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Short Stories of Science and Invention

A Collection of Radio Talks by
Charles F. Kettering

INDEX

Weekly, from September 1942 to July 1945, Charles F. Kettering gave five-minute intermission talks about Science and Invention during the radio broadcasts of the General Motors Symphony of the Air.

Kettering invented the first automobile self-starter, and for 31 years directed a research laboratory for General Motors.

These radio talks are a fascinating legacy from the mind of a prolific inventor. The obvious anachronisms now add a historical perspective of the war-time period in which they were written.

These web pages now preserve some of the most popular stories for a new generation to read The text and art come from a General Motors booklet of selected talks. (Reprint, March 1959)

14. The Turning Wheel
A Radio Talk by Charles F. Kettering

Tank   When we think of our modern civi­lization - both in Peace and War, we must marvel at the ingenuity and complexity of the many things that make up our World of today. We hear about such things as the Electron Microscope - Radar - jet propulsion and the atom smasher, and we know of the marvelous devices that helped us win the war - the tanks, the huge bombers, subma­rines and amphibious vehicles.

     While we may think of the com­plicated nature of all this, in my judgment if we took away just one simple invention, an idea now over 4,000 years old, warfare on all fronts and a good part of the activity of our present civilization would cease almost instantly. That invention, as you may have guessed, is the wheel. You might suggest other elements such as bearings, lubrication, steel and wood which may be equally im­portant. Just who invented the wheel is not known as it is one of those natural evolutions that has come about as the result of men contribut­ing their ideas throughout thousands of years.

     This useful idea probably started when some prehistoric ancestor of ours tried to move a heavy object. He might have first put runners or skids under it and tried to drag it over the ground. And one day as he pulled it through the forest, it passed over a log which began to roll and the whole thing moved much easier. So he began to use runners and roll­ers together and gradually he used larger and larger rollers, and then sections of rollers and at last he put these on axles.


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