As part of our series on the next generation of innovators ahead of our Mega Maker Lab in August, we’re taking time to celebrate youth creativity. Here, we’re taking a look at how some of our most well-known, useful and everyday items were actually the product of young inventors with inquisitive minds. They show that curiosity is all you need to be a maker.
Philo T. Farnsworth was just 15 years old when he developed components that would become crucial to the development of all-electronic television. Having always been interested in engineering and mechanics, he had previously repaired his family’s generator and converted their hand-powered washing machine to run on electricity. His ‘video camera tube’ image pickup device was produced commercially as part of television sets until 1951.
In 1974, 10-year-old Becky Schroeder was trying to do her homework in the dark of her mother’s car. She wondered whether there was a way to make her page luminous in the absence of a light source. Becky experimented with phosphorescent paint lines and acrylic boards until she came up with something that worked to illuminate the paper. She was 12 when she got her US patent – the youngest ever recipient. Doctors, the police and the US Navy have used Glo-Sheets, and Becky made her invention into a career in adulthood as well.
Keen on water sports, British boy Peter Chilvers is now credited as having created the first sailboard in 1958 when he was 12. The board and sport came to prominence in the late 1960s, and it was actually the efforts of the designers who popularised it to patent their idea that proved Chilvers to be the originator. He was seen with his invention in an early photograph, which most importantly included the joint design crucial to the later claimants’ supposed case.
The telephone has several credited inventors, and while Scottish-born Alexander Graham Bell was 29 when the device was patented, his activity throughout his life up until then is notable in its invention. He isn’t known to have been a gifted student but was just interested in how things were made and solving problems with curiosity, such as working out at age 12 how the grain mill removed husks. Among his other ventures were kites and experiments in sound and visible speech for the deaf. Learn how to make your own flying machines with our guides.
It makes sense that a young gymnast might have the inspiration for a trampoline. It was after marvelling at trapeze artists in the 1930s that 16-year-old George Nissen thought their performance would be even better if they could continue bouncing. Using his family’s garage as a workshop, he created his ‘bouncing rig’ by strapping canvas sheets to a steel frame. Along with his gymnastics coach, he added more flexibility by adding tyre inner tubes to the edges – the equivalent of the springs we still see on trampolines today. The name comes from the Spanish word for ‘diving board’.
Louis Braille had been blind in both eyes since an accident at the age of three. In 1821 his teacher introduced the class to a system of embossed dot reading which had been invented for the military to decipher messages but was thought to be too complicated to use. Inspired by this, Braille experimented with paper, slates and a stylus to work out a simpler system. Four years later, when he was barely 16 years old, he had come up with a versatile method which could be used to represent 64 letters and characters. Braille became a teacher to spread his knowledge and code, and by the 1920s it had become the global standard system for reading that it still is today.
Blaise Pascal went on to have a successful and celebrated career as a mathematician, physicist and philosopher, but it was as a child that he started work on a calculator in the 1640s. His father was a tax collector and at the age of 18 Pascal came up with his machine for adding and subtracting to help with the tedious accounting involved. He made continued improvements to the device, building 50 models over the years and contributing to the knowledge for the designs that would later become the calculators we know today.
Get inspired to think creatively and come up with your own inventions at our Mega Maker Lab this summer.