Stories tagged inventor


Self-portrait by Matthias Buchinger: The forward-most curls on Buchinger's left shoulder near his collar are magnified on the right to show the inscribed hidden biblical text.
Self-portrait by Matthias Buchinger: The forward-most curls on Buchinger's left shoulder near his collar are magnified on the right to show the inscribed hidden biblical text.Courtesy Public domain via Wikipedia
I recently (and literally) stumbled upon a web page about this remarkable man from the 17th century. His name was Matthias Buchinger, and despite being born without hands, legs or thighs, this guy managed to live a full and amazing life with no less than 4 wives (!?), and fathering something like 11-14 children depending on the source. But even more incredible was how - despite his severe physical deformations - Buchinger was able to rise above Nature’s challenges and become an accomplished musician, inventor, artist, model-in-a-bottle builder, and magician.

Born in Anspach, Germany in 1674, he was the youngest of nine children, and became widely known as “The Little Man from Nuremburg” performing his feats of wonder across much of Great Britain and Europe. Buchinger was only 29 inches tall, and for hands had "two excrescences which grew from his shoulder-blades, like fingers without nails" but his skills in magic, marksmanship, and music were legendary. He played several musical instruments, some of which he invented himself, was accomplished at skittles (bowling), and could dance a hornpipe as well as anyone. He was also a talented calligrapher. His engraving skills are evident by the self-portrait to the right. Hidden within his curls are seven psalms and the Lord’s Prayer written in tiny letters. Buchinger lived much of his adult life in England and Ireland, and performed before King George and many of Europe’s royalty. He died in Cork, Ireland in 1732.

I don’t know about you but I find Buchinger quite inspiring. You can read more about this human marvel in the links below.

Matthias Buchinger
More about Matthias Buchinger
And yet another site

French engineer and chemist Georges Claude died on May 23, 1960. In 1902, he invented the neon light (obviously near and dear to our hearts!) by applying electricity to a sealed tube of neon gas. Used to promote a Packard car dealership in Los Angeles, the first neon signs in the US cost $24,000.

Engineer James B. Eads, known for his bridge over the Mississippi at St. Louis, was born on May 23, 1820. The bridge wasn't his only claim to fame, though. He also invented a boat and diving bell that allowed him to run a salvage operation and made him a fortune. He also built ironclad warships for use during the Civil War, and a year-round navigation channel for New Orleans.


Elijah McCoy
Elijah McCoy

It's an annual tradition here at The Science Museum. Every February for Black History Month we roll out a panel honoring Black Americans in science. And every February, Gene complains that the panel contains an error.

Part of the panel pays tribute to Elijah McCoy. The son of runaway slaves, McCoy studied engineering and went on to invent many devices, including a lubricator for railroad engines.

The panel also cites Elijah's invention as the origin of the phrase "the real McCoy." Unfortunately, that does not seem possible:

  • The phrase first appears in Scotland, in the form "the real McKay," in 1856, when Elijah was only 12 years old.
  • The phrase changed from "McKay" to "McCoy" around 1908 — more than 30 years after Elijah patented his invention.
  • The lubricators were not sold under the McCoy name until 1920, well after the phrase had become established.
  • Elijah's name was not connected to the phrase until 1985.

Make no mistake — Elijah McCoy's inventions were a boon to railroading. It's only right that we honor his contribution to engineering. But, as a science museum, we really need to be more careful with the facts. It's a small thing, but as a label writer, mistakes like this bug me.

(NOTE: I am writing this post from the wilds of mid-Michigan. I haven't seen the panel this year — it's possible that the error has been corrected. If so, I will amend this post.)