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Imagination and Invention

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“To invent, you need a good imagination and a pile of junk.” – Thomas Edison

John Fitch’s sketch and description of piston for steamboat propulsion, ca. 1795. Manuscript Division.

In August 1795, John Fitch not only demonstrated the first successful steamboat but was also granted a United States patent for his invention. A century later, on Aug. 12, 1877, Thomas Alva Edison is believed to have completed the model for the first phonograph, a device that recorded sound onto tinfoil cylinders. Twenty years later, on Aug. 31, the inventor, often referred to as the “Wizard of Menlo Park,” received a patent for the kinetoscope, the forerunner of the motion picture film projector. With the month proving to be a notable one in our nation’s invention history, it is quite appropriate that August is National Inventor’s Month.

Thomas Edison listening to a new record. 1906. Prints and Photographs Division.

Created in 1995 by the United Inventors Association of the USA (UIA-USA), the Academy of Applied Science and Inventors’ Digest, this annual commemoration aims to guide up-and-coming inventors, young and old, on the processes of product development, inspire creativity and innovation, and promote the positive image of inventors and their contributions. The Library of Congress could be considered an avid supporter, with its American Memory Edison collection titled “Inventing Entertainment: The Motion Pictures and Sound Recordings of the Edison Companies.” The presentation contains surviving products of Edison’s entertainment inventions and industries, including motion pictures, disc sound recordings, and other related materials, such as photographs and original magazine articles. In addition, histories are given of Edison’s involvement with motion pictures and sound recordings, as well as a special feature focusing on the life of the great inventor.

An interesting side note, according to “Washington D.C. Museums: 2013 Video and Social Media Rankings” – a report on 42 District-area cultural institutions put together by arts and culture blog – the top-viewed D.C. museum video (329,000 views) is “Edison’s Kinetoscopic Record of a Sneeze.” “The Sneeze” was one of the inventor’s first motion pictures and captures Edison employee Fred Ott, who was known to his fellow workers for his comic sneezing and other gags. The Library received it as a copyright deposit on Jan. 9, 1894. “Edison Kinetoscopic Record of a Sneeze” is also the earliest extant copyrighted motion picture in the Library of Congress collections.


Comments (2)

  1. Great article, what would we do without inventors

  2. Felicitaciones a la Biblioteca del Congreso y a Academia de Ciencias Aplicadas de EE. UU; por este notable y admirable reconocimiento.


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