5000-Year Leap   Leave a comment

A couple of years ago, I finally got around to reading Cleon Skousen’s “The 5000 Year Leap: A Miracle that Changed the World.” Every time Brandon comes for a visit and to spread around revisionist history, this book comes to my mind. Like a great chef using his culinary senses to tell you what is contained in someone else’s recipe, Skousen tasted liberty and identified the key ingredients. In doing so, he revealed the results of liberty.

The book is a little more than 300 pages and it’s mostly focused on 28 principles that the Founders thought were necessary to develop a just government with checks and balances. Maybe I’ll talk about that sometime, but what I want to point out is that Skousen nailed American exceptionalism with his introduction and that’s my focus today.

For 5000 years (thereabouts) mankind stayed pretty much the same. Our wardrobe changed, but we still plowed with a stick, got around by foot or with rudimentary carts and wagons, spent our nights huddled around candles and our winters gathered around big roaring fireplaces that roasted our fronts while our backs froze.

Then along came the American experiment. For the first time in history, men were free to succeed and/or fail on their own. Within a period of less than 200 years, we went from riding wagons to putting a man on the moon. Never in human history had our species “evolved” so much or so quickly. Was it all just a coincidence? I don’t think so. I recently read a novel based in Regency England and it struck me how much the main character was a bold and entrepreneurial man, bound up in a system that required him to pay fealty to a crown that could make or break him, allow him to succeed or take away everything he had. Such a book would not have been written in America in those same years because – well, Americans were too busy taming the wilderness to sit down and write novels, but also because Americans in 1800 thought of individuals as being the masters of their own faith. Live or die, succeed or fail, it was our choice. In a society where there were all sorts of risks and very few luxuries and only churches to rely on for a safety net, the Americans of that era were bold and adventuresome. They pursued the opportunities that liberty provided them. Ben Franklin invented the lightning rod, bifocals, a flexible urinary catheter, the long arm (for reaching books, etc. on high shelves), swim fins and the wood stove. He studied dividing ships holds into watertight compartments. Thomas Godrey invented the octant. Thomas Jefferson invented the swivel chair, which greatly helps my comfort at work, and the water cypher. Americans invented the automatic flour mill and “pilot bread”, the cotton gin and the Rumford fireplace, the cupcake and the suspension bridge, the fire hydrant and the banjo clock, the amphibious vehicle, vapor-compression refrigeration, the coffee percolator and the lobster trap, the circular saw and dental floss, the milling machine and the profile lathe, graham crackers and the platform scale, the multiple coil magnet and the electric doorbell, several types of bridge trusses and Morse code, the sewing machine and the combine, the steam shovel and the spanner wrench, the solar compass and the electrical relay, the cooking gridiron and the circuit breaker, the steel plow and the corn sheller, the sleeper car and vulcanized rubber, inhalation anaesthesia, the grain elevator and the hand-cranked ice cream maker, the evaporator and the rotary printing press, pressure sensitive tape and the traverse shuttle, the printing telegraph and the gas mask, the donut and the pin tumbler lock, the jackhammer and the safety pin, the dishwasher and sewing machine feed dogs, the vibrating shuttle and the rotary hook, the inverted microscope and the fire alarm box, the elevator brake and the burglar alarm, the spring clothes pin and the breast pump, the egg beater and the equatorial sextant, mass-produced toilet paper and pink lemonade, the Mason jar and the pencil eraser, the twine knotter and the dustpan, the electric stove and the escalator, several fire arms, the drill press, the rotary printing press, the chuckwagon and steam-powered motorcycle, the paper clip and barbed wire, the water-tube boiler (one heats my house) and the refrigerator car, the tape measure and clothes hanger, pipe wrench and can opener, sandblasting and rowing machine, railway air brake, earmuffs and storage silos, jeans and the railroad coupler, automatic fire sprinkler and quadraplex telegraph, jockstrap and QWERTY keyboard, biscuit cutter and dental drill, mimeograph and synthesizer, airbrush and tattoo machine, phonograph and carbon microphone – all in our first 100 years of existence. Although we didn’t invent the stream engine, Americans innovated uses far beyond anything done in Europe.

The second century of American innovation continued forward into solar cells (1883), home appliances, medical devices, the skyscraper and popcorn machine, all sorts of photographic and film items, the gas pump, the screen door, the adding machine, the induction motor, the trolley poll, the stepping relay, the revolving door, the ballpoint pen, the payphone, the tabulating machine, the smoke detector, the Tesla coil, the Dow process, the rotary dial telephone, the zipper, the bottle cap, the dimmer, the padded bicycle seat, the internal combustion tractor, all sorts of scientific instruments, the muffler, the ice cream scoop, the charcoal briquette, the remote control (1898), lots of hand tools, the flash bulb, the rechargeable battery, carbide lamp, the fly swatter, key punch, mercury vapor lamp, assembly line, disposable safety razor, windowed envelope, hearing aid, postage meter, periscope, mercury arc valve, air conditioning, offset printing press, airplane, windshield wiper, hay-straw baler, automatic transmission, AC power plugs and sockets, the banana split, pantograph, dragline excavator, typesetting, the flushometer (pressured flush toilets), the curtain rod, the electrostatic precipitator, paper towels, the headset, 5h wheel coupling, erector set, binder blip, road surface marking, autopilot, traffic light, regenerative circuit, traffic cone, single-sideband modulation, hamburger bun, Lincoln logs, supermarket, tow truck, condenser microphone, toggle light switch, all sorts of radio receivers, the torque wrench, the crystal oscillator, hydraulic brakes, blender, silica gel, popup toaster, jungle gym, polygraph, adhesive bandage, headrest, garage door and opener, blowout preventer, convertible car, water skiing, audiometer, bulldozer, cotton swab, locking pliers, cheeseburger, earth inductor compass, automatic volume control, masking tape, several types of amusement rides, power steering, liquid-fuel rocket, bread slicer, jukebox, garbage disposal, resonator guitar, pressure washer, electric razor, iron lung, Freon, tampon applicator, sunglasses, particle accelerator, tiltrotor (combination fixed wing/helicopter), car audio, bathsphere, thermistor, electric guitar, aerogel, radio telescope, amphibious tracked vehicles, frequency modulation, impact irrigation sprinkler, trampoline, Richter magnitude scale, parking meter, surfboard fin, many medical devices, reed switch/relay, Phillips-head screw, stock-car racing, programming languages, compact fluorescent lamp, chair lift, strain gauge, bass guitar, o-ring, photosensitive glass, digital computer (1937), shopping cart, polarized sunglasses, klystron vacuum tubes, Cylamate, fiberglass, xerography (photocopier), nylon, operant conditioning chamber, soft serve ice cream, Teflon, automated teller machine (1939), multi-channel voice recorder, fluxgate magnetometer, deodorant, acrylic fiber, microwave oven, cruise control, block heater, Tupperware, chipper teeth (critical to chainsaws), filament tape, credit cards, waterproof diaper, transistor, defibrillator, supersonic aircraft, acrylic paint, magnetic particle clutch, windsurfing, hairspray, cat litter, Halligan bar, hand dryer, Rogallo wing, cable television, flying disc, video game (1948), radiocarbon dating, ice resurfacer (Zamboni), atomic clock, many medical devices, crash test dummy, compiler (computer program), aerosol pain, artificial snowmaking, leaf blower, Hamming code, teleprompter, stellarator, cooler box, wetsuit, correction fluid, well counter, airbag, bread clip, barcode, artificial heart, heart-lung machine, voltmeter, marker pen, WD-40, Apgar scale (among many medical tests), gilhoolie, wheel clamp, waffle ball, MASER, carbonless carbon paper, crossed-field amplifier, zipper storage bag, TV dinner, acoustic suspension loudspeaker, model rocketry, automatic sliding door, CPR, synthetic diamonds, radar gun, sling lift, nuclear submarine, hard disk drive, harmonic drive, vibrating sample magnetometer, lint roller, industrial robot, batch processing operating system, Fortan PS, videotape, particle storage ring, skid-steer loader, laser, confocal microscopy, air-bubble packing, Borazon, gamma camera, superconduction switch (cryotron), Doppler fetal monitor, cable tie, lisp programming language, carbon filter, integrated circuit, weather satellite, Spandex, child safety seat, artificial turf, magnetic strip card, GPS (1960), combined oral contraceptive pills, obsidian hydration dating, gas laser, electronic spreadsheet, wearable computer (1961), communications satellite, light-emitting diode, electrets microphone, jet injector, laser diode, glucose meter, skateboard kicktail, computer mouse, balloon catheter, geosynchronous satellite, plasma display, Moog synthesizer, 8-track cartridge, permanent press, liquid crystal display, SQUID, argon laser, adaptive equalizer, snowboarding, Kevlar, hypertext, cordless telephone, zero-gravity pen, minicomputer, compact disc, dynamic random access memory, internal frame backpack, hand-held calculator, turtle excluder device, lunar model, bioactive glass, wide-body aircraft, Taser, charge coupled device, markup language, wireless local area network (1970), personal computer (1971), fuzzball router, supercritical airfoil, microprocessor, floppy disk, string trimmer, memristor, email (1971), C (programming language), video game console, GPS, PET scanner, MRI, personal watercraft, recombinant DNA, catalytic converter, mobile phone, voice mail, Heimlich maneuver, post-it note, scanning acoustic microphone, quantum well laser, UPC, digital camera, Ethernet (1975), breakaway rim, Gore-tex, human-powered aircraft, winglets, polar fleece, Control-Alt-Delete, total internal reflection fluorescence microscope, space shuttle, graphic user interface, Internet (1983 – not the World Wide Web), blind signature, LCD projector, pointing stick, polymerase chain reaction, stereolithography, digital micromirror device, Perl, title-and-roll luggage, fused deposition modeling, TCI, ballistic electron emission micrscopy, electron bean ion trap, nicotine patch, firewall security, resin identification code, ZIP file format, electromagnetic lock, sulfur lamp, ant robotics, CMOS image sensor, DNA computing, Segway, quantum cascade laswer, Bose-Einstein condensate, screenless hammer mill, Stracycle, scroll mouse wheel, JavaScript, Adobe Flash, bait car, virtual reality therapy, HVLS fan, Torino Scale, phase-change incubator, bowtie cotter pin (Alaskans love these) iBOT, SERF, fermionic condensate, nanowire battery, bionic contact lens … I skipped most of the food items and combined the medical devices, but you should get my point. Americans are an inventive bunch.

No other country has been so prolific at innovation and invention, which is why the American experiment can be viewed as the cause of the 5000-year leap.

I did note as I typed that we have fewer inventions listed in recent decades and most of what was “invented” were computer languages.

Yes, these help us a lot, but the lack of physical inventions may be one of the signs that we’ve lost our exceptionality edge.

Posted October 2, 2013 by aurorawatcherak in History

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