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Sunday, May 1, 2016

What's in a name?

Monday, August 2, 2010

Recently, while walking around the Midway at the Red Willow County Fair, I caught myself looking at the brightly lighted Ferris Wheel and asking, "Do you suppose that there was a Mr. Ferris that invented that wheel?" As soon as I had a chance to look up information on that subject I did so, and sure enough, there was indeed a Mr. Ferris, and he did have a lot to do with the Ferris Wheel. In fact, there are a lot of products that carry their inventor's name, and with it a bit of immortality for that individual.

George Ferris 1859-1896, was an American Civil Engineer, who built railroads from the East Coast to Chicago and west. In 1892 he was working in the Chicago area when he proposed a project for the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition, to be held in that city. He submitted his plan for gigantic revolving observation platforms--what we know as the Ferris Wheel. He did not invent the machine, but his was the first such to be made of steel, and HUGE. It wasn't exciting, but riders had a wonderful view of the fair and the city. It was one of the sensations at the fair.

Rudolph Diesel 1858-1913, was a French born German engineer, who gave up a promising career in thermodynamics (refrigeration) to work on his dream to develop a compression ignition engine. His diesel engines initially ran on peanut oil.

A good many products that carry the name of an individual were invented by someone else, but have become synonymous with the person who marketed it, or perfected it. George Pullman 1831-1897 dropped out of school at age 14. He worked on the Erie Canal for a time, but in the 1850s, when Chicago was rebuilding itself to keep from being flooded out by Lake Michigan, Pullman developed a way to raise whole buildings without damaging them, making a fortune in just a short time. He didn't invent sleeping cars, but he proceeded to build beautiful and comfortable sleeping cars for the railroad. He didn't sell, but leased these cars to various railroads, making another fortune. He was one of the last industrialists to operate a "company town."

W.H. Hoover was another fellow who used someone else's invention and made it his own. Apparently the upright vacuum cleaner was invented by a dept. store janitor, Murray Spangler in Canton Ohio in 1908. It worked so well that Spangler gave one to his sister, the wife of Mr. Hoover. Hoover liked the idea and built the Hoover Company around that product. For many years the Hoover name was synonymous with the upright vacuum. (Spangler was a part of the company and was compensated handsomely.)

John McAdam 1756-1836, was a Scottish civil engineer who took road building to new quality levels of durability by using limestone chips to produce a smoother, harder surface to roads. He finished his roads with a coating of coal TAR to seal the particles. He called his process "macadamisation." We remember him when we use "Tarmac."

The field of science has given great respect to its pioneers by naming things after its heroes. Luigi Galvani 1737-1798, was an Italian scientist who stumbled upon a method by which he could use a direct current of electricity to produce a chemical reaction, making Galvinized metal plating.

Marie Curie 1867-1934, was born in Poland, but did her work in Paris. She and her husband, Pierre, were the winners of two Nobel Prizes. She was a pioneer with her theory of radioactivity (a term she coined). A Curie is a unit of radioactivity.

James Van Allen 1903-2006, discovered Van Allen's Belt, a band of charged particles, held in place by the force of earth's gravity -- a challenge to the first astronauts.

Hans Geiger 1882-1945, was a German who, in 1911, invented a machine for detecting ionizing radiation, the device we call the Geiger Counter.

Daniel Fahrenheit 1686-1736, was a German, and a member of the Royal Society of Great Britain (est. 1640), which was made up of the leading scientists of the day. He came up with the first reliable instrument to measure temperatures between freezing and boiling water. Is there a Mr. Celsius? -- whose scale most of the world now uses.

There is a Dr. Henry Heimlich 1920 -- American. In the 1960s he was visiting in Hawaii when a dinner companion used an "abdominal thrust" to save a choking friend's life. Heimlich was impressed and described the maneuver in a medical magazine. The article was widely quoted, giving Dr. Heimlich credit for the maneuver.

Alois Alzheimer 1864-1915, was a German psychiatrist and neuropathologist who is credited with publishing the first case of presenile dementia. A colleague, Emil Kraepelin, later referred to the disease as Alzheimer's disease.

Lou Gehrig 1903-1941, was called "The Iron Horse" of the New York Yankees. His record of playing in 2130 consecutive games over 14 years stood until Cal Ripken broke it in 1995. He was a perennial All-Star, and still holds the record for Grand Slam Home Runs. He was stricken with the debilitating disease, Amyotropic Lateral Schlerosis, which we refer to as Lou Gehrig's Disease. In 1939 The Baseball Writers unanimously voted him into the Baseball Hall of Fame, waiving the mandatory waiting period. At 36 he was the youngest member of the Baseball Hall of Fame.

While many of the products are good things, and the inventors (or supposed inventors) of that product would be proud of the association, that is not always the case. Dr. Joseph Guillotin 1738-1814, was a French medic and politician during the French Revolution. At that time, for persons condemned to death, the practice was to induce maximum pain on the individual by breaking that person's body slowly, over a long period of time, so that death was a welcome end. Dr. Guillotin saw his little invention as a humanitarian device, because it ended the person's agony quickly. Marie Antoinette and others of the French royalty may not have looked upon the guillotine in just that way.

Thomas Crapper 1836-1910, was a very successful plumber in England. Though he held several patents on the flush toilet, he did not invent the device. However, early in the 20th Century his company was a leading manufacturer of "water closets" in England. American Doughboys, who were stationed in England during World War I saw his toilets everywhere, emblazoned T. Crapper Co." When they returned home they brought their nickname for "water closets" with them to the USA, where it is still used.

Joseph Hooker 1814-1879, was a Union Civil War Major General, whose war record was mixed, sometimes brilliant, sometimes not so good. But, as to the term "hooker" (for prostitutes) applied to Fighting Joe -- he got a bad rap. That term for Ladies of the Night was in use for many years before the Civil War. Gen. Hooker was a good looking man and definitely had an eye for the ladies. He was not always as discreet as he might have been in his trysts with his paramours. That, coupled with the fact that he was seen as less than strict about the "Camp Followers" that accompanied his Army, has led to the use of his name as a term for prostitutes.

So, though it would be nice to see one's name immortalized in the name of a widely used product, maybe we should be content to remain anonymous -- our name association might be with something we'd rather avoid.

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Walt Sehnert
Days Gone By