Cyrus McCormick: Inventor and Salesman

Lead: Denied a renewal on his patent for a mechanical reaper in 1848, Cyrus McCormick transformed himself into a marketing genius and blew the competition away.

Intro.: "A Moment in Time" with Dan Roberts.

Content: In the early 1800s the harvesting of grain had not caught up with other agricultural improvements. You could grow grain in great abundance, particularly in the rich soils of the newly settled mid-west, but getting it out of the ground was a problem. Harvesting wheat was labor intensive. If you could find workers, slave or free, they were very expensive in proportion to the revenue generated by the crop. The first commercially practical reaper for the harvesting of wheat was invented in Rockbridge County, Virginia in 1831 by Cyrus Hall McCormick, the studious and clever son of a blacksmith. It consisted of a vibrating cutting blade, a reel to bring the stalks within reach and a platform to receive the falling grain. This basic design has changed but little in the years since. McCormick took out a patent in 1834 but lost interest until hard times forced him in the late 1830s to consider exploiting his invention. He sold several but discovered that during his absence others had entered the market most especially Obed Hussey whose design was different and whose reaper was popular in Pennsylvania and New York.

George Westinghouse II

Lead: Aware of repeated and often deadly railroad accidents, George Westinghouse developed the air brake.

Intro.: A Moment in Time with Dan Roberts.

Content: At first Westinghouse tried to harness the steam generated by the locomotive, but found that by the time steam reached the rear of the train it had begun to condensing thus losing its power to force the brakes. His solution came while reading a magazine article describing the construction of the huge railroad tunnel through Mont Cenis in the Italian Alps. Instead of generating steam deep in the mountain for drilling which would eat up precious oxygen, engineers compressed air on the outside and pumped it to the tunnel face. Westinghouse applied the same principle to stopping trains, some of which were dozens of cars in length.


George Westinghouse I

Lead: On a dark February night in 1871, the chief engineer of the New York Central's crack Pacific Express, Doc Simmons, peered beyond a rounded bend south of Poughkeepsie, New York and saw disaster coming and could do absolutely nothing about it.

Intro.: A Moment in Time with Dan Roberts.

Content: Everything was executed precisely. Simmons blew the emergency whistle. Trainmen between each of the passenger cars went to their stations. The icy handles began to turn. The brakes began to bite. Too little. Too late. A wrecked freight train lay tumbled across the small drawbridge just ahead. The Pacific Express, its useless brakes complaining loudly, drove through the oil-filled tank cars and pitched into Wappinger Creek. The tanks ignited. Thirty people died including Doc Simmons. Pity. Had the New York Central not been so cheap, Simmons would surely have been able to save lives that night. Already available was a device so effective that it was to revolutionize the railroad industry. In the public outcry following the Wappinger Creek disaster, New York Central and most other major lines began to equip their passenger stock with an invention by a little-known engineer. It was the air brake. His name was George Westinghouse.

Mr. Watt’s Slight Innovation

Lead: There was not much of an Industrial Revolution until a slight improvement by the Scottish inventor, James Watt.

Intro.: A Moment in Time with Dan Roberts.

Content: Industrial progress is marked by long series of bottlenecks overcome by small but clever innovations. For centuries the main product of England was wool. First in raw form, cut from English sheep and shipped to the factories of the Netherlands, and later fabricated in English shops into simple woolen clothing. By 1700 the added popularity of cotton clothing created an opportunity. Already the machinery had been invented which could take raw cotton and wool and make cheap clothing for the mass market, but to operate those machines required energy. Primitive factories used water wheels turned by swiftly moving streams and rivers but there were just so many usable water sources around. Perhaps it was thought this first great modern energy crisis could be resolved by steam power.

Spruce Goose II

Lead: With Allied shipping in serious jeopardy due to German submarine attacks during the early years of World War II, military planners turned to aircraft manufacturers. Howard Hughes responded with the Spruce Goose.

Intro.: A Moment in Time with Dan Roberts.

Content: Metal for the construction of experimental aircraft was scarce in 1942. Therefore, when the designers at Hughes Aircraft began their mock-up of the gigantic new cargo plane, they built their model using Duramold, lightweight plywood saturated with synthetic glue to make it waterproof and very strong. The basic airframe had no nails, screws or rivets, no metal at all. Skilled woodworkers crafted special joints that were bonded with glue for strength.




Spruce Goose I

Lead: Of all the problems the Allies faced in the summer of 1942, none was more threatening than unrestrained submarine warfare. German U-boats were sinking transport ships faster than they could be built.

Intro.: A Moment in Time with Dan Roberts.

Content: Fresh challenges seemed to inspire Howard Robard Hughes, Jr.. At the age of 17 he took control of the Hughes Tool Company upon the death of his father. This provided the financial base for Howard's other interests. In 1926 he migrated to Hollywood where over the years he produced numerous motion pictures and premiered actors such as Jean Harlow and Jane Russell. Hughes eventually owned and later sold RKO Pictures.




Electric Chair

Lead: Caught up in the frenzy of competition in the early days of electric power, Thomas Edison gave impetus to development of the twentieth century’s most fearsome form of judicial execution, the electric chair.

Intro. : A Moment in Time with Dan Roberts.

Content: In the 1880s, inventor Thomas Edison and industrialist George Westinghouse were locked in a fierce competition over the future of electric power. The issue was transmission. Edison championed direct current, Westinghouse, in alliance with the brilliant and erratic Nikola Tesla, was an advocate of alternating current. Westinghouse eventually prevailed because AC, with its more efficient distribution over longer distances, was clearly the superior choice.

Thomas Edison’s Invention of the Phonograph

Lead: In 1877, Thomas Alva Edison stumbled upon his most original invention, the audio phonograph. He captured sound.

Intro.: A Moment in Time with Dan Roberts.

Content: Most of Thomas Edison's inventions were either improvements on other ideas or adaptations of existing technology. His incandescent lamp was vastly more efficient than any before, making home lighting economically viable. His kinetoscope laid the foundation for the modern motion picture. It was with the phonograph, however, that Edison made his most creative contribution to modern life and its discovery was by accident.

Read more →