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Editor's Letter

Editor's Letter

Winter 2011 | Volume 25 |  Issue 4

Innovation is a hot topic in our editorial offices, only in part because we run a magazine devoted to it. "There's a way to do it better-find it," Thomas Edison once said-a notion that defines
so much of our working lives. Every day we devise more efficient systems, come up with fresh ideas, and create new opportunities. What circumstances, environments, and particular factors spawn creativity and bring breakthroughs?
As we take you underwater, underground, on the water, in the air, and back in time in this issue, we glean fascinating insights into the motivations spurring Americans to some of their most innovative moments, not only firing on all cylinders but inventing entirely new engines. Inventiveness forged from staring down seemingly insurmountable challenges is an enduring theme: in "Miracle Under 42nd Street," on page 12, author Jim Chiles recounts how railroad engineer William  Wilgus  designed  a  revolutionary  concept  for  the new Grand Central Terminal, a solution to an age-old problem that he threshed out in a single fevered afternoon more than a century ago. In "Top Secret: Project Azorian," on page 48, Norman Polmar and Michael White reveal how CIA engineers invented new marine systems on a gigantic scale to recover an immense section of a Soviet ballistic missile submarine wreck from a depth of more than 16,000 feet-and do it without the Russians or the rest of the world knowing about it. Clearly the word "impossible" was not in their vocabulary.
Sometimes innovation arises out of intense competition, as John White writes about in his colorful story of 19th-century Hudson River steamboats, on page 30. The pursuit of customers pushed steamboat lines into frequent-and sometimes dangerous-river races. Engineers adapted hull configurations and tinkered with engines and boilers to tweak as much speed as possible until they created the world's fastest vessels.
Innovation can also derive from using a technology in new ways, as Tom Wheeler describes in "Lincoln's T-mails," on page 22, in which our 16th president used telegraphy brilliantly to motivate and direct his generals from Washington, D.C. Sometimes innovation comes in theform of reframing a long-standing problem, such as building a workable flying car, as Mark Wolverton reports in "A Flying Car in Every Garage?" on page 40. Some civilian and military engineers are reconceptualizing the challenge with some surprising results.
Of course, sometimes innovation just comes from a person making a connection, such as when 3M chemist Art Fry realized that the adhesive his colleague had created could be used to make hymnal bookmarks that wouldn't flutter away when he turned the pages.That article begins on p. 8.
What is it that pushes us to become our truly most inventive and creative selves? Got any ideas? Drop us a line.

We hope you enjoyed this essay.

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