Inventions and inventors come together in different ways, and ideas for an invention appear in various ways. Sometimes there is a flash of inspiration and the idea pops into the inventor’s brain. Work follows and perfects the idea. Thomas Edison said the invention process was 99 percent perspiration, and one percent inspiration. Perspiration was the process Edison used to make the light bulb.
The only purpose of basic research is to advance knowledge. Basic research is research that discovers information that has no apparent use at the time of its discovery. Sometimes this information makes a later invention work. Basic research provides raw material for inventors, and they may use the experiments of an earlier scientist. This may be something interesting that no one saw a use for until the inventor used it. Seeing an invention from different perspectives gives different uses. The Jacquard loom, invented in 1801, is the basis for early computers. Inventions and inventors find their ideas in various places and ways.
Edison used an invention factory and employed people to investigate and experiment to invent something. His factory included a machine shop and equipment to make ideas into reality.
AT&T Bell Labs was a research program started by Alexander Graham Bell in 1893. The lab employed scientists to do basic research. Their research and findings resulted in several Nobel prizes, inventions and the improvement of existing products. AT&T discontinued the labs in 2008.
Television Programs on Inventions and Inventors
During the ‘70’s there were two television programs about ideas for invention that embraced knowledge, advancement, and inventions and inventors. The first was The Ascent of Man with Jacob Bronowski as writer and host. The second was Connections, with James Burke. Bronowski was a scientist and presented The Ascent of Man such that man’s knowledge moved forward in a straight line based on previous knowledge. Burke is a British journalist that covered the American space program. Burke’s program,Connections,started each episode in the past with an innovation and followed its evolution and progress forward to a completely different product in the present. Burke’s concept was more like a tree. There were points in the products development where it could have jumped to several different inventions. Burke had several editions of the program and wrote Connections articles in the Scientific American magazine for several years.
In the May 26, 2011 issue of the New Yorker magazine, Malcolm Gladwell’s article; Creation Myth: Xerox PARC, Apple and the Truth About Innovation discusses inventions and their inventors, and how to make inventions. He tells the famous story of the Steve Jobs visit to Xerox. Jobs saw how the mouse controlled the Xerox computer; he realizes this should be the computers future. Xerox’s mouse was clunky and cost 500 dollars. Jobs wanted one that worked better and cost fifteen dollars. Gladwell’s view is that the mouse wasn’t really invented until Jobs embraced and perfected it. He points out most inventions are invented and modified several times before the concept becomes well known and used.
The editor of the Xerox PARC blog responded to Gladwell's article. He pointed out that Xerox invented the mouse for a personal computer. Jobs idea for the device was that it could be used for a popular computer. He also points out that putting constraints on an invention is good for innovation. In this case, a fifteen dollar limit on the mouse.
Studying inventions and inventors can be a lively and exciting endeavor. Often the works of inventors are the arena of lawsuits and patent squabbles. It can be the cooperation between individuals such as the telegraph or periodic table invention, or one inventor borrowing or stealing an idea from another.