Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Delayed Reaction

I watched a movie a few weeks ago called “Flash of Genius”. The movie was based on the true story of Robert Kearns, the man who invented the “delay” feature that is now part of the windshield wiper systems of every car manufactured today.

The movie depicted how Kearns was able to solve a problem that had, to that date, stumped the engineers of all the major car companies. In fine fashion, Ford Motor Company then stole his idea and he was forced to spend years in legal battles with Ford to gain credit for his patent, which he was eventually able to do. Chalk one up for the small guy.

What was most interesting to me, however, was the time at which this happened. Kearn’s original patent was filed in 1964. Remember, he was able to figure out the solution to a problem that was baffling the best car engineers of the day: how to delay the timing on windshield wipers.

Why is that so interesting?

Well, think about it. The time is 1964.

The Brooklyn Bridge had been constructed a half century before. We had already split the atom, invented atomic weapons, and had a fleet of nuclear powered submarines prowling the oceans. We had invented radio and television, broken the sound barrier with manned flight, and put an object into orbit around the planet.

We had done all of those incredible things – and many, many more – and yet we couldn’t figure out how to make a windshield wiper delay for a second or two until 1964.

That just absolutely boggles my mind.

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