Early 20th Century Innovators

We are just entering a time period, whereby people’s lives, songs, videos photos, documents (classified or declassified) are entering into the public record. History is much more real, when you can see and hear in film what things were like.

Recently I’ve been immersed daily in both reading and watching of early 20th century american history. Notably 1920’s-1950’s.



Watching a 12 part series on WWII (in Color), amazing how ‘day-to-day/homevideo/newsreel’ the footage looks when it is colorized. Among other things: women stepping up into jobs traditionally thought were only done by men. The Spanish Civil War. Malthusian scenarios of debt/Havenstein’s hyperinflation.¬† The genuine debate whether democracy or fascism was the best course for societies. German engineering, American Industry, British perseverance. Postwar companies and industries which developed. In a lot of the footage, people were still using horses for military operations! Amazing to think how much technical innovation came out of that period. In that time, Europe was a garble of turbulent states, very similar it can be said to present day dynamics in the middle east. By the end of the war there was:

Technologies from WWII
-Computers (Independently invented by Attansoff, Turing/Bletchley Park team, Konrad Zuse)
-Jet Propulsion
-Rockets (eg. v1/v2 Werner Von Braun)
-Nuclear Power
-Planned Stealth Bomber (see the Horten Ho 229).

War brought out some of the best (and obviously the worst) traits of human character. Ingenuity, Achievement & Sacrifice, Barbarism, Genocide. Seeing several documentaries now on the war (from different perspectives), technological, political etc. It is unreal that the world got into such a place.


Bell Labs:

Reading a history of Bell Labs. “Idea Factory: The Great Age of American Innovation, Jon Gertner”.
Bell Lab’s inventions can be summed up by one larger invention: the modern day communications satellite (conceived by John Pierce).

Almost all (if not all) the inventions needed to get a communications satellite working were invented at Bell Labs:

-Solidstate Transistors
-Solar Panels (an offshoot of semi-conductor research
-Digital Communication Theory and Protocols (Claude Shannon)
-Various Antennae (Horn and Standing Wave)
-Lasers/Fiber-Optics/Optical Communication
-Mobile Networks
-Aeronautics Apparatus (through Sandia a branch of Bell)
-Digital Photography (CCD Sensors)
and a whole lot more..

Some notable names mentioned in the book were Mervin Kelly, Jim Fisk, Claude Shannon, William Shockley and my favorite John Pierce. Pierce was an ‘idea man’ and provides a model/path to the application of my own temperament (IMO). He was all over the place, a bit of a romantic, musical, focused on pragmatics, a writer and altruistic. He was a conceiver and connector, considered valuable in this role, who initiated and collaborated with others to get things done. He gave the name ‘transistor’ to the new invention and wrote a treatise on music and glider building¬† among other things.

As an UX/IA specialist – essentially an ‘idea person’ – it provides a model for how one like this can contribute to a larger organization.

*It’s also interesting to see how so many of the great inventors and engineers at Bell Labs came from small towns. Both Edison and Bell himself were other examples.


Big Bands – Artie Shaw, Helen Forrest

The Jewish heartbeat of Jazz. Jewish musicians played great. Their lives were as crazy, restless as the rest of the people in this era it seems. There was a lot of anti-antisemitism during that time. It probably made them stronger. Artie Shaw had Billie Holiday as his first singer, which was truly notable (a color-blind meritocracy) ahead of his time. Helen Forrest, born Fogel had a great voice… The whole thing is a jumble and connects with all the other parts of the technology/u.s. life/society during the war that i’ve been reading about. Fascinating.

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