Ozodi Thomas Osuji is from Imo State, Nigeria. He obtained his PhD from UCLA. He taught at a couple of Universities and decided to go back to school and study psychology. Thereafter, he worked in the mental health field and was the Executive Director of two mental health agencies. He subsequently left the mental health environment with the goal of being less influenced by others perspectives, so as to be able to think for himself and synthesize Western, Asian and African perspectives on phenomena. Dr Osuji’s goal is to provide us with a unique perspective, one that is not strictly Western or African but a synthesis of both. Dr Osuji teaches, writes and consults on leadership, management, politics, psychology and religions. Dr Osuji is married and has three children; he lives at Seattle, Washington, USA.
Robert Goddard (1882-1945) was an American physicist and engineer who pioneered controlled liquid fueled rocketry. He launched the first liquid fueled rocket in 1926. He is the father of modern rocketry.
Our age has sent a man to the moon and is currently exploring space thanks to Goddard’s efforts in understanding rockets and launching them.
Clearly, Goddard was a man ahead of his times. In the 1920s and 1930s when he was attempting to manufacture and launch rockets the general public was not aware of what rockets were and few were interested in rockets.
It was only during the Second World War when the Germans under Wernher von Braun developed rockets that reached England from Germany with payloads that could deal devastating blows to their targets that the rest of the world took interests in rocketry.
When the Second World War ended (which was the same year that Goddard died) the United States and Russia recognized the need for rocketry and each tried to lay their hands on the German scientists and engineers responsible for developing rockets.
The Americans grabbed Wernher von Braun and brought him to the United States where he helped develop the rocket industry.
In the late 1950s the Russians made advances in rocketry and were the first to send man to space, Yuri Gagarin, and that spurred the Americans to do the same and by the 1960s America not only went to space but placed a man on the moon (1969).
Rockets have revolutionized warfare (intercontinental ballistic missiles are rockets that carry nuclear weapons that America and Russia, and increasingly other countries, aim at each other).
Clearly, developments in rocketry are not only useful in sending men to space and exploring space but are also negative in the sense that they have enabled countries to develop the capability of launching attacks on each other from their home bases, and within thirty minutes of launch could reach every corner of the world and destroy it.
Wernher Von Braun (1912-1977) was a German engineer who developed rocketry not only in Germany but eventually in the United States of America. The history of America’s achievements in rocketry would not be complete without mentioning the role von Braun played in continuing Goddard’s work.
After the Second World War Americans scooped those Germans working on Hitler’s rockets (among other specialists they took from Germany) and brought them to work in the United States. They were settled in Texas and latter Huntsville Alabama where they developed the American rocket industry.
Robert Goddard. Rockets. (2002)
Jerry Woodfill. Gallery of Wernher von Braun Moonship Sketches. The Space Educator’s handbook, NASA Johnson Space Center.
M.J. Neufeld. Space Superiority: Wernher von Braun’s Campaign for a nuclear-armed space station. 1946-1956. Space Policy 2006; 22:52-62
George Washington Carver (1864-1943) was an African-American agronomist who made contributions to scientific farming in the Southern United States. He provided agricultural extension studies to farmers thereby enabling them to apply scientific farming methods to their farming practices hence improving their crop yields. For example, planting cotton over and over on the same soil depletes the soil’s nutrients whereas rotating different crops (say, peanuts) and cotton on the soil improved the quality of the soil. Carver taught farmers to rotate their crops on the same soil.
Many claims were made regarding Carver’s findings and inventions, for example, on how peanuts could be transformed into many products (and how other crops could also be made into many products). These claims were rather exaggerated. For example, it was not Carver who discovered how to transform peanuts into peanut butter and peanut mild (a source of protein).
Carver’s most important contribution is not so much his findings in his scientific agriculture but the fact that a black man could be a scientist. At the time he lived (he was born before slavery ended) black men were perceived as unintelligent and his success did a lot to dispel that notion. Then folk did not even believe that a black man could study science and there he was, a black man who studied Botany and, apparently, knew a lot about it and helped farmers understand the diseases that affect their cash crops and what to do to prevent them.
Carver naturally dealt mostly with black farmers for at the time he lived there was little or not contact between white and black folk (except as masters and servants).
He taught Botany at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, a black college, for over forty seven years and helped Booker T Washington carry out his unique view that Negroes should not compete with white men in the pure sciences but, instead, reconcile themselves to performing minor technical jobs that society has need for and that did not arouse the envy of white folk. Washington wanted blacks to study what we now call vocational, trade school type of subjects.
W.E.B Dubois, on the other hand, wanted black folk to have equal access to a broad range of studies, including intellectual subjects, knowledge of which could enable them to challenge the white man, what Washington feared to see happen. Washington felt that if black folk were educated in the liberal and science arts, understand social reality and challenged white men for power and control of America that white men would kill them. Apparently, desiring to live at all costs, a coward, Washington was not about to confront those he believed could kill him. The Negro slave survived but lived as a slave and that was fine with Booker T. Washington; don’t rock the boat, just survive.
Carver made improvements to many crops and later in life was perceived as an expert on farming. He was even called upon by Congress to testify in the 1920s (on whether Congress should raise tariff on imported peanuts from China), an unheard of thing. Indeed, many Southern Congressmen would not allow him to do testify, for they were not used to seeing a black man as an expert; he did testify, anyway, and thus gained reputation as an expert and apparently that made his race very proud of him
Carver made friends with powerful white men, such as Henry Ford. Such fraternization with the white elite in it was an achievement in an age when blacks were considered only fit for janitorial work.
Carver was a religious man and attributed his work to God. Time Magazine went out of its way to ridicule him, for, to it, science and religion do not go hand in hand. Was he a true scientist if he believed in God, or was he a fake, Time magazine seemed to be asking? The credibility of a black man must always be questioned.
Carver’s achievements were exaggerated but his mere presence in the study of plants, Botany, at a time black folk were not considered even intelligent enough to attend universities, were an achievement of sorts.
Linda McMurry. George Washington carver: Scientist and Symbol. (1982)
Henry Ford (1863-1947) was an American inventor who improved on the nascent industry of automobiles and constructed an assembly line and mass produced cars (Model T). His efforts revolutionized the auto industry.
Henry Ford had a goal: place a car in every American families reach and, by and large, succeeded in that endeavor (along with other car manufacturers, of course). He made his car cheap enough for the average American working family to be able to purchase it and did they buy his cars!
Henry Ford transformed the mode of transportation in the United States from horses and carriages to internal combustion engines (automobiles).
Ford was not the first person to invent the automobile. Many were rigging automobiles both in America and Europe at the time he came along with his Model T. What Ford did was produce cars cheaply and sells them cheaply and made them available to most Americans of modest income. He revolutionized the mode of transportation in America and eventually the entire world.
In the process Ford created a powerful company, the Ford Motor Company which today is the second largest auto manufacturer in the United States.
Upon his death, Ford left most of his enormous wealth to a foundation he created to do charity work, the Ford Foundation.
However, Ford willed that members of his family should always own the largest share in his company and produce its presidents. At present his great-grandson is the president of Ford Motor Company.
Henry Ford had a colorful personality. If this brief write up was devoted to the study of personality we could write volumes on the complex character called Henry Ford. His role in politics, his pacifism, his efforts to stop the First World War, and his interesting anti party towards Jews could take volumes to cover. But we are here only interested in his work in improving the early automobile and finding a way to mass produce it and make it affordable to the average worker. That is sufficient positive contribution to mankind; we should not taint that accomplishment with portrayal of the man’s weird side.
In Germany, Karl Benz accomplished what Henry Ford accomplished in North America.
Henry Ford and Karl Benz are two pioneers in the development of the automobile and are worthy of been known.
Richard Bak. Henry and Edsel: The Creation of the Ford Empire. (2003)
The Wright Brothers: Orville (1871-1948) and Wilbur (1867-1912) were American inventors credited with inventing the airplane.
Other people had glided and even flown with two fixed winged planes but it was the Wright brothers who first flew in a controlled, two fixed winged plane (they named their airplane Flyer 1).
Both brothers were trained in mechanics and owned a bicycle repair shop and later began to manufacture their own bicycles. Apparently, they were obsessed with discovering how to fly planes and devoted their free time to reading all available literature on the subject and building models of airplanes.
Convinced that an airplane could be flown in a controlled manner the two brothers plugged ahead and eventually succeeded.
In 1903 the two brothers managed to fly a controlled airplane at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. Subsequent to perfecting their flying, the brothers acquired a closer airport in their Dayton, Ohio home and in 1909 formed a company to fly people around and to move commercial cargo from one spot to another.
Upon the death of Wilbur, the more business oriented brother, Orville inherited the business but lacking in desire to run the Wright Company sold the business in 1915 to what is now Lockheed aircrafts.
Within a short numbers of years from 1903 when the Wright brothers flew in their Flyer 1 many governments and businesses recognized the utility of airplanes and money and research poured into improving the airplanes. Indeed, the airplane was even used by the nations at war during the First World War to drop bombs from the sky at each other. The plane quickly developed into what we now know it to be.
Clearly, the Wright brothers left a legacy for mankind that few have equaled. Airplanes have brought the world together. Whereas in the past it took months to travel between Europe and North America, now it takes less than six hours to do so in commercial jet planes (it is even shorter in supersonic planes).
The Wright brothers have brought the world together and made the planet a true global village. People now travel from one corner of the world to another, in the same day. The brothers made the exchange of ideas by people living far away from each other possible hence immensely contributed to cultural diffusion and civilization.
Fred Howard. Wilbur and Orville-A Biography of the Wright Brothers. (1998)
Thomas Edison (1847-1931) was an American inventor. He invented many devices chief among them is the electric bulb. He was an astute businessman and vigorously marketed his inventions. Indeed, he established what is considered the first laboratory to research for new inventions for his business to sell. Many of the inventions attributed to his invention were probably invented by other people working for him. He founded the General electric company, which still exists today, to provide electric power to the public.
Edison began his inventions at Newark, New Jersey. The first invention that brought him fame was the phonograph in 1877. Edison established his research laboratory at Menlo Park, New Jersey and from there rolled out one invention after another until his death.
Edison was not the first to invent the electric bulb; indeed, he purchased the patent on the bulb he produced, but was the first person to mass produce the electric bulb and market them for commercial purposes.
Edison was an astute business man and marketed his products to the people; he convinced Americans and businesses to replace their candle lit homes and work places with long lasting electric bulbs, and created a system for generating electricity and distributing it to several people (he did not invent electricity or how to generate electricity, he merely commercialized what others invented).
Edison’s electric illuminating Company, formed in 1882, eventually distributed power to such cities as New York and Washington DC. Initially, the ability to generate electric power for homes and businesses was limited to a small area but eventually Edison found a way to expand the reach of his electric power (by acquiring Nicholas Tesla ‘s Alternating Current, AC system).
Edison thereafter launched propaganda to convince the public that it is good for them to electrify their homes. His success was reflected in the fact that by 1887 there were over 121 Edison power stations in the United States that delivered electricity to many customers. Of course, rival companies, such as Western-house, were doing the same thing. The result of this healthy competition is that in a short period of time most American homes and businesses were electrified.
Edison invented many devices including the gramophone, movie cameras (which launched the movie industry).
Edison had interesting views on politics, religion and other issues. He is what one might call an agnostic, for as he sees it, if God is kind and made human beings the paragon of animals why did he also make human beings able to kill and eat other animals? It would seem unfair to the animals, the small fish, eaten by big fish. Yet there are beautiful things in nature. Edison sought some metaphysics to make sense of the contradictions of being.
Edison was accused of being an atheist, and during the times he lived accusation of atheism could spell the end of the individual’s business ventures. Edison denied that he was an atheist.
Edison’s God is pretty much like Spinoza’s impersonal, pantheistic God that manifests in all natural phenomena.
Randall E. Stross. The Wizard of Menlo Park: How Thomas Edison Invented the Modern World. (2007)
Alexander Graham Bell (1847-1922) was a Scottish-American inventor who invented the telephone. Bell made other inventions, such as in hydrofoils and aeronautics but his lasting legacy was his invention of the telephone.
Bell began his career teaching the deaf and dumb to talk or use sign language. As a result of health issues he and his family moved from Britain to Canada and he eventually obtained a job at Boston, Massachusetts teaching students with hearing and speaking problems. Some of his students included Helen Keller.
While in Boston, Bell began to tinker with ways to have two people who are not in the presence of one another talk to one another. Many other persons were doing the same thing at the time he was doing so.
The telegraph was already established and the moss was already established as a means of sending messages between long distances thus giving folk the impression that it is possible to communicate verbally over long distances.
Bell experimented with phonautograph, a pen like machine that could draw shapes of sound waves on smoked glass by tracing their vibrations. Bell believed that it might be possible to generate electrical currents that corresponded to sound waves. This and other experiments led Bell to experiment with water transmitters, using an acid-water mixture. Vibration of the diaphragm caused the needle to vibrate in the water which varied the electrical resistance in the circuit.
Bell spoke the now famous sentence into the liquid transmitter: “Mr. Watson, come here, I want to see you”, and Watson listening at a receiving end in another room heard him clearly.
Subsequently, Bell improved the electromagnetic telephone without employing water as transmitter.
By 1877 Bell Telephone Company was formed and shortly thereafter many persons in the USA were connected by telephones.
In 1915 Bell sent the first transcontinental call between New York and San Francisco (sent by him to his friend, Watson).
Alexander Graham Bell made other inventions but he is forever associated with the telephone.
Later in life he got into serious controversy when he got himself involved with the Eugenics movement. Interestingly, he spent his earlier life teaching those born unable to hear or talk and, indeed, was married to such a person but he preached the gospel of not encouraging such persons to live.
Bell said that the “defective variety of the human race” ought not to be encouraged to live. Many states in the USA passed laws discouraging persons capable of producing “the defective variety of the human race” not to have children.
Despite this black mark on his records, Bell remains a great contributor to human technological development.
Lewis Coe. The Telephone and its Several Inventors: A History. (1995)
George Stephenson (1781-1848) was an English mechanical engineer. He built the first public railway line in the world, using steam locomotives. He is considered the father of Railways.
Stephenson did not invent the first locomotive engine; that credit goes to Richard Trevithick who in 1804 rigged such engines to help pull coal out of coal mines. Stephenson’s first locomotive engine, designed in 1814, was also for hauling coal out of coal mines (Killingworth wagon way, and named Blucher after the German whose blueprint for the design he said influenced his design).
What made Stephenson famous was constructing an eight mile railway from Hetton Colliery to Sunderland in 1820. This was the first railway not to use animal power but steam power.
In 1821 Stephenson built the 25 mile railway from Stockton to Darlington to connect several collieries near Bishop Auckland to the River tees at Stockton. In 1825 this railway was employed for carrying human passengers; this was the first time locomotives were used solely for human passenger business and thus initiated the age of railways as the chief means of transporting people between cities and towns and later all across the country.
In 1830 the Liverpool to Manchester Railway was opened, making it possible to transport both goods and human beings from an inland city to the coast, port, for onwards transportation overseas. This is a revolution in how people and goods are transported and changed the face of England and eventually the entire world.
Britain’s development of the Railway hastened her already begun industrial revolution and gave her an age over other countries. Of course, other countries later got into the railway business, and by the late 1830s railways dotted the face of Europe and North America.
Samuel Smiles. The Life of George Stephenson. (1857)
James Watts (1736-1819) was a Scottish inventor. He made improvements on the steam engine, improvements that laid the foundation for the industrial revolution and ushered in our age.
Watt did not discover the steam engine, others before him did, but he figured out a way to incorporate latent heat in running engines.
He not only improved steam engines but also mass produced them thereby making them readily available to those who desired them.
His engines were used for pumps and produced reciprocating motion. With encouragement from Boulton, Watt improved his engine further and found a way to convert the reciprocating motion of the pistons to produce rotational power for grinding, weaving and milling.
Apparently, another person held the patent on cranks, a mechanism that would have improved the engine further, but Watts could not bridge the patent law and his engine for a while lacked in what would have made it easier to operate.
Watt made other improvements to his steam engine. Nevertheless, there always was the risk that the boilers could explode and hurt, or even kill those around the engine, and given that probability some persons opposed Watts’s efforts to develop a high pressure steam engine.
Andrew Carnegie. James Watts. (1913)
Johannes Guttenberg (1400-1468) was a German goldsmith credited with inventing the metal moveable type printing. Although such printing type may have existed in China for several centuries, Guttenberg was the first in the Western world to make it possible. In so doing he made it possible to mass produce books. Prior to him books, mostly Bibles, were laboriously hand written and reproduced by hand.
Making books easily and cheaply produced meant that people with ideas could now print their ideas and sell them and that way spread alternative ideas than was taught by the Catholic Church. In a manner of speaking, Guttenberg made the religious reformation possible; indeed, he made the enlightenment possible, the era where folk wrote about reason without the need to make it conform to the superstitions the Church propagated and still propagates as the only truth there is.
What Guttenberg did is akin to our age’s invention of the Internet. Just think of how easy it is now to communicate. In a few seconds ones ideas could be read by folk all over the world. This ease of communication means the death of old cultures, traditional societies, where the same staid ideas ruled the people’s minds for centuries and kept them primitive more than they should be.
For this invention of the moveable print, Guttenberg is probably one of the greatest men that have ever lived. He made other things possible. Guttenberg is probably the number one person in the last two thousand years.
It is said that Guttenberg invented and perfected his moveable press at Strasbourg in 1440. However, a lot of myths have come to be associated with him that it is now difficult to ascertain the specifics of his life. We do not even have an accurate picture of him for it was not less than a hundred years later that some one drew a portrait of him (in Heinrich Pantaleon’s biography of famous Germans); all things being constant that picture is likely imaginary and or an embellished image of him.
The legacy of Guttenberg is that he made book printing easier and cheaper. This meant the printing of many books and selling them cheaply. The cumulative effect is to spread literacy rather than leave it as the preserve of Catholic monks. Talking about the Church, when Martin Luther posted his 95 theses against the Church they were quickly replicated and spread all over Europe, an event that would not have been possible a hundred years earlier (from 1517, the year Luther posted his theses) when only the clergy were able to read and write, and wrote books in laborious hand writing.
Guttenberg spread literacy and for that accomplishment alone, he is one of the greatest human beings that have ever lived.
Albert Kapr. Johannes Guttenberg: The Man and his Invention. (1996)
Francis Crick (1916-2004) was an English molecular biologist. James D Watson (1928- ) is an American molecular biologist.
Crick and Watson are noted for been the co-discoverers of DNA in 1953, for which they won the Nobel Prize in Biology in 1963.
According to his biography, Crick was interested in how molecules make the transition from non-living to living things and how the brain makes the conscious mind. Apparently, he succeed in the former and failed in understanding the later, for no one has understood how the brain makes consciousness, mind.
Crick and Watson worked hard and eventually showed how genes in the DNA employ four letters, A, T, G, and C, to sequence the entire body’s activities, and to program every part of the body to do what it does. Genes are, apparently, information systems, sort of like software, programs in the body, and are responsible for what every part of the body does.
Crick and Watson were able to show how each parent contributes 23 chromosomes to form 46 chromosomes from which everything in the human body is done. Those forty six chromosomes, apparently, contain the genetic code that programs the body do what it does. As in all things, where all goes well the body functions as it should but given the number of genes in the human cell, over 100, 000, some are bound to be malfunctioning and sometimes code for diseases. Understanding how diseases are produced by malfunctioning genes appears a necessity in learning how to cure many diseases either through medications and or through genetic engineering that improves the identified malfunctioning genes.
A lot has been written on the work of Crick and Watson that we really do not need to rehash that material here. For our present purpose, Crick and Watson made seminal contribution to biological science in discovering how the DNA and RNA work.
S. Chomet (Ed). DNA Genesis of a Discovery. (1994)