“Inventors:” Why we have got to stop thinking about those dead white guys


Did you know that today in 1794 Eli Whitney patented his cotton gin?  You know… it’s that thing that rotated and separated seeds from just-picked fluffy cotton.  Like many Americans, I learned about him multiple times in my K-12 education and how innovations like his helped our country grow and prosper.   I also learned about Cyrus McCormick and his mechanical reaper, Thomas Edison and the electric light bulb, Alexander Graham Bell and his telephone – so many inventions by dead white guys. 

Now, don’t get me wrong – I have nothing against dead white guys.  In fact I truly appreciate them and realize that many of the wonderful comforts I enjoy today wouldn’t be possible without the hard work of these men.  My problem is that when people talk about “inventors” many people think of these dead white guys. 

In Richard’s latest post “Girls Outpace Boys in Science; but not in the U.S.” he asked “Do the toys that girls play with as children have an impact on the professional and academic choices they make as women?”  And while I’m not going to answer that question in this article, what I am going to say is our industry has an opportunity to help with this problem.  We have inventors – non-dead ones who are both male and female and are a variety of ethnicities, so why not make an effort to celebrate them? 

Too many times I’ve talked with schoolchildren and they don’t know “inventor” can be a profession TODAY.  It is so closely tied to the inventors of the past that we forget to encourage creative children to explore the sciences and arts and dream of becoming a professional inventor instead of a teacher, doctor or police officer.  My thought is if you want to make the sciences more appealing – make some of the professions you can end up with sound awesome.  In our industry alone we have toy inventors, game inventors, robotics engineers, electronic engineers, app designers and developers, industrial designers and so many more interesting jobs that merge creativity, science, electronics and I guess a bit of math too.  But really is math all that bad? 

So let’s all make an effort to brag about our awesome industry to some impressionable youth.  They already play with the stuff we make so it’s not like we’ll be cramming some lame facts about the periodic table down their throat.  Just give them a reason to study hard and the dream of becoming an inventor.     

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