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Investigate the inventors

By Amy Notarius
Rowan Public Library
If you used a telephone, microwave, or DVD player today there’s an inventor to thank for it.
In a new book available at Rowan Public Library, “The Spirit of Invention,” Julie Fenster looks at inventors and their inventions.
Fenster examines the traits and characteristics inventors have in common, and shows how skill, luck and timing all play a role in a product’s success or failure. Her writing is clear and accessible, even when she’s describing scientific or technical information.
Philo Farnsworth was a kid on an Iowa farm when he came up with a new theory for television’s development. The straight lines in the furrows of the field he was plowing presented him with the idea of scanning a scene with an electron beam to create a pattern of horizontal lines.
Farnsworth’s teacher and father both encouraged his work, even though his father “couldn’t understand his boy’s ideas but believed in them anyway.”
Usually invention is the result of a need. In 1869, a New Jersey dentist who was a communion steward at his Methodist church needed to provide church members a non-alcoholic alternative to wine.
So the dentist, Thomas Welch, invented a way to kill the yeast naturally found on grape skins, which prevented fermentation from occurring. “Dr. Welch’s Unfermented Wine”ó or Welch’s grape juice ó became a popular beverage and the business continues to this day.
In addition to inventors themselves, Fenster looks at the different resources available to them. The magazine Scientific American was launched in 1845, with its goal “to encourage and excite a spirit of enterprise and ambition in artists, manufacturers, and mechanics.”
Fenster suggests the magazine’s success might have contributed to the increase in the number of patents issued by the U.S. government, which went from 507 in 1844 to 19,146 50 years later.
When possible, Fenster has included original photographs of inventors as well as early sketches and plans of their designs. These invaluable images and notes shed light on the way inventors approach a problem and the steps they take to arrive at a new idea.
Fenster got much of her source material from the Smithsonian Institution’s Jerome and Dorothy Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation, founded in 1995 at the National Museum of American History.
With more than 600 patents to his name, Jerome Lemelson was one of the most prolific American inventors of all time. His audio cassette drive mechanism was the basis for the Sony Walkman, one of the best-selling electronic products of its time.And his invention of machine vision was the concept behind today’s bar-code readers, as well as sophisticated automated manufacturing systems used by auto makers. You can learn more about the center at their Web site, http://invention.smithsonian.org.
Check out “The Spirit of Invention” and other books about inventors and inventing, at Rowan Public Library today.
Computer classes: Classes are free. Sessions are 90 minutes long. Class size is limited and on a first-come, first-served basis. Dates and times are subject to change without notice.
Headquarters ó Monday, 7 p.m., Absolute Beginners Computer Class.
East ó Tuesday, 1 p.m., Google Class.
Teen program: Game night at the library. Play videogames on the big screen or favorite board games, 5:30-7 p.m. For information, call 704-216-8234. East, Tuesday; Headquarters, Nov. 30.
Tuesday Night at the Movies: All movies are at 6:30 p.m. All movies are rated G, PG or PG 13. Children should be accompanied by an adult. Free popcorn and lemonade.
Disney favorites. Tuesday, “Robin Hood.”
Displays: Headquarters ó art by Art Gang; dolls and books by Rowan Doll Society; South ó handmade baskets by Shirley Bacom. East ó Friends Basket display.
November hours: All branches close Wednesday at 1 p.m. and remain closed Thursday and Friday for Thanksgiving.Literacy: Call the Rowan County Literacy Council at 704-216-8266 for more information on teaching or receiving literacy tutoring for English speakers or for those for whom English is a second language.

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