Just like a parent, every inventor has to send their child out into the world. Sometimes that child becomes a doctor or a movie star. Other times that child ends up in a clock tower with a rifle...
With that in mind we present some of history's greatest inventors who lived to see their inventions take on unexpected, terrifying lives of their own...
#6. Orville Wright (1871-1948)
Lived to See:
One used to vaporize an entire city.
You know the story of the Wright brothers. December 17, 1903, Orville is the one inside the plane:
Orville had big dreams for the invention he and his brother became famous for. Really big dreams. He thought it would end warfare forever.
In 1915, Orville (his brother Wilbur had passed away by then) predicted aerial reconnaissance would make war "... too expensive, too slow, too difficult, too long drawn out" for anyone to keep doing it. After the U.S. entered WWI, Orville confidently wrote that the nation with the most airborne scouts, "will win the war and put an end to war."
Put an end to war! Awesome! Hey, how did that turn out?
While Orville looked at the plane and dreamed of world peace, everybody else was thinking, "Wow, those people down on the ground look like tiny ants! Ants I could totally crush from up here!"
But still, he clung to the idea. At the end of WWI, Orville wrote that "the aeroplane has made war so terrible that I do not believe any country will again care to start a war," and five years later authored a radio broadcast declaring that "the aeroplane, in forcing upon governments a realization of the possibilities for destruction, has actually become a powerful instrument for peace."
At that same moment, military engineers scratched their chins and said, "You know, we really haven't realized the possibilities for destruction in these things. We've packed as many bombs as it can carry... can we make the bombs like, way deadlier? Would that work?"
Orville Wright held to his optimism until passing in early 1948. Which means he lived long enough to see...
... the dropping of the atomic bomb. In 1945, this invention that started out as a flimsy thing that could barely skim over the ground, dropped city-flattening bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. And that was the culmination of six years of devastating warfare in which city after city was shattered by aerial bombardment.
We have to say, though, it did nothing to dampen the man's spirit. In a typically on-the-bright-side letter to a friend shortly after the atomic bombings, Orville wrote, "I once thought the aeroplane would end wars. I now wonder whether the aeroplane and the atomic bomb can do it."
Which leads us to ask the obvious: You mean one of his friends actually asked him what he thought about the atomic bombs? Geez, talk about a dick move. On the bright side, Orville Wright did live to see Chuck Yeager's breaking of the sound barrier, which had to have blown his fucking mind.
#5. Peter Carl Goldmark (1906-1977)
The LP record.
Lived to See:
Rap DJs scratching the hell out of them.
Through WWII, records were available only at 78 RPM speeds, which our older readers will remember as the awesome setting that made everybody sound like The Chipmunks. The big disadvantage to 78s was a limit of about five minutes per side. As Goldmark later recalled his 1945 epiphany:
"I was at a party listening to Brahms being played by the great Horowitz. Suddenly there was a click. The most horrible sound man ever invented, right in the middle of the music. Somebody rushed to change records. The mood was broken."
Now, if you're anything like us, your first thought is, "Holy freaking crap, that sounds like the worst party in the history of the world. If we were there our only great idea would have been to rifle through the medicine cabinet in search of high-level painkillers." And that's why we're not in the National Inventors Hall of Fame. Peter Carl Goldmark went on to create the LP (long-playing records).
You can't underestimate how it changed the way music itself was created. No longer limited to disjointed bundles of 78s, artists could create unified artistic statements, without listeners jumping up every five minutes to change discs. The Beatles wouldn't have become THE BEATLES without the format to create Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. So what could go wrong?
We could point to the scourge of progressive rock, the only genre developed so DJs had time to leave the studio and get stoned. Yes's "Revealing Science of God," Iron Butterfly's "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" and too many other tracks that last more than 15 minutes, thanks to pointless droning and endless solos, inspiring countless slurred, "No, no, you gotta hear this part coming right up!"
But the greatest indignity to Goldmark's "play lots of Brahm's uninterrupted" invention was occurring in the South Bronx, in the final years of his life. There turntable techniques like cutting and scratching were developed by a number of 70s New York DJs, notably DJ Kool Herc, Grand Wizard Theodore and Grandmaster Flash.
We can't confirm that the then 70-year-old Goldmark attended any of these parties, but you can only imagine how he would have reacted to the record scratch, the "most horrible sound man ever invented," being turned into a sound effect by guys in gold chains asking a basement full of dudes if they were ready to get the party started.
#4. Philo T. Farnsworth (1906-1971)
The modern television.
Lived to See:
Already born with a ridiculous name, Philo T. Farnsworth's life story doesn't make for the happiest of reading. It's a litany of financial troubles, corporate espionage, legal battles, bad timing, heavy drinking and nervous breakdowns. But the man was a genius; he was born in a log cabin and theorized the basic principles of electronic television while cultivating a potato field at the age of 14. Yep, that's right, 14-years-old, an age when most of us couldn't theorize the basic location of our ass using both hands.
A few years later, while wooing his future wife, Philo spoke to her about his dreams: "He talked a lot about what television would do," Elma Farnsworth remembered. "He saw that television would allow people to learn about each other. He felt that if you could learn how other people live, world problems would be settled around the conference table instead of bloody battlefields. He thought that everyone in the world could be educated through television, and that it could also be used for entertainment and sporting and news events."
And he was completely right! Well, except for the part about learning not to hate people who are different. He was pretty far off there. As for educating the masses, we can give him the benefit of the doubt if we use the widest possible definition of "educating."
But pretty much from the get-go, any idea of television being an enriching benefit to the human race were cast aside in favor of quiz shows, adorable chimps and dancing cigarette packs with great gams.
In 1961, FCC Chairman Newton Minow made his famous speech to the National Association of Broadcasters, describing the horrors of television as a "vast wasteland." And this was decades before Flavor of Love.
Meanwhile, Philo T. Farnsworth observed all of this with an increasingly regretful eye. His son, Kent, described his father feeling that "he had created kind of a monster, a way for people to waste a lot of their lives," and summarized his attitude as "There's nothing worthwhile on it, and we're not going to watch it in this household, and I don't want it in your... intellectual diet." Had he lived, it's safe to say that Philo Farnsworth would have had the world's worst set of TiVo Suggestions.
He did soften a bit in his final years, saying that televised images of the moon landing "made it all worthwhile," but an accidental viewing ofHee Haw the next day led him to regret this brief moment of fulfillment.