Monday, February 11, 2008

Inventor's Day

Happy Inventor's Day! Coinciding with Thomas Edison's birthday (Monday is his 161st) February 11th was designated by Congress as a commemorative day to honor America's inventors.

Coincidentally, fellow Twin Citian William Gurstelle, contributor to MAKE Magazine and author of a series of geeky DIY tomes (Whoosh Boom Splat: The Garage Warrior's Guide to Building Projectile Shooters is his most recent) posted in his blog a description of a science fair project his son Andy had created years ago.

He thought about it for a while and, after various aborted attempts and blind alleys, came up with the idea of a self-buttering toaster. What a brilliant idea from such a young person! (I readily admit my fatherly bias.) The device Andy designed was intricate yet simple: a wood and steel construction that held a slice of bread at an angle in front of a carefully wound matrix of nichrome wire heating elements. While the bread toasted, the heat from the wires melted a glop of butter on a perforated metal holder positioned over the bread. The butter dripped through the holes and on to the toasting bread. Voila! There was a slice of automatically buttered toast. By my lights, this was a pretty terrific invention for a sixth grader.


Unfortunately, Andy's toaster (pictured above) didn't win -- the top prize went to a kid who made an outfit for her pet hamster. How many brilliant inventions have been overlooked over the years? How many would-be inventors were discouraged early on and never found their true calling? Well, for all of you out there, today's your day.

Picture by William Gurstelle.

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