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Invention Quotes (174 quotes)

... in going over the history of all the inventions for which history could be obtained it became more and more clear that in addition to training and in addition to extensive knowledge, a natural quality of mind was also necessary.
Aphorism listed Frederick Seitz, The Cosmic Inventor: Reginald Aubrey Fessenden (1866-1932) (1999), 54, being Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, Held at Philadelphia For Promoting Useful Knowledge, Vol. 86, Pt. 6.
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...those experiments be not only esteemed which have an immediate and present use, but those principally which are of most universal consequence for invention of other experiments, and those which give more light to the invention of causes; for the invention of the mariner's needle, which giveth the direction, is of no less benefit for navigation than the invention of the sails, which give the motion.
The Second Book of Francis Bacon of the Proficience and Advancement of Learning (1605). In Francis Bacon and Basil Montagu, The Works of Francis Bacon, Lord Chancellor of England (1852), 200

...to invent is to discover that we know not, and not to recover or resummon that which we already know.
The Second Book of Francis Bacon of the Proficience and Advancement of Learning (1605). In Francis Bacon and Basil Montagu, The Works of Francis Bacon, Lord Chancellor of England (1852), 209

...while science gives us implements to use, science alone does not determine for what ends they will be employed. Radio is an amazing invention. Yet now that it is here, one suspects that Hitler never could have consolidated his totalitarian control over Germany without its use. One never can tell what hands will reach out to lay hold on scientific gifts, or to what employment they will be put. Ever the old barbarian emerges, destructively using the new civilization.
In 'The Real Point of Conflict between Science and Religion', collected in Living Under Tension: Sermons On Christianity Today (1941), 142.
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Dilbert: I'm obsessed with inventing a perpetual motion machine. Most scientists think it's impossible, but I have something they don't.
Dogbert: A lot of spare time?
Dilbert: Exactly.
Dilbert cartoon strip (8 Aug 1991).
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A great invention for dieters would be a refrigerator which weighs you every time you open the door.
Anonymous
In E.C. McKenzie, 14,000 Quips and Quotes for Speakers, Writers, Editors, Preachers, and Teachers (1990), 546.
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A major scientific advancement would be the development of cigarette ashes that would match the color of the rug.
Anonymous
In E.C. McKenzie, 14,000 Quips and Quotes for Speakers, Writers, Editors, Preachers, and Teachers (1990), 85.
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A man has a very insecure tenure of a property which another can carry away with his eyes. A few months reduced me to the cruel necessity either of destroying my machine, or of giving it to the public. To destroy it, I could not think of; to give up that for which I had laboured so long, was cruel. I had no patent, nor the means of purchasing one. In preference to destroying, I gave it to the public.
[On his inability to keep for himself a profitable income from his invention of the Spinning Mule.]
As quoted in James Mason, The Great Triumphs of Great Men (1875), 579.
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A nation has a fixed quantity of invention, and it will make itself felt.
Endymion (1880), 195.

A propos of Distempers, I am going to tell you a thing that I am sure will make you wish your selfe here. The Small Pox so fatal and so general amongst us is here entirely harmless by the invention of engrafting (which is the term they give it). There is a set of old Women who make it their business to perform the Operation.
Letter to Sarah Chiswell (1 Apr 1717). In Robert Halsband (ed.), The Complete Letters of the Lady Mary Wortley Montagu (1965), Vol. 1, 338.
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A tool is but the extension of a man's hand, and a machine is but a complex tool. He that invents a machine augments the power of a man and the well being of mankind.
In Proverbs from Plymouth Pulpit (1887), 44. It appears as one of the quotations featured in one of the hallways of the first floor of the U.S. Capitols House wing, which are known as the Cox Corridors, after Allyn Cox, the artist who decorated them.
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All creation is a mine, and every man a miner.
The whole earth, and all within it, upon it, and round about it, including himself … are the infinitely various “leads” from which, man, from the first, was to dig out his destiny.
Opening sentences of lecture 'Discoveries and Inventions', (1860) in Discoveries and Inventions (1915).
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All human affairs follow nature's great analogue, the growth of vegetation. There are three periods of growth in every plant. The first, and slowest, is the invisible growth by the root; the second and much accelerated is the visible growth by the stem; but when root and stem have gathered their forces, there comes the third period, in which the plant quickly flashes into blossom and rushes into fruit.
The beginnings of moral enterprises in this world are never to be measured by any apparent growth. ... At length comes the sudden ripeness and the full success, and he who is called in at the final moment deems this success his own. He is but the reaper and not the labourer. Other men sowed and tilled and he but enters into their labours.
Life Thoughts (1858), 20.
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All our civilization is based on invention; before invention, men lived on fruits and nuts and pine cones and slept in caves.
Aphorism listed Frederick Seitz, The Cosmic Inventor: Reginald Aubrey Fessenden (1866-1932) (1999), 54, being Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, Held at Philadelphia For Promoting Useful Knowledge, Vol. 86, Pt. 6.
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All the inventions that the world contains,
Were not by reason first found out, nor brains;
But pass for theirs who had the luck to light
Upon them by mistake or oversight.
Under 'Butler's Poems: Miscellaneous Thoughts', in Samuel Johnson (ed.), The Works of the English Poets from Chaucer to Cowper(1810), Vol. 8, 227.
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Almost always the men who achieve these fundamental inventions of a new paradigm have been either very young or very new to the field whose paradigm they change.
The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962), 89-90.
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An announcement of [Christopher] Zeeman’s lecture at Northwestern University in the spring of 1977 contains a quote describing catastrophe theory as the most important development in mathematics since the invention of calculus 300 years ago.
In book review of Catastrophe Theory: Collected Papers, 1972-1977, in Bulletin of the American Mathematical Society (Nov 1978), 84, No. 6, 1360. Reprinted in Stephen Smale, Roderick Wong(ed.), The Collected Papers of Stephen Smale (2000), Vol. 2, 814.
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An invention that is quickly accepted will turn out to be a rather trivial alteration of something that has already existed.
Speaking at a shareholders' meeting (1975) as quoted by Victor K. McElheny, in Insisting On The Impossible: The Life Of Edwin Land (1999), 403.
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An iron rod being placed on the outside of a building from the highest part continued down into the moist earth, in any direction strait or crooked, following the form of the roof or other parts of the building, will receive the lightning at its upper end, attracting it so as to prevent it's striking any other part; and, affording it a good conveyance into the earth, will prevent its damaging any part of the building.
Of Lightning, and the Method (now used in America) of securing Buildings and Persons from its mischievous Effects', Paris 1767. In I. Bernard Cohen (ed.), Benjamin Franklin's Experiments (1941), 390.
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And invention must still go on for it is necessary that we should completely control our circumstances. It is not sufficient that there should [only] be organization capable of providing food and shelter for all and organization to effect its proper distribution.
Aphorism listed Frederick Seitz, The Cosmic Inventor: Reginald Aubrey Fessenden (1866-1932) (1999), 54, being Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, Held at Philadelphia For Promoting Useful Knowledge, Vol. 86, Pt. 6.
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Andrade [who was looking after wartime inventions] is like an inverted Micawber, waiting for something to turn down.
As quoted by C.P. Snow in his Lectures at Harvard University (1960), in which he spoke extensively about Henry Tizard. Collected in print as Science and Government (1960), 6. Snow gave this quote to exemplify what he called Tizard's “lively satirical tongue,” but Tizard probably did not originate the epigram. The article 'A Spectator's Notebook' The Spectator (21 Dec 1944), 4, states it was coined by Philip Guedalla, “unless, indeed, which is unlikely, it goes back farther still.” As early as during the first World War, Guedalla “applied it to the Inventions Board under Lord Fisher, sitting in an office in Cockspur Street, and ‘waiting like a kind of inverted Mr. Micawber, for something to turn down.’” Webmaster assumes Tizard's quote refers to Edward Neville da Costa Andrade, also a wartime science consultant.
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Another argument of hope may be drawn from this–that some of the inventions already known are such as before they were discovered it could hardly have entered any man's head to think of; they would have been simply set aside as impossible. For in conjecturing what may be men set before them the example of what has been, and divine of the new with an imagination preoccupied and colored by the old; which way of forming opinions is very fallacious, for streams that are drawn from the springheads of nature do not always run in the old channels.
Translation of Novum Organum, XCII. In Francis Bacon, James Spedding, The Works of Francis Bacon (1864), Vol. 8, 128.
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Anyone who has had actual contact with the making of the inventions that built the radio art knows that these inventions have been the product of experiment and work based on physical reasoning, rather than on the mathematicians' calculations and formulae. Precisely the opposite impression is obtained from many of our present day text books and publications.
Attributed.
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As was the case for Nobel's own invention of dynamite, the uses that are made of increased knowledge can serve both beneficial and potentially harmful ends. Increased knowledge clearly implies increased responsibility. We reject the notion advocated in some quarters that man should stop eating from the tree of knowledge, as if that were humanly possible.
From Nobel Banquet Speech (10 Dec 1981), in Wilhelm Odelberg (ed.), Les Prix Nobel 1981 (1981), 44.
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At the present rate of progress, it is almost impossible to imagine any technical feat that cannot be achieved, if it can be achieved at all, within the next five hundred years.
Profiles of the Future (1973), xvi.
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But how to raise a sum in the different States has been my greatest difficulty.
Letter from Robert Fulton from London (5 Feb 1797) to President George Washington, proposing benefits from building canals. In Henry Winram Dickinson, Robert Fulton, Engineer and Artist (1913), 57.

By his very success in inventing labor-saving devices, modern man has manufactured an abyss of boredom that only the privileged classes in earlier civilizations have ever fathomed.
The Conduct of Life (1951), 14.
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Computers and rocket ships are examples of invention, not of understanding. ... All that is needed to build machines is the knowledge that when one thing happens, another thing happens as a result. It's an accumulation of simple patterns. A dog can learn patterns. There is no “why&rdqo; in those examples. We don't understand why electricity travels. We don't know why light travels at a constant speed forever. All we can do is observe and record patterns.
In God's Debris: A Thought Experiment (2004), 22.
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Data isn't information. ... Information, unlike data, is useful. While there’s a gulf between data and information, there’s a wide ocean between information and knowledge. What turns the gears in our brains isn't information, but ideas, inventions, and inspiration. Knowledge—not information—implies understanding. And beyond knowledge lies what we should be seeking: wisdom.
In High-Tech Heretic: Reflections of a Computer Contrarian (2000), 185-186.
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Descartes constructed as noble a road of science, from the point at which he found geometry to that to which he carried it, as Newton himself did after him. ... He carried this spirit of geometry and invention into optics, which under him became a completely new art.
A Philosophical Dictionary: from the French? (2nd Ed.,1824), Vol. 5, 110.
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Dick Drew took a bunch of misfits—people who wouldn’t fly in formation—and he put together a lab that created technologies that account for 20 percent of 3M's sales in 2000.
Art Fry
As quoted in W. James McNerney Jr., A Century of Innovation: The 3M Story (2002), 26.
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Each of us has read somewhere that in New Guinea pidgin the word for 'piano' is (I use English spelling) 'this fellow you hit teeth belonging to him he squeal all same pig'. I am inclined to doubt whether this expression is authentic; it looks just like the kind of thing a visitor to the Islands would facetiously invent. But I accept 'cut grass belong head belong me' for 'haircut' as genuine... Such phrases seem very funny to us, and make us feel very superior to the ignorant foreigners who use long winded expressions for simple matters. And then it is our turn to name quite a simple thing, a small uncomplicated molecule consisting of nothing more than a measly 11 carbons, seven hydrogens, one nitrogen and six oxygens. We sharpen our pencils, consult our rule books and at last come up with 3-[(1, 3- dihydro-1, 3-dioxo-2H-isoindol-2-yl) oxy]-3-oxopropanoic acid. A name like that could drive any self-respecting Papuan to piano-playing.
The Chemist's English (1990), 3rd Edition, 57.
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Either one or the other [analysis or synthesis] may be direct or indirect. The direct procedure is when the point of departure is known-direct synthesis in the elements of geometry. By combining at random simple truths with each other, more complicated ones are deduced from them. This is the method of discovery, the special method of inventions, contrary to popular opinion.
Ampère gives this example drawn from geometry to illustrate his meaning for “direct synthesis” when deductions following from more simple, already-known theorems leads to a new discovery. In James R. Hofmann, André-Marie Ampère (1996), 159. Cites Académie des Sciences Ampère Archives, box 261.
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Engineering is quite different from science. Scientists try to understand nature. Engineers try to make things that do not exist in nature. Engineers stress invention. To embody an invention the engineer must put his idea in concrete terms, and design something that people can use. That something can be a device, a gadget, a material, a method, a computing program, an innovative experiment, a new solution to a problem, or an improvement on what is existing. Since a design has to be concrete, it must have its geometry, dimensions, and characteristic numbers. Almost all engineers working on new designs find that they do not have all the needed information. Most often, they are limited by insufficient scientific knowledge. Thus they study mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology and mechanics. Often they have to add to the sciences relevant to their profession. Thus engineering sciences are born.
Y.C. Fung and P. Tong, Classical and Computational Solid Mechanics (2001), 1.
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Enzymes are things invented by biologists that explain things which otherwise require harder thinking.
In Geoff Tibballs, The Mammoth Book of Zingers, Quips, and One-Liners (2004), 475, but without citation. If you know a primary print source, please contact Webmaster.
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Every improvement that is put upon the real estate is the result of an idea in somebody's head. The skyscraper is another idea; the railroad is another; the telephone and all those things are merely symbols which represent ideas. An andiron, a wash-tub, is the result of an idea that did not exist before.
Speaking to a committee considering a new Copyright Bill (6 Dec 1906). In Mark Twain and William Dean Howells (ed.), Mark Twain's Speeches? (1910), 320. An andiron is a metal bar, used in a pair, as a stand for logs in a fireplace. The Copyright Bill proposed to give authors, artists and musicians copyright for the term of his life and for 50 years thereafter. John Philip Sousa spoke for the musicians.
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Every year the inventions of science weave more inextricably the web that binds man to man, group to group, nation to nation.
In 'The Free Spirit Confronts the World's Coercion', collected in Living Under Tension: Sermons On Christianity Today (1941), 137.
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For many parts of Nature can neither be invented with sufficient subtlety, nor demonstrated with sufficient perspicuity, nor accommodated unto use with sufficient dexterity, without the aid and intervening of the mathematics, of which sort are perspective, music, astronomy, cosmography, architecture, engineery, and divers others.
The Advancement of Learning (1605), Book 2. Reprinted in The Two Books of Francis Bacon: Of the Proficience and Advancement of Learning, Divine and Human (2009), 97.
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For one person who is blessed with the power of invention, many will always be found who have the capacity of applying principles.
Reflections on the Decline of Science in England and on Some of its Causes (1830), 18.

For the pre-Darwinian age had come to be regarded as a Dark Age in which men still believed that the book of Genesis was a standard scientific treatise, and that the only additions to it were Galileo'a demonstration of Leonardo da Vinci's simple remark that the earth is a moon of the sun, Sir Humphrey Davy's invention of the safety lamp, the discovery of electricity, the application of steam to industrial purposes, and the penny post.
Back to Methuselah: A Metabiological Pentateuch‎ (1921), viii.
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God invented space so that not everything had to happen in Princeton.
In Our Cosmic Habitat (2003), Preface, ix. Written as a frivolous companion to the aphorism, “Time is nature's way to keep everything from happening all at once.”
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Great inventions are never, and great discoveries are seldom, the work of any one mind. Every great invention is really an aggregation of minor inventions, or the final step of a progression. It is not usually a creation, but a growth, as truly so as is the growth of the trees in the forest.
In 'The Growth of the Steam-Engine', The Popular Science Monthly (Nov 1877), 17.
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Great minds don't think alike. If they did, the Patent Office would only have about fifty inventions.
From Dilbert comic strip (10 Mar 2005).
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Great triumphs of engineering genius—the locomotive, the truss bridge, the steel rail— ... are rather invention than engineering proper.
From The Economic Theory of the Location of Railways (1887, 1914), 1.
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I found the invention was applicable to painting, and would also contribute to facilitate the study of geography: for I have applied it to some maps, the rivers of which I represented in silver, and in the cities in gold. The rivers appearing, as it were, in silver streams, have a most pleasing effect on the sight, and relieve the eye of that painful search for the course, and origin, of rivers, the minutest branches of which can be splendidly represented this way.
Description of an outcome of her experiments originally investigating 'the possibility of making cloths of gold, silver and other metals by chemical processes.'
Preface to An Essay on Combustion with a View to a New Art of Dyeing and Painting (1794), iii-iv. In Marilyn Bailey Ogilvie and Joy Dorothy Harvey, The Biographical Dictionary of Women in Science (2000), 478.
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I had a Meccano set with which I “played” endlessly. Meccano which was invented by Frank Hornby around 1900, is called Erector Set in the US. New toys (mainly Lego) have led to the extinction of Meccano and this has been a major disaster as far as the education of our young engineers and scientists is concerned. Lego is a technically trivial plaything and kids love it partly because it is so simple and partly because it is seductively coloured. However it is only a toy, whereas Meccano is a real engineering kit and it teaches one skill which I consider to be the most important that anyone can acquire: This is the sensitive touch needed to thread a nut on a bolt and tighten them with a screwdriver and spanner just enough that they stay locked, but not so tightly that the thread is stripped or they cannot be unscrewed. On those occasions (usually during a party at your house) when the handbasin tap is closed so tightly that you cannot turn it back on, you know the last person to use the washroom never had a Meccano set.
Nobel laureate autobiography in Les Prix Nobel/Nobel Lectures 1996 (1997), 189.
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I had an immense advantage over many others dealing with the problem inasmuch as I had no fixed ideas derived from long-established practice to control and bias my mind, and did not suffer from the general belief that whatever is, is right.
In Sir Henry Bessemer, F.R.S.: An Autobiography (1905), 93.
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I had gone on a walk on a fine Sabbath afternoon. I had entered the Green [of Glasgow] by the gate at the foot of Charlotte Street—had passed the old washing-house. I was thinking upon the engine at the time, and had gone as far as the herd's house, when the idea came into my mind that as steam was an elastic body it would rush into a vacuum, and if a communication were made between the cylinder and an exhausted vessel it would rush into it, and might be there condensed without cooling the cylinder. I then saw that I must get rid of the condensed steam and injection water if I used a jet, as in Newcomen's engine. Two ways of doing this occurred to me. First, the water might be run off by a descending pipe, if an outlet could be got at the depth of 35 or 36 feet, and any air might be extracted by a small pump. The second was to make the pump large enough to extract both water and air. ... I had not walked further than the Golf-house when the whole thing was arranged in my mind.
[In Robert Hart's words, a recollection of the description of Watt's moment of inspiration, in May 1765, for improving Thomas Newcomen's steam engine.]
In Robert Hart, 'Reminiscences of James Watt' (read 2 Nov 1857), Transactions of the Glasgow Archaeological Society (1859), Vol. 1, 1. Note that these are not the verbatim words of James Watt, but are only a recollection of them by Robert Hart, who is quoting as best he can from memory of a conversation he and his brother had with James Watt that took place over 43 years previously. In his Reminiscences, Hart explains, “I have accordingly thrown together the following brief narrative:— As these meetings took place forty-three years since, many observations that were made at the time may have escaped me at present; yet, when the same subjects are touched on, I have as distinct recollection of his treatment of them as if it were yesterday.”
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I hate it. I just do. That [artificial turf], local news, the IRS, and hair dryers are the four worst inventions of the century.
Football analyst, quoted in Sport (1985). In Julia Vitullo-Martin and J. Robert Moskin, The Executive's Book of Quotations (2002), 148.
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I have been branded with folly and madness for attempting what the world calls impossibilities, and even from the great engineer, the late James Watt, who said ... that I deserved hanging for bringing into use the high-pressure engine. This has so far been my reward from the public; but should this be all, I shall be satisfied by the great secret pleasure and laudable pride that I feel in my own breast from having been the instrument of bringing forward new principles and new arrangements of boundless value to my country, and however much I may be straitened in pecuniary circumstances, the great honour of being a useful subject can never be taken from me, which far exceeds riches.
From letter to Davies Gilbert, written a few months before Trevithick's last illness. Quoted in Francis Trevithick, Life of Richard Trevithick: With an Account of his Inventions (1872), Vol. 2, 395-6.
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I realized both the upper and lower body must be held securely in place with one strap across the chest and one across the hips. The belt also needed an immovable anchorage point for the buckle as far down beside the occupant's hip, so it could hold the body properly during a collision. It was just a matter of finding a solution that was simple, effective and could be put on conveniently with one hand.
as quoted in New York Times obituary, 26 Sep 2002
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I told [Kruesi] I was going to record talking, and then have the machine talk back. He thought it absurd. However, it was finished, the foil was put on; I then shouted “Mary had a little lamb,” etc. I adjusted the reproducer, and the machine reproduced it perfectly.
On first words spoken on a phonograph.
Byron M. Vanderbilt, Thomas Edison, Chemist (1971), 99.
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I was always afraid of things that worked the first time. Long experience proved that there were great drawbacks found generally before they could be got commercial; but here was something there was no doubt of.
[Recalling astonishment when his tin-foil cylinder phonograph first played back his voice recording of “Mary had a little lamb.”]
Quoted in Frank Lewis Dyer, Thomas Commerford Martin, Edison: His Life and Inventions (1910), 208.
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I watched his countenance closely, to see if he was not deranged ... and I was assured by other senators after he left the room that they had no confidence in it.
Reminiscence by Oliver Hampton Smith, Senator for Indiana, upon meeting Morse at the demonstration of his telegraph to the U.S. Congress in 1842.
Early Indiana Trials and Sketches (1858), 413
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I'm afraid for all those who'll have the bread snatched from their mouths by these machines. ... What business has science and capitalism got, bringing ail these new inventions into the works, before society has produced a generation educated up to using them!
Character Aune, in the play The Pillars of Society, Act 2. In Henrik Ibsen and James Walter McFarlane (ed.), Ibsen: Pillars of society. A doll's house. Ghosts (1960), Vol. 5, 52.
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If a man write a better book, preach a better sermon, or make a better mouse-trap than his neighbour, tho' he build his house in the woods, the world will make a beaten path to his door.
Attributed to Emerson by Sarah S. B. Yule, in her book Borrowings (compiled 1889, published 1893). Mrs Yule was quoted in The Docket (Feb 1912), that she wrote this in her notebook of memorable statements during an Emerson address. The Docket thus disproved Elbert Hubbard's claim to its authorship.

If human thought is a growth, like all other growths, its logic is without foundation of its own, and is only the adjusting constructiveness of all other growing things. A tree cannot find out, as it were, how to blossom, until comes blossom-time. A social growth cannot find out the use of steam engines, until comes steam-engine-time.
Lo! (1931, 1941), 20.
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If we have learned one thing from the history of invention and discovery, it is that, in the long run—and often in the short one—the most daring prophecies seem laughably conservative.
The Exploration of Space (1954), 111.
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In a way, my design works as much because the belt is comfortable for the user as it does because it is safer.
as quoted by Karl Ritter, Associated Press writer in news article Inventor of Three-Point Seat Belt Dies, 26 Sep 2002
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In science the successors stand upon the shoulders of their predecessors; where one man of supreme genius has invented a method, a thousand lesser men can apply it. ... In art nothing worth doing can be done without genius; in science even a very moderate capacity can contribute to a supreme achievement.
Essay, 'The Place Of Science In A Liberal Education.' In Mysticism and Logic: and Other Essays (1919), 41.
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In the world's history certain inventions and discoveries occurred of peculiar value, on account of their great efficiency in facilitating all other inventions and discoveris. Of these were the art of writing and of printing, the discovery of America, and the introduction of patent laws. The date of the first … is unknown; but it certainly was as much as fifteen hundred years before the Christian era; the second—printing—came in 1436, or nearly three thousand years after the first. The others followed more rapidly—the discovery of America in 1492, and the first patent laws in 1624.
Lecture 'Discoveries, Inventions and Improvements' (22 Feb 1860) in John George Nicolay and John Hay (eds.), Complete Works of Abraham Lincoln (1894), Vol. 5, 109-10.
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Industry is far more efficient than the university in making use of scientific developments for the public good.
Reported in 1981, as a co-founder of Genentech, Inc., a company to offer gene-splicing products.
'Shaping Life in the Lab'. In Time (9 Mar 1981).
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Inventing is a combination of brains and materials. The more brains you use, the less material you need.

Invention breeds invention. No sooner is the electric telegraph devised than gutta-percha, the very material it requires, is found. The aeronaut is provided with gun-cotton, the very fuel he wants for his balloon.
In Ralph Waldo Emerson and J.E. Cabot (ed.), Emerson's Complete Works (1884), Vol. 7, 161.
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Invention is an Heroic thing, and plac'd above the reach of a low, and vulgar Genius. It requires an active, a bold, a nimble, a restless mind: a thousand difficulties must be contemn'd with which a mean heart would be broken: many attempts must be made to no purpose: much Treasure must sometimes be scatter'd without any return: much violence, and vigour of thoughts must attend it: some irregularities, and excesses must be granted it, that would hardly be pardon'd by the severe Rules of Prudence.
The History of the Royal Society (1667), 392.
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Inventions that are not made, like babies that are not born, are rarely missed. In the absence of new developments, old ones may seem very impressive for quite a long while.
The Affluent Society (1958), 127.

Inventive genius requires pleasurable mental activity as a condition for its vigorous exercise. “Necessity is the mother of invention” is a silly proverb. “Necessity is the mother of futile dodges” is much closer to the truth. The basis of growth of modern invention is science, and science is almost wholly the outgrowth of pleasurable intellectual curiosity.
The Aims of Education and other Essays (1929, 1967), 45.
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It has been just so in all my inventions. The first step is an intuition—and comes with a burst, then difficulties arise. This thing that gives out and then that—“Bugs”as such little faults and difficulties are called show themselves and months of anxious watching, study and labor are requisite before commercial success—or failure—is certainly reached.
[Describing his invention of a storage battery that involved 10,296 experiments. Note Edison's use of the term “Bug” in the engineering research field for a mechanical defect greatly predates the use of the term as applied by Admiral Grace Murray Hopper to a computing defect upon finding a moth in the electronic mainframe.]
Letter to Theodore Puskas (18 Nov 1878). In The Yale Book of Quotations (2006), 226.
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It is a fraud of the Christian system to call the sciences human invention; it is only the application of them that is human. Every science has for its basis a system of principles as fixed and unalterable as those by which the universe is regulated and governed. Man cannot make principles—he can only discover them.
The Age of Reason (1794), 27.
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It is a very strange thing to reflect that but for the invention of Professor Haber the Germans could not have continued the War after their original stack of nitrates was exhausted. The invention of this single man has enabled them, utilising the interval in which their accumulations were used up, not only to maintain an almost unlimited supply of explosives for all purposes, but to provide amply for the needs of agriculture in chemical manures. It is a remarkable fact, and shows on what obscure and accidental incidents the fortunes of possible the whole world may turn in these days of scientific discovery.
[During World War I, Fritz Haber and Karl Bosch invented a large scale process to cause the direct combination of hydrogen and nitrogen gases to chemically synthesize ammonia, thus providing a replacement for sodium nitrate in the manufacture of explosives and fertilizers.]
Parliamentary debate (25 Apr 1918). In Winston Churchill, Richard Langworth (ed.), Churchill by Himself: The Definitive Collection of Quotations‎ (2008), 469. by Winston Churchill, Richard Langworth
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It is arguable whether the human race have been gainers by the march of science beyond the steam engine. Electricity opens a field of infinite conveniences to ever greater numbers, but they may well have to pay dearly for them. But anyhow in my thought I stop short of the internal combustion engine which has made the world so much smaller. Still more must we fear the consequences of entrusting a human race so little different from their predecessors of the so-called barbarous ages such awful agencies as the atomic bomb. Give me the horse.
Address to the Royal College of Surgeons (10 Jul 1951). Collected in Stemming the Tide: Speeches 1951 and 1952 (1953), 91.
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It is both a sad and a happy fact of engineering history that disasters have been powerful instruments of change. Designers learn from failure. Industrial society did not invent grand works of engineering, and it was not the first to know design failure. What it did do was develop powerful techniques for learning from the experience of past disasters. It is extremely rare today for an apartment house in North America, Europe, or Japan to fall down. Ancient Rome had large apartment buildings too, but while its public baths, bridges and aqueducts have lasted for two thousand years, its big residential blocks collapsed with appalling regularity. Not one is left in modern Rome, even as ruin.
In Why Things Bite Back: Technology and the Revenge of Unintended Consequences (1997), 23.
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It is impossible not to feel stirred at the thought of the emotions of man at certain historic moments of adventure and discovery—Columbus when he first saw the Western shore, Pizarro when he stared at the Pacific Ocean, Franklin when the electric spark came from the string of his kite, Galileo when he first turned his telescope to the heavens. Such moments are also granted to students in the abstract regions of thought, and high among them must be placed the morning when Descartes lay in bed and invented the method of co-ordinate geometry.
Quoted in James Roy Newman, The World of Mathematics (2000), Vol. 1, 239.
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It is not enough that you should understand about applied science in order that your work may increase man's blessings. Concern for man himself and his fate must always form the chief interest of all technical endeavours... in order that the creations of our minds shall be a blessing and not a curse to mankind. Never forget this in the midst of your diagrams and equations.
Address to students of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California (16 Feb 1931). In New York Times (17 Feb 1931), p. 6.

It is only the unimaginative who ever invents. The true artist is known by the use he makes of what he annexes, and he annexes everything
'Olivia at the Lyceum', Dramatic Review (30 May 1885). In Reviews (1908), 29.

It is very desirable to have a word to express the Availability for work of the heat in a given magazine; a term for that possession, the waste of which is called Dissipation. Unfortunately the excellent word Entropy, which Clausius has introduced in this connexion, is applied by him to the negative of the idea we most naturally wish to express. It would only confuse the student if we were to endeavour to invent another term for our purpose. But the necessity for some such term will be obvious from the beautiful examples which follow. And we take the liberty of using the term Entropy in this altered sense ... The entropy of the universe tends continually to zero.
Sketch of Thermodynamics (1868), 100-2.
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It is well to observe the force and virtue and consequence of discoveries, and these are to be seen nowhere more conspicuously than in those three which were unknown to the ancients, and of which the origins, although recent, are obscure and inglorious; namely, printing, gunpowder, and the magnet. For these three have changed the whole face and state of things throughout the world; the first in literature, the second in warfare, the third in navigation; whence have followed innumerable changes, insomuch that no empire, no sect, no star seems to have exerted greater power and influence in human affairs than these mechanical discoveries ... .
The New Organon (1620) in James Spedding, Robert Ellis and Douglas Heath (eds.), The Works of Francis Bacon (1887-1901), Vol. 4, 114.
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It may be unpopular and out-of-date to say—but I do not think that a scientific result which gives us a better understanding of the world and makes it more harmonious in our eyes should be held in lower esteem than, say, an invention which reduces the cost of paving roads, or improves household plumbing.
From final remarks in 'The Semantic Conception of Truth and the Foundations of Semantics' (1944), collected in Leonard Linsky (ed.), Semantics and the Philosophy of Language: A Collection of Readings (1952), 41.
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It would seem that more than function itself, simplicity is the deciding factor in the aesthetic equation. One might call the process beauty through function and simplification.
As quoted in Christian Science Monitor (7 May 1952).
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It’s very dangerous to invent something in our times; ostentatious men of the other world, who are hostile to innovations, roam about angrily. To live in peace, one has to stay away from innovations and new ideas. Innovations, like trees, attract the most destructive lightnings to themselves.
From the play Galileo Galilei (2001) .
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Long intervals frequently elapse between the discovery of new principles in science and their practical application… Those intellectual qualifications, which give birth to new principles or to new methods, are of quite a different order from those which are necessary for their practical application.
Reflections on the Decline of Science in England (1830), 16.
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Mapping the human genome has been compared with putting a man on the moon, but I believe it is more than that. This is the outstanding achievement not only of our lifetime, but in terms of human history. A few months ago I compared the project to the invention of the wheel. On reflection, it is more than that. I can well imagine technology making the wheel obsolete. But this code is the essence of mankind, and as long as humans exists, this code is going to be important and will be used.
Quoted in the press release 'The first draft of the Book of Humankind has been read', 26 Jun 2000. On the Sanger Institute web site at www.sanger.ac.uk/HGP/draft2000/mainrelease.shtml
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Mathematics is not only one of the most valuable inventions—or discoveries—of the human mind, but can have an aesthetic appeal equal to that of anything in art. Perhaps even more so, according to the poetess who proclaimed, “Euclid alone hath looked at beauty bare.”
From 'The Joy of Maths'. Collected in Arthur C. Clarke, Greetings, Carbon-Based Bipeds!: Collected Essays, 1934-1998, 460.
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Men are rather beholden ... generally to chance or anything else, than to logic, for the invention of arts and sciences.
The Advancement of Learning (1605) in James Spedding, Robert Ellis and Douglas Heath (eds.), The Works of Francis Bacon (1887-1901), Vol. 3, 386.
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Mr Edison gave America just what was needed at that moment in history. They say that when people think of me, they think of my assembly line. Mr. Edison, you built an assembly line which brought together the genius of invention, science and industry.
Henry Ford in conversation Thomas Edison and Harvey Firestone (1931), quoted as a recollection of the author, in James Newton, Uncommon Friends: Life with Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Harvey Firestone, Alexis Carrel & Charles Lindbergh (1987), 31. The quote is not cited from a print source. However, in the introduction the author said he “kept a diary in which I noted times and places, key phrases, and vivid impressions.” He also “relied on publications by and about my friends, which jogged my memory.&rdquo. Webmaster has found no earlier record of this quote, and thus suggests the author may have the gist of what Ford said, but is not quoting the exact words uttered by Ford, although quote marks are used to state Ford's remark.
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Mr. Thomas A. Edison recently came into this office, placed a little machine on our desk, turned a crank, and the machine enquired as to our health, asked how we liked the phonograph, informed us that it was well, and bid us a cordial good night. These remarks were not only perfectly audible to ourselves, but to a dozen or more persons gathered around.
Scientific American (22 Dec 1877). Quoted in By John Henry Pepper, The Boy's Playbook of Science, Revised (1881), 251.
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Necessity is not the mother of invention. Knowledge and experiment are its parents. It sometimes happens that successful search is made for unknown materials to fill well-recognized and predetermined requirements. It more often happens that the acquirement of knowledge of the previously unknown properties of a material suggests its trial for some new use. These facts strongly indicate the value of knowledge of properties of materials and indicate a way for research.
Quoted in Guy Suits, 'Willis Rodney Whitney', National Academy of Sciences, Biographical Memoirs (1960), 357.
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Necessity is the mother of invention
Anonymous
Collected in Henery George Bohn, A Handbook of Proverbs: Comprising Ray's Collection of English Proverbs (1855), 457.
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Next came the patent laws. These began in England in 1624, and in this country with the adoption of our Constitution. Before then any man [might] instantly use what another man had invented, so that the inventor had no special advantage from his own invention. The patent system changed this, secured to the inventor for a limited time exclusive use of his inventions, and thereby added the fuel of interest to the fire of genius in the discovery and production of new and useful things.
Lecture 'Discoveries, Inventions and Improvements' (22 Feb 1860) in John George Nicolay and John Hay (eds.), Complete Works of Abraham Lincoln (1894), Vol. 5, 113. In Eugene C. Gerhart, Quote it Completely! (1998), 802.
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No one has ever had an idea in a dress suit.
Widely seen, but always without citation, for example, in Obzor (1977), 38, 10. If you know the primary source, please contact Webmaster.
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No organization engaged in any specific field of work ever invents any important developers in that field, or adopts any important development in that field until forced to do so by outside competition.
Aphorism listed Frederick Seitz, The Cosmic Inventor: Reginald Aubrey Fessenden (1866-1932) (1999), 54, being Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, Held at Philadelphia For Promoting Useful Knowledge, Vol. 86, Pt. 6.
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Number, the most excellent of all inventions.
Aeschylus
Spoken by the character Prometheus in play, 'Prometheus Bound', as translated by G.M. Cookson, in Four Plays of Aeschylus (1922), 182.
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O for the Muse of fire, that would ascend
The brightest heaven of invention…
Henry V, Prologue. In Carl Sagan, Broca's Brain (1986), 262.
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Of all the forces of nature, I should think the wind contains the largest amount of motive power—that is, power to move things. Take any given space of the earth's surface— for instance, Illinois; and all the power exerted by all the men, and beasts, and running-water, and steam, over and upon it, shall not equal the one hundredth part of what is exerted by the blowing of the wind over and upon the same space. And yet it has not, so far in the world's history, become proportionably valuable as a motive power. It is applied extensively, and advantageously, to sail-vessels in navigation. Add to this a few windmills, and pumps, and you have about all. … As yet, the wind is an untamed, and unharnessed force; and quite possibly one of the greatest discoveries hereafter to be made, will be the taming, and harnessing of it.
Lecture 'Discoveries and Inventions', (1860) in Discoveries and Inventions (1915).
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One of my inventions was a large thermometer made of an iron rod, … The expansion and contraction of this rod was multiplied by a series of levers … so that the slightest change in the length of the rod was instantly shown on a dial about three feet wide multiplied about thirty-two thousand times. The zero-point was gained by packing the rod in wet snow. The scale was so large that … the temperature read while we were ploughing in the field below the house.
From The Story of My Boyhood and Youth (1913), 258-259. One of the inventions made while growing up on his father’s farm, before he left the year after he was 21.
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Perhaps it is better in this present world of ours that a revolutionary idea or invention instead of being helped and patted be hampered and ill-treated in its adolescence—by want of means, by selfish interest, pedantry, stupidity and ignorance; that it be attacked and stifled; that it pass through bitter trials and tribulations, through the heartless strife of commercial existence. ... So all that was great in the past was ridiculed, condemned, combatted, suppressed—only to emerge all the more powerfully, all the more triumphantly from the struggle.
'The Transmission of Electrical Energy Without Wires As a Means for Furthering Peace', Electrical World and Engineer (7 Jan 1905), 24. Reproduced in John T. Ratzlaff, editor, Tesla Said (1984), 86. Also reprinted in Nikola Tesla, Miscellaneous Writings (2007), 58.
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Perhaps scientists have been the most international of all professions in their outlook... Every time you scientists make a major invention, we politicians have to invent a new institution to cope with it—and almost invariably, these days, it must be an international institution.
From Address to the Centennial Convocation of the National Academy of Sciences (22 Oct 1963), 'A Century of Scientific Conquest'. Online at The American Presidency Project.
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Perhaps we see equations as simple because they are easily expressed in terms of mathematical notation already invented at an earlier stage of development of the science, and thus what appears to us as elegance of description really reflects the interconnectedness of Nature's laws at different levels.
Nobel Banquet Speech (10 Dec 1969), in Wilhelm Odelberg (ed.),Les Prix Nobel en 1969 (1970).
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Physicist Isador Isaac Rabi, who won a Nobel Prize for inventing a technique that permitted scientists to probe the structure of atoms and molecules in the 1930s, attributed his success to the way his mother used to greet him when he came home from school each day. “Did you ask any good questions today, Isaac?” she would say.
Thomas J. Peters, Liberation Management: Necessary Disorganization for the Nanosecond Nineties (1992).
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Precedents are treated by powerful minds as fetters with which to bind down the weak, as reasons with which to mistify the moderately informed, and as reeds which they themselves fearlessly break through whenever new combinations and difficult emergencies demand their highest efforts.
A Word to the Wise (1833), 3-6. Quoted in Anthony Hyman (ed.), Science and Reform: Selected Works of Charles Babbage (1989), 202.

Professor Ayrton said that we were gradually coming within thinkable distance of the realization of a prophecy he had ventured to make four years before, of a time when, if a person wanted to call to a friend he knew not where, he would call in a very loud electromagnetic voice, heard by him who had the electromagnetic ear, silent to him who had it not. “Where are you?” he would say. A small reply would come, “I am at the bottom of a coalmine, or crossing the Andes, or in the middle of the Atlantic.” Or, perhaps in spite of all the calling, no reply would come, and the person would then know that his friend was dead. Think of what this would mean ... a real communication from a distance based on true physical laws.
[His prophecy of cell phones, as a comment on Marconi's paper, 'Syntonic Wireless Telegraphy,' read before the Society of Arts, 15 May 1901, about his early radio signal experiments.]
From Engineering Magazine (Jul 1901) as described in 'Marconi and his Transatlantic Signal', The Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine (1902), Vol. 63, 782.
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Science burrows its insulted head in the filth of slaughterous inventions.
Article in the Evening Standard (Sep 1936). Maxims and Reflections (1947), 176.
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Science has always been too dignified to invent a good back-scratcher.
In Edward Anthony, O Rare Don Marquis (1962), 354.
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Scientists come in two varieties, hedgehogs and foxes. I borrow this terminology from Isaiah Berlin (1953), who borrowed it from the ancient Greek poet Archilochus. Archilochus told us that foxes know many tricks, hedgehogs only one. Foxes are broad, hedgehogs are deep. Foxes are interested in everything and move easily from one problem to another. Hedgehogs are only interested in a few problems that they consider fundamental, and stick with the same problems for years or decades. Most of the great discoveries are made by hedgehogs, most of the little discoveries by foxes. Science needs both hedgehogs and foxes for its healthy growth, hedgehogs to dig deep into the nature of things, foxes to explore the complicated details of our marvelous universe. Albert Einstein and Edwin Hubble were hedgehogs. Charley Townes, who invented the laser, and Enrico Fermi, who built the first nuclear reactor in Chicago, were foxes.
In 'The Future of Biotechnology', A Many-Colored Glass: Reflections on the Place of Life in the Universe (2007), 1.
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Scientists often invent words to fill the holes in their understanding.These words are meant as conveniences until real understanding can be found. ... Words such as dimension and field and infinity ... are not descriptions of reality, yet we accept them as such because everyone is sure someone else knows what the words mean.
In God's Debris: A Thought Experiment (2004), 20-21.
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TELEPHONE, n. An invention of the devil which abrogates some of the advantages of making a disagreeable person keep his distance.
The Collected Works of Ambrose Bierce (1911), Vol. 7, The Devil's Dictionary,  341.
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Ten builders rear an arch, each in turn lifting it higher; but it is the tenth man, who drops in the keystone, who hears our huzzas.
From chapter 'Jottings from a Note-book', in Canadian Stories (1918), 167.
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The advancement of agriculture, commerce and manufactures, by all proper means, will not, I trust, need recommendation. But I cannot forbear intimating to you the expediency of giving effectual encouragement as well to the introduction of new and useful inventions from abroad, as to the exertions of skill and genius in producing them at home.
Early suggestion for awarding patent protection. In First Annual Message to Congress on the State of the Union (8 Jan 1790).
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The American Businessman has a problem: if he comes up with something new, the Russians invent it six months later and the Japanese make it cheaper.
Anonymous
In E.C. McKenzie, 14,000 Quips and Quotes for Speakers, Writers, Editors, Preachers, and Teachers (1990), 58.
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The beginning of civilisation is the discovery of some useful arts, by which men acquire property, comforts, or luxuries. The necessity or desire of preserving them leads to laws and social institutions. The discovery of peculiar arts gives superiority to particular nations ... to subjugate other nations, who learn their arts, and ultimately adopt their manners;— so that in reality the origin as well as the progress and improvement of civil society is founded in mechanical and chemical inventions.
Consolations In Travel; or, the Last Days of a Philosopher (1830), 228.
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The best way to predict the future is to invent it.
Quoted in Financial Times (1 Nov1982).
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The cell was the first invention of the animal kingdom, and all higher animals are and must be cellular in structure. Our tissues were formed ages on ages ago; they have all persisted. Most of our organs are as old as worms. All these are very old, older than the mountains.
In The Whence and Whither of Man; a Brief History of his Origin and Development through Conformity to Environment; being the Morse Lectures of 1895. (1896), 173. The Morse lectureship was founded by Prof. Samuel F.B. Morse in 1865 at Union Theological Seminary, the lectures to deal with “the relation of the Bible to any of the sciences.”
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The Commissioner of Patents may be likened to a wine merchant. He has in his office the wine of human progress of every kind and quality—wine, one may say, produced from the fermentation of the facts of the world through the yeast of human effort. Sometimes the yeast is “wild” and sometimes the “must” is poor, and while it all lies there shining with its due measure of the sparkle of divine effort, it is but occasionally that one finds a wine whose bouquet is the result of a pure culture on the true fruit of knowledge. But it is this true, pure wine of discovery that is alone of lasting significance.
In Some Chemical Problems of Today (1911), 108.
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The computer is a great invention. There are as many mistakes as ever, but now they're nobody's fault.
Anonymous
In E.C. McKenzie, 14,000 Quips and Quotes for Speakers, Writers, Editors, Preachers, and Teachers (1990), 338.
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The Congress shall have power to ... promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries.
Founding U.S. Patents.
Constitution of the United States, Art. 1, Sec.8, Par. 8. In George Sewall Boutwell, The Constitution of the United States at the End of the First Century (1895), 219.
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The day will come when some more powerful man will get fame and riches from my invention, but nobody will believe that poor John Fitch can do anything worthy of attention.
Quoted from his manuscript autobiography (cited as in the Franklin Library, Philadelphia), in James T. Lloyd, Lloyd's Steamboat Directory: And Disasters of the Western Waters (1856), 24.
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The divergent series are the invention of the devil, and it is a shame to base on them any demonstration whatsoever. By using them, one may draw any conclusion he pleases and that is why these series have produced so many fallacies and so many paradoxes.
From letter (Jan 1828) to his former teacher Berndt Holmböe. In Morris Kline, Mathematics: The Loss of Certainty (1982), 170.
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The framing of hypotheses is, for the enquirer after truth, not the end, but the beginning of his work. Each of his systems is invented, not that he may admire it and follow it into all its consistent consequences, but that he may make it the occasion of a course of active experiment and observation. And if the results of this process contradict his fundamental assumptions, however ingenious, however symmetrical, however elegant his system may be, he rejects it without hesitation. He allows no natural yearning for the offspring of his own mind to draw him aside from the higher duty of loyalty to his sovereign, Truth, to her he not only gives his affections and his wishes, but strenuous labour and scrupulous minuteness of attention.
Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences (1847), Vol. 2, 57.
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The greatest Inventions were produced in Times of Ignorance; as the Use of the Compass, Gunpowder, and Printing; and by the dullest Nation, as the Germans.
In 'Thoughts On Various Subjects' (1727), collected in The Works of Jonathan Swift (1746), Vol. 1, 309.
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The greatest single achievement of nature to date was surely the invention of the molecule DNA.
In The Medusa and the Snail: More Notes of a Biology Watcher (1974, 1979), 27.
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The influence of electricity in producing decompositions, although of inestimable value as an instrument of discovery in chemical inquiries, can hardly be said to have been applied to the practical purposes of life, until the same powerful genius [Davy] which detected the principle, applied it, by a singular felicity of reasoning, to arrest the corrosion of the copper-sheathing of vessels. ... this was regarded as by Laplace as the greatest of Sit Humphry's discoveries.
Reflections on the Decline of Science in England (1830), 16.
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The invention all admired, and each how he
To be the inventor missed; so easy it seemed,
Once found, which yet unfounded most would have thought,
Impossible!
Paradise Lost, Part VI, ll. 478-501 (1667)

The invention of IQ did a great disservice to creativity in education. ... Individuality, personality, originality, are too precious to be meddled with by amateur psychiatrists whose patterns for a “wholesome personality” are inevitably their own.
In speech, 'Education for Creativity in the Sciences', Conference at New York University, Washington Square. As quoted by Gene Currivan in 'I.Q. Tests Called Harmful to Pupil', New York Times (16 Jun 1963), 66.
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The invention of the scientific method and science is, I'm sure we'll all agree, the most powerful intellectual idea, the most powerful framework for thinking and investigating and understanding and challenging the world around us that there is, and it rests on the premise that any idea is there to be attacked. If it withstands the attack then it lives to fight another day and if it doesn't withstand the attack then down it goes. Religion doesn't seem to work like that.
From impromptu speech at a Cambridge conference (1998). Quoted in Richard Dawkins, A Devil's Chaplain: Reflections on Hope, Lies, Science, and Love (2004), 168. In Douglas Adams, The Salmon of Doubt: Hitchhiking the Galaxy One Last Time (2002), 141.
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The knife is the most permanent, the most immortal, the most ingenious of man's creations. The knife was a guillotine; the knife is a universal means of resolving all knots...
We (1924), translated by Clarence Brown (1993), 113.
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The mathematician of to-day admits that he can neither square the circle, duplicate the cube or trisect the angle. May not our mechanicians, in like manner, be ultimately forced to admit that aerial flight is one of that great class of problems with which men can never cope… I do not claim that this is a necessary conclusion from any past experience. But I do think that success must await progress of a different kind from that of invention.
[Written following Samuel Pierpoint Langley's failed attempt to launch his flying machine from a catapult device mounted on a barge in Oct 1903. The Wright Brother's success came on 17 Dec 1903.]
'The Outlook for the Flying Machine'. The Independent: A Weekly Magazine (22 Oct 1903), 2509.
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The mind is a vagrant thing ... Thinking is not analogous to a person working in a laboratory who invents something on company time.
Answering criticism that the book for which he won a Pulitzer Prize was written in the years he had been employed at the Smithsonian. He specified that did not write on the premises there, but only at home outside of working hours.
Quoted by Barbara Gamarekian in 'Working Profile: Daniel J. Boorstin. Helping the Library of Congress Fulfill Its Mission', New York Times (8 Jul 1983), B6.
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The most noble and profitable invention of all other, was that of SPEECH, consisting of Names or Appellations, and their Connexion; whereby men register their Thoughts; recall them when they are past; and also declare them one to another for mutuall utility and conversation; without which, there had been amongst men, neither Commonwealth, nor Society, nor Contract, nor Peace, no more than amongst Lyons, Bears, and Wolves.
Leviathan (1651), ed. C. B. Macpherson (1968), Part 1, Chapter 4, 100.
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The need for a quick, satisfactory copying machine that could be used right in the office seemed very apparent to me—there seemed such a crying need for it—such a desirable thing if it could be obtained. So I set out to think of how one could be made.
In interview with Dumond (1947) quoted in David owen, Copies in Seconds: How a Lone Inventor and an Unknown Company Created the Biggest Communications Breakthrough Since Gutenberg (2008), 70.
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The Patent Office is the mother-in-law of invention.
Anonymous
In Evan Esar, 20,000 Quips and Quotes, 583.
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The point [is] largely scientific in character …[concerning] the methods which can be invented or adopted or discovered to enable the Earth to control the Air, to enable defence from the ground to exercise control—indeed dominance—upon aeroplanes high above its surface. … science is always able to provide something. We were told that it was impossible to grapple with submarines, but methods were found … Many things were adopted in war which we were told were technically impossible, but patience, perseverance, and above all the spur of necessity under war conditions, made men’s brains act with greater vigour, and science responded to the demands.
[Remarks made in the House of Commons on 7 June 1935. His speculation was later proved correct with the subsequent development of radar during World War II, which was vital in the air defence of Britain.]
Quoting himself in The Second World War: The Gathering Storm (1948, 1986), Vol. 1, 134.
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The pre-Darwinian age had come to be regarded as a Dark Age in which men still believed that the book of Genesis was a standard scientific treatise, and that the only additions to it were Galileo's demonstration of Leonardo da Vinci's simple remark that the earth is a moon of the sun, Newton's theory of gravitation, Sir Humphry Davy's invention of the safety-lamp, the discovery of electricity, the application of steam to industrial purposes, and the penny post.
Back to Methuselah: a Metabiological Pentateuch (1921), viii.
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The principal goal of education is to create men who are capable of doing new things, not simply of repeating what other generations have done—men who are creative, inventive, and discovers. The second goal of education is to form minds which can be critical, can verify, and not accept everything they are offered.
From remarks at a conference on cognitive development, Cornell University (1964). In Philip Hampson Taylor, New Directions in Curriculum Studies (1979), 90.
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The role of the teacher is to create the conditions for invention rather than provide ready-made knowledge.
Quoted in Richard Saul Wurman, Information Anxiety 2‎ (2001), 240.
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The test of an invention is the power of an inventor to push it through in the face of staunch—not opposition, but indifference—in society.
Speaking at a shareholders' meeting (1975) as quoted by Victor K. McElheny, in Insisting On The Impossible: The Life Of Edwin Land (1999), 404.
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The truth us that other systems of geometry are possible, yet after all, these other systems are not spaces but other methods of space measurements. There is one space only, though we may conceive of many different manifolds, which are contrivances or ideal constructions invented for the purpose of determining space.
In Science (1903), 18, 106. In Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica (1914), 352.
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The Unexpected stalks a farm in big boots like a vagrant bent on havoc. Not every farmer is an inventor, but the good ones have the seeds of invention within them. Economy and efficiency move their relentless tinkering and yet the real motive often seems to be aesthetic. The mind that first designed a cutter bar is not far different from a mind that can take the intractable steel of an outsized sickle blade and make it hum in the end. The question is how to reduce the simplicity that constitutes a problem (“It's simple; it's broke.”) to the greater simplicity that constitutes a solution.
In Making Hay (2003), 33-34.
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The universe is full of magical things patiently waiting for our wits to grow sharper.
A Shadow Passes (1919), 173.
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There are many points in the history of an invention which the inventor himself is apt to overlook as trifling, but in which posterity never fail to take a deep interest. The progress of the human mind is never traced with such a lively interest as through the steps by which it perfects a great invention; and there is certainly no invention respecting which this minute information will be more eagerly sought after, than in the case of the steam-engine.
Quoted in The Origin and Progress of the Mechanical Inventions of James Watt (1854), Vol.1, 4.
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There is scarce any one invention, which this nation has produced in our age, but it has some way or other been set forward by his assistance. ... He is indeed a man born for the good of mankind, and for the honour of his country. ... So I may thank God, that Dr. Wilkins was an Englishman, for wherever he had lived, there had been the chief seat of generous knowledge and true philosophy.
In Micrographia, Preface. Cited in Charles Coulston Gillispie, Dictionary of Scientific Biography (1976), Vol. 14, 369-370.
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This Academy [at Lagado] is not an entire single Building, but a Continuation of several Houses on both Sides of a Street; which growing waste, was purchased and applied to that Use.
I was received very kindly by the Warden, and went for many Days to the Academy. Every Room hath in it ' one or more Projectors; and I believe I could not be in fewer than five Hundred Rooms.
The first Man I saw was of a meagre Aspect, with sooty Hands and Face, his Hair and Beard long, ragged and singed in several Places. His Clothes, Shirt, and Skin were all of the same Colour. He had been Eight Years upon a Project for extracting Sun-Beams out of Cucumbers, which were to be put into Vials hermetically sealed, and let out to warm the Air in raw inclement Summers. He told me, he did not doubt in Eight Years more, that he should be able to supply the Governor's Gardens with Sunshine at a reasonable Rate; but he complained that his Stock was low, and interested me to give him something as an Encouragement to Ingenuity, especially since this had been a very dear Season for Cucumbers. I made him a small Present, for my Lord had furnished me with Money on purpose, because he knew their Practice of begging from all who go to see them.
I saw another at work to calcine Ice into Gunpowder; who likewise shewed me a Treatise he had written concerning the Malleability of Fire, which he intended to publish.
There was a most ingenious Architect who had contrived a new Method for building Houses, by beginning at the Roof, and working downwards to the Foundation; which he justified to me by the life Practice of those two prudent Insects the Bee and the Spider.
In another Apartment I was highly pleased with a Projector, who had found a device of plowing the Ground with Hogs, to save the Charges of Plows, Cattle, and Labour. The Method is this: In an Acre of Ground you bury at six Inches Distance, and eight deep, a quantity of Acorns, Dates, Chestnuts, and other Masts or Vegetables whereof these Animals are fondest; then you drive six Hundred or more of them into the Field, where in a few Days they will root up the whole Ground in search of their Food, and make it fit for sowing, at the same time manuring it with their Dung. It is true, upon Experiment they found the Charge and Trouble very great, and they had little or no Crop. However, it is not doubted that this Invention may be capable of great Improvement.
I had hitherto seen only one Side of the Academy, the other being appropriated to the Advancers of speculative Learning.
Some were condensing Air into a dry tangible Substance, by extracting the Nitre, and letting the acqueous or fluid Particles percolate: Others softening Marble for Pillows and Pin-cushions. Another was, by a certain Composition of Gums, Minerals, and Vegetables outwardly applied, to prevent the Growth of Wool upon two young lambs; and he hoped in a reasonable Time to propagate the Breed of naked Sheep all over the Kingdom.
Gulliver's Travels (1726, Penguin ed. 1967), Part III, Chap. 5, 223.
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This is the patent-age of new inventions
For killing bodies, and for saving souls,
All propagated with the best intentions;
Sir Humphrey Davy's lantern, by which coals
Are safely mined for in the mode he mentions,
Tombuctoo travels, voyages to the Poles,
Are ways to benefit mankind, as true,
Perhaps, as shooting them at Waterloo.
Don Juan (1819, 1858), Canto I, CXXXII, 36. Although aware of scientific inventions, the poet seemed to view them with suspicion. Davy invented his safety lamp in 1803. Sir W.E. Parry made a voyage to the Arctic Regions (4 Apr to 18 Nov 1818).
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Those who understand the steam engine and the electric telegraph spend their lives in trying to replace them with something better.
'Maxims for Revolutionists', in Man and Superman (1905), 241.
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Time is the greatest innovator.
'Of Innovations' (1625) in James Spedding, Robert Ellis and Douglas Heath (eds.), The Works of Francis Bacon (1887-1901), Vol. 6, 433.

To discover a Conception of the mind which will justly represent a train of observed facts is, in some measure, a process of conjecture, ... and the business of conjecture is commonly conducted by calling up before our minds several suppositions, selecting that one which most agrees with what we know of the observed facts. Hence he who has to discover the laws of nature may have to invent many suppositions before he hits upon the right one; and among the endowments which lead to his success, we must reckon that fertility of invention which ministers to him such imaginary schemes, till at last he finds the one which conforms to the true order of nature.
Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences (1847), Vol. 2, 54.
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To invent an airplane is nothing. To build one is something. But to fly is everything.
Quoted in Mark Eppler The Wright Way (2003), 13.
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To invent, you need a good imagination and a pile of junk.
Anonymous
Often seen on the web and in publications attributed to Thomas Edison, but without any citation. So, Webmaster is doubtful, having not yet been able to find a primary print source—especially doubtful because such an appealing quote would be expected to be well documented. If you know one, please contact Webmaster. Meanwhile, Anonymous seems more appropriate. For an undocumented example of the quote, see Alex Barnett, The Quotable American (2002), 145.
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To understand is to invent.
Quoted in Richard Saul Wurman, Information Anxiety 2‎ (2001), 240.
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Train yourselves. Don't wait to be fed knowledge out of a book. Get out and seek it. Make explorations. Do your own research work. Train your hands and your mind. Become curious. Invent your own problems and solve them. You can see things going on all about you. Inquire into them. Seek out answers to your own questions. There are many phenomena going on in nature the explanation of which cannot be found in books. Find out why these phenomena take place. Information a boy gets by himself is enormously more valuable than that which is taught to him in school.
In 'Dr. Irving Langmuir', Boys' Life (Jul 1941), 12.
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We are apt to consider that invention is the result of spontaneous action of some heavenborn genius, whose advent we must patiently wait for, but cannot artificially produce. It is unquestionable, however, that education, legal enactments, and general social conditions have a stupendous influence on the development of the originative faculty present in a nation and determine whether it shall be a fountain of new ideas or become simply a purchaser from others of ready-made inventions.
Epigraph, without citation, in Roger Cullisin, Patents, Inventions and the Dynamics of Innovation: A Multidisciplinary Study (2007), ix.
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We can invent as many theories we like, and any one of them can be made to fit the facts. But that theory is always preferred which makes the fewest number of assumptions.
From interview by S.J. Woolf, 'Einstein’s Own Corner of Space’, New York Times (18 Aug 1929), Sunday Magazine, 2.
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We speak erroneously of “artificial” materials, “synthetics”, and so forth. The basis for this erroneous terminology is the notion that Nature has made certain things which we call natural, and everything else is “man-made”, ergo artificial. But what one learns in chemistry is that Nature wrote all the rules of structuring; man does not invent chemical structuring rules; he only discovers the rules. All the chemist can do is find out what Nature permits, and any substances that are thus developed or discovered are inherently natural. It is very important to remember that.
From 'The Comprehensive Man', Ideas and Integrities: A Spontaneous Autobiographical Disclosure (1963), 75-76.
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What I really want is a creative person. You can always hire a Ph.D. to take care of the details.
A recollection by Ray Hunder on Drew's philosophy, as quoted in A Century of Innovation: The 3M Story (2002), 27. (Note: The quote is in the words of Ray Hunder, and not necessarily a verbatim quote as spoken by Drew.)
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What is peculiar and new to the [19th] century, differentiating it from all its predecessors, is its technology. It was not merely the introduction of some great isolated inventions. It is impossible not to feel that something more than that was involved. ... The process of change was slow, unconscious, and unexpected. In the nineteeth century, the process became quick, conscious, and expected. ... The whole change has arisen from the new scientific information. Science, conceived not so much in its principles as in its results, is an obvious storehouse of ideas for utilisation. ... Also, it is a great mistake to think that the bare scientific idea is the required invention, so that it has only to be picked up and used. An intense period of imaginative design lies between. One element in the new method is just the discovery of how to set about bridging the gap between the scientific ideas, and the ultimate product. It is a process of disciplined attack upon one difficulty after another This discipline of knowledge applies beyond technology to pure science, and beyond science to general scholarship. It represents the change from amateurs to professionals. ... But the full self-conscious realisation of the power of professionalism in knowledge in all its departments, and of the way to produce the professionals, and of the importance of knowledge to the advance of technology, and of the methods by which abstract knowledge can be connected with technology, and of the boundless possibilities of technological advance,—the realisation of all these things was first completely attained in the nineteeth century.
In Science and the Modern World (1925, 1997), 96.
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What is the use of a new-born child?
When asked of the use of a new invention.
In I. Bernard Cohen, Benjamin Franklin's Science (1990), 38.

What is there about fire that's so lovely? ... It's perpetual motion; the thing man wanted to invent but never did. Or almost perpetual motion. ... What is fire? It's a mystery. Scientists give us gobbledegook about friction and molecules. But they don't really know.
[Fahrenheit 451 refers to the temperature at which book paper burns. In the short novel of this title 'firemen' burn books forbidden by the totalitaran regime.]
Fahrenheit 451 (1953, 1996), 115.
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What sir, would you make a ship sail against the wind and currents by lighting a bonfire under her deck? I pray you excuse me. I have no time to listen to such nonsense.
In Ashton Applewhite, Tripp Evans and Andrew Frothingham, And I Quote (1992), 172, but without definitive source. Webmaster has not found any 19th-century book with such a quotation. Contact webmaster if you can help identify if this is a valid quote or merely a joke.
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When Lord Kelvin was in this country [U.S.], he said that nothing interested him so much as Mr. Hewitt's work and his vacuum lamp.
Referring to the mercury lamp invention.
Quoting Kelvin in McClure's Magazine (Jun 1903). In Albert Shaw (Ed.), The American Monthly Review of Reviews (1903), 27, 724.
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When we no longer look at an organic being as a savage looks at a ship, as something wholly beyond his comprehension; when we regard every production of nature as one which has had a long history; when we contemplate every complex structure and instinct as the summing up of many contrivances, each useful to the possessor, in the same way as any great mechanical invention is the summing up of the labour, the experience, the reason, and even the blunders of numerous workmen; when we thus view each organic being, how far more interesting, I speak from experience, does the study of natural history become!
From the Conclusion of Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, Or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life (3rd. ed., 1861), 521.
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When we say 'science' we can either mean any manipulation of the inventive and organizing power of the human intellect: or we can mean such an extremely different thing as the religion of science, the vulgarized derivative from this pure activity manipulated by a sort of priestcraft into a great religious and political weapon.
'The Art of Being Ruled'. Revolution and Progress (1926), 4.
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Whenever ideas fail, men invent words.
Martin H. Fischer, Howard Fabing (ed.) and Ray Marr (ed.), Fischerisms (1944).
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Without theory, practice is but routine born of habit. Theory alone can bring forth and develop the spirit of invention. ... [Do not] share the opinion of those narrow minds who disdain everything in science which has not an immediate application. ... A theoretical discovery has but the merit of its existence: it awakens hope, and that is all. But let it be cultivated, let it grow, and you will see what it will become.
Inaugural Address as newly appointed Professor and Dean (Sep 1854) at the opening of the new Faculté des Sciences at Lille (7 Dec 1854). In René Vallery-Radot, The Life of Pasteur, translated by Mrs. R. L. Devonshire (1919), 76.
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Without writing, the literate mind would not and could not think as it does, not only when engaged in writing but normally even when it is composing its thoughts in oral form. More than any other single invention writing has transformed human consciousness.
Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word (1982), 78.
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WorldWideWeb: Proposal for a HyperText Project
Title of an electronic document (1990) co-authored with Robert A Caillau. In Fred R. Shapiro, The Yale Book of Quotations (2006), 57.
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[A significant invention] must be startling, unexpected. It must come to a world that is not prepared for it.
Speaking at a shareholders' meeting (1975) as quoted by Victor K. McElheny, in Insisting On The Impossible: The Life Of Edwin Land (1999), 403-404.
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[About any invention] (1) everything that’s already in the world when you’re born is just normal; (2) anything that gets invented between then and before you turn thirty is incredibly exciting and creative and with any luck you can make a career out of it; (3) anything that gets invented after you’re thirty is against the natural order of things and the beginning of the end of civilisation as we know it until it’s been around for about ten years when it gradually turns out to be alright really.
In News Review section, Sunday Times (29 Aug 1999).
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[A]ll the ingenious men, and all the scientific men, and all the fanciful men, in the world,... could never invent, if all their wits were boiled into one, anything so curious and so ridiculous as a lobster.
The Water-babies (1886), 161.
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[A]s you know, scientific education is fabulously neglected … This is an evil that is inherited, passed on from generation to generation. The majority of educated persons are not interested in science, and are not aware that scientific knowledge forms part of the idealistic background of human life. Many believe—in their complete ignorance of what science really is—that it has mainly the ancillary task of inventing new machinery, or helping to invent it, for improving our conditions of life. They are prepared to leave this task to the specialists, as they leave the repairing of their pipes to the plumber. If persons with this outlook decide upon the curriculum of our children, the result is necessarily such as I have just described it.
Opening remarks of the second of four public lectures for the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies at University College, Dublin (Feb 1950), The Practical Achievements of Science Tending to Obliterate its True Import', collected in Science and Humanism: Physics in Our Time (1951). Reprinted in 'Nature and the Greeks' and 'Science and Humanism' (1996), 113.
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[In relation to business:] Invention must be its keynote—a steady progression from one thing to another. As each in turn approaches a saturated market, something new must be produced.
Aphorism listed Frederick Seitz, The Cosmic Inventor: Reginald Aubrey Fessenden (1866-1932) (1999), 55, being Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, Held at Philadelphia For Promoting Useful Knowledge, Vol. 86, Pt. 6.
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[Richard Drew] always encouraged his people to pursue ideas… He said, “If it’s a dumb idea, you’ll find out. You’ll smack into that brick wall, then you’ll stagger back and see another opportunity that you wouldn’t have seen otherwise.”
Art Fry
As quoted in W. James McNerney Jr., A Century of Innovation: The 3M Story (2002), 68. (Note: The quote is in the words of Art Fry, as a recollection, and not necessarily a verbatim quote as spoken by Drew.)
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[Richard Drew] created a greenhouse environment—a skunkworks—where we could do anything, try anything. When you’re an oddball in a permissive environment, very often things turn out well.
As quoted in W. James McNerney Jr., A Century of Innovation: The 3M Story (2002), 26.
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[The ancient monuments] were all dwarfs in size and pigmies in spirit beside this mighty Statue of Liberty, and its inspiring thought. Higher than the monument in Trafalgar Square which commemorates the victories of Nelson on the sea; higher than the Column Vendome, which perpetuates the triumphs of Napoleon on the land; higher than the towers of the Brooklyn Bridge, which exhibit the latest and greatest results of science, invention, and industrial progress, this structure rises toward the heavens to illustrate an idea ... which inspired the charter in the cabin of the Mayflower and the Declaration of Independence from the Continental Congress.
Speech at unveiling of the Statue of Liberty, New York. In E.S. Werner (ed.), Werner's Readings and Recitations (1908), 107.
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[W]e pity our fathers for dying before steam and galvanism, sulphuric ether and ocean telegraphs, photograph and spectrograph arrived, as cheated out of their human estate.
'Works and Days', Emerson's Complete Works (1883), 152.
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“Faith” is a fine invention
When Gentlemen can see
But Microscopes are prudent
In an Emergency.
Faith is a Fine Invention (c.1860). T.W. Higginson and Mabel Loomis Todd (eds.), Poems: Second Series (1892), 53.
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Carl Sagan Thumbnail In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. (1987) -- Carl Sagan
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- 100 -
Sophie Germain
Gertrude Elion
Ernest Rutherford
James Chadwick
Marcel Proust
William Harvey
Johann Goethe
John Keynes
Carl Gauss
Paul Feyerabend
- 90 -
Antoine Lavoisier
Lise Meitner
Charles Babbage
Ibn Khaldun
Euclid
Ralph Emerson
Robert Bunsen
Frederick Banting
Andre Ampere
Winston Churchill
- 80 -
John Locke
Bronislaw Malinowski
Bible
Thomas Huxley
Alessandro Volta
Erwin Schrodinger
Wilhelm Roentgen
Louis Pasteur
Bertrand Russell
Jean Lamarck
- 70 -
Samuel Morse
John Wheeler
Nicolaus Copernicus
Robert Fulton
Pierre Laplace
Humphry Davy
Thomas Edison
Lord Kelvin
Theodore Roosevelt
Carolus Linnaeus
- 60 -
Francis Galton
Linus Pauling
Immanuel Kant
Martin Fischer
Robert Boyle
Karl Popper
Paul Dirac
Avicenna
James Watson
William Shakespeare
- 50 -
Stephen Hawking
Niels Bohr
Nikola Tesla
Rachel Carson
Max Planck
Henry Adams
Richard Dawkins
Werner Heisenberg
Alfred Wegener
John Dalton
- 40 -
Pierre Fermat
Edward Wilson
Johannes Kepler
Gustave Eiffel
Giordano Bruno
JJ Thomson
Thomas Kuhn
Leonardo DaVinci
Archimedes
David Hume
- 30 -
Andreas Vesalius
Rudolf Virchow
Richard Feynman
James Hutton
Alexander Fleming
Emile Durkheim
Benjamin Franklin
Robert Oppenheimer
Robert Hooke
Charles Kettering
- 20 -
Carl Sagan
James Maxwell
Marie Curie
Rene Descartes
Francis Crick
Hippocrates
Michael Faraday
Srinivasa Ramanujan
Francis Bacon
Galileo Galilei
- 10 -
Aristotle
John Watson
Rosalind Franklin
Michio Kaku
Isaac Asimov
Charles Darwin
Sigmund Freud
Albert Einstein
Florence Nightingale
Isaac Newton