Gotta Know 'Em, Eh? - Inventions and Inventors
If you did a survey asking people around the world to name a famous
invention, the most frequent response would
very likely be the telephone.
Of course this communication device
was invented in Canada, specifically in
Graham Bell (18471922),
who made his
in Baddeck, N.S., on Cape Breton Island.
Bell's name survives in that of Canada's currently largest corporation,
He wrote his own modest epitaph, which even ends on a self-deprecating
note: "Inventor Teacher Died a Citizen of the U.S.A."
In cartoons, the image of a lit electric lightbulb above a person's head
is the very symbol of an original idea. In this way, cartooning
professionals regularly pay homage to Canadian creativity and inventiveness,
for this revolutionary lighting fixture was invented by
Woodward, a student at the
Toronto medical school, and a gentleman named
Accounts from a demonstration in 1873 describe it as
"consisting of a water gauge glass with a piece of carbon filament
filed and drilled at each
end for the electrodes, and hermetically sealed at both ends."
Woodward and Evans sold the
to T.A. Edison,
an American industrialist and marketing wizard.
radio broadcasting of music and voice:
In 1906, there wasn't much on the radio worth listening to
just the dots and dashes of Morse code.
That all changed that year on Christmas Eve, when wireless telegraph
operators in the North Atlantic were astonished to hear the dulcet Canadian
Aubrey Fessenden (18661932) singing Christmas carols
through their equipment.
A graduate of Bishop's University,
Fessenden and his wife, Helen Trott, endowed the
Fessenden-Trott Awards for Canadian university students.
The couple's son wrote Fessenden's epitaph:
"By his genius distant lands
converse and men sail unafraid upon the deep."
Before electricity became widespread at the end of the 19th century,
people lit their homes with oil lamps.
The light from burning animal or vegetable oil wasn't all
that great, so Abraham
Gesner (17971864) caused a sensation in Charlottetown in
1846 when he demonstrated the high-quality bright light of a new mineral
Gesner has been called "the father of night life" for introducing
practical and safe artificial illumination.
Nova Scotia-born Gesner had been Provincial Geologist of New Brunswick
the first government geologist to be appointed in any British
colony and he was able to extract kerosene from petroleum, providing
the first major use for that commodity, and profoundly changing the
world's economic system in the process. This included
saving the whales
as a side benefit.
At his grave in Halifax,
Imperial Oil pays tribute
to Gesner for giving "the world a better light."
What's that? Better known by its trade name, Plexiglas®,
the clear plastic was invented by
Chalmers in 1930 while he was a graduate
student in chemistry at
By polymerizing methacrylic ethyl ester and methacrylic nitrile,
he got a thermoplastic resin that was transparent the first
such plastic produced.
After being granted a patent for the product in 1931,
Chalmers sold it to Imperial Chemical Industries.
The quiet confidence we have that this glass substitute
won't shatter like glass is a confidence in Canadian
The popular sport was the invention of one man, the Canadian
(18611939). After graduating from
McGill in 1890, he became physical
director of the International YMCA Training School in Springfield,
He single-handedly came up with the idea for an indoor
game that football and lacrosse players could play during the winter.
The first match was played on December 21, 1891.
Modestly refusing suggestions that it be called "Naismith ball", he
named the new sport "basket ball".
In 1936 in Berlin, the proud brainfather witnessed the debut of his
brainchild as an official
universal standard time:
It used to be that every town set its own time of day, based
on noon being when the sun was directly overhead. This became
confusing when faster means of transportation, such as railways,
were bringing communities closer together, and scheduling got very
It took a Canadian,
Fleming (18271915), to devise the international system
of time zones that people throughout the whole world today
take for granted.
The former chief engineer in construction of the
Railway, Fleming first presented his brilliantly simple idea
to the Canadian Institute
for the Advancement of Scientific Knowledge in 1879, and got all
North American railways to accept it in 1883.
In 1884, 25 countries adopted it at
conference in Washington, D.C. Of the world's 24 time zones,
has five and a half.
Millions of people have enjoyed longer lives because of this
Canadian invention by
A graduate of the
University of Manitoba,
Hopps was working with surgeons at the
Research Council in Ottawa when he made the important
discovery that an electrical
stimulus could restart the heart or regulate the beat rate,
without harming the heart muscle.
In 1950, Hopps developed the first pacemaker, which in those
pre-transistor days was too large to be implantable.
From 1984, he was not only
the inventor of the pacemaker, he was also a client.
Any user of the World Wide Web has some familiarity with
These are written in a programming language that
was the invention of Canadian
(1956), a graduate of the
University of Calgary.
Java allows people to write a program once that will run
the same way
on many different kinds of computer systems, via the
Java virtual machine.
Sun Microsystems says:
"Since its introduction in May 1995, the [Canadian-invented]
has been adopted more quickly across the industry
than any other new technology in computing history."
Since anyone visiting this website is likely
a trivia buff, we just had to include the best-selling
trivia board game of all time, which was
conceived in Montreal on December 15, 1979, by
Chris Haney and Scott Abbott (both 1949), who
The Montreal Gazette
and Canadian Press.
Their invention has entertained millions of people with versions
in 19 different languages. Typical Canadian Academic Quiz
Leaguers are thankful to Messrs. Haney and Abbott
for providing us with a means of empowerment
in front of our friends and family.
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