Eccentric Inventors


Samuel Akinola (Part 3)

In previous editions we have been discussing the great minds behind certain inventions; this is the continuation from the previous discussion.


The world can never forget the Father of Printing Press. In this modern world, printing presses have become so sophisticated that varieties of excellent, high-quality books, magazines and souvenirs are being produced almost effortlessly. The credit goes to the invention of Johannes Gutenberg.

Johann Gensfleisch Zur Laden Zum Gutenberg (Johannes Gutenberg [CE 1400 – February 3, 1468]): He was a German craftsman and inventor who originated a method of printing from a movable type that was used without important change until the 20th century. According to Britannica of the most influential inventors of all time: the elements of his invention consisted of a mould, with punch-stamped matrices (metal prisms used to mould the face of the type) with which type could be cast precisely and in large quantities; a type-metal alloy; a new press derived from those used in winemaking, papermaking and book-binding and oil-based printing ink.



            In the era where every labour was virtually done by manpower, the need for machines became paramount. Hand power was used to produce food, clothing and shelter. Cattle and horses were used to cultivated fields. Windmills and water wheel were used to grind corn and wheat. Societies had dreamt of a special power that would be useful than work animals, windmills and water wheels—this power was steam. Yet no man had been able to successfully apply steam to meet this demand. A man finally succeeded to give the world this power; the man’s name was James Watt. So steam now propelled ships across the Atlantic, powered trains across countries and did thousand other wonderful things.

James Watt: Born in 1736, at Greenock, Scotland. He had his early education from his parents at home; his mother taught him lessons in reading, and also to draw with pencils and chalks. His father drilled him in arithmetic and encouraged him in the use of tools. When he finally started formal school he did not do well at the initial stage, but finally picked up—an exception in arithmetic and geometry.


Even as a boy he was fond of fiddling with things to repair them. As he grew older and stronger, much of his time was spent in his father’s shop where supplies for ships were kept, and where ship repairing was done. He started his mechanical career as a Jack-of-all-trades.

            At that time, coal and tin mining had been important industries in Britain. Shallow mines were easy to work; as the shallow mines became exhausted deeper ones were opened. The deeper the mine the harder it became to lift out the core or tine ore. Flooding also came into these deeper mines. Unless the machine could be invented to pump out the water and lift out the core from the mines at a low cost of operation the mines would be closed.   Watt first heard of a steam engine in 1759. The idea captivated him, and so he began to read how others had tried to make the engines. The books were in Italian and German.

            In the Italian, he read about Branca’s steam engine, invented in 1629. The engine was little more than a toy; no real use was made of it. In the German book he read about Papin’s engine, invented in 1690; the engine never went beyond the making of a model. He encounters Newcomen’s model and devoted considerable time in the study of it. He had been thinking of making steam engine for some years before he encounters this clumsy model that was of little or no use.

            Watt spent much time and money in making experiments, but nothing he tried succeeded. He did not give up though. He finally produced his first model, which worked briefly but had many challenges. He produced his trial engine in 1767 called Beelzebub because of the way it wheezed, snorted and puffed out fire and smoke. The engine did not work well. The condenser acted badly, the cylinder was almost useless, and the piston leaked quantities of steam. He reworked on it, but it only did slightly better. So he had to abandon his invented machine to rest and rust.

            Watt became downhearted; he had spent ten years and thousands of dollars on his invention, but his dream of making steam engine was still far-fetched. After a while, Matthew Boulton, owner of the largest hardware factory in the world became Watt partner in 1774. This improved his chance to make his engine work. So after reworking and trials, the machine did wonderfully well. Thus, after years of hard labour and thoughts, Watt steam engine, the first ever to meet the full needs of the societies, stood fully grown and readied for any kind of works. Of course, the steam engine became high in demand, and James Watt invented more machines of different function that received world popularity.


            Great minds, great inventions! Inventors are geniuses with astonishing minds. Inventors cut across different continents. Though the European world most often would not acknowledge African inventors or inventors of African origin, they exist.   In our next edition, I shall discuss more famous inventions and their inventors—even inventors of familiar things.         

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