Founding Fathers. But he was also a scientist. His experiments led to important discoveries about the nature of electricity. He famously demonstrated that electricity and lightning are one in the same.
John, Paul, George & Ben
By Lane Smith
Once there were four lads…John [Hancock], Paul [Revere], George [Washington], and Ben [Franklin]. Oh yes, there was also Tom [Jefferson], but he was annoyingly independent and hardly ever around. These lads were always getting into trouble for one reason or another. In other words, they took a few…liberties. And to be honest, they were not always appreciated. This is the story of five little lads before they became five really big Founding Fathers.
Louis Braille lived in the French village of Coupvray. Born in 1809, he was the fourth child of a harness maker and his wife. Louis was a bright and curious child. He especially enjoyed watching his father at work.
One day, three-year-old Louis decided to try out his father’s awl, a very sharp tool. Unfortunately, he injured his eye. It became infected and when Louis touched the uninjured eye, the infection spread, blinding him.
Louis Braille House, Coupvray, France
Louis’s family and a village priest helped him. His father made a cane so that Louis could walk without assistance. His sisters made an alphabet from straw so that he could learn letters. And the priest read to Louis and taught him to listen to the sounds of birds to recognize them.
Louis later went to school with sighted children and listened to and remembered the lessons. But for Louis, that wasn’t enough. He wanted to read books.
When he was ten-years-old, he traveled to Paris to attend the Royal Institution for Blind Youth. The school’s founder had created books with raised letters. But the letters were enormous with only a few sentences or less on a page. The books were not practical.
Then a French army captain named Charles Barbier invented a system of sending messages to soldiers on the field. His system used raised dots so that the soldiers could read the messages without light and not give away their location to the enemy.
The army seemed unimpressed, so Barbier sent his system to the Royal Institution for Blind Youth. Louis and the other students recognized right away that this system was not practical. The dots represented sounds not letters. They were difficult for the students to read.
Louis Braille’s Six-Dot Braille System
Louis Braille decided to adapt Barbier’s system and make it practical. He worked for three years to perfect it. By the age of fifteen, he had developed the six-dot Braille System we know today. Each letter of the alphabet uses a different pattern of raised dots. Louis’s system is used in every country in the world.
Ada Lovelace is considered to be the world’s first computer programmer.
Ada was born in England on December 10, 1815, the daughter of the famous and reckless poet Lord Byron. Soon after she was born, her parent’s marriage ended. Ada never saw her father again.
Her mother, Anne Isabella Milbanke had a great interest in mathematics. Byron called her the Princess of Parallelograms. Anne Isabella steered her daughter away from poetry and into mathematics and science.
Ada’s mother discouraged her imagination fearing that she might end up like her father. But Ada had a wonderful imagination. She decided that she would learn how to fly by studying birds’ anatomy. Ada made a set of wings. She wrote and illustrated her own book called Flyology and designed a flying mechanical horse.
In 1829, Ada became temporarily paralyzed after having measles. She improved her math and science skills while bedridden. At age sixteen, restored to health, Ada was introduced to English society. She met famous scientists and became friends with the engineer Charles Babbage.
Babbage invented a machine called the Difference Engine. It worked like a giant calculator. He then designed a more complex machine he called the Analytical Engine. Babbage thought that the Analytical Engine would solve difficult mathematical calculations. The machine would then store these calculations. And it would also print them.
The Analytical Engine
Ada translated an article written about the Analytical Engine into English. She added her own notes. These notes contained an algorithm that would allow the machine to work. Ada’s algorithm is considered to be the first computer program.
The Analytical Engine was too expensive to build. But it is considered to be the first computer. And Charles Babbage is acknowledged as the “father of the computer.”
Charles Babbage designed his Analytical Engine to be capable of working with numbers. But Ada thought the machine had much greater possibilities. She envisioned it producing music, art, and writing, like modern computers.
Sadly, Ada died at age 36. Although she never met her father, she requested to be buried next to his grave in England.
Leonardo da Vinci painted two of the best known paintings in the world: Mona Lisa and The Last Supper. In addition to his magnificent work as an artist, Leonardo designed inventions that are familiar to us today, almost 400 years later.
Leonardo sketched and wrote about his inventions in notebooks. Most of his ideas could not be made into working objects during his lifetime. Engineering was a new science and many of his designs were technically complicated.
These are six of Leonardo da Vinci’s inventions:
In the Air:
Glider — Leonardo’s glider design looks similar to both a bird in flight and a modern hang glider. Leonardo studied birds as he worked on his design.
Helical Screw — This is Leonardo’s design for an early type of helicopter. Four men inside operated the screw. It would compress air to fly just like helicopters do today.
Parachute — Leonardo imagined floating through the air using a parachute. Designed to be made of linen and wood, his parachute had a triangular shape.
Anemometer — Leonardo designed this instrument to measure wind speed. Anemometers are used at weather stations today.
Scuba Gear — Leonardo designed a leather suit with a head covering attached to two tubes. The tubes connected to an above water diving bell. The diver would breathe air from the water’s surface through the tubes. Today, scuba divers breathe air from the tanks they carry underwater. Early divers used Leonardo’s method.
Tank — Leonardo turned again to the natural world for this design. A turtle shell inspired it. The tank’s design provided for a 360 degree rotation. Four men inside would operate the tank with hand cranks while other men would fire the weapons. Modern tanks first appeared in World War I.
In Tiny Stitches: The Life of Medical Pioneer Vivien Thomas, author Gwendolyn Hooks tells the story of how Vivien Thomas developed a life-saving medical procedure. The surgical technique allowed babies born with the condition tetralogy of Fallot, or blue baby syndrome, to live.
Vivien Thomas was born in 1910 into the segregated American south. He worked with his carpenter father saving money for college and dreamed of a career in medicine. But when the stock market crashed in 1929, he lost his savings.
Not giving up on his dream, he interviewed for a position at the Vanderbilt University Hospital. He would work with Dr. Alfred Blalock as a surgical research technician. Vivien was not told when hired that he would receive less pay than the white research technicians. His official classification was “janitor.”
Vivien quickly learned to conduct experiments independently. He became an indispensable assistant to Dr. Blalock. The doctor was then offered the Chief of Surgery position at Johns Hopkins Hospital. He accepted only if Vivien would be his research technician.
The move to Baltimore from Nashville was difficult for Vivien and his family. They faced even more discrimination. But as Gwendolyn Hooks writes: “Vivien refused to let the prejudice of others interfere with his work.”
Drs. Blalock and Taussig
Dr. Helen Taussig, a pediatric cardiologist asked Dr. Blalock if he could devise a procedure for her young heart patients. The procedure would involve open-heart surgery. Dr. Blalock gave the assignment to Vivien.
Vivien studied the hearts of blue babies in a pathology museum. He noted the defects that prevented blue blood from entering the lungs for oxygenation. He decided that a procedure that he and Dr. Blalock had tried at Vanderbilt would be the answer.
A shunt would connect an artery from the heart with an artery going to the lungs. Vivien next made a small needle. It could be used on babies to suture the arteries. Then Vivien successfully performed the procedure on animals.
Vivien Thomas Stands Behind Dr. Blalock
The first procedure on a baby was conducted on November 29, 1944. Vivien stood on a stool behind Dr. Blalock directing the successful operation. Over 150 times, he stood behind Dr. Blalock. He answered the doctor’s questions while the doctor performed the surgery . The procedure became known as the Blalock-Taussig shunt.
The Drs. Blalock and Taussig received national and international recognition. They were nominated for a Nobel prize. But Vivien Thomas’s name was never mentioned.
Vivien Thomas’s Portrait At Johns Hopkins
It wasn’t until 1971, that Vivien Thomas was publicly recognized for his contribution to medical science. Today, his portrait hangs in the Blalock Building at Johns Hopkins directly across the hall from Dr. Blalock’s portrait. In 1976, Johns Hopkins University honored Vivien Thomas with an honorary Doctor of Laws degree.
With author Gwendolyn Hooks’s book Tiny Stitches, children can read and learn about Vivien Thomas a dedicated medical researcher. He overcame racial prejudice to save the lives of “blue babies.” Visit Gwendolyn Hooks at:http://gwendolynhooks.com
Jacques Cousteau, a man of many talents, was a scientist, inventor, naturalist, explorer, writer, and filmmaker. He had a profound sense of wonder and curiosity about the world. An expert on sea life, he championed its preservation.
When Jacques was a child in France, he loved movies. He saved his allowance and bought a movie camera. With it, he filmed his own movies. They starred his friends, family, and even himself. Later, Jacques served in the French Navy. With his camera along, he traveled the world filming everything he saw.
In 1936, a friend gave Jacques a pair of swimgoggles. Jacques swam underwater with them. For the first time he saw brilliantly colored fish and fascinating underwater plants and animals. But he could only stay underwater for a brief time. He wanted the ability to breathe and explore freely.
Jacques worked with an engineer and in 1943, he invented Scuba — Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus. Now he could breathe underwater like a fish. With his camera protected by a waterproof case he filmed the underwater world.
Jacques converted a former Navy mine-sweeper into an ocean going laboratory. He named his ship Calypso. Jacques traveled the world exploring and filming underwater. He captured sea life in over 115 films and in 50 books. He shared his adventures with people everywhere.
Galileo Galilei, lived in Pisa home of the tall leaning tower — just right for an experiment challenging Greek philosopher Aristotle.
View of Pisa from the Leaning Tower of Pisa
Aristotle said that a heavier object falling from the same height, at the same time, would travel faster than a lighter object. Galileo disagreed. He said both objects would reach the ground about the same time.
It is said that at the top of the tower, Galileo dropped two spherical objects, one heavier than the other, perhaps a cannonball and a musketball. Both hit the ground at about the same time, disproving Aristotle’s law of gravity. Whether this actually occurred, or it was instead a thought experiment, Galileo wrote about it in his book, On Motion.
The Leaning Tower of Pisa
In Pisa, disproving Aristotle did not win fans for Galileo, and he was no longer asked to teach at the university there. But he wasn’t done challenging Aristotle. This time the challenge took place in the sky above.
The Dutch invented a telescope that made faraway objects appear closer. Galileo knew he could improve the Dutch telescope. When he did, he discovered that he could see the actualsurface of the moon. It was not at all as Aristotle described it — completely smooth. Instead, the surface had peaks and valleys.
Galileo and his telescope
With his telescope, he also discovered the largest of Jupiter’s four moons. He published his discoveries in his book, Starry Messenger. Europeans learned about Earth’s moon and Jupiter’s moons, and Galileo became famous. He was invited by the Grand Duke of Tuscany to live in Florence and spend his days searching the sky for new discoveries.
What he discovered, again challenged Aristotle. Aristotle said that our solar system was Earth centered. The sun and other planets revolved around the Earth.
What Galileo observed through his telescope made him realize that Aristotle was wrong. The sun was at the center of our solar system and the earth, like the other planets, revolved around it.
Unfortunately, disputing Aristotle again won him no fans. And finally landed him under house arrest for the remainder of his life.
But — later scientists proved that he was right, the sun is the center of our solar system.
When I visited the Leaning Tower of Pisa, I was amazed that I had no sensation of leaning once inside the tower. Even at the top, it felt as if the tower stood perfectly straight.
First in flight — a sheep, a rooster, and a duck flew as the first passengers in a hot air balloon. Traveling a bit more than two miles, the balloon drifted along for eight minutes and reached a height of 1,500 feet. The three intrepid fliers were later found unharmed, but it is unknown if theyasked for a second trip.
The creators of the hot air balloon, French brothers Joseph and Etienne Montgolfier were amateur inventors who advanced human flight. After several experiments showing that hot air would lift envelopes of taffeta, a silky material, the brothers constructed a balloon that they believed would fly when air underneath was heated by burning straw and wool.
Before a crowd in the town of Annonay, on June 4, 1783, their balloon flew to a height of 3,000 feet and landed a mile and a half away. With the success of the flight, came a request from French King Louis XVI for a demonstration at his home, Versailles.
But a storm damaged the balloon, and the king insisted that the brothers make a new one — fast! Construction took four days and sleepless nights to complete.
Joseph and Etienne chose passengers for the flight — a sheep, similar to humans in physiology; a rooster, a flightless bird; and a duck as their control animal. Now they could test the effect of altitude on the sheep and rooster. The duck, of course, had no problem with altitude.
On September 19, 1783, a sunny day in the Versailles gardens, King Louis, his wife Marie Antoinette, the American Ambassador, Benjamin Franklin, and a crowd of enthusiastic Parisians watched the animals float away in the balloon making history.
Now, Joseph and Etienne were ready to try a manned flight. On November 21, 1783, two daring men sailed off in the brothers’ balloon traveling twenty minutes over five miles. But it was a sheep, a rooster, and a duck, with the help of the Montgolfier Brothers, who first led the way to human flight.
The Montgolfier Brothers Balloon
A Book for Kids:
Hot Air: The Mostly True Story of the First Hot-Air Balloon Ride
By Marjorie Priceman
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Ben Franklin was the first person to invent and test swim fins.
Growing up in Boston, Ben loved to swim. He wanted to find a way to make swimming easier. When he was eleven, he built a set of wooden swim paddles for his hands, similar to the fins of a fish. The paddles worked, but swimming with them eventually hurt his wrists.
Ben went back to work and made a second set for his feet. He then tried out both sets together. Unfortunately, he found that he could swim better without the paddles. Ben later found that floating in the water could be easily accomplished when holding onto a kite.
Today, we use flexible swim fins based on the same principle Ben used. We can swim faster and easier with them.
Read about Ben Franklin and his swim fins in:
Ben Franklin’s Big Splash
By Barb Rosenstock, Illustrated by S.D. Schindler
As an adult, Ben continued inventing practical objects. He invented the Franklin Stove, bifocals, the lightning rod, a musical instrument called the Glass Armonica, the Long Arm for reaching books off a high shelf, the library chair, the second hand clock, and the odometer — only the Glass Armonica is rarely used today.
Read about Ben Franklin’s inventions in:
Now & Ben: The Modern Inventions of Benjamin Franklin
By Gene Barretta
And of course — he discovered that electricity is the same as lightning.