Author Michelle Malkin makes no bones about the reason she wrote this book and titled it “Who Built That”. On the book’s dedication page she writes: “To President Barack Obama, who inspired me to rise up and tell these unsung stories of American individualism, exceptionalism, and entrepreneurship.” This was, of course, in response to Obama’s 2012 statement: “If you’ve got a business – you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.”
Ms. Malkin describes herself as a “tinkerer-wannabe” and calls the American entrepreneurs featured in her book “tinkerpreneurs”. The book opens with the “American dream” story of Tony Maglica, Croatian immigrant and inventor of the Maglite flashlight, and in the closing chapters tells the story of George Westinghouse and Nikola Tesla, geniuses of all things electric.
Other stories include the inventions and innovations that brought comfort, and eventually more prosperity to Americans: Willis Carrier and Irvine Lyle (air conditioning), the Scott brothers (toilet paper and paper towels), William Painter (bottle cap), Edward Libbey and Michael Owens (mass-produced glass).
Many of these names are still recognizable today: Carrier Air Conditioning, Libbey Glass, Scott brand paper products and Hires Root Beer. The story of Charles Hires is an amazing story of a man who built his business from the basement up (selling, essentially, dirt), building on one enterprise which led to his highly successful soda company which produced Hires Root Beer. After tinkering for years to find just the right blend of herbs, the soda was a hit at the 1876 Philadelphia World’s Fair …. and the rest is history. Of course, Hires also benefited from fellow entrepreneur William Painter’s invention – sodas were better preserved after the bottle cap process was perfected.
Entrepreneurs or anyone interested in knowing how some of the things we use every day (and take for granted) were invented, perfected and marketed, will find it an interesting read. I was especially amazed at the innovations of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries – truly a prolific period of explosive ingenuity when the country “hit its stride” following the Civil War. It will make you proud to be an American!
Have a GREAT day . . . someday it will be HISTORY!