It’s that time of year again. Leaves are changing color, children are back in school, and the temperature is a little cooler. Autumn is in the air. Of course, one of the best things about fall is the chance to enjoy the wide variety of festivals and celebrations taking place. Some pay tribute to the harvest, others celebrate cultural traditions, and still others are dedicated to Halloween. One thing in common? All are unique and fun.
The Post profiles some of the best.
Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta (New Mexico)
A spectacular event takes place in the skies over New Mexico every October. No, it’s not a UFO sighting over Roswell. It’s the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, where hundreds of hot air balloons dot the sky in one of the most amazing aerial displays in the world. The eye-catching exhibition is made possible by a perfect combination of desert climate and valley geography, creating what is known as the “Albuquerque Box.” Like many desert areas, extreme temperature fluctuations occur between day and night. As the sun rises, cool air pools along the valley floor and travels northward while hotter air rises and travels south. As a result, hot air balloons can travel in one direction, change altitude, and come back in a “box” shape. If weather permits, this environmental phenomenon allows a “mass ascension” (600+ balloons in the air) to occur—a flight of epic proportion, which, according to the event’s Web site, has become the “most photographed event in the world.”
Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta
When: October 3-11, 2009
Where: Albuquerque, NM
Web site: balloonfiesta.com
Northeast Kingdom Fall Foliage Festival (Vermont)
Vermont is a great place to be in late September/early October, particularly if you visit Northeast Kingdom’s Fall Foliage Festival. The celebration takes place in seven towns over seven days and pays tribute to the wonderful fall colors of the New England landscape. The location is appropriate for such a festival since all of the towns are in or near Groton State Forest, a 25,000-acre fall wonderland that encompasses six state parks. In addition to hiking and sightseeing, visitors can enjoy art exhibits, tasty dinners, and farmers’ markets in quaint, historic towns.
Northeast Kingdom Fall Foliage Festival
When: September 27-October 3, 2009
Where: Various places in Northeast Kingdom, Vermont
Web site: nekchamber.com
27th Annual Bean Fest and Championship Outhouse Race (Arkansas)
Mountain View, Arkansas, hosts a festival every October celebrating a food taste buds love but cohabitants hate—the Bean Fest and Championship Outhouse Race. While the nearby Ozark Mountains showcase pretty fall colors, the real sign of seasonal change is the unmistakable aroma of beans. The city provides cooking utensils and more than 1,000 pounds of beans to contestants, who prepare food for 40,000 visitors. After the feast, the outhouse race begins. What may sound like a bean-induced stampede to the bathroom is more like a soapbox derby with modified outhouses on wheels. These methane-powered vehicles race through the town in a one-of-a-kind spectacle that everyone enjoys—that is, unless there is a crash.
27th Annual Bean Fest & Championship Outhouse Race
When: October 29-31, 2009
Where: Mountain View, Arkansas
Web site: ozarkgetaways.com
Sonoma County Harvest Fair (California)
For those with too discriminating a palette for conventional Oktoberfest beer, the Sonoma County Harvest Fair is the destination of choice. During the three-day festival, more than 150 wineries offer visitors an unequaled opportunity to enjoy the agricultural heritage that has won this region and its legendary wines worldwide fame. The food isn’t too shabby either. This region is also known as a center for culinary creativity, and professional chefs perform live demonstrations at the Fair’s Showcase Café. The fair also boasts fresh produce, prize farm animals, a barnyard maze, and the World Championship Grape Stomp.
Sonoma Harvest Fair
When: October 2-4, 2009
Where: Sonoma County, California
Web site: harvestfair.org
Toronto International Film Festival (Ontario)
This north-of-the-border “Festival of Festivals” is renowned as one of the best places to catch new film debuts. Hotel Rwanda, American Beauty, Chariots of Fire, Life is Beautiful, The Princess Bride, Roger and Me, and Ray are but a few of the films that have debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival. The event featured screenings of over 300 movies in 2008, from a list of submissions that included more than 4,200 entries from 64 countries. Slumdog Millionaire, which went on to nab eight Academy Awards, won the Toronto International Film Festival People’s Choice Award in 2008. Although it’s impossible to predict if this year’s winner will be from Hollywood, Bollywood, or somewhere in-between, one thing is certain: visitors will enjoy some great movies.
Toronto Film Festival
When: September 10-19, 2009
Where: Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Web site: tiff.net
Feast of the Hunter’s Moon (Indiana)
Fall festivals boast a time-honored history. Historically, autumn has been the time to enjoy the harvest. For many pioneers, this was the last opportunity to celebrate before winter settled in. The Feast of the Hunter’s Moon commemorates French and Indian traders who celebrated this festival on the Wabash hundreds of years ago, and visitors today relive the custom by dressing in traditional garb while enjoying old-fashioned pastimes, including children’s trade blanket, candle-dipping, story telling, puppet shows, cross-cut sawing, and tomahawk throwing. The location, Tippecanoe County’s Fort Ouiatenon—the first fortified European outpost in what is now Indiana, only adds to the historic experience. Popular attractions include reenactments of battles that occurred here, vintage arts and crafts activities, Native-American traditions, and authentic pioneer recipes, such as buffalo and “forfar bridies,” cooked over the open fire.
Feast of the Hunters Moon
When: October 10-11, 2009
Where: Fort Ouiatenon, Tippecanoe County, IN
Web site: tcha.mus.in.us
Charleston Halloween Events (South Carolina)
One of the biggest national fall celebration is Halloween, and one of the best places to celebrate it is in Charleston. Everyone gets involved with Halloween in this notoriously haunted town—including the dead. While families can enjoy Fish or Treat at the South Carolina Aquarium, Scarecrows on the Square in nearby Summerville, or the Harvest Moon Hayride, those who enjoy the darker side might want to take part in some genuinely spooky activities. The Charleston Ghost and Dungeon Walking tour offers visitors access to the city’s infamous prerevolutionary dungeon. Hop aboard for the Haunted Harbor Tour, which sails to where the spirits of pirates and shipwrecked sailors are still thought to roam. Or you can join in the Halloween in the Swamp activities at Cyprus Gardens—one of numerous tours of haunted churches, graveyards, and the jail.
Charleston Halloween Events
When: Multiple dates
Where: Charleston, South Carolina
Web site: charlestoncvb.com
Floresville Peanut Festival (Texas)
While apples, pumpkins, and colorful fall foliage garner the attention at many fall festivals, a less celebrated crop gets top billing at the Floresville Peanut Festival. More than 15,000 people visit the celebration every October, honoring the peanut in a manner that would make George Washington Carver proud. Families enjoy the Goober Games, where sack races, face painting, and the peanut toss take place. But the centerpiece of the festival is the parade, where King Reboog and Queen Tunaep (goober and peanut spelled backwards) wave to the crowd amid marching bands and street floats.
Floresville Peanut Festival
When: October 8-10, 2009
Where: Floresville, Texas
Web site: floresvillepeanutfestival.org
Long’s Peak Scottish-Irish Highland Festival (Colorado)
Kilts, bagpipes, and haggis take center stage every September in Estes Park, Colorado, during the Long’s Peak Scottish-Irish Highland Festival. A parade, live music, and plenty of other traditional festival activities are staples, the true appeal of this celebration lies in the less conventional old-world activities. The fan favorite might be the U.S./International Jousting Competition. What is more entertaining than watching grown men carrying big sticks collide with each other on horseback? While the winner is no longer guaranteed a virtuous maiden, he can walk away with some serious prize money—up to $3000—so there is more at stake than chivalry and honor. Other main attractions include the hammer throw, the stone throw, the caber (a long, wooden pole) throw, and the strongman competition. Prefer less strenuous activities? Don’t miss the military marching bands, pancake breakfast, and Irish and Highland-style dances.
Long’s Peak Scottish-Irish Highland Festival
When: September 10-13, 2009
Where: Estes Park, Colorado
Web site: scotfest.com
The Keene Pumpkin Festival (New Hampshire)
Every October, the city of Keene, New Hampshire, takes the tradition of pumpkin carving to the cutting edge. Visitors to the two-day Keene Pumpkin Festival will see 25,000 jack-o’-lanterns lit simultaneously in a one-of-a-kind family celebration. Friday night is “Community Night,” when pumpkins are dropped off and people enjoy hayrides, music, and, of course, food. On Saturday, families participating in pie-eating and seed-spitting competitions, face painting, a costume parade, and more, while volunteers prepare for the main event. After nightfall, the jack-o-lanterns are lit, a true sight to behold.
Keene Pumpkin Festival
When: October 16-17, 2009
Where: Keene, New Hampshire
Web site: pumpkinfestival.com
Oktoberfest (across the country)
While not be the most important German-American contribution to society, Oktoberfest is arguably the coolest. Where else is donning lederhosen and listening to Polka socially acceptable? Bratwurst, dancing, and, of course, beer are the stars of the festivities from coast to coast, with each city and town’s Oktoberfest offering a unique twist.
For 30 years, the town of Helen, Georgia—modeled after a traditional German village, has hosted an Oktoberfest that lasts for more than a month and is world-renowned. According to the festival’s Web site, it’s the longest-running Oktoberfest in the United States.
When: September 10-27 (Thursday-Sunday); October 1-November 1 (Daily)
Where: Helen, Georgia
Web site: helenchamber.com
Although “La Crosse” is a French term, this Wisconsin town goes the extra mile when throwing the German Festival. An annual tradition since 1961, the title Oktoberfest, U.S.A.® is a registered trademark of La Crosse.
La Crosse Oktoberfest
When: September 25-October 3, 2009
Where: La Crosse, Wisconsin
Web site: oktoberfestusa.com
Bands from the United States and Germany play in Leavenworth, Washington’s Oktoberfest every year, and, in accordance with Bavarian tradition, the city’s mayor taps the first keg. In nearby Fremont, Washington, more than 35 microbreweries participate in an Oktoberfest suited for the finest beer-connoisseur.
When: September 18-20, 2009
Where: Fremont, Washington
Web site: fremontoktoberfest.com
When: October 2, 3, 9, 10, 16, 17, 2009
Where: Leavenworth, Washington
Web site: leavenworthoktoberfest.com
Snowbird, Utah, launched Oktoberfest some 30 odd years ago, when two men visiting the mountainous ski resort were reminded of their native alps. They busted out the lederhosen and accordions, and Oktoberfest has remained a tradition ever since.
When: August 22, 23, 29, 30; September 5, 6, 7, 12, 13, 19, 20, 26, 27; October 3, 4, 10, 11, 2009
Where: Snowbird, Utah
Web site: snowbird.com/events/concertsnfestivals/oktoberfest.html
Of course, the great thing about Oktoberfest is its widespread popularity, so the best place to celebrate might be in a town near you.
The “broad-faced sunflower” is “plain, honest, and upright,” wrote Henry Ward Beecher. Sunflowers are native American plants that were cultivated as a food source as far back as 2,300 years ago, even before corn, beans, and squash.
They were a big hit back in Europe when introduced there by New World explorers in the 1500s. One giant sunflower grown in Padua was said to have reached 40 feet in height. Today the tallest sunflowers, “Mammoth Russians,” grow up to 12 feet. Russian Czar Peter the Great (nearly 7 feet tall himself) discovered sunflowers growing in Holland and started one of the world’s first large cultivation programs. The Russian sunflowers were reintroduced to America in the 1880s and are still available in today’s seed catalogs.
Sunflower growers now have some 2,000 varieties to choose from, from the tallest to the newer dwarf varieties such as Sunspot and Teddy Bear that grow approximately 12 to 18 inches.
At this time of year, sunflowers are at their most glorious, crowning gardens with colors ranging from pale yellow to red, bronze, burgundy, chestnut, mahogany, and white. Actually, Italian white is an extremely pale yellow, shading to nearly white, and looks like a large daisy.
Cutting varieties of sunflower such as Italian White, Parasol Mix, and Indian Blanket will branch after cutting, producing many smaller flowers. Many gardeners prefer pollenless varieties such as Prado Red and Velvet Queen, which don’t stain fingers when touched.
Sunflowers are actually composites of 1,000 to 4,000 tiny flowers. The showy flowers around the edge are the male, or “ray,” flowers. The female “disk” flowers are in the middle and produce the seeds. The seeds can be harvested once the flowers have turned brown. Late in the season, you can cut the flower heads off at the stem and hang the flowers upside down in an airy location to allow them to dry. Rub two flower heads together, and allow the seeds to drop onto a sheet or into a container. A small patch of giant sunflowers will produce a lot of seed for your birdfeeder this fall and winter.
For a delicious sunflower seed snack, cover the unshelled seeds with salted water, using ¼ cup salt for two quarts water. Simmer for two hours. Dry the on paper towels. Or soak the seeds overnight in saltwater. Spread the dry seeds on a baking sheet and roast in a 300 F oven for 30 to 40 minutes. Stir the seeds occasionally, and taste to determine if they are completely roasted. Store the seeds in an air-tight container. For immediate eating, you can mix the freshly roasted seeds with melted butter or olive oil and favorite seasonings, onion or garlic salt, or Cajun or barbecue powder.
A frog in the school library? The librarian on Dick Sargent’s February 1956 cover can’t figure out why Jimmy seems so engrossed with his history homework. Notice the gloppy fountain pen where he started taking notes until he decided it was much more fun playing with little Froggy. If the librarian zeroes in for closer inspection, will screams ensue? We showed you hardworking teachers, but what about the other school workers?
Artist Richard Sargent shows us that principals, too, have their crosses to bear (below). In the February 1959 two-part cover, we see little Bobby greeting the principal happily in a “nice to see you, sir!” gesture. Gee, what a nice kid. But … the gesture changes in panel two, after the little stinker got in trouble in class. It looks as if he was sent to the Library next door to get a book on how to behave (Manners Are Fun, the title reads) and decides to let baldy know what he really thinks. Let’s hope that door doesn’t open and Mr. Principal sees that tongue sticking out. He’ll have more than a boring book to worry about.
At least little Bobby wasn’t sent to the principal’s office for fighting, as in the Frances Tipton Hunter cover from September 1936 (below). Two boys stand disheveled outside the principal’s office: They have some explaining to do, starting with the black eye. Certainly not the first time this has happened. Artist J.C. Leyendecker showed us two schoolboys going at each other fast and furious way back in 1911. What is it about boys and fighting? Wait a minute. There is that Rockwell cover from May 1953 with the girl in pigtails boasting quite a shiner while sitting outside the principal’s office.
Let’s not forget the hardworking bus drivers. “At what point did I lose control?” The driver is musing in the September 1950 cover. Climbing over seats, pulling hair, and just being overall rowdy, this is quite a trip. And the school year is only beginning. Will the poor driver make it to Thanksgiving vacation?
Showing the other side of the coin is the September 12, 1959, cover by the same artist. After a summer of noise and bustling activity interspersed with whining complaints of “I’m bored,” Mom finally gets the kids off to school. And it is a sweet moment indeed as she kicks off her shoes, lies back, and enjoys a cup of coffee, with nary a thought for the poor bus driver. Hey, she’s done her time.
But we’re being unfair here. Not all students are misbehaving little monsters, right? There’s the October 16, 1920, cover … never mind, that boy has a slingshot. Okay, there’s artist Alan Foster’s September 1930 cover … never mind, that boy is writing “I was tardy” a hundred times on the blackboard. We’ve got it! Norman Rockwell’s June 26, 1926, cover of the schoolmaster extolling the virtues of the young scholar who seems to be grabbing “first in class” honors. May you shine as brightly this school year.
As children across the country trek back to school this fall, parents, teachers, and coaches need to ask an important question: Where is the defibrillator?
Automated external defibrillators—AEDs for short—are designed to jump-start the heart in case of sudden cardiac arrest (SCA). Minutes count. And survival rates in public settings are dismally low. Fortunately, new research published in Circulation shows that equipping schools with the user-friendly devices helps prevent tragic deaths of students and others who fall victim to SCA on school grounds.
In the study of 1,710 U.S. high schools with at least one AED, nearly two-thirds of the SCA victims survived to hospital discharge, including nine of 14 student athletes and 14 of 22 teachers, coaches, visitors, and other adults (mean age 57).
In contrast, the overall survival rate of out-of-hospital SCA is less than 8 percent. Survival drops 7 percent to 10 percent for each minute defibrillation is delayed.
To implement a local AED program, study author Dr. Jonathan Drezner of the University of Washington in Seattle and colleagues strongly encourage high schools to: 1) develop an emergency action plan for sudden cardiac arrest in collaboration with local EMS; 2) practice and review the plan at least once a year; and 3) post the plan at each athletic venue.
Budgetary issues are not the only concern when exploring school AED programs.
“The tragic death of an adolescent has a profound effect on the community,” said Dr. Dianne Atkins of the University of Iowa in an accompanying editorial, “and the desire to protect this population may outweigh financial considerations.”
Remember the ABCs of using AEDs to save a life:
A) Recognize a heart emergency;
B) Open the AED box; and
C) Follow the prompts.
To read about lives saved by school AEDs, and how to launch a local initiative, visit The Sudden Cardiac Arrest Foundation, Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy Association, The Louis J. Acompora Foundation, Parent Heart Watch, or Project Adam.
September 1 marks the anniversary of the day George Pullman’s sleeper car made its first run on the rail line between Chicago and Bloomington, Illinois.
The date is more than just a turning point in railroad history. The appearance of the Pullman sleeper car wrought changes affecting American business, social class, labor unions, and race relations over the years.
George Pullman was inspired to build a rail car with sleeping berths after making a miserable overnight journey across New York state in a make-shift sleeping car.
He formed the Pullman Palace Car Company to build railroad cars in which berths would fold down from the roof at night. During the day, the berths were stowed above, not unlike overhead storage in modern airplanes, and passengers sat in comfortably upholstered seats, enjoying the luxury of wash rooms, chandelier lights, thick carpeting, and heating stoves.
Public acceptance developed slowly. The Pullman coach received much favorable publicity after Mrs. Lincoln chose a Pullman car to transport her husband’s body back to Springfield.
The Saturday Evening Post noted in its June 23 issue, “Mr. Pullman, the projector of the sleeping-car improvement in railroad traveling, has just placed on some of the western roads new cars, with conveniences, luxuries, and ornamentation quite in advance of anything yet produced. A novel arrangement of the trucks [wheel assemblies] secures such a steadiness of motion that writing is as easily done as in a home library, and tables are provided for this purpose. One car, the ‘Omaha,’ is furnished with an organ.”
A Post writer, writing on a trip “Homeward from the Pacific Coast” made an observation about that organ. “We took our place in the luxuriant ‘Pullman Palace.’ There was a parlor organ on board, a poor wheezy out of tune thing, but as we were in the realms of sage brush and alkali again, we managed to make it serve for the getting up of quite a Sunday afternoon concert. What mellifluous sounds were wafted out upon the desert air only those on board that train can tell, but finally the most energetic of our singers were forced to desist because two refractory keys of the upper bank would insist upon singing out above all else, even when not requested to do so by touch of hand.”
By this year, the Pullman company had 800 cars running on rail lines covering 30,000 miles of country. Pullman continued to introduce luxuries to his cars, including thick carpeting, dark wood interiors, and reclining seats.
The first Pullman employee moves into Pullman, Illinois, a town owned and operated by the company. In its time, Pullman was hailed as the ultimate, enlightened community for workers. It offered employees clean, well-lit housing with indoor plumbing, gas, sewers, stores, and theaters. The rent was higher than average, but the quality of housing was generally better than in surrounding neighborhoods. The higher living standard came with another price, though. George Pullman maintained absolute control on all organization, events, and publications in his town. He also required all employees—about 3,500 eventually—to live in the company town and follow its rules.
The April 25th Post marveled at the cost of Pullman luxury:
“Few persons, as they see one of the fast express trains go by, are aware of the value of such a train. What is known as the Royal Limited Express over the Pennsylvania road, as the train is ordinarily made up, represents over $120,000. This is a rather low estimate of one of the fast expresses. Some of the palace cars are worth $18,000 and Pullman palace cars occasionally run that cost in the neighborhood of $30,000.” (That’s the equivalent of $700,000 in 2009 currency.)
In response to the depression in this year, The Pullman Palace Car Company cut employees’ wages, but didn’t drop the rent it charged employees. When Pullman workers went out on strike, union workers across the nation added their support by walking off their jobs, effectively halting rail traffic. Meanwhile, at the Pullman factory, the strike led to property damage and fights with strike-breaking employees. Ultimately, the Pullman company convinced Washington that the strike was a threat to public safety and interstate commerce. President Cleveland sent in federal troops and forcibly ended the strike in favor of management. The strike leaders were arrested, tried, and sentenced.
Yet American opinion was not wholly supportive of the government’s actions. A national commission investigated working conditions at Pullman and concluded that the forced community for employees was “unAmerican.” The state Supreme Court eventually ordered Pullman to sell its company town and end its control over worker’s lives.
The American Federation of Labor broke with its own tradition to recognize the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, a union of black Americans who serviced the Pullman coaches. For many years, the Pullman Company was the largest employer of black Americans. Black porters on sleeping cars attended passengers’ needs, made up beds, and polished shoes. It was menial work, but it offered one of the few avenues to something like middle-class life to male black Americans.
The U.S. Department of Justice brought an anti-trust suit against Pullman. It claimed that being the chief manufacturer of passenger cars and the sole agent for tickets on these cars made Pullman a monopoly. The court ordered the Pullman Company to create two separate businesses for manufacturing and passenger-traffic.
A. Philip Randolph, president of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, announced to President Roosevelt that he was planning to march on Washington with members of his union and the NAACP—just as the country was struggling to prepare for war. In return for calling off the march, Randolph obtained Roosevelt’s promise to outlaw discrimination on defense-contract work and to pass the Fair Employment Act. (In 1949, Randolph pressured Harry Truman to officially end segregation within the military.)
The reverses handed to the Pullman company were not so great that it couldn’t thrive during the war years. As a 1943 Post article relates:
“Pullman’s original pool of sleeping cars has mushroomed to a fleet of more than 7,000 perambulating hotels which last year grossed better than $113,000,000. It is units of this highly mobile pool, distributed to the different railroads to meet hour-by-hour needs, which makes possible the efficient handling of close to 75,000 passengers a day.” Today, the American Transportation Authority estimates that the number of airline passengers, in a single day, can reach 2,000,000.
As late as the 1980s, the Pullman Company was still manufacturing passenger cars for commuter trains. Ultimately, various divisions of the company were sold off to other businesses. Part of the operations, for example, are now part of the Halliburton, while other parts have been subsumed by Halliburton’s chief rival, Washington Group International.
Having weathered the shrinking passenger car industry, the Pullman Company was purchased by Tenneco, and is now in the equally challenged business of manufacturing auto parts.
Let the sunshine in with this wholesome homemade sunflower bread.
Soy Sunflower Bread
(Makes 3 loaves)
- 3 cups warm water
- 2 packages active dry yeast
- 4 tablespoons barley malt or honey
- 3 cups (plus extra for dough and working surface) whole wheat flour
- 1/2 cup chopped sunflower seeds
- 3/4 cup soy flour
- 4 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1 tablespooon salt
Combine water and yeast and stir until blended. Add barley malt or honey and 3 cups whole wheat flour. Beat 100 strokes by hand or for 2 1/2 minutes with electric beater. Cover and let stand for 20 to 30 minutes.
Stir in sunflower seeds, soy flour, vegetable oil, and salt. Mix well and add enough whole wheat flour so that dough no longer sticks to bowl.
Turn dough onto floured working surface and kneed for 8 to 10 minutes, adding whole wheat flour as necessary, until you have smooth, shiny ball.
Oil bowl and put in dough, turning so entire surface is coated. Cover and let rise in warm place for 1 hour or until doubled.
Grease 3 loaf tins with vegetable oil.
Punch dough down and divide into 3 parts. Knead and shape each part into loaf and place in tin. Cover with towel and let rise until doubled.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Bake bread 45 to 50 minutes. Turn out on rack to cool.
This recipe is from The Saturday Evening Post Fiber & Bran Better Health Cookbook by Cory SerVaas, M.D., Charlotte Turgeon, and Fred Birmingham.
Brighten up a cloudy day with a savory bowl of this simple soup. Try it paired with a fresh slice of our soy sunflower bread for an easy homemade meal sure to make Mother Nature proud.
(Makes 8 servings)
- 1/3 cup oil (safflower, peanut, or corn)
- 1 onion
- 2 cups sunflower seeds
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 3 quarts vegetable stock
- 2 teaspoons savory
- 4-5 cups fresh spinach
Heat oil in 4-quart pan. Chop onion and saute in oil just until tender. Do not brown.
Add sunflower seeds and salt. Stir briefly and add vegetable stock. Cover and simmer 40 minutes.
Wash spinach carefully. Drain well and shred quite fine. Add spinach and savory to soup. Cover and simmer 8 minutes.
Pour soup in blender or food processor. Taste for seasoning.
Serve in preheated soup bowls, garnished with a few shreds of spinach or onion.
This recipe is from The Saturday Evening Post Fiber & Bran Better Health Cookbook by Cory SerVaas, M.D., Charlotte Turgeon, and Fred Birmingham.
“I love Eggplant Parmesan, but don’t care for the time it takes. So, as we were sitting around trying to think of applications for this show [“Berry from Another Planet”], I thought: noodles. Can you make noodles out of eggplant? Turns out you can. Best thing about this dish is that you can get all the flavors of Eggplant Parmesan in 60 seconds.”—Alton Brown
(Makes 2 servings)
- 1 large eggplant
- Kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- ¼ teaspoon garlic
- ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 1 small tomato
- 3 tablespoons heavy cream
- 1 tablespoon basil
- 2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese
- 1 tablespoon breadcrumbs
Peel eggplant, leaving 1 inch of skin at top and bottom. Slice eggplant lengthwise into ¼-inch-thick slices.
(I would use a mandoline for this.)
Place eggplant slices on cooling rack set over sink. Sprinkle generously with kosher salt. Wait 15 minutes, flip, sprinkle again, and wait another 15 minutes. Rinse thoroughly under cool water and gently squeeze out excess water. Place on paper towels and pat dry, then cut the slices into ¼-inch-wide strips so they resemble linguine.
Heat 10-inch sauté pan over medium-high heat and add the oil. When it shimmers, add garlic and red pepper flakes and toss 10 seconds. Add eggplant and toss to coat. Add tomato and toss 15 to 20 seconds. Add cream and toss another 10 seconds. Finish with basil and Parmesan. Transfer to serving dish, top with breadcrumbs, toss, and serve immediately.
Recipe courtesy of Alton Brown, © 2009. From Good Eats: The Early Years.
June 1896: A 32-year-old, having left his parents’ Michigan farm to become an engineer and go to work for the greatest inventor of the age — Thomas Edison — has gotten restless again. He has decided he wants to get in on the invention of the automobile, a new kind of machine most Americans have never yet heard of. He has been putting one together in the shed behind his house. He read a magazine article about how to assemble an engine, and he constructed one that can get three horsepower. He made a transmission out of belts and chains. He set that machinery on a buggy with bicycle wheels and a bicycle seat. Now, at 3 a.m., he is ready to drive it. He opens the door to the shed, seats himself in the bicycle seat, and discovers that, in the heat of his passion, he neglected to make the car narrow enough to get out of the shed. He gets an ax and starts chopping down the wall around the door until he can get the buggy out. When he has removed enough shed, he starts up the car. It works. And the neighbors wonder what all that monstrous noise is at 4 a.m.
That man’s name was Henry Ford, and his first automobile ride launched a career that rivaled Edison’s own. The nation’s history is peppered with stories like that, of men and women swept up in inventing. Consider what America has produced ahead of other nations: high-pressure steam engines, continent-spanning railroads, the light bulb, the telephone, the motion picture, the airplane, FM radio, television, the atom bomb, the transistor, the personal computer, the Internet, a host of modern medicines and imaging machines, the credit card, the cell phone … and that list barely scratches the surface.
Why has this nation spawned such an unending, unparalleled outpouring of inventive creativity? There are two basic reasons: the people and the place.
The people because America has been a land of strivers, explorers, and dreamers since the first settlers landed on the East Coast — or even since the first intrepid Siberians walked over the long-gone land bridge to Alaska and began spreading south to Patagonia. This nation has been populated by people who were dissatisfied enough to turn their lives upside down in striking out for something new. That spirit became part of our national DNA.
You see it in an inventor such as Robert Fulton. Fulton, born into rural poverty in 18th century Pennsylvania, dreamed of getting rich as a portrait painter. He managed to get himself to London to study with some of the best artists living. After a few years, he knew he didn’t have the talent to become a great painter. He decided to become an inventor instead. He spent years trying to become an expert in canals, the high-tech fad of the moment. He got nowhere with that, either. Not one to give up, he then had the crazy idea of inventing the submarine and submarine warfare. He got both the British and French governments behind him at different times, convincing each he could enable it to defeat the other. Eventual failure again. Still he refused to accept a life without extraordinary accomplishment. He happened to meet the new American envoy to Paris, who had been granted a government monopoly to run steamboats on the Hudson River — if anyone could invent a steamboat that actually worked. Fulton said, “Of course, I’m your man.” And in 1807, he piloted the world’s first commercially successful steamboat and ushered in a new age.
Not just the people of the land, but the land itself, too, had much to do with the firing of the nation’s creative imagination. When the Revolutionary War ended, the victorious new nation was impoverished and deeply indebted. England had used its colony as a source of raw materials and had discouraged manufacturing or any other kind of self-sufficiency. The population was thinly scattered across millions of acres loaded with potential materials of wealth — timber, coal, the power of falling water, undeveloped farmlands. There were, in short, too few people to make the most of the riches of the land, and none of those people were inclined to think of themselves as mere laborers. The situation was utterly unlike that in Europe, which was jammed with people able to do the work of making the most of limited resources.
America desperately needed labor-saving technology. It needed novel ways to multiply the capabilities of its sparse population. So the American people bent their will to accomplish that. In the first decades of the republic, a would-be schoolteacher from New England named Eli Whitney developed a simple engine, or “gin,” that made it possible for cotton to be produced in massive amounts across the deep South. After that he went on to pioneer the use of interchangeable parts that would give rise to the concept of mass production. A self-taught millwright in the mid-Atlantic named Oliver Evans dreamed up and built the first automated factory that could turn grain into flour without human intervention. A 21-year-old worker at one of England’s first mechanized textile mills slipped out of that country with all the details of the technology in his head — because it was kept a secret that couldn’t legally be shared with other nations — and started the first of the great cotton mills of New England.
The nation’s creative fecundity has not let up since. In fact, it has multiplied over time. By 1911, 1 million U.S. patents had been granted. By 1991, 5 million had. In 2006, patent number 7 million was issued.
It is part of the genius of America that the Framers authorized a patent system in the U.S. Constitution, as a necessary booster of creativity. A patent is basically a very simple thing, a government grant of exclusive rights to an invention in return for making the workings of that invention public knowledge. The exclusivity lasts for 20 years in order to give the inventor time to profit from his innovation. The publicizing of the details expands knowledge and thus promotes invention by others. Abraham Lincoln — the only U.S. president to hold a patent, for a device for getting boats over sandbars — once said, with characteristic eloquence, “The patent system added the fuel of interest to the fire of genius.”
In the early days of the patent system, every application had to be accompanied by a model of the invention. That would be impossible nowadays, for there have come to be patents for nonmechanical things unimaginable in the first days of the republic — chemical processes, algorithms, software, even genes.
Can such an explosion of creativity continue, and continue to grow? No one can divine the future, but one thing is certain: The world is so complicated now, and the level on which most true technical innovation occurs is so advanced that the American imagination cannot maintain its productivity unless the nation has the best educational system possible. How important is the educational system? Even a century and a quarter ago, in the age of purely mechanical innovation, it could be crucial.
Consider the story of two young boys in Iowa in 1878.Their father was a minister, who, on a church trip, came across a toy that consisted of a stick with a kind of propeller at the top. You wrapped a rubber band around the stick, tightened it, and when you released it, the stick spun and flew up in the air. He brought the toy home to his two boys, who were 7 and 11. They were fascinated by it, and they started making copies of it.
One day Miss Ida Palmer, their teacher at the Jefferson School in Cedar Rapids, caught one of them at his desk fiddling with two pieces of wood. She asked him what he was doing. He said he was putting together the parts of a flying machine, and he added, to her disbelief, that someday he wanted to make a larger version that would make it possible for him and his brother to fly.
Miss Palmer reprimanded the boy, but she recognized something in his wild imagination — it contained the seed of something precious. She did not take away his toy. His enthusiasm was not dampened. And he later remembered, “We built a number of copies of this toy, which flew successfully. But when we undertook to build the toy on a much larger scale, it failed to work so well.”
The boys finally did make a bigger version that worked. The brother who was caught at school was Orville Wright. The other one was Wilbur Wright.
Frederick E. Allen is the former editor of American Heritage magazine and current leadership editor of Forbes.
When Edward M. Kennedy won Massachusetts’ senatorial race in 1962, one of his brothers was the U.S. Attorney General and the other was president. At the time, his opponents discounted Edward’s success, claiming he only won because of family connections. The Post, which would never be accused of supporting Edward Kennedy, was unusually snide about his first senate victory.
“Well, Teddy won the Democratic nomination for the Senate, and we suppose that is all that matters in many minds. The voters of Massachusetts, to paraphrase a close relative of Teddy’s, have made their judgment, and who can question the wisdom of the Democratic voters? Let us now close ranks, rally round the flag, remember Pearl Harbor and accept the verdict of the highest judge. As far as we are concerned, the voters of Massachusetts made a mistake. They picked a charming, handsome, golden-voice youngster with a name—a man who is unqualified for such an exalted office.”
It was the beginning of a steady stream of criticism leveled at Edward Kennedy over the years. He was belittled for his family connections, his good looks, his privileged upbringing, and, of course, for several occasions of bad judgment as an adult.
Such things could be forgiven. Other senators had done worse and outlived the scandal.
What was unforgivable to Kennedy’s opponents was his unflinching fidelity to liberal causes. He never toyed with conservatism, or waffled to attract uncommitted voters. The people of Massachusetts knew where he stood and returned him to Washington nine times, personal traits and all.
He was an idealist, but he was also an adept politician. During his tenure, he authored more than 300 bills that passed the Senate—a feat he couldn’t have accomplished without gaining the support of many of his opponents. Nor did he choose popular legislation. Senator Kennedy promoted campaign-finance reform and AIDS research. He opposed illegal interventions in Central America and apartheid in South Africa. He backed The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, the Civil Rights Act of 1991, and the COBRA plan to extend health insurance to the unemployed.
In 1967 he wrote an article for the Post, detailing his ideas for reducing crime. It is a good illustration of his thoughts on public policy.
“Consider, for example, the very special problem of drug addiction. For far too long we have treated addicts as if they were ordinary criminals, rather than victims of a serious disease. … Following California’s pioneer program initiated in 1961, Congress passed legislation last session which would permit addicts in federal cases to be placed under medical treatment rather than sent to prison. Because about half of those committed under the California program have subsequently returned to their communities and have not gone back to narcotics, there is good reason to believe that this federal program will return many addicts to a normal life.
“An equally significant part of any anti-crime program, I feel, must be legislation to control the sale of firearms. Our Senate Juvenile Delinquency Subcommittee heard testimony indicating overwhelmingly that the present mail-order business in guns makes it ridiculously easy for juveniles, criminals, even lunatics to obtain firearms for less than the price of a pair of shoes. I know of no other country where it is as easy for dangerous and misguided members of society to obtain firearms as it is in the U.S. Each year about a million weapons are sold by mail order, thousands to persons with criminal records. J. Edgar Hoover has stated that the ‘easy accessibility of firearms is a significant factor in the murders committed in the United States today.’ Nothing could testify more vividly to the truth of this warning than the example of Charles Joseph Whitman, who stood on top of the Texas University tower one horrible day last summer and shot 15 people to death, wounding 31 others. [At the time Senator Kennedy wrote this, only one of his brothers had been shot to death.]
“If we are seriously concerned about crime, we must acknowledge our responsibility to do something about the crumbling slum schools and poor housing, and the shocking unemployment rates for the young Negroes, Puerto Ricans and Mexican Americans. Indeed, with crime most prevalent among young people, every community must focus special attention on its youth, particularly the disadvantaged. Today’s delinquents will be tomorrow’s criminals—unless the community, through education, job training and treatment programs, prepares these youngsters for the productive tasks of adulthood. Most of us who share in the good life of our rich nation are law-abiding citizens. The promise of America is that someday all may share. In our work to fulfill that promise lies one of our most effective weapons against crime.”
If Senator Kennedy reread this 1967 article last week, he would find nothing to rewrite or regret. He remained unapologetically, unwaveringly liberal through the years. Even when it wasn’t convenient or politically correct, he stayed committed to an idea of humanitarian democracy.
Download “A Plan of Action” (PDF) by Sen. Edward Kennedy, 1967.
Fishing has changed monumentally since the days when standard fare was a bamboo pole with a worm-baited line tossed into the water, “a jerk on one end of the line waiting for a jerk on the other,” as the sport has been playfully described.
Thirty years ago and more, locating fish required ingenuity and luck. Jerry Hayenga, a 74-year-old Minnesota fisherman, remembers how his teen buddies hooked a headlight to a car battery and rowed it out in a boat at night. “They shoved it under, with a funnel over the headlight to direct the beam, to spot walleyes in the shallows.”
Jerry Carlson’s grandfather found fish by “reading the wind.” The freelance writer and fishing columnist recalls that wind direction and the number of consecutive days blowing informed his grandfather where to set his line. “Rarely did we not have good success that way,” he says.
But today, the 59-year-old former fishing guide says you don’t even drop a line down unless you “see” fish. “You cruise the area first, watching the electronics — the fish finders, or sonars, as we prefer to call them — to determine if fish are there and how deep.”
Electronic fishing aids have become increasingly sophisticated. Sonars now include GPS (Global Positioning System). “When you find a good spot, punch a button, and you can save the location accurately within 3 feet,” Carlson says. In addition to boat location, sonars indicate water columns, bottom terrain, and water temperature; suggest trolling speed; provide views of fish around the boat; and offer weather threat matrix, a feature that allows sportsmen to fish longer with its “angler-friendly interpretation of weather conditions in your area.”
The electronics do pretty much everything except put the hook in the fish’s mouth. “It used to be that we might catch a couple of fish here and there,” Carlson says, “but with the new sonars, over a period of a few hours, we can pick up our limit of fish. [Yesterday] I watched my electronics and saw that the fish were at 15 to 17 feet near the weed line, which usually means they’re more aggressive. We caught our limit early and went home. The sonar makes one huge difference.” Only the fish don’t approve.
Poles, Rods, and Reels
Bamboo poles were the old rods of choice, cheap and long enough to allow anglers to toss a bobber out 15 to 18 feet from shore. Early manufactured fishing rods were merely 4-foot-long pieces of thin steel, recalls Ned Kehde, columnist for In-Fisherman magazine. “Those early rods and reels were not very castable. It took a lot of dexterity, and when you’re 8 years old, you aren’t very deft. My mother and father spent a lot of time taking backlashes [tangled lines due to spool run over] out of my reel.” Bait often was flung free of the hook, soaring far out into the lake.
“The rod was just stiff steel with no sensitivity at all,” Hayenga recalls. “Fighting a big fish was tricky, and you could get busted up or bloodied knuckles.” In comparison, modern rods and reels are ultra light with hugely improved casting ability.
Today’s rods are mostly made of graphite and designed to take tension off the line. Rods come in differing lengths and strengths: short and stout for trolling big-game fish; short and flexible for areas with limited casting (under trees); and long (up to 12 feet) for casting greater distances.
Reels come in spincast, enclosed to prevent backlash (one turn of the handle brings in several feet of line quickly); spinning, excellent for casting light lures and bait; and baitcast, used when heavy cover is targeted. The reels have centrifugal or magnetic drags to prevent backlash. Some are equipped with line counters so you know how much line is out.
What’s Your Line?
“In the old days, all we had was heavy, black, braided line the fish could see,” Hayenga says. “But you still caught fish.”
“You could catch big fish with it, but you couldn’t lift them out of the water,” Carlson says. Today, with the right line, you could reel in a 100-pound fish, and the choice of line can get complicated. Monofilament — clear or green — is the most common line and can be used anywhere. Super lines, fusion, and braided types are smaller strands put together to make one stronger line. Thin super lines are much stronger than monofilaments of the same thickness, and they have little stretch. Fluorocarbons look like monofilaments, but are all but invisible underwater. With very little stretch, they lead to better hook sets (lingo for hooking a fish).
“Fish have microscopic vision,” Jerry Carlson says, “so you can never entirely hide what you’re doing. But the less you show them, generally, the better success you’re going to have.”
Taking the Bait
“Fishing is the sport of drowning worms,” an unknown author once penned. That might have been true in the strictly-live-bait era.
“Bait was basically worms or minnows, but mainly worms,” Hayenga recalls. “You got worms or grub worms from manure piles and any kind of little minnow you could get, often little perch.”
“We seined minnows — just about as much fun as fishing — always found a few frogs, and went fishing,” Carlson says. Nightcrawlers were always good bait, and, in the 1970s, leeches made huge inroads. Still-popular baits include crickets, grasshoppers, salmon eggs, fish pieces, corn kernels, hot dog pieces, cheese, and dough balls. Meanwhile, artificial baits designed both to trick fish and to lure fishermen to buy them have proliferated. Among the hottest are scented bait, with lure manufacturers vying to produce the smelliest concoction.
“The scented baits are very innovative,” Carlson says. “Plastic worms or spinner rigs impregnated with a little scent are wonderful for attracting walleyes. When I took kids fishing at the lake, I gave them each a bottle of Gulp! which has 400 times the scent of PowerBait. I think it works better than the real thing.” Gulp! advertises several delicious (to fish, at least) flavors, including crab, squid, sandworm, shad, shrimp, mullet, grub, and leech.
And then there is Eurolarvae, an exotic term for colored maggots. “It’s wonderful bait, and cheap,” Carlson says. “Fish love them because they smell like food and move and wiggle. They are propagated in chicken guts, and when the chickens are fed certain dyes, they come out red, green, or yellow.”
Though most aspects of fishing have changed over the years, the essential core has not: the art of stalking the fish and the desire (some say obsession) to nab the finny devils.
In Fisherman’s Luck, Henry Van Dyke wrote, “No amount of preparation in the matter of rods and lines and hooks and lures and nets and creels can change its essential character. … There are a thousand points at which fortune may intervene. The state of the weather, the height of the water, the appetite of the fish, the presence or absence of other anglers — all these indeterminable elements enter into the reckoning of your success. … When you go a-fishing, you just take your chances. … You try your luck.”
Fishing is a love affair, Kehde says, like falling in love with your wife. “It’s all the mysteries of life combined, an uncontrollable passion.”
“Fishing may have changed,” Hayenga adds, “but it still is wonderful. Any day on the water is great.”
There’s nothing new under the sun. That may have been true centuries ago when the phrase was attributed to an unnamed philosopher, identified only as “the Preacher,” in the Book of Ecclesiastes; but since then, WOW! Innovations have been coming at us at the speed of light.
Every time I think things have gone as far as they can, I remember the song from the Rodgers & Hammerstein musical Oklahoma that proclaimed, “Everything’s up to date in Kansas City. … I counted 20 gas buggies goin’ by theirselves.
Almost every time I took a walk,” the singer reports. “An’ then I put my ear to a Bell telephone, an’ a strange woman started in to talk … they’ve gone about as fer as they can go.”
Hardly. Obviously, they’ve gone a heck of a lot “ferer.” Some “buggies” no longer need gas. They run on electricity. And no woman, strange or otherwise, talks to you when you pick up a telephone, Bell or not. At least not a live one. Most likely you’ll hear a recorded voice — not necessarily female. And that phone probably doesn’t even have a wire; but it does play music and take pictures and has a global positioning system and Internet access — and, who knows, soon maybe the ability to sprout wings and fly you to Mars.
The song continues: “They went an’ built a skyscraper seven stories high, about as high as a buildin’ otta grow …” Of course, today skyscrapers actually do scrape the sky, while back in Kansas City of yore, “With every kind of comfort every house is all complete. You can walk to privies in the rain and never wet your feet! They’ve gone about as fer as they can go …” Not quite. Indoor privies have since morphed into luxury spas, with giant Jacuzzis, tanning beds, toilets that flush automatically, and showers for two (or more) with dozens of power jets to spray.
All well and good, but I wish the brainiacs who developed these wonders would turn their attention to more practical areas — like designing a fitted sheet that will fold itself. I still have not figured out how to do it manually.
Also, how about a shopping cart that will survey your fridge and pantry, print out a shopping list of what you need, and maybe even roll
itself to the supermarket and collect your groceries. OK, so that may be a bit unreasonable. Actually, I would settle for a cart with wheels that all go in the same direction.
And I would really appreciate a dishwasher that loads and unloads itself and stows all the clean dishes, glasses, flatware, and pots and pans in their designated places.
Again, if that’s too much to ask, how about one that actually delivers on its promise to clean those pots and pans of burnt-on food without any help from me?
I do have a robotic vacuum cleaner, but I don’t know why. I don’t really trust it, so I go over all the rugs with my electric manual vac anyway. And I still have to dust. Will someone please design a feather duster that can flutter around on its own, cleaning every surface, nook, and cranny, including the ones I usually miss?
Oh, and you know what else would be great — houseplants with feet that could walk over to the kitchen sink and water themselves when they’re thirsty. All that droopy, dried foliage perched on various surfaces in my home does nothing to enhance its décor.
A self-balancing checkbook would be another dream come true. Sure, there are computer programs that are supposed to achieve this result, but not independently — you have to help it by activating the program and entering numbers and hoping the computer won’t crash before you’ve finished. Much too stressful. (Come to think of it, a crash-proof computer would be nice, too.)
And, yes, they’ve invented a car that can parallel park itself, but when will they give us one that will drive itself down the highway so I can concentrate on my cell phone calls, answer my e-mails on my laptop, and use both hands to eat my sandwich … without worrying that a cop is going to pull me over?
I know they’ve also developed a windproof umbrella that will not blow inside out, even in a hurricane. But better yet would be a sunshine bubble that would encase you and your car wherever you go so you’d never need an umbrella (or a coat or boots for that matter). A blizzard is raging, and you need milk and pork chops? No problem. Just activate your sunshine bubble, slip on your flip-flops, and you’re set to go.
Also near the top of my wish list is a magic wand that I can wave over my lasagna and hot fudge sundae to absorb all the calories. In the meantime, I’d like a scale that will lie and tell me I’ve finally lost those 20 pounds. And until someone develops a wrinkle cream that really works, how about a mirror that lies, too?
Actually, that calorie-absorbing magic wand is second on my fantasy list. I just decided that something else deserves the No. 1 position: You know how some TV shows pluck a plain “before” Jane from the audience and turn her into a gorgeous “after” by the end of the show? Well, I’d like a makeover booth that would do the same thing. I’d step inside, push a button, and out would pop robotic makeup brushes, hair styling tools, and Botox-loaded syringes that would whip around and do their magic while I took a 10-minute nap. Then, voilà! Me, “after”! At least I think it’s me — I really don’t recognize myself.
But back to more mundane matters: I’d really appreciate drawers and cupboards that organize themselves and closets that vaporize anything I haven’t worn in two years, as well as file cabinets that automatically shred contents I will never need again.
And is there a botanist out there who can develop grass that grows only a couple of inches high and never needs mowing or watering, but stays lush and green all summer? Oh, what the heck, all winter, too, while we’re at it.
Speaking of winter, will some climatologist please find a way to direct all snow only to the mountains to keep the skiers happy and off the walks and roadways to keep me happy?
The pundits say that a sure way to wealth is to find a need and fill it. There you go! I’ve identified lots of needs. The rest is up to you.
I’ll trust you to split the profits with me when they start rolling in.
Rose Madeline Mula does her thinking about new gadgets in Methuen, Massachusetts. Her latest book, The Beautiful People and Other Aggravations, is published by Pelican Publishing Company.
You may recall Rutherford B. Hayes’ comment after making the first ever presidential phone call on Alexander Graham Bell’s new telephone. “An amazing invention,” he said, “but who would ever want to use one?”
Our cover artists, quite inventive in their own right, have been chronicling America’s quirky new devices for decades. In observing our reactions to them, they have shown we are all pretty much like kids with new toys (with the exception of Rutherford B. Hayes, that is). It’s the kids, however, who take to the “new” at lightning speed, be it telephones, computers, or e-books. They garner new technologies for their own use, leaving their clueless elders far behind. And kids are inventive, too. But look out when they start thinking they are Henry Ford, the Wright brothers, or Alfred Nobel (inventor of dynamite). Kids in inventor mode, our artists suggest, can sometimes be unsettling.
Contributing writer: Joan SerVaas.
The United States is an innovative nation fascinated by new ideas and impatient for improvement. Innovation is a line that weaves throughout our history—an electrified kite string that becomes a high-voltage power line, a telegraph wire, an optical phone cable, and an antenna that eventually dissolves into a cloud of wireless information. Innovation is a view of our country from a speeding car, a 75th floor office suite, a commercial flight at 30,000 feet, or a lunar craft 230,000 miles from home.
More than any single individual, invention, technology, or improvement, true innovation is an ever-evolving process—the product of unfenced thinking and hard work.
The Post salutes the past, present, and future innovations that shape the way we live, work, and play.
1. Capturing Lightning
Benjamin Franklin was the first major innovator in America. Through his experiments and writings, he educated the world on the nature of electricity, how it was conducted, and how it might be stored. He also helped reconcile religious leaders to scientific truths. As Post writer and historian Samuel Eliot Morison observes, before Franklin, “it was generally supposed to be immoral to assert a scientific cause for phenomena such as earthquakes, shooting stars, and thunder and lightning. Thus, Franklin’s proof of electricity’s causing lightning … took out of the field of religion something earlier classified as a mere act of God and included it in natural science.” Franklin’s work as a diplomat for science inspired other Americans to wrestle new destinies from the elemental forces.
A pioneer in many fields, Nikola Tesla developed alternating-current technology — considered one of the greatest discoveries of all time by many — to supply power to factories. His breakthrough enabled electricity from a power plant to travel over long distances, reaching far into the country, instead of being restricted to the few blocks around a power plant. Later, in the 1960s, physicists Bardeen, Brattain, and Shockley developed a replacement for the electronic vacuum tube. Their transistor, a small and simple device, marked the beginning of solid-state electronics and much smaller appliances. Televisions were no longer the size of washing machines. Portable radios could be hidden in a pocket. And computers shrank from the size of buildings to something that could slip down between the couch cushions.
2. Global Conversation
Samuel Morse wasn’t the only inventor working with telegraphy. But he was the first to offer a reliable, working system. In 1844 he demonstrated its efficiency in Washington by conversing with his associate in Baltimore 30 miles away. By the 1870s, Washington was telegraphing news to San Francisco, 2,400 miles away — a distance that required 60 days by coach. Years passed before Americans fully realized his accomplishment of removing the physical limits of exchanging thoughts. Communication traveled faster than the swiftest carriage or train. People could move ideas as quickly as they could think them.
As telegraph lines rose across the country, Alexander Graham Bell was filing his patent for a device to transmit the human voice. Early users felt shy about shouting into a receiver and listening through the static for a shouted reply, knowing that anyone in the neighborhood could quietly lift a handset and listen in. By the 1980s, this shyness had disappeared when Americans adopted Martin Cooper’s cellular phone. Telephone receivers shrank in size from a brick to a large earring, and it soon became hard not to listen to other people’s phone calls.
3. Americans Hit the Road
Henry Ford did not invent the automobile. His great innovation was introducing mass production to car manufacturing, launching an assembly line that enabled factory workers to build more than 18,000 cars in 1909. By 1920 Ford was selling about a million cars each year.
Americans adopted the automobile like a long-lost relative. People learned to drive, exploring the countryside and relocating when opportunity beckoned. They also began living farther from work, spawning the growth of suburbs.
America was expanding, both horizontally and vertically. Architect William Le Baron Jenney exchanged stone for metal frames and beams when he built Chicago’s Home Insurance Building in the 1880s. The 10-story structure weighed only as much as a three-story conventional building. Jenney’s success at 138 feet was doubled with the 285-foot Flatiron Building in 1902, and quintupled with the 1913 Woolworth Building. The horizon of cities rose and skyscrapers began dwarfing church steeples. In the wake of 9/11, few cities are planning to build skyscrapers that might draw the attention of terrorists. However, the Burj Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, upon completion, will reach 160 stories — half a mile high.
4. Illuminating the Country
While city dwellers ventured into the countryside, farm families migrated toward the city. Even though Thomas Edison regretted the shift, his work rendered it inevitable. Like most of his creations, the incandescent light bulb was a coincidental discovery. He discovered a workable filament for his light bulb by randomly trying thousands of materials before finding the answer in carbonized bamboo fiber.
With electric light, night lost its power to regulate Americans’ lives. Business operated around the clock. As Samuel Insull began building power plants across the Midwest, the faint glow of cities — once visible only in the eastern night sky — began to appear in the West.
Today, as cities grow brighter and the electric glow washes out the sky for miles, innovators are developing new light sources that cut down ambient lighting, focusing illumination where needed and reducing wasted light and energy demands.
5. Advent of Sound
American ingenuity was pushing back the silence of the frontier as well as its darkness. Edison discovered how to mechanically capture sound waves on wax and produced his “Ediphone,” which he intended to sell as a business dictation machine. Coincidentally, he discovered that his machine could record music.
True to form, Edison developed his sound machine through trial and error, without any underlying theory. And, just as typical, Edison stuck with his original ideas, using cylinder recordings — though discs were more practical — and personally selecting the music his studio recorded, despite his limited tastes and deafness in one ear.
Edison’s stubbornness created an opportunity that Eldridge Johnson seized when he founded the Victor Talking Machine Company. He brought a less expensive phonograph to the market and began recording a broader variety of music. His recording company achieved unimaginable success when, as an experiment, it began selling records of blues, jazz, gospel, and country music. The entertainment industry discovered a devoted following for music, a need largely ignored by polite society.
In the 1950s, engineers introduced long-playing records that offered more music with greater fidelity. At the same time, David Paul Gregg was busy working on his optical disc that used a laser to read audio data. Twenty years later, his development became the compact disc: a small, durable medium of complete fidelity that resisted scratches and static. Fifteen years later, the MP3 protocol compressed music into small computer files that could be transferred, stored, and played on miniature players. Today, Americans play more music than ever on personal MP3 players, which can be seen everywhere from the suburbs to the front lines in war.
6. Populating the Airwaves
As Edison pressed voices into wax cylinders, American scientists attempted to direct voices through the air. They experienced little success until Nikola Tesla, in 1895, developed the technology to transmit a sound signal from New York to West Point, 50 miles away. By the 1920s, radio amateurs were transmitting signals across the country and wracking their brains for broadcasting material. They read agricultural lectures, delivered sermons, relayed news from local papers, or played records. Several states away, enthusiasts fiddled with cat’s whiskers and coils on homemade sets, eager for any sound. Farm boys strung up wire to hear the talk and static of distant Chicago or New York.
Philo T. Farnsworth, a mathematical genius from Utah, successfully added a visual element to radio signals when he introduced the image dissector tube. The device, which he first built while in high school, enabled him to capture and transmit moving images. He broadcast America’s first television signal in 1927. The Radio Corporation of America eventually bought his patent and made the first public television broadcast from the 1939 New York World’s Fair. The first regularly appearing television show hit airwaves in 1947. Television stations struggled by on little revenue, and early programming favored cheap entertainment.
While some were critical of the quality of programming, no one could deny that televisions had become more sophisticated. Today, companies sell 150-inch, high-definition TVs and are developing contact lenses that transmit television shows.
7. Moving Pictures
America quickly realized that television could not replace its favorite form of entertainment: the movies. America’s motion picture industry was among the largest and most profitable in the world. Its earliest incarnation was Edison’s Kinetoscope: a hand-cranked viewer that showed a few minutes of dancing, gymnastics, or people simply walking down the street. Yet this humble beginning sparked an immense appetite for film.
Edison began work on a projector that allowed crowds to watch the same images. But Edison’s greatest contribution to the new industry was a curious little production called The Great Train Robbery. The 10-minute drama—crude, choppy, and over-acted—inspired other innovators with the possibilities of cinema.
No less remarkable was the innovation of George Eastman. His Kodak camera company encouraged Americans to take up what had been the expensive hobby of photography. Customers bought his camera, containing enough film for 100 images. After the film was exposed, the photographer mailed the entire camera back to Eastman’s laboratories, which sent back the pictures and a reloaded camera. Personal photography ceased being a rarity.
Now, with digital cameras, photographers are pushing the limits of what can be captured. High-definition displays and computer enhancement give photographs a level of detail that extends the capabilities of the human eye.
8. America Takes Flight
The Wright brothers approached flight with the enthusiasm of hobbyists, but realized they would have to master the science of aerodynamics. They built from the ground up, testing everything, and often finding their textbooks wrong. The brothers worked relentlessly against limited information and slim funds, crouching in a shack on the North Carolina coast, as 70 mph-winds tore against their machine. Finally, in December 1903, they succeeded. A half century passed before air travel became affordable.
Fascinated by the Wright brothers’ achievement, Americans failed to notice the work of another innovator. Robert Goddard grew up with a dream of traveling beyond Earth’s atmosphere, where aircraft could not depend on air resistance. Realizing that travel in the vacuum of space would require an engine to bring along its own oxygen, Goddard developed a rocket design that could carry its own fuel and created the multistage rocket that would jettison its own starter motor as it struggled against Earth’s gravity. In the 1930s, his research team was launching supersonic rockets 1.5 miles from earth. Almost predictably, he was discounted as a crackpot for talking about space travel, and the armed forces saw no military application in his missiles. Goddard died in 1945, just as America realized the vast potential of his work. Twenty-four years later, Americans crossed space, landed on the moon, and returned.
9. Tapping New Energy
Early in his career, Italian born Enrico Fermi realized it was possible to control the disintegration of uranium and start a chain reaction that would release massive energy. Working with physicist Leo Szilard, Fermi achieved nuclear fission for the first time in 1942. His research led to the development of an atomic bomb for the United States military. After dropping two atomic bombs on Japan, Americans became deeply concerned about this new, nuclear science. In 1946, a Post editorial warned: “If we are not destroyed by our own curiosity and rising standards of destructiveness, we could drift along, constantly testing the warlike possibilities in the atom until some other nation got the secret.” The remark was highly prophetic. Russia developed nuclear weapons in 1949. But Fermi hesitated to build a nuclear device with greater power, believing that such a device could only result in genocide.
America’s fears over nuclear disaster overshadowed promising applications such as nuclear medicine. Data from nuclear imaging has saved countless lives by detecting cancerous growths in their early stages. Another development, nuclear power generation, continues to face criticism. Despite Americans uneasiness about nuclear energy, nuclear reactors generate nearly 20% of our country’s electricity. Innovators are looking beyond the large nuclear plants to the potential of scaled-down reactors for neighborhoods or individual houses, which would be smaller than a garden shed.
10. Outsourcing Brainwork
While America’s attention focused on atomic power, a quiet innovation was underway that would prove even more powerful. George Stibitz was building a digital computer on his kitchen table. By 1940 the device could perform sophisticated mathematical calculations. While Stibitz used his computer to model biochemical systems in the human body, other innovators were looking at computer programs for more general interest.
Eventually, the personal computer (PC) made its debut in the late 1970s. At first a PC seemed as practical as a personal aerospace program. Yet innovators such as Apple’s Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak developed affordable computers for everyday business operations. In 1979 the duo created an operating system that didn’t use advanced logic and computer language. This development, along with practical programs for word processing and spreadsheets, encouraged America to incorporate digital technology in their lives.
Thousands of tinkerers and hackers played with digital systems, often with only a burning curiosity to see what they could do. A man named Bill Gates aided the effort. His genius for programming and business helped him build the Microsoft Corporation. Not only did Gates assist America’s programmers in developing software, he helped standardize the industry so different systems could converse in a common operating system.
11. Computer Age
When Lawrence Roberts developed a system for sending data packets between computers, he had little idea where the innovation would lead. He developed his computer network—the ARPANET—for the government. At first university researchers began using the network to share data. Then the public discovered it.
Soon after, thousands of people around the world began creating documents and programs that could be freely shared through the World Wide Web. Millions of Web sites appeared on computer screens, offering phone directories, encyclopedias, political commentary, and access to a vast global marketplace that never closes. In the 1990s, Larry Page and Sergey Brin built Google, Inc. to help the world surf the rising ocean of information. Google would locate Web sites based on their titles or their contents, while also promoting new methods of sharing information — social networking, video sharing, music downloading, and free videophone service to anywhere in the world.
12. The American Voice
While all of these ideas shape the way we live, our greatest innovation is the rich and unique American culture — the confluence of our unique system of democracy, traditions, food, thought, language, and arts, over 20 generations, that has been exported, adopted, and imitated around the world.
From baseball to rodeos, Broadway musicals to demolition derbies, the Great American Novel to comic books, blue jeans to baseball caps, surfing in Malibu to singing at the Met, cooking in the French Quarter to dancing at the Zuni pueblo, American culture continues to shape the nature and pace of change around the globe.
But perhaps nothing reflects the wealth of American culture like our music. It borrowed from the home cultures of its people to produce a sound unique to the world. American music’s mixed ancestry imbued it with unexpected charm and vitality. More than just a fortunate hybrid, American music was based on the blues scale — one of the most significant innovations in Western music. The blues spun off new music traditions with a strong family resemblance. We hear the distinctive blues tonal progression in gospel, bluegrass, jazz, country, rock, soul, and pop music. The distinctly authentic sound of the country created a family connection between Americans as diverse as Bessie Smith, Glenn Miller, B.B. King, Bruce Springsteen, Aaron Copland, Otis Redding, Bob Dylan, Irving Berlin, and jazz legend Miles Davis.
The genius of the American experiment is stated in our motto “e pluribus unum”—out of many, one. Our American culture enables us to share roots, while encouraging experimentation and growth—out of many comes many more.
Illustrations by Britt Spencer.
Even the most fiercely self-disciplined Southern belle is bound to have some creases and creaks as she hits 70. Yet here is a Dixie septuagenarian still smooth of cheek, bright of eye, and lithe of figure.
Of course, she’s had work done—expert work. Because no one would trust Gone with the Wind to anyone but the best cinematic plastic surgeons.
The film, which catapulted Britain’s Vivien Leigh to icon status as Scarlett O’Hara and immortalized Clark Gable as the only possible Rhett Butler, will celebrate its 70th birthday this December. Thousands are planning pilgrimages to Georgia, the setting for the book and scene of the premiere. Marietta, Georgia, is even restaging the three-day GWTW gala of 1939, with spotlights criss-crossing the night sky and the remaining cast members walking the red carpet.
But what, really, is left after all this time—73 years after Margaret Mitchell unleashed the world’s best-selling novel?
Never underestimate the South’s love of tradition and, especially, its tenacious stewardship of all things GWTW.
From an original Scarlett gown to Mitchell’s Remington typewriter, there’s plenty to experience. Here are some of the milestones to help you map your own epic adventure.
Questing for Tara
GWTW fans—called “Windies”—long for the towering white pillars of Tara, but the mansion we love was basically a confection whipped up by producer David O. Selznick.
The native Pittsburgher, who called GWTW “the American bible,” envisioned a plantation house like the antebellum mansions lining the Mississippi. Mitchell’s Tara, however, was modeled after her great-grandparents’ farmstead in Clayton County, a two-story frame house with a comfy porch. The family called it “Rural Home.”
In a tribute to her Irish ancestry, Mitchell named her fictional estate Tara for the hill of Tara, 30 miles outside Dublin, where Ireland’s first High King was declared.
“When Margaret Mitchell saw the film, she said, ‘That’s not the house I wrote about,’ ” said Ted Key, a costumed docent at Stately Oaks in Jonesboro, Clayton County.
Built in about 1831 by Mitchell’s Irish ancestor Philip Fitzgerald, Rural Home is now in ruins. Instead, head down Carriage Lane to Stately Oaks, an 1839 home in the Plantation Plain style of Rural Home.
“Windies always ask, ‘Is this Tara?’ ” Key said. “It’s as close to Tara as you’re going to get.”
During the Civil War, the Robert McCord family lived in the house, which was moved four miles in 1972. Mrs. McCord, her six children, and the cook were hiding alone
in the home when Union soldiers broke into the basement and found them.
An officer stationed a guard at the front and back doors to protect them, then asked a favor of the lady of the house. Would her cook make his officers home-cooked meals?
“That’s the way the house was saved,” Key said.
It was on the porch of her family farmhouse, similar to Stately Oaks, that young Mitchell heard tales of the war.
“I heard about fighting and wounds… how ladies nursed in the hospitals…the way gangrene smelled. …I heard about the burning and looting of Atlanta. I heard everything in the world except that the Confederates lost the war. When I was 10 years old,” Mitchell recalled, “it was a violent shock to learn that General Lee had been licked.”
Hollywood may not have gotten Rural Home right, but it did create an indelible illusion beloved around the world.
In 1979 Georgia’s First Lady, Betty Talmadge, bought the studio façade of Tara’s doorway, now located at Atlanta’s Margaret Mitchell House and Gone with the Wind Museum.
Tracking the GWTW Manuscript
Travelers would love to see the original pages of the world’s best-selling novel, but Margaret Mitchell wouldn’t have it.
Her second husband, John Marsh, who encouraged Mitchell to write, said her will placed upon him “the duty of destroying her papers. … She believed that an author should stand or fall before the public on the basis of the author’s published work.”
Only 20 or so pages survive, and if you really want to see them, there’s only one thing to do.
“There are a few pages in the SunTrust Bank, where they will remain unless someone challenges her authorship,” said Richard Cruce, the librarian who handles the Mitchell collection at the Atlanta-Fulton Public Library System.
But you won’t leave the library disappointed. Fans from 38 states and 13 countries came last year to see the Remington typewriter that Mitchell wrote GWTW on—last chapter first. She wrote out of chronology from 1926 on, eventually weaving the chapters together about 1935.
The manuscript may be out of reach, but the Margaret Mitchell House has the clipboard she corrected it on. And the suitcase that Harold Latham of Macmillan Publishing bought to carry away the manuscript.
He’d come from New York to scout for new writers. When he met Mitchell at a writers’ conference and asked if she had work to show, Mitchell said, “No, I have nothing.”
A friend urged her on, and Mitchell finally went to the Georgia Terrace Hotel just as Latham was leaving. She handed over 70 bulging envelopes and said, “Take the damn thing before I change my mind.”
Searching for the Loew’s Grand
Gone with the Wind was a publishing sensation, even at an astronomical $3 each. It sold more than 28 million copies worldwide.
Barely was the ink dry before movie buzz started. Clark Gable, “King of Hollywood,” would play Rhett, everyone decided. The actor, however, resisted all the way. Finally, his studio, MGM, loaned him out for the role, and Selznick added $50,000 to the deal, enough for Gable to divorce Ria Langham and marry Carole Lombard. Lombard urged him to take the part, and now no one can imagine anyone else as Rhett Butler.
Scarlett was trickier. The search would take two years, cost more than $92,000, and involve 1,400 actresses, from Lana Turner to Lucille Ball.
Ninety candidates took screen tests, with four in full color: front-runner Joan Bennett, Jean Arthur, Paulette Goddard, and Vivien Leigh.
Selznick, of course, swooned for 25-year-old Leigh, who traveled from London to land the role.
“Better an English girl,” sniffed a Daughter of the Confederacy, “than a Yankee.”
Atlanta, of course, was determined to host the world premiere, and the lavish Loew’s Grand was the place.
“The premiere was like a snowflake in Atlanta,” said Beth Bailey of the Clayton County Convention and Visitors Bureau. “We shut down everything for one snowflake. People didn’t go to work, didn’t do anything but try to see actors from Gone with the Wind.”
The city dolled up the Grand, built in 1893, with faux Tara pillars and raked the night sky with searchlights on December 15, 1939. All the stars arrived, somehow dwarfed by the 4-foot-11-inch figure of Margaret Mitchell.
Sadly, the Grand burned in 1978, and only fragments remain. The Road to Tara Museum has three of its red plush seats, a playbill, a railing, and a scrap of art deco carpet.
Atlanta’s Fox Theatre, built in 1929 as a Masonic temple, has taken over the heritage role with classic movies, including GWTW. It even has a few of the Grand’s seats. Ironically, they’re up in the standing room only area of the top balcony, a section reserved for blacks during segregation.
Staying at the Stars’ Hotel
You can still book the Clark Gable suite at the Georgian Terrace Hotel. The ballroom, a white vision of Corinthian columns and chandeliers, was the setting for the film’s post-premiere party.
“Every day,” said Carl Dees, general manager of the hotel, “someone comes into this ballroom to take pictures.”
Unveiling the Costumes
Walter Plunkett created some of film’s most iconic costumes. Who can forget Scarlett’s green velvet drapery gown?
He took the costumes after filming and willed most of them to the University of Texas, where they remain in storage.
Only one of Scarlett’s original gowns is on display, and it draws Windies from around the world to Marietta’s Scarlett on the Square. It’s her ivory bengaline silk gown that Rhett bought her on their honeymoon in New Orleans.
At the Road to Tara Museum in Jonesboro, seamstresses have devoted thousands of hours replicating GWTW gowns. They had the green-sprig fabric for Scarlett’s barbecue dress specially milled and sent plumes to Las Vegas to be dyed just the right burgundy for the gown Scarlett wore to Ashley Wilkes’ birthday party.
And when they replicated the green drapery gown and hat, they added a real chicken’s foot to the cording on the hat, just as Scarlett wore it. For true Windies, no detail is too small.
What does it take to become a true innovator—to expand the borders of human knowledge to include new territory no one else thought existed? Natural talent is one variable, but it’s by no means the whole story. According to Boston College psychologist Ellen Winner, young prodigies—the types of kids who ace the SAT, for instance—often fail to develop into genuinely groundbreaking innovators. Because they’ve been so lavishly rewarded for mastering an existing domain, Winner’s theory goes, they may have less incentive to chart new territory.
Although the qualities that make a great innovator can’t be measured by standardized tests, they’re exemplified in the life stories of the foremost innovators in this country—inventors, composers, policymakers, and others who have beaten the odds to break new ground. The innovators we profile here hail from a wide variety of fields, but they have a few key attributes in common: a burning curiosity about the world; an unusual willingness to implement new concepts and ideas; and an unrelenting work ethic that enables them to turn mistakes into successes.
David Baker knows a little something about thinking outside the box. As a high school student, he fell so deeply in love with music that he resolved to learn how to play the sousaphone, even though his school music department didn’t own one. “I took a cigar box, made holes in the top, put some springs and pieces of wood inside, and used that to learn the fingering for the tuba,” says Baker, now chair of the jazz department at Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music. “When the sousaphone finally became available, my band teacher, Russell Brown, was enamored that I was so serious about it.” Still, Baker remembers butting heads with Brown from time to time. “We were playing ‘Begin the Beguine,’ and I tried to play a boogie-woogie line. Mr. Brown said, ‘That’s not the way the line goes.’ I played the line again, and he was really getting angry. He said, ‘Boy, I don’t understand you. You run into a wall, and your solution is to run faster and hit harder.’ ”
Those early philosophies—pursue improvement at all costs and refuse to concede to an obstacle—would come to define Baker’s career as a musical innovator. An up-and-coming trombonist as a young man, he dreamed of achieving fame as a performer until a jaw injury sustained in an auto accident left him unable to play the instrument. “I thought it was the calamity of all calamities,” Baker says. But he now views this tragedy as a triumph: It forced him to find other ways to be creative, to give birth to the images in his mind. Following the injury, he learned to play a variety of other instruments and began experimenting with writing his own music. “If that [injury] hadn’t happened,” he says, “I wouldn’t have become a composer. No way.”
Baker’s professional reorientation jump-started a wild ride through the world of music, one that hasn’t yet come to a halt. In addition to writing scores for the New York Philharmonic and the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, Baker directs the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks
Orchestra and has won an Emmy Award. Part of his success comes from his willingness to entertain ideas that others may think are a little nutty. In his “Concertino for Cell Phones and Orchestra,” for instance, he incorporated ringtones into the score to harmonize with the orchestra, transforming orchestra-goers’ ultimate annoyance—a ringing cell phone—into an integral part of the music.
Although Baker’s original premieres have made a splash on many stages worldwide, he considers himself a teacher first and foremost. Interacting with students feeds his musical innovation, he says, because they encourage him to keep seeking out new ideas and new approaches. “To find something original, you take what you are and expand it to include all the new things that you know,” he says. “When I teach, I’m forever having to solve new problems. I’m so thrilled to be around young ideas.”
Peter Pronovost, M.D.
Dr. Peter Pronovost has long been haunted by the story of a little girl named Josie King, who died at Johns Hopkins Hospital in 2001 from dehydration and an overdose of pain medicine. After Josie’s death, Pronovost, a professor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, worked with her mother, Sorrel, to implement better safety programs at the hospital. “At one point,” recalls Pronovost, “she said, ‘Peter, can you tell me that Josie would be less likely to die today than she was four years ago? I want to know if care is safer.’ ”
Josie’s mother’s words have stayed with Pronovost, he says, because he believes all the well-meaning safety programs in the world mean nothing if they don’t make a measurable impact.
“The tragedy that befell Josie King had a devastating effect on our institution and was, and still is, a reminder of how
important patient safety and quality work is for Johns Hopkins and for every hospital in the world,” says Dr. Pronovost.
This keen focus on practicality, on quantifying and achieving results, has been the hallmark of Pronovost’s career. Determined to save patient lives that were being needlessly lost because of negligence and human error, he devised a concrete series of safety checklists for doctors and nurses to follow. To prevent a common cause of illness—bloodstream infections related to catheters inserted into a blood vessel with a direct line to the heart—doctors had to:
Wash hands using soap or alcohol prior to placing the catheter.
- Wear a sterile hat, mask, gown, and gloves and completely cover the patient with sterile drapes.
- Avoid placing the catheter in the groin.
- Clean the insertion site on the patient’s skin with chlorhexidine antiseptic and apply a sterile dressing over the insertion site once the catheter is in.
- Remove the catheter when it is no longer needed.
The system was simple enough, but to implement it, Pronovost had to upend some of the prevailing tenets of health care culture. “I said, ‘Nurses, I want you to supervise the doctors to make sure they’re using the checklist.’ You would have thought it was World War III. The doctors said, ‘There’s no way you can have a nurse second-guess me in public.’ ” In hopes of forging a consensus, Pronovost brainstormed a way to appeal to the doctors’ and nurses’ shared interests. “I pulled everyone together and I said, ‘Is it tenable that we can harm patients in health care?’ They said, ‘No.’ I said to the doctors, ‘Unless it’s an emergency, the nurse is going to correct you.’ When it was framed that way, as a common goal, the conflict just melted away.” Pronovost’s unifying efforts paid off. When Michigan hospitals put his checklists in place, central line infection rates plummeted nearly 66 percent, saving about $175 million in health care costs. Other doctors and hospitals began following Pronovost’s example, and in 2008, he was named to Time magazine’s list of the 100 most influential people in the world.
As impressive as his accolades are, Pronovost has never lost sight of the importance of getting other people on board to create a lasting transformation—a policy he’s put into practice in his own family as well. “I went to my kids and said, ‘How am I doing as a dad? What could I do better?’ ” he says. “Their insights were spot-on. My son said, ‘Dad, get on my level. Just put your BlackBerry away and play with me.’ ”
Dean Kamen may be best known as the inventor of the Segway—the two-wheeled human transporter—but he’s far from a one-hit wonder in the world of innovation. The New Hampshire entrepreneur has amassed a formidable oeuvre of technological advances, from an all-terrain electric wheelchair to a water purification system for Third World villages that runs on a Stirling engine. But Kamen doesn’t invent just for the sake of creating new things. All of his ventures spring from his desire to make people’s lives better in a concrete way. “In order for an invention to become an innovation,” he says, “you have to have such a compelling story that people are willing to say, ‘Yesterday, this is what I did and how I did it, but this represents such a big improvement that I am willing to change.’ ”
Kamen’s obsession with change and innovation came gradually. He wasn’t a tinkerer as a child, but he did have one standout trait: an insatiable curiosity about the natural world. “I asked myself things like, ‘Why does hot chocolate cool off if you don’t drink it quickly?’ There were so many things that seemed so predictable and yet so inexplicable, and I wondered how all of this happened.”
Once Kamen realized that inventing new products involved understanding these laws of nature and applying them through engineering, he was off and running. He derived special pleasure in finding unexpected uses for existing technology. When his older brother was in medical school and designing drugs to help babies with leukemia, Kamen realized available drug delivery systems were too large and began devising a solution. “I went down to the basement and built him the equipment he needed: tiny pumps that would deliver a very small amount of drug,” he remembers. “Then one of the professors my brother was dealing with said, ‘That little pump is so small you could put it on your belt or put it in your pocket.’ ” Inspired, Kamen used the mini-pump technology he’d developed to create the first portable insulin pump—now used by diabetics around the world.
Aspiring innovators, Kamen believes, would do well to adopt this kind of flexible mind-set. It’s important for ambitious creators to get comfortable with end-arounds, unexpected eurekas, and periodic failures, he says, because the ride is bound to be a bumpy one. To that end, Kamen founded FIRST, a high school robotics competition designed to give students a firsthand taste of what the innovation process is like. “I think the public has this perception that inventors run around with great ideas, get the parts, and make the product. But the process of inventing couldn’t be further from that—it’s not a linear, straightforward process. You have to be willing to adapt your ideas quickly, no matter how passionate you are about them, and just keep chipping away.”
From an early age, Esther Takeuchi liked to get into just about everything—whether that meant peeling apart golf balls or exploring inside the walls. “My father was an electrical engineer, and I would follow him around the house,” she remembers. “Whatever he did, I would do.”
Takeuchi, now an engineer at the State University of New York at Buffalo, has parlayed her penchant for figuring out how things work into a wildly successful career. She holds over 120 patents—more than any other woman alive—and has received multiple regional Inventor of the Year awards. While working at the technology company Greatbatch, she developed the Lilliputian battery that powers implantable cardiac defibrillators, a scientific leap forward that has improved the lives of thousands of patients.
Perfecting her most famous invention, Takeuchi says, proved a long, slow slog. “The battery didn’t leap forward fully formed—a lot of steps led to the development and improvement of the technology.” She doesn’t discount the importance of split-second inspiration, but emphasizes that innovators need to lay an extensive groundwork of knowledge to pave the way for that eureka moment. “What was important was spending time thinking about the problem and reading about it. Sometimes I would set the problem aside, and at the strangest moment it would occur to me, ‘Hey, we could do it this way.’ But being diligent in exploring the problem—that part is a disciplined process.”
After a successful career in the industry, Takeuchi returned to academia in 2007 for two reasons: to pursue more freewheeling research on ways to improve battery performance and to help equip the next generation of innovators in a time of increasing global competitiveness. “The United States is just an unbelievable country—there’s such a tradition of innovation and great thought. But I do have concerns about how the United States is going to remain competitive, and I thought, ‘Well, maybe I can contribute to that.’ ”
Although Takeuchi believes inspiring teachers can help spur youthful creativity, she also thinks the government needs to pitch in by delivering sustained funding for science to help the country shift its focus toward innovation. “We have bright, diligent, motivated young people, but what fields are they
attracted to? We need to value, as a society, the contributions that scientists, engineers, and technical educators make.”
Several years ago, Oakland, California, lawyer Van Jones found himself at a career crossroads. “As an attorney, I was focused on trying to keep kids out of trouble, and I just burned out,” he says. Discouraged and not knowing exactly what he was going to do next, Jones set out to learn more about cutting-edge environmental business. “I discovered a lot of really cool technology—solar companies, organic food companies. I said, ‘This is great stuff, but none of it’s happening in the neighborhoods where I’m doing my work.’ ”
That initial epiphany—that residents of cash-strapped urban areas could form the foundation of a future green-collar economy—launched Jones on a quest to make his vision come true. “It’s a tremendous asset, the pent-up desire for positive change in urban communities,” he says. “You have all these people that need work and all this work that needs to be done.” To that end, Jones founded Green for All, a non-profit organization designed to combat poverty and build a green economy at the same time. Word about Jones’ grassroots venture spread among national movers and shakers, and thanks in part to Green for All’s inspiring example, President Obama budgeted more than $4 billion for green job creation and training as part of his 2009 economic stimulus plan. In March, Obama also named Jones the White House Council on Environmental Quality’s special advisor on green jobs. In addition to providing urban residents with a much-needed livelihood, Jones says, Obama’s new program will help enable the United States to compete with the rest of the world in the green-jobs sector. “This is one of those moments where the United States gets to choose: Do we want to have these jobs in our country, or only see them in other countries?”
The experience of turning his career crisis into a national-scale coup has steeled Jones’ determination not to let negativity block his future path, a philosophy he’ll adhere closely to as the Obama administration attempts to turn its green-jobs plans into reality. “My biggest asset is my innocence, and I treasure it. I went down that whole cynical pathway—too cool for school—and it didn’t make a difference for anybody I cared about,” he says. “So I had to reclaim that innocence. When I started working in politics, it was because I thought we could make a better society. You’ll never get me to give up on what I want this country to be.”