IN 1929 BERN DIBNER , an electrical engineer living in the Bronx, New York, read a recently published book by Stuart Chase called Men and Machines .
On January 9, 1793, not quite ten years after the birth of aeronautics, the first manned flight above American soil took place. A French balloonist, Jean-Pierre Blanchard, lifted off from the jail yard of the Walnut Street Prison in Philadelphia and floated into New Jersey.
Back in the 1930s my father invented and named the Chicago boot, a device to prevent movement of an automobile if the adjacent parking meter had not been paid in full. That anyone in those troubled times would worry about people chiseling nickels out of the Chicago traffic administration seems, in retrospect, slightly balmy. Yet my dad was so fascinated with his idea that he announced he was going to patent it.
The era of the American independent, professional inventor extended from the end of the Civil War to the beginning of the First World War—almost half a century. During this short period the United States became the world’s industrial leader, supplanting the United Kingdom, which had belittled the industry and technology of its former colony. Between 1880 and 1915 the United States moved ahead in the production of coal, pig iron and steel, heavy chemicals, electrical machinery, and electrical light and power.