Day By Day

Thursday, December 31, 2009

This Day In History

This is New Year's Eve and I hope everyone has a safe and happy time celebrating tonight, but before you start your revelries you should also observe "Make Up Your Mind Day". Let's face it. All year long we have all been putting off decisions -- most of them minor, but some important. Today is a good day to finally decide, clear away those doubts, stop procrastinating and get on with your life. Clear the way for the bright New Year.

Apropo of the season, on this day in 1759 Arthur Guiness opened his famous brewery in Dublin, so tonight you can hoist a few brewskis in his honor.

And on this day in 1879 Thomas Edison gave the first public demonstration of his Electric Light in Menlo Park, New Jersey.

Here's what it looked like. No person in our nation's history did more to create the modern world than did Edison. His great genius was to see commercial applications in science rather than to try to understand fundamental principles. Others had produced electric light in laboratories; it was Edison who sought to produce a practical item that could be used by ordinary people. Ultimately he held more than a thousand patents on such things as a carbon vibrating mechanism that was used in telephones for nearly a century; the stock ticker; a practical system for electricity distribution; an x-ray machine; a phonograph; a motion picture camera; and numerous other devices that transformed the experience of life for millions of people. It was not just that Edison invented things -- he also founded companies to mass produce, market, and distribute them. And, perhaps most important, Edison founded the first major research laboratory. At Menlo Park he brought together dozens of bright young technicians and scientists and set them to work developing practical ways to realize his numerous ideas and enthusiasms. Edison has been much criticized for underpaying his employees, for patenting the ideas of others, and for using litigation to suppress competition. It's true -- he was a pretty sleazy guy in many ways, but each and every one of us owes him a great debt for his contributions to making our lives richer and more enjoyable.