—Brett Stern, author of Inventors at Work
Sadly, the Phillips screwdriver wasn’t invented until 1967, forcing a generation of tinkerers to tighten the new screws with butter knives or an especially pointy key.
But seriously, folks: In last week’s column, I said famous inventions from Oregon were a bit thin on the ground. Mistake! Within minutes, the readers were revolting (a lot of ’em were ugly, too), massing with pitchforks and torches to tell me just how wrong I was. I haven’t been called out this hard since an unfortunate rounding error led me to assert that Abraham Lincoln was a member of New Kids on the Block.
There’s a saying in politics that also applies to journalism: When you have to eat shit, don’t nibble. I could nickel-and-dime you about how, technically, Henry Phillips bought the patent for his self-centering screw from the forgotten real inventor, John P. Thompson. But then, Thompson was a Portlander, too. The truth is, I forgot about the Phillips screw. Yum, delicious poo.
Engelbart’s contributions to computing history are legion; however, I elected to skip them because they’re too complex for a 300-word column. I also omitted Frances Gabe’s remarkable invention—it never caught on, and in any case, if you look at the videos available online you’ll see there’s a very, very fine line between “self-cleaning house” and “live-in dishwasher.”
However, I certainly should have included Tim Leatherman’s eponymous multitool. Most glaringly, it was inexcusable not to mention the locally invented View-Master stereoscopic viewer, which for decades offered Portlanders their only opportunity to see a 3-D representation of what direct sunlight might look like.
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