Study Guide

Age of Great Inventions People

  • Alexander Graham Bell

    Alexander Graham Bell (1847-1922) is best remembered as the inventor of the telephone, but, like his contemporary Thomas Edison, Bell had incredibly broad-ranging interests as an inventor.

    Bell, who trained as an audiologist and educator of the deaf, began conducting experiments with sound in the 1860s and became increasingly interested in transmitting audio waves electrically.

    His mid-1870s telegraphy experiments with machinist Thomas Watson ultimately yielded the plan for the first telephone technology patent. The invention's association with the patented technology of the telegraph led to an interminable series of infringement lawsuits that Bell ultimately won. The great inventor left the fledgling telephone industry in the early 1880s, just before its explosive growth, to continue a long and varied career as a professor, scientist, and inventor.

  • Edward Bellamy

    Edward Bellamy (1850-1898) was an American journalist and novelist best known for his futuristic utopian novel Looking Backward: 2000-1887, which was first published in 1888 and captured the anxiety and the optimism of the Gilded Age.

    Bellamy's book sold more than a million copies and inspired the formation of clubs around the country dedicated to his ideas, one of the most enduring of which was the concept of technological advance as a means of social progress.

    Looking Backward is the story of a man who wakes up 113 years in the future and finds America transformed into a perfect society in which the giant corporations of the nineteenth century have merged with a benevolent government. Advances in industrial technology have produced such an abundance of material wealth that there is no longer any scarcity or social conflict.

    In this utopia, Americans now live as equals, retire at age 45, and enjoy the pleasures of mass consumption by using an object similar to a credit card.

    Kind of like 1984...but not.

  • Andrew Carnegie

    Andrew Carnegie (1835-1919) led the enormous expansion of the American steel industry in the late nineteenth century and became the archetypal industrial entrepreneur.

    Carnegie set a model for big business and industry as an early and enthusiastic adopter of new technologies. After touring Europe and seeing the Bessemer blast furnace that had revolutionized British steelmaking, Carnegie pioneered the American use of the technology at his Braddock, Pennsylvania steel works in the 1870s.

    This established the model on which Carnegie built his empire.

    He was among the first to implement the open-hearth steelmaking process later in the century. Still, Carnegie was regarded as an innovator in his own right for his ingenious, if ruthless, cost-cutting production and organizational strategies. These assets made him both famous as one of the world's wealthiest men, and infamous as a central figure in the era's labor struggles.

  • Thomas Edison

    Thomas Edison (1847-1931): the man, the myth, the legend. And the guy to thank for your iPhone. 

    He was America's most famous inventor and at one time, surely the most famous American in the world. Singly or jointly, Edison holds 1,093 patents and was responsible for introducing the phonograph, early motion picture cameras and projectors, the first commercial electric power system, and—most famously—the electric light bulb to American life.

    When the eminent inventor died in 1931, electric lights across the nation were dimmed for a moment to mark his passing.

    Dubbed the "Wizard of Menlo Park" (New Jersey) in reference to the research laboratory he established there in 1876, Edison's career as an inventor stretched from lone tinkerer to head of an industrial laboratory and major corporation (Edison General Electric, later GE). His story largely mirrors the development of nineteenth-century innovation as a business. After his first patented invention, an electric vote counting system, failed to attract interest, he vowed never again to invent something without first finding a market for it.

  • Frederick Winslow Taylor

    Frederick Winslow Taylor (1856-1915) was an inventor and engineer who became famous as the father of scientific management, also called Taylorism. 

    Also called OG-Cutthroat-Bossism.

    The organization of modern industry, management, and much of daily life in industrial societies reflects his immeasurable influence.

    Taylor was the nineteenth century's most ardent champion of efficiency in industry. He ostensibly set out to raise both productivity and wages, and thereby ease the explosive tension between industrial labor and management.

    But Taylor's theories heavily skewed the benefits of increased productivity in favor of management. The theory of the differential rate, for example, "scientifically" linked backbreaking production quotas to supposedly "fair" wage increases that were rarely proportional.

    Thus, Taylor utterly lacked the ability to understand his workers as anything other than underperforming cogs in a great industrial machine.

    Once remarking that he couldn't "look any workman in the face without seeing hostility," he was every bit as personally resented by the men he supervised as he was famous with the captains of industry.

  • Aaron Montgomery Ward

    Aaron Montgomery Ward (1844-1913) introduced the mail order retail business in 1872 with the founding of Montgomery Ward & Co., Inc. in Chicago. Ward's first catalog was a single sheet listing about 150 items for sale, but it stands as a defining moment in the early history of American mass consumption.

    The initial innovation of the business was to exploit the national rail network as a distribution channel for goods bought wholesale and sold directly to rural consumers, but Ward proved a brilliant mass marketer, as well. His catalogs featured woodcut illustrations of products, included pictures of his managers to give the company a human face, and offered one of the first money-back guarantees in retail.

    By 1888, Montgomery Ward had reached $1 million in annual sales and reshaped the way America shopped.