DAVENPORT, THOMAS Thomas Davenport (July 9, 1802 -July 6, 1851) was an American blacksmith and inventor who established the first commercially successful electric streetcar. Davenport, from Vermont, invented an electric motor in 1834 and began a small electric railway in 1835. He patented a device for "Improvements in propelling machinery by magnetism and electromagnetism" in 1837 (his electric railway). Davenport later started a workshop in New York City, New York, and published a journal on electromagnetism (it was printed on a press that was powered by motors which he devised).
DA VINCI, LEONARDO Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) was an Italian inventor, artist, architect, and scientist. Da Vinci had an interest in engineering and made detailed sketches of the airplane, the helicopter (and other flying machines), the parachute, the submarine, the armored car, the ballista (a giant crossbow), rapid-fire guns, the centrifugal pump (designed to drain wet areas, like marshes), ball bearings, the worm gear (a set of gears in which many teeth make contact at once, reducing the strain on the teeth, allowing more pressure to be put on the mechanism), and many other incredible ideas that were centuries ahead of da Vinci's time.
DAVY, HUMPHRY Sir Humphry Davy (1778-1829) was an English scientist who invented the first electric light in 1800. He experimented with electricity and invented an electric battery. When he connected wires from his battery to two pieces of carbon, electricity arced between the carbon pieces, producing an intense, hot, and short-lived light. This is called an electric arc. Davy also invented a miner's safety helmet and a process to desalinate sea water. Davy discovered the elements boron, sodium, aluminum (whose name he later changed to aluminium), and potassium.
DICKSON, EARLE Bandages for wounds had been around since ancient times, but an easy-to-use dressing with an adhesive was invented by Earle Dickson (a cotton buyer at the Johnson & Johnson company). Dickson perfected the BAND-AID® in 1920, making a small, sterile adhesive bandage for home use. Dickson invented the BAND-AID® for his wife, who had many kitchen accidents and needed an easy-to-use wound dressing. Dickson was rewarded by the Johnson & Johnson company by being made a vice-president of the company.
DIONYSIUS THE ELDER The catapult was invented in ancient Greece (in 399 BC) by Dionysius the Elder of Syracuse. The catapult is a device that hurls heavy objects or arrows over a large distance. The Romans later added wheels to the catapult to make it more maneuverable. Also called the ballista, this device was a major weapon of warfare for well over a thousand years. A double-armed catapult (also called the trebuchet) was invented by Mariano Taccola of Siena during the Middle Ages, about AD 1400.
DISHWASHER The first dishwasher was patented in 1850 by Joel Houghton; his machine was a hand-turned wheel that splashed water on dishes - unfortunately, it wasn't very effective at washing dishes. The first working automatic dishwasher was invented by Mrs. Josephine Garis (W. A.) Cochran, of Shelbyville, Illinois, in 1889. Her dishwasher was a wooden tub with a wire basket in it - the dishes went in the basket, and rollers rotated the dishes. As a handle on the tub was turned, hot, soapy water was sprayed into the tub, cleaning the dishes. Cochran's machine was first shown at the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago, Illinois. At first, her machine was only bought by some restaurants and hotels. Cochran's small company was eventually associated with the KitchenAid company. The dishwasher didn't become widespread as a labor-saving machine until the 1960s.
DISPOSABLE DIAPER The disposable diaper was invented in 1950 by Marion Donovan. Her first leak-proof diaper was a plastic-lined cloth diaper. Donovan then developed a disposable diaper. She was unsuccessful at selling her invention to established manufacturers, so she started her own company.
DONOVAN, MARION Marion Donovan (1917-1998) was an American mother, inventor, and architect who invented the disposable diaper in 1950. Her first leak-proof diaper were fast-selling "Boaters," plastic-lined cloth diapers (diapers lined with pieces cut from a shower curtain, and later with surplus parachute nylon). Donovan then developed a completely disposable diaper. She was unsuccessful at selling this invention to established manufacturers, so she started her own company, which she later sold. Donovan produced many other consumer-based inventions and held more than a dozen patents
DORTICUS, CLATONIA JOAQUIN Clatonia Joaquin Dorticus was an African-American inventor who received many patents. He invented an apparatus for applying dyes to the sides of the soles and heels of shoes (patent # 535,820, March 19, 1895), a machine for embossing (contouring the paper of) photographs (patent # 537,442, April 16, 1895), a device that helped develop photographs (patent # 537,968, April 23, 1895), and a leak stopper for hoses (patent # 629,315, July 18, 1899).
DOWNING, PHILIP B. The street letter drop mailbox with a hinged door that closed to protect the mail was invented by Philip B. Downing. Downing, an African-American inventor, patented his new device on October 27, 1891 (US Patent # 462,096).
DREW, CHARLES RICHARD Dr. Charles Richard Drew (1904-1950) was an American medical doctor and surgeon who started the idea of a blood bank and a system for the long-term preservation of blood plasma (he found that plasma kept longer than whole blood). His ideas revolutionized the medical profession and have saved many, many lives.
DREW, RICHARD Richard G. Drew (1899-1980) invented masking tape and clear adhesive tape (also called cellophane tape or Scotch tape). Drew was an engineer for the 3M company (the Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing). Drew's first tape invention was a masking tape made for painters in 1923 (this tape was designed to help painters paint a straight border between two colors). This early masking tape was a wide paper tape with adhesive on only the edges of the tape - not in the middle. Drew made an improved tape called Scotch (TM) Brand Cellulose Tape in 1930. This tape was a clear, all-purpose adhesive tape that was soon adopted worldwide. The first tape dispenser with a built-in cutting edge was invented in 1932 by John A. Borden, another 3M employee.
DUTCH CHOCOLATE Coenraad Johannes Van Houten (1801-1887) was a Dutch chemist and chocolate manufacturer who in 1828 invented the process that is used to turn roasted cacao beans (the source of chocolate) into cocoa powder (this process is now called Dutching, Dutch processing or alkalinisation). His method was an inexpensive way of removing much of the cocoa butter from the nib (center) of the beans, using a hydraulic press, and adding alkaline salts (potassium carbonate or sodium carbonate) so that the cocoa powder would mix readily with water or milk (the alkali neutralized the acidic chocolate). The resulting cocoa powder can be used to make chocolate milk and other delicacies.
EASTMAN, GEORGE George Eastman (1854-1932) was an American inventor who made many improvements in photography. Eastman invented the dry plate method in 1879; this was an improvement in the wet plate process photographic process). He founded the Eastman Dry Plate company in 1881, located in Rochester, New York. Eastman and William Walker invented flexible roll film in 1882, eliminating the necessity of using cumbersome glass plates for photography. Eastman produced the first simple, all-purpose, fixed-focus camera in 1888, which sold for $25.00; this was the first KODAK Camera . By 1900, Eastman Kodak was producing a camera that cost only one dollar. Early cameras took round pictures. To get the film developed, the photographer had to send the entire camera to the Rochester factory. The company name was changed to Eastman Kodak Company in 1892, and is still one of the largest photographic companies in the world.
ECKERT, JOHN PRESPER ENIAC stands for "Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer." It was one of the first all-purpose, all-electronic digital computers. This room-sized computer was built by the physicist John William Mauchly (Aug. 30, 1907 - Jan. 8, 1980) and the electrical engineer John Presper Eckert, Jr. (April 9, 1919 - June 3, 1995) at the University of Pennsylvania. They completed the machine in November, 1945.
EDISON, THOMAS ALVA Thomas Alva Edison (1847-1931) was an American inventor (also known as the Wizard of Menlo Park) whose many inventions revolutionized the world. His work includes improving the incandescent electric light bulb and inventing the phonograph, the phonograph record, the carbon telephone transmitter, and the motion-picture projector. Edison's first job was as a telegraph operator, and in the course of his duties, he redesigned the stock-ticker machine. The Edison Universal Stock Printer gave him the capital ($40,000) to set up a laboratory in Menlo Park, New Jersey, to invent full-time (with many employees). Edison experimented with thousands of different light bulb filaments to find just the right materials to glow well, be long-lasting, and be inexpensive. In 1879, Edison discovered that a carbon filament in an oxygen-free bulb glowed but did not burn up for quite a while. This incandescent bulb revolutionized the world.
ELECTRIC IRON The electric iron was invented in 1882 by Henry W. Seeley, a New York inventor Seeley patented his "electric flatiron" on June 6, 1882 (patent no. 259,054). His iron weighed almost 15 pounds and took a long time to warm up. Other electric irons had also been invented, including one from France (1882), but it used a carbon arc to heat the iron, a method which was dangerous.
ELEVATOR BRAKE Elisha Graves Otis (1811-1861) invented the elevator brake, which greatly improved the safety of elevators. He used a ratchet on a spring to catch the elevator in the event of an accident (like a broken cable). In 1854, at the Crystal Palace Exposition in New York, Otis demonstrated how safe his elevator was by cutting the elevator's cable with an ax, and the elevator car stayed where it was in the shaft. Otis' invention spurred the development of skyscrapers, changing the look of cities around the world forever.
ELION, GERTRUDE Gertrude Belle Elion (January 23, 1918 - February 21, 1999) was a Nobel Prize winning biochemist who invented many life-saving drugs, including 6-mercaptopurine (Purinethol) and 6-thioguanine (which fight leukemia), Imuran, Zovirax, and many others. Elion worked at Burroughs-Wellcome (now called Glaxo Wellcome) for decades (beginning in 1944) with George Hitchings and Sir James Black, with whom she shared the Nobel Prize. She is named on 45 patents for drugs and her work has saved the lives of thousands of people.
ENIAC ENIAC stands for "Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer." It was one of the first all-purpose, all-electronic digital computers. This room-sized computer was built by the physicist John William Mauchly (Aug. 30, 1907 - Jan. 8, 1980) and the electrical engineer John Presper Eckert, Jr. (April 9, 1919 - June 3, 1995) at the University of Pennsylvania. They completed the machine in November, 1945.
EPPERSON, FRANK The popsicle was invented by 11-years-old Frank Epperson in 1905. Epperson (1894-?) lived in San Francisco, California. Epperson had left a fruit drink out overnight (with a stirrer in it), and it froze, making a new treat. His frozen treat was originally called the Epsicle. Epperson got a patent on his "frozen ice on a stick" many years later, in 1923. The Epsicle was later renamed the popsicle. Epperson also invented the twin popsicle (with two sticks so it could be shared by two children), Fudgsicle, Creamsicle and Dreamsicle.
ESCALATOR An escalator is a moving stairway that helps people move easily from floor to floor in building. The escalator was invented by the American inventor Jesse W. Reno in 1891. On his "inclined elevator," passengers rode on an wedge-shaped supports attached to a conveyor belt at an incline of about 25 degrees. The original elevator had a stationary handrail (which was soon replaced with a moving handrail). Horizontal steps were added to the escalator by Georg A. Wheeler and Charles D. Seeberger (who bought Wheeler's patent) in the late 1890's. The Otis company later bought the patents for the escalator and marketed it worldwide. The word escalator was first used at the Paris Exposition of 1900, when the Otis Company exhibited the moving stairway.
EYEGLASSES Eyeglasses with convex lenses for correcting farsighted vision were probably invented in Italy around the year 1268-1284, perhaps by Salvino D'Armate of Pisa or by Alessandro Spina of Florence. Early glasses were also made in China around the same time. The earliest glasses did not have arms; they perched on the bridge of the nose. Eyeglasses with concave lenses for nearsightedness (or myopia) were not invented until the 1400s. Glasses with arms were invented in the 1600s. Bifocals (combining convex and concave lenses to correct both nearsightedness and farsightedness) were invented by Benjamin Franklin around 1775. Glasses with hinged arms were invented in 1752 by James Ayscough. Ayscough also made the first sunglasses (glasses with green- or blue-tinted lenses). Polarizing filters (which are very effective at filtering out glare) were invented by Edwin H. Land (and patented in 1929). Katherine J. Blodgett (1898-1979) invented a micro-thin barium stearate lens coating that made glass completely nonreflective and "invisible" (patent #2,220,660, March 16, 1938).
FARNSWORTH, PHILO T. Philo Taylor Farnsworth (1906-1971) was an American inventor. Farnsworth invented many important components of the television, including power, focusing systems, synchronizing the signal, contrast, controls, and scanning. He also invented a radar system, a cold cathode ray tube, a new type of baby incubator, and the first electronic microscope. Farnsworth held over 300 patents.
FERRIS WHEEL The Ferris Wheel is a large amusement-park ride that is made of a giant, vertical, metal wheel that slowly turns around. The wheel is equipped with hanging compartments for people, who ride around in a circle, going far above the ground. The Ferris Wheel was invented by the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania bridge-builder George Washington Gale Ferris Jr. (1859-1896) . The first Ferris wheel was opened on June 21, 1893 at the Chicago World's Fair. This Ferris wheel was 250 feet tall (the diameter of the wheel) - this is about the height of a 25 story building! It had 36 wooden cars that could each seat 40 people, and hold another 20 standing people plus a conductor. Each car was 27 feet long, 13 feet wide, and 9 feet tall. A total of 2000 people could ride the wheel at one time. The wheel was powered by two 1,000 horsepower engines and weighed over 4,000 tons. It cost 50 cents per ride. This same Ferris wheel was later used at the St. Louis exposition in 1904, but was scrapped in 1906. Ferris wheels are now common at amusement parks around the world - most are much smaller than the original.
FIREWORKS Gunpowder was invented in China, probably during the 1000's. Gunpowder is composed of about 75 percent saltpeter (potassium nitrate), 15 percent powdered charcoal, and 10 percent sulphur. The Chinese used gunpower to make fireworks and signals, and later to make weapons of war.
FLEMING, SANDFORD The Earth is divided into 24 time zones so that everyone in the world can be on roughly similar schedules (like noon being roughly when the sun is highest in the sky). The idea to divide the Earth into time zones was proposed by the Canadian railway planner and engineer Sir Sandford Fleming in the late 1870s.
FORD, HENRY Henry Ford (1863-1947) was an American engineer and industrialist who used the first conveyor belt-based assembly-lines in his car factory, revolutionizing factory production. Ford manufactured affordable cars and paid high wages to his factory workers, allowing workers to buy the cars they made. After early work as a machinist, Ford built a gasoline engine in 1893. In 1896, Ford built a "horseless carriage," which he called the "Quadricycle," which means "four wheels" (others, including Charles Edgar and J. Frank Duryea, Elwood Haynes, Hiram Percy Maxim, and Charles Brady King had built earlier "horseless carriage"). In 1899, Ford formed the Detroit Automobile Company (which was later called the Henry Ford Company and then the Cadillac Motor Car Company). Ford introduced the Model T in October 1908; it was a great success (every Model T was painted black). Ford introduced conveyor belt-based assembly-line factory production and a $5 daily wage in 1913-14 in Ford's Highland Park, Michigan plant (primitive assembly line production had been started in 1901 by Ransome Eli. Olds, another early car-maker). This type of production greatly reduced the amount of time taken to put each car together (93 minutes for a Model T) from its parts, reducing production costs.
FOUCAULT, JEAN Jean Bernard Léon Foucault (1819-1868) was a French physicist who invented the gyroscope (1852) and the Foucault pendulum (1851). A gyroscope is essentially a spinning wheel set in a movable frame. When the wheel spins, it retains its spatial orientation, and it resists external forces applied to it. Gyroscopes are used in navigation instruments (for ships, planes, and rockets). Foucault was the first person to demonstrate how a pendulum could track the rotation of the Earth (the Foucault pendulum) in 1851. He also showed that light travels more slowly in water than in air (1850) and improved the mirrors of reflecting telescopes (1858).
FOUNTAIN PEN Lewis E. Waterman was an American inventor and insurance salesman who developed a relatively leak-proof fountain pen; he patented his new invention in 1884 and revolutionized writing. Before his fountain pen, pen tips had to be tipped into ink after every few words. Waterman put an ink reservoir in the pen above the pen's metal nib (point). This reservoir would hold enough ink for a few pages of writing. There were many problems in developing the fountain pen, especially the difficulty of controlling the flow of the ink. Putting a sealed reservoir above the nib wouldn't let the ink flow, but if it wasn't sealed, all the ink would flow at once. Waterman used capillary action to replace the ink in the rubber sac with air so that the ink flowed smoothly but did not flow all at once. Also, the metals in the ink dissolved the steel pen nib, so Waterman used an iridium-plated gold nib. Waterman was also the first person to place a clip on the cap of the pen.
FOX, SAMUEL Samuel Fox (1815 - 1887), an English inventor and manufacturer, invented the steel ribbed umbrella in 1852 (the ribs of the umbrella hold the fabric in place - wood or whale bone had been used as ribs before Fox's invention). Fox started the "English Steels Company," which manufactured his new umbrella.
FRANKLIN, BENJAMIN Benjamin Franklin (January 17, 1706-April 17, 1790) was an American statesman, writer, printer, and inventor. Franklin experimented extensively with electricity. In 1752, his experiments with a kite in a thunderstorm (never do this, many people have died trying it!) led to the development of the lightning rod. Franklin started the first circulating library in the colonies in 1731. He also invented bifocal glasses and the Franklin stove. The idea of daylight savings time was first proposed by Benjamin Franklin in 1784. For more information on Franklin, click here.
FROEBEL, WILHELM A. Friedrich Wilhelm August Froebel (also written Fröbel) (1782-1852) was a German educator and educational reformer who invented the kindergarten (which means "garden of children"). He opened the first kindergarten in Bad Blankenburg (near Keilhau) in 1837. Froebel founded a kindergarten training school at Liebenstein, Germany in 1849. After some conflicts and mistaken charges of treason, the German government banned the establishment of kindergartens in 1851. In 1860, the government repealed the ban, and kindergartens re-opened (unfortunately, this was after Froebel's death). Froebel's kindergartens included pleasant surroundings, self-motivated activity, play, music, and the physical training of the child.
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