We have all heard about the things that were invented as a result of mistakes. I think I’ve even written about a few before. Life is full of mistakes, thus there should be some good things that come from the mistakes we make.
The slinky - you know the one that’s fun for a girl and a boy? A naval engineer was trying to make a meter that would monitor power on battleships. The engineer dropped it on the ground, maybe even on some stairs and “Voila” the slinky was born.
John Hopps, an electrical engineer, was doing research on hypothermia and using radio frequency heating to restore body temperature when he discovered that a heart stopped due to being too cold could be restarted using artificial stimulation. Hopps realization and research is now inside a lot of folks – his research led to the pacemaker.
Silly Putty, Post-it notes, potato chips and corn flakes were also invented as a result of a mistake or by someone who was trying to make something else.
This fellow named Percy Spencer was an engineer with the Raytheon Corporation many years ago. You have to love a fellow named “Percy.”
Interested in Percy’s education, I did a little research and found out that he led a pretty incredible life. You see Percy’s father died before he was two, then his mother left him with an uncle soon thereafter.
When he was seven, Percy’s uncle died, leaving him to fend for his aunt and himself. At 12, he was working from sun up to sun down at a mill, where he continued to work until he was 16.
At 16, he heard about another mill located in Maine that was using electricity. Being from the country, he didn’t know that much about it – so it kind of got him excited. He applied for a job at the futuristic mill installing electricity.
He learned a lot…
At 18, he joined the U.S. Navy and quickly became an expert on radio technology. In Percy’s words, “I just got ahold of a lot of textbooks and taught myself while I was standing watch at night.” Percy “taught himself” all kinds of subjects related to radios, electricity, physics, chemistry and mathematics.
In other words Percy did not go to MIT or any other university – Percy didn’t even graduate grammar school.
After getting out of the navy, Percy came home and started working for Raytheon, becoming one of the world’s leading experts in radar tube design.
One day while Percy was building magnetrons (electron tubes for generating microwaves); he discovered something that would change life in the kitchen for years to come. You see the candy bar in Percy’s pocket melted…
Then Percy started experimenting with other foods like popcorn, eggs and probably cheese toast. By 1947, the first commercially produced microwave open went on the market. It was about 6 feet tall and weighed around 750 pounds. The price tag was somewhere between two and three thousand dollars.
It would be 1967 before the first affordable microwaves would be produced. They were a little less than $500 and could sit on your kitchen counter.
Percy did finally get an honorary degree. He was awarded a Doctor of Science from the University of Massachusetts for his inventions and contributions to science. This is inspiring, taking into consideration that Percy never had any formal education – he taught himself.
Having children, it is important to remember the value of educating one’s self through experimentation, trial and yes – error.
I say this because I got home the other afternoon and was met by my 16 year-old son who was mumbling to himself. He was saying, “I can’t believe I’m that stupid. How can I be that stupid?”
Thinking maybe he fouled up a test at school or hit something with his car, I asked him what was wrong.
It took a while to get it out of him.
He seemed to be attempting to make a video using his cellphone.
The cellphone was on the inside of the microwave oven.
He wanted me to believe that he pushed the start button “by mistake.”
He wanted me to believe that it only stayed on for “maybe a second.”
I saw the phone…
I said, “Boy that was stupid…”
However, I wanted to see the phone.
We studied the microwaved apple (phone) at work… We study such things…
As stupid as it was, I still wasn’t really that mad… His mother was. She was worried about the microwave oven. The microwave oven was just fine.
You see… I know about Percy and about other folks who did stupid things and ended up alright. I don’t want my kids or your kids getting hurt, but I do want them to figure things out and educate themselves when possible.
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