6 Teenage Inventors That Changed The World
It's frustrating being a teenager, unable to drive, or drink, or vote. It's like society doesn't trust you with anything.
Well, in most cases, society is right: Give a kid a car and he's immediately going to see how high he can ramp it off something. But that doesn't change the fact that some very ambitious teens have changed the world. For instance ...
Superman Was Invented by High School Kids
Every elementary school kid has doodled a superhero on the back of a notebook at some point. But we're guessing your sloppy depiction of "Butt Man" didn't make you a millionaire and change pop culture forever. That is, however, what happened when a young Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel first conceived the Man of Steel in high school.
Their design would wind up being the template for pretty much every superhero that would come later. For instance, have you ever asked yourself why superheroes wear spandex and Speedos? It's not exactly practical crime-fighting wear. Well, it's because a couple of kids were most likely inspired by 1900s circus strong men like Zishe Breitbart.
Seen here about to sucker punch some rebar.
Breitbart was world-famous right around the time Siegel and Shuster were growing up. His mailing address was actually "Superman-New York," and the advertisements for his shows bragged that he could stop a speeding locomotive. And guys like him wouldn't be seen on stage without a tiny pair of shorts or tights.
As teenagers, Siegel and Shuster self-published their crude comic in a fanzine. And forget Lois, the Daily Planet, and Lex Luthor -- the first fictional superman was a creepy, sort-of evil mentalist who probably menaced renamed replicas of local bullies. After the Nazis went and soured the world on the whole concept of a "super man," Siegel and Shuster reinvented him as the captain of truth, justice and the American way.
The American way is to take your wrench-beatings with a smile.
Finding it difficult to track down anyone who had a serious interest in the character and style, it took an almost unbelievable three more years for the granddaddy of all superheroes to find an independent publisher.
What kid in the Great Depression would want to read this boring thing?
By the way, there is an almost Batman-esque element to Jerry Siegel's story. Siegel was a hugely unpopular proto-nerd, and his only solace came from seeking the elusive approval of his successful father. His father was mysteriously murdered while Jerry was still a kid, thus motivating him to dedicate his life to fighting crime. Since he didn't have billions of dollars or serious mental problems, he used comics instead of batarangs.
The Inventors of Hip-Hop Were Age 17 and 12
Obviously no one person sat down and just invented hip-hop out of the blue. It evolved over time and has many fathers. But two of the most prominent fathers were a couple of kids in the Justin Bieber age range.
It was the early 1970s and everyone was getting over that whole peace and love thing. A 17-year-old named Clive Campbell had just emigrated from Jamaica, and boy did he love music and partying. He became known as DJ Kool Herc and proceeded to put on some of the first block parties.
The fan is for the auto-tuning.
Herc noticed how anxious the people at the parties got waiting for the beat to start so that they could start dancing. So he decided to play with their impatient asses by playing the beat from a song, and then fading in a beat from another song, and then fading to another beat, creating an on-the-fly mix of nothing but beats. He also had a unique vocal style of calling out in his microphone to the attendees in rhymes such as "B-boys, B-girls, are you ready? Keep on rock steady," and "This is the joint! Herc beat on the point," inadvertently laying the basis for what would become rap.
And if the lyrics ain't broke, never ever, ever fix 'em.
Soon, the DJ had his own pupils known as the first MCs, who spread hip-hop throughout the Northeast. One of these pupils, Grand Wizard Theodore (who we assume loved Dungeons and Dragons), claims that once when he was in his basement messing around with his turntable, his mom came down and started yelling at him. Trying to stop the record by pushing it down, Theodore accidentally abruptly slowed the disc and so heard the first scratch.
Promptly ignoring his mother, he did it over and over, trying to perfect the sound. And that was that -- record scratching became a thing, and later would appear on the first really successful hip-hop track ever, Herbie Hancock's "Rockit." Oh, and if Grand Wizard Theodore sounds like a ridiculous name for a cutting-edge musician, he has an excuse: He was 12 years old at the time.
It's like having your 11-year-old foxxygrrl69 Hotmail address on your CV.
Related: 15 Brilliant Uses of Jazz In Hip-Hop
Sam Colt Was in His Late Teens When He Invented the Revolver
Even if you know nothing about guns, you know the name "Colt." You've heard someone refer to a certain pistol as a "Colt 45" or some character in a Western refer to his Colt revolver. Today the Colt company makes the M16 rifles carried by the U.S. military and a whole lot of other guns you've fired in a Modern Warfare game. It all goes back to one guy, who spent his teens tinkering with gun designs. So what kind of guy devotes his life to making a better killing machine?
Some men were born small, but this man gave them the means to shoot into the air and go "Yee-haw!"
For starters, Sam Colt was put into a boarding school as a kid, where he was unpopular, had no friends and did poorly in class. And like most of the other 15-year-olds, he wanted to get popular fast. So, the story goes that one day he made a crude firework and set it loose outside. This had the expected results and got him popular, until it burned down the school.
At which point he blossomed into a full-grown Fonzie.
His school days over but still interested in explosives, soon thereafter Colt had a light bulb moment and began carving the initial design of a gun in wood. A prototype was built, and this .45 caliber gun performed remarkably in its beta testing, and by that we mean it blew up. Colt reworked his design, and even went so far as to show it to some gunsmiths ... who told him it sucked and would never fire. Colt changed careers, going on the road and charging people to huff laughing gas. No, really.
This venture somehow failed, and he was forced back into gunsmithing. After opening a factory (thanks to borrowing cash from his dad), he set out selling his crude guns, and failed spectacularly.
Probably because he started making a knife 90 percent of the way through.
That all changed when one night, he found a stall on the corner of the street with a guy selling his unsold guns at dirt cheap prices. Rather than sue his ass, Colt met Sam Walker, captain of the Texas Rangers. (Yes, his name really was "Walker, Texas Ranger.") Walker not only suggested improvements for the gun, but also ordered a thousand of them for use in the Mexican-American War. The rest is history: Since then, Colt's company has sold over 30 million goddamned guns worldwide.
A 17-Year-Old Designed the 50-Star American Flag
Most of us have grown up hearing that the first American flag was designed and sewn by America's Grandma, Betsy Ross. But now, even that much is being debated, and as the nation's most bored historians argue over who sewed the first flag, they're ignoring who made the most recent one.
After all, it's not like we're still using that design anyway. Each little hunk of land America seized or bought eventually got declared a state, and each time, the flag had to change, because frankly, at that point putting stars on a flag was the only way to keep track of all the new states.
"Montana? Really? Are we even sure that's a real place?"
Most recently, the United States added Alaska and Hawaii as its newest states, and when that happened Congress turned designing the next flag into a nationwide cut-throat contest. Fifty stars had to be crammed onto that flag somehow, in a manner that didn't look completely stupid.
Ol' Construction Paper and Glue/How we love you.
In Lancaster, Ohio, 17-year-old Robert Heft had put hours of effort into a new U.S. flag for his history project, only to receive a B-. To most of us, that's pretty decent. But Heft had just worked his ass off toiling on his mother's sewing machine, and thought he deserved more. He approached his teacher, who dared him to submit it to Congress, we assume sarcastically, and said if it were selected as the new flag he would get his A.
Heft was going up against 1,500 other designs by accomplished artists all over the country, each trying to design their way into being the next Betsy Ross. And like the end of a Lifetime movie, he actually won. President Eisenhower liked Heft's flag better than all the rest.
"But the puckering anus one is a close second."
The experience led Heft to successes such as becoming the mayor of Napoleon, Ohio, and traveling around the world for decades as a motivational speaker. All because he resisted his natural teenage temptation to arrange the stars in the shape of a dick.
A 15-Year-Old Invented the Snowmobile
Snow: Depending on where you live, it's either a seasonal annoyance or a rare gift. But back in the days before central heating and fancy Japanese sweaters, snow often meant death.
This leads us to Joseph Bombardier, who was born in Quebec in 1907. Which means he had to spend his winters trapped by massive snow drifts that not even his unbelievably badass name could part. By the time he was 15, young Joe was through with winter shitting all over him. He plotted his revenge, in the form of a souped up Model T his father gave him to keep the family car out of Joseph's hands.
"Er, son ... can I get a lift?"
The addition of a sleigh frame and a hand-whittled propeller transformed the old junker into something new. The snowmobile was born.
Unfortunately, Joseph's father wanted him to stop studying all that useless mechanical engineering and switch over to something lucrative, like God! The snowmobile was dismantled so the young Bombardier could prepare for seminary.
When the church didn't work out, Joe was allowed to turn back to his true love: giving winter the finger. He founded the world's first snowmobile company and became one of Canada's most successful men, side-by-side with Dudley Do-Right and Bryan Adams.
That leaves just enough room in this 12-man vehicle for people who actually matter.
A 15-Year-Old Invented Braille
At the age of 3, little Louis Braille cut his eye screwing around with daddy's tools and ended up blind from a horrible infection. Since this was the 1800s, his options for treatment included "sucking it up" and "dying of syphilis like everyone else." Fortunately, Louis was born in France, host to the only school for blind kids on earth. He earned a scholarship at age 10, but there was only so much he could learn by listening to lectures. If little Louis wanted to read Charles Dickens books one day, he'd have to invent his own system of writing.
His efforts have been immortalized via this disturbing doll-child.
Louis was inspired by a French army captain, one Charles Barbier de la Serre. He'd developed an eyes-free system of writing for French soldiers to use during times of utmost sneakiness. Barbier had the advantage of eyes, which gave him the disadvantage of not really knowing what works best when you're trying to see with your hands. His system, Sonography, didn't work very well, but it inspired preteen Louis to dedicate three years toward making it look like a bitch.
Yeah, raised dots? You like that?
By age 15 he'd invented modern Braille -- an entire alphabet that you can read by running your finger across it. Not bad, kid.
Mohammed Shariff can also be found at MoviePlotholes.com.
For more unlikely sources of change, check out 5 Accidental Inventions That Changed The World and 5 Bizarre Accidents That Helped Invent Modern Medicine.