I wrote a while back about how not all inventors are dead white guys, and talked about the inventors of the toy and game industry being a hidden genre of very alive, not always white, and not always male inventors. At the end of the article I said, “let’s all make an effort to brag about our awesome industry to some impressionable youth.” And it turns out that there’s a day for that!
Since I wrote that article I learned that there’s actually a National Inventors’ Day — which is celebrated on a dead white inventor’s birthday. It makes sense that they’d choose a prolific inventor’s birthday to honor all inventors, and this guy is probably one of the best-known American inventors. I’ll give you a few hints: he held over 1000 patents and his ideas impacted light, power, sound recording, and motion pictures. Yep, it’s Thomas Edison! Now no knocking Thomas Edison since he’s a pretty amazing guy to have be the “spokesperson” for the invention profession — but there are so many other great inventors out there that are sort of “unsung heroes” and it seems like today would be a good day to honor them. Here’s a great Buzzfeed video that talks a little about that:
Hopping off my soapbox: What shall we do to celebrate National Inventors’ Day? I’ve got a couple ideas:
1. Show your favorite inventor a little National Inventors’ Day love with a shout out somewhere.
2. Read up on some non-dead, non-white, or non-male inventors. Some suggestions of people who invented stuff big and small:
- Hedy Lamarr (Movie Star/Inventor of Spread Spectrum Radio) NPR story, Hedy’s Folly (book)
- William Kamkwamba (Junkyard Windmill Inventor/Author) The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind (autobiography), TED Talks and Bio
- Stephanie Kwolek (Inventor of Kevlar) New York Times Obituary
- Grace Hopper (Inventor of first Compiler/One of the First Computer Programmers) Yale Article, On David Letterman (video), Grace Hopper and the Invention of the Information Age (book)
- Mary Anderson (Inventor of Windshield Wipers) USPTO article
- Momofuku Ando (Inventor of Instant Ramen/Cup Noodles) New York Times Obituary
- Margaret Knight (Inventor of the Paper Bag Machine) National Women’s History Museum Bio, Paper Discovery Center article, Marvelous Mattie (Children’s book)
- Richard Turere (Youth Inventor of Lion Lights – keeps lions away from cattle) TED Talk and Bio
- Sir Tim Berners-Lee (Inventor of the World Wide Web) WWW Foundation Article, TED Talk
- Kenneth Shinozuka (Youth Inventor of an Alzheimer’s Sock Alarm) TED Talk
- Melitta Bentz (Inventor of the Drip Coffee Process) Refinery29 Article
- Dean Kamen (Inventor of the Segway) TED Talks and Bio
- Clarence Birdseye (Inventor of Fast-Freezing Process – he’s dead, white, and male, but kind of quirky and you have frozen carrots and peas because of him) PBS article, Birdseye: The Adventures of a Curious Man (book)
3. Spend the day inventing something. Do it alone, with your kids, with a group. It doesn’t have to be a huge smashing success — maybe it’s something that just makes your life easier. There’s a bit of thinking out there that setting aside a small timeframe with a firm deadline to do a project can create some amazing results. Read more about how Google’s venture capital team uses the “Sprint” method. Slideshare Power Point of the method.
4. Read some empowering books to your kids so they may invent something that makes the future great for mankind. My favorites about invention:
- What Do You Do With an Idea? by Kobi Yamada (about growing your idea)
- The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires (that ideas don’t come out perfect the first time)
- Not a Stick and Not a Box by Antoinette Portis (thinking about new uses for regular things)
- Ish by Peter A Reynolds (not letting negative comments or the need to be perfect to get you down)
- Thank You Bear by Greg Foley (less about inventing more about believing in your ideas)
- Rosie Revere Engineer by Andrea Beaty (about never giving up when your ideas don’t work out the first time. Especially if someone else doesn’t share your vision.) <— I LOVE this book.