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Short Stories of Science and Invention

A Collection of Radio Talks by
Charles F. Kettering


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)

21. An Idea Explodes
A Radio Talk by Charles F. Kettering

    As no one can predict who will make an invention or how it will be used, we should not be surprised when we learn that seven hundred years ago an English monk carefully wrote this down, "I Roger Baconhave produced an explosion that outroared thunder and with a flash that exceeded the brilliance of lightning." Roger Bacon hid this formula in a Latin cryptogram which said, "Take seven parts of saltpeter, five of charcoal and five of sulphur." When he wrote down these dozen words, Bacon probably had no idea they might later influence the whole course of civilization because, as you know, he was describing gunpowder, the first of the great family of explosives.

    He may have had some conception after all of the possibilities of the mixture because he was a remarkable, farseeing man who not only experimented with chemical combinations but also predicted the use of the steamship, the automobile and the airplane, and described in detail the magnifying or reading glass.

    Roger Bacon lived near the end of the Dark Ages - the days of the alchemists and the Black Arts. But even in those days of superstition, he was a strong advocate of the fundamentals of modern research. He stated it this way, "Take nothing for granted - use your own eyes and test all new theories with your own hands." Roger Bacon by his work in philosophy laid the foundation for modern scientific research. He wrote once that his gunpowder mixture might completely blow up an opposing army or put it to flight by the terror of the explosion; however, he made no mention of using it in firearms.


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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
Ralph Emerson
Robert Bunsen
Frederick Banting
Andre Ampere
Winston Churchill
- 80 -
John Locke
Bronislaw Malinowski
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
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
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
Michael Faraday
Srinivasa Ramanujan
Francis Bacon
Galileo Galilei
- 10 -
John Watson
Rosalind Franklin
Michio Kaku
Isaac Asimov
Charles Darwin
Sigmund Freud
Albert Einstein
Florence Nightingale
Isaac Newton

by Ian Ellis
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