Rupert Goodwins' Diary

Friday 26/11/2004While researching the microengine story I typed "Inventor of the dynamo" into Google, just to refresh my schoolboy memory of what Michael Faraday actually did and when he did it. That was unproductive: the first ten hits had seven different names -- and all from different countries.

Friday 26/11/2004
While researching the microengine story I typed "Inventor of the dynamo" into Google, just to refresh my schoolboy memory of what Michael Faraday actually did and when he did it. That was unproductive: the first ten hits had seven different names -- and all from different countries. Every nation has a claim, every country an electromagnetic hero. And what names! Zenobe Gramme, the Belgian. Antonio Pacinotti, the Italian. The best by far is the exotic Hippolyte Pixii, a Parisian who also built the dangerous-sounding dilatation pyrometer.

Some more research dug up interesting correlations for most of the great inventions of the modern era. Flight, television, radio and telephone -- every one has many creation myths tied to many nations. (You can usually find someone claiming bragging rights for Nikola Tesla, too, no matter what's involved, but that's another story). I can remember the running joke back in the days of the Cold War, that the Russians always had an inventor for everything -- presumably we looked the other way when our friends did the same, as they did for us. The last echo of that was in the Star Trek joke that Shakespeare was best in the original Klingon: these days we're all pally, so we allow each other these little foibles while secretly knowing that our guy was really the first.

This is a good corollary to the law that every nation thinks every other nation strange, and they're all correct in this. Full marks to Google for effortlessly demonstrating the fact. It'll take a long time, if ever, for this to percolate into the way we're taught how to think about history -- if we're ever taught such a thing at all. Nowadays, of course, every new idea is born into a digital world where its genesis and growth is automatically and comprehensively documented. There'll still be arguments, but the power of the file date stamp will change the way we think of ourselves and the things we get up to. Intellectual-property lawmakers should take note.

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