Madness in the Making: The Triumphant Rise and Untimely Fall of America’s Show Inventors
American Studies Library
Cultural Studies Library
Spectacle And Entertainment
About this book
Madness in the Making is an engaging narrative and a tour de force of original historical interpretation. An astute observer of patents for newspapers and magazines, David Lindsay here coins a new term -- the show inventor -- that highlights a tension rooted in the earliest days of the American republic. While some -- like Thomas Jefferson, founder of the U.S. Patent Office and an inventor himself -- believed that public exhibits of new inventions encouraged an unseemly coarsening of society, show inventors like Oliver Evans, who created the Orukter Amphibolos, a steam propelled dredger, hoped to advance American know-how, and not coincidentally, their own commercial prospects with public exhibitions.In this lively portrait of American inventors and the forces that spurred their creativity, Lindsay's cast includes dozens of colorful characters, such as Eli Whitney, who once demonstrated defective muskets to Jefferson, and Samuel Colt who years before unveiling his famous six-shooter, offered trials of laughing gas to the public. Lindsay also documents the bizarre War of the Currents, when Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla dueled over how electricity would be delivered to the millions waiting for it. David Lindsay has written an entertaining book that shows how America became the invention-driven, technologically sophisticated society that it is today.
I really enjoyed reading this book. It focuses on a strange part of American history which includes Joseph Faber's talking machine, Robert Fulton's steamboat, Edison's various projects, and Elisha Otis' elevator brakes. One of my favorite parts of the book discusses Otis (yes, THAT elevator Otis guy), who risked his life in front of crowds of hundreds to prove that his elevator brake system would prevent a free-falling elevator car from smashing to pieces. (Something to think about the next time you step into an Otis elevator.) Of course that shyster P.T. Barnum weaseled his way into this book. Until I read this book, I didn't know that circuses, sideshows, carnivals, and legitimate (as well as sham) inventions had so much in common.