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The Link Librarian: Inventions and their Inventors

by Gayla Thorsen

I do not know about you, but I can't study history without learning about inventions at the same time! They seem to complement each other. For example, look how much history changed when the simple light bulb was invented. How about the automobile? The telephone? What would life be like now if just these three items were not invented? Yet, there are literally thousands of inventions that have been patented over the years. Do you know who patented 1,093 inventions? None other than Thomas Alva Edison. (And you thought YOU were busy! Ha ha)

Here are a few of the books we used and some more titles to look up in the Resource Section.
  1. "The World Almanac Book of Inventions" by Valerie-Anne Giscard d'Estaing (World Almanac Publications, 1985), 362 pages, index. You will find a treasure trove of inventions from the dawning of man's civilization starting with the evolution of the wheel. Charts and diagrams are interspersed in the different sections and lots of illustrations and old pictures of different inventions will keep your interest. There are 14 sections or chapters and I have listed them here with a sampling of what you will find in each section.
    1. Transportation - Railroads, balloons, airplanes
    2. Armaments - Artillery, explosives, naval vessels
    3. Agriculture - Gardening, foods, preserving
    4. The Arts - Printing, Office equipment, motion pictures
    5. Media & Communications - Radio, television, video
    6. Games, Toys and Sports
    7. Everyday Life - Cooking, business, crime
    8. The Bizarre and the Future
    9. Medicine - Vaccinations, surgery, dentistry
    10. Science - Physics, thermodynamics, genetics
    11. Industry - Glass, looms, refrigerating
    12. Information Systems - Data processing machines, implementation of machines, robotics
    13. Energy - Hydraulics, engines, nuclear energy
    14. Space - Astronomy, meteorology, conquest of space

    A wealth of information in just one book! We could stop right there, but there are so many different inventions that you won't find them all in one book. Let's look at a few "oldy but goody" ones along with some that are just plain fun to read.
  2. "The Boys Own Book of Great Inventions" by Floyd L. Darrow & Clarence J. Hylander, 417 pages, (The MacMillan Company, 1941). This book is divided into 4 parts, Inventions and Communication, Transportation, Vision, and Industry & Agriculture. Filled with diagrams and photos, the authors show different inventions in their various stages of development. One that I enjoyed was the development of the bicycle. A series of illustrations from 1800 to 1895 shows how the position and size of the wheels went from large to small and finally to both wheels being the same size.
  3. "All About Famous Inventors and their Inventions" by Fletcher Pratt, 141 pages, (Random House, Inc., 1955). Includes an introduction and index, this book is designed for the younger audience. Pencil drawings are used and it is written in story form about the lives of different inventors and how they made their inventions.
  4. "The Nature Company Discoveries Library - Great Inventions", by consulting editor Richard Wood, 64 pages (Time-Life Books, 1995). This is a very colorful book with lots of pictures and includes an index, glossary and timelines. The topics covered are: All about invention, everyday life, transportation, communications, instruments and machines, power and energy, war and peace, and life and medicine. Boxes called "Did You Know?" highlight interesting facts throughout the book. A fold-out page about Leonardo da Vinci (born in 1452) shows his fascinating drawings on the first airplane, way before the Wright brothers were even born!
  5. "Steven Caney's Invention Book" by Steven Caney, 207 pages, (Workman Publishing Company, Inc., 1985). Here's a book to help your student plan his own invention. It takes you through the steps in the chapters entitled Getting Started, The Inventor's Workshop, The Inventor's Notebooks, Planning, Breadboard, Prototype, Naming your Invention, Patents and Marketing your Invention. There are over 100 pages listing inventions from earmuffs to KodachromeŽ color film. Includes index and vintage pictures of the inventions. (Speaking of earmuffs, it was an inventor from Maine, Chester Greenwood, who invented these while still a teenager! Find out how many inventors came from your state.)
  6. "Dale Seymour Publications-Inventing Stuff" by Ed Sobey, 79 pages, (Dale Seymour Publications, 1996). Divided into eight sections are the following subjects: Introduction, You Are an Inventor, Your Idea Factory, Inventing Backwards, Inventing by Solving Problems, Inventing by Finding New Uses for Things, Projects for Creative Tinkering, and Making Your Inventions Pay Off. Sprinkled throughout the pages are accounts of different inventors and what they invented, such as the microwave oven, TeflonŽ, and the light bulb. Includes ideas on how to invent, keeping files, how to sell your invention and a list of useful books and magazines to further your research on inventions. Now I want to include three books that are not only about inventions but are fun to read.
  7. "Accidents May Happen--Fifty Inventions Discovered by Mistake" by Charlotte Foltz Jones, 86 pages (Delacorte Press, 1996). There are eight chapters containing about 50 stories of inventions that began in a mistake or misunderstanding. Hilarious cartoons and "Flabbergasting Facts" sections make this book enjoyable to read. Includes index and bibliography.
  8. "Know-It-All Inventions & Great Ideas" by Dorothea DePrisco, 53 pages (Scholastic, 2001). Packed into this pocket-sized book are the following contents-Introduction, Early Inventions, Toys and Other Fun Stuff, Edible Inventions, Household and Other Everday Items, Transportation Ideas, and Laughable Inventions (these were REAL inventions patented but just didn't pan out, as you will see in the book) Funny drawings depict some of the inventions featured here such as where tea came from and crayons.
  9. "Ben & Me" by Robert Lawson, 114 pages, (Third Dell printing-June 1975). An entertaining story for all ages, this story is written through the eyes of a pet mouse, Amos, who lives with Ben Franklin. Amos credits some of Ben's inventions as his own ideas that Ben eventually develops, such as bifocal glasses and the discovery of electricity. Funny illustrations throughout the book. Besides looking for books on inventions, we also found biography books on individual inventors. Here is a partial list you can choose from: Charles Goodyear, Peter Hodgson, Alexander Fleming, Johannes Gutenberg, Louis Braille, Henry Ford, Leonardo da Vinci, Samuel Colt, Samuel Morse, Elijah McCoy, Levi Strauss, F.W. Rueckheim. Here's one that I found called a photobiography. I will include some of the resources found in the book in this section.
  10. "Always Inventing--A Photobiography of Alexander Graham Bell" by Tom L. Matthews, 64 pages, (National Geographic Society, 1999). This starts with a foreword by Gilbert M. Grosvenor, Mr. Bell's great-grandson who is now the chairman of the National Geographic Society. Filled with pictures of his family and parents during his life time. Some of his inventions are also pictured interspersed with an account of his life from his birth in 1847 to his death in 1922. One noted person he helped was Helen Keller, who dedicated her autobiography to her lifelong mentor and friend, Mr. Alexander Bell. Mr. Bell was president of the National Geographic Society in 1898. Although he worked with the deaf most of his life-even his wife was deaf-he wanted to be a teacher foremost in his life. This book includes bibliography, websites, and index. Here is a website of the Bell Labs Museum-History of the Telephone:



Sir Isaac Newton: The Gravity of Genius
Henry Ford: Tin Lizzy Tycoon
Connections 2: High Times -- shows how clocks are made, printing presses, plastic wrap, maps
Connections 2: Whodonit?- how fingerprints were used in crime cases
Connections 2: Revolutions - inventions like the steam engine and copy machine

Look for other videos on how things are made. Compare how it was made over 100 years ago to today, like soap and candles, for example. There are kits to make your own products, too. You may wish to use a timeline to keep track of inventors and when their inventions were made.


Try "Cobblestone" and "Kids Discover" that feature various inventors.

More Books to find:

"The Kid's Invention Book" by Arlene Erlbach, (Lerner Publications, 1997)
"How Things Work" by Neil Ardley, (Reader's Digest, 1995)
"Mistakes that Worked" by Charlotte Foltz Jones, (Doubleday, 1994)
"Toys! Amazing Stories behind some great inventions" by Don Wulffson, (Henry Holt & Company, call No. 688.7 WUL)

Websites: (an invention by Ben Franklin)

For other cool stuff to order:

Contact National Science Foundation for hands-on activities for students at or e-mail them at Write to Smithsonian for free subscription to lesson plans
Smithsonian in your Classroom
Smithsonian Education Arts and Industries Building
1163, MRC 402, Washington, DC 20650
Send your name and address
Incense Cedar Institute
P.O.Box 7349 Stockton, CA 95267
Send name and address for free kit on how pencils are made, while supplies last
Charles Edison Fund
101 S. Harrison St. East Orange, NJ 07018-9848
Send only $1.00 and your name and address for "The Best of Edison" Science Teaching Kits--- a three ring binder full of 82 Edison experiments for grades 4-12, while supplies last

From Our Readers

Cathy from Guam highly recommends "The Well-Trained Mind" by Jessie Wise and Susan Wise-Bauer as a how-to book on homeschooling. If not available at your library, Rainbow Resource Center carries it. Their website page is Lisa from California sent her favorite Ocean website: Lisa was also our book drawing winner for the "Community" book set. Congratulations, Lisa!

Book Drawing

I am putting together a "Back to School" package for the next book drawing, so I need your help! You may send at least one of the following items to enter this drawing:

1) unused stickers, 2) an unused postcard from your state, 3) a book you no longer need but still in good condition, or 4) a short description on how you plan to start your first day of homeschooling. As always, we do not sell or distribute your names and addresses. They are only needed to send the winner the prize. I hope we can put together a huge package. Maybe we will have more than one winner!

Address -- Please note my mailing address and e-mail. Yes, I do not know whether we are coming or going these days but keep checking this space to make sure you have my current address.

Gayla Thorsen
P.O.Box 03, Fort Kent Mills, ME 04744

Remember, for the drawing, besides sending one of the above items, I will need your name, mailing address, and school name.
(Ours is Hillside Academy) Happy Reading!

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