Once a month the Smithsonian’s Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation sends me an email newsletter, and once a month I think, oh! I should mention that here. This month, I’ve remembered.
The current newsletter includes word of the publication of The Spirit of Invention: The Story of the Thinkers, Creators, and Dreamers Who Formed Our Nation by Julie M. Fenster with the Lemelson Center, published this month by HarperCollins. The book’s 224 pages include not just well-known inventors (a young Thomas Edison is featured on the cover) but also more obscure ones. As the newsletter notes,
Pick up Fenster’s book and find out about the improbable and little-known career of Robert Switzer, a Berkeley student who made a hobby of magic tricks. In 1932, an accident in a part-time job at Safeway put him into a coma, from which he slowly recovered in an unlit room. To amuse himself in this darkened convalescence, he played with the spectacular rainbow emissions from fluorescent rocks. Turning on another light in his mind, this led to his invention of glow-in-the-dark paints that he and his brother marketed at first to magicians. Soon after, dropping out of college, the Switzers discovered a way to use ordinary sunlight to bring out fluorescent colors — DayGlo, patented in 1947.
(This is the perfect place for me to mention that if you’re looking for a children’s book about Day-Glo and its inventors, there’s a new picture book just out by my online friend Chris Barton, The Day-Glo Brothers: The True Story of Bob and Joe Switzer’s Bright Ideas and Brand-New Colors brightly illustrated by Tony Persiani [Charlesbridge, July 1, 2009], and according to Amazon it’s in stock now. You can read all about the book at Chris’s blog, Bartography.)
The Lemelson website has a page of Resources, including educational multimedia and print materials for classroom use, invention stories, the invention archives at the National Museum of American History Archives Center, and lists of invention-related books and websites.
There’s also a page for video clips and podcasts; one of the recent podcasts is an interview with Julie Fenster about her new book, The Spirit of Invention, and one of our favorite podcasts (in two parts) is an interview with biographer Walter Isaacson on Benjamin Franklin’s contributions to democracy and technology. On the same page, you can find a link for a PDF podcast activity guide.