Inventions and Innovations
Get writing ideas and topics with the Genealogy.com Biography Assistant
What was invented during his/her lifetime? From the electric light to computers, inventors are constantly changing the way we live. Pick this Topic to recall the wonder and excitement of the objects invented during his/her lifetime.
Was he/she interested in the invention of the sewing machine?
- When did he/she first hear about sewing machines for the home? Did he/she believe that a machine could stitch as well as a person could? Was he/she interested in using a sewing machine?
- Did he/she ever own a sewing machine? If yes, how did it change his/her lifestyle? Did it reduce the amount of time that he/she needed to sew? Did he/she make clothes or other cloth goods more often?
- Did he/she work in a shop that made use of the new sewing machine? How did this change his/her job? Did it make his/her skills obsolete?
Samuel F. B. Morse invented the telegraph around 1840 and by 1861 the whole country was connected. Did this affect his/her life?
- When did he/she first hear about the telegraph? Did he/she understand how it worked?
- Telegraphs made it possible for people to communicate over long distances in a matter of seconds. Did he/she ever use a telegraph? What did he/she use it for? Ordering supplies, overseas communications, or to get the latest news?
- What communication changes did he/she see during his/her lifetime? How did they affect his/her lifestyle? Did he/she communicate with relatives more often? Did news reach him more quickly?
Would you like to write about his/her experiences relating to the completion of the transcontinental railroad?
- The construction of the transcontinental railroad began in 1863. What was his/her first reaction to this? Did he/she think it could be done? Did he/she think it would be useful?
- Workers on the transcontinental railroad endured hardships such as raids from Native Americans, harsh weather, bison stampedes, and dynamite blasting. Did he/she experience any of these or other difficulties firsthand? Did he/she fear for a relative's safety?
- The two railroad lines met on May 10, 1869 at Promontory, Utah. What was his/her first reaction to this? Was he/she surprised that it was finished? Was he/she anxious to travel on the railroad?
- After its completion, travelers could go from the Atlantic seaboard to San Francisco in a week's time, whereas the fastest clipper ship had taken 3 months. What did he/she think about that? What changes did he/she anticipate would take place in America because of this?
- Railroads began replacing canals and other more cumbersome means of transportation, thus bringing farms and cities closer together. In what ways did this affect him? Did it help his/her farm or business, give him access to more goods, or make it more convenient to travel?
- Did the transcontinental railroad run through his/her land? Could he/she see it from his/her home? What effect did it have on him? Did it upset his/her livestock or daily activities? In what way? Was he/she afraid that cinders from the smokestack would cause a fire?
Was the telephone a part of his/her life?
- Alexander Graham Bell exhibited his/her telephone in 1876. What did he/she think about this invention? Did he/she understand how it worked?
- Did he/she think that the telephone was something that most people would have in their homes someday? Did it seem like a useful means of communication, or was writing just as good?
- By 1880, many cities had telephone service, did he/she have a telephone in his/her home? Was this common at the time or was it considered a luxury? What did it look like? How was it different from later telephones?
- What did he/she use the telephone for? Did telephones change his/her life at all? How would his/her life have been different without them? What did he/she think were the positive and negative aspects of telephones?
Did the phonograph make an impact in his/her life?
- Inventors sold their early phonographs in the 1880's. When did he/she first see and hear one? Was it used as an office dictation machine? For music? As a toy?
- What did early phonographs look like? Did he/she know what it was when he/she first saw it?
- Did he/she understand how the phonograph worked? What did he/she think about using it to listen to music? Was live music better?
- When did he/she ever own a phonograph? What did he/she play on it? Was it something that the population in general could afford or was it a luxury item?
Do you want to write about his/her first experiences with electric light?
- By 1880 Thomas Edison had used electricity to make indoor lighting--he had invented the incandescent light. What was his/her reaction when he/she heard about this invention? Did he/she think it was really possible to create light from a few wires and a glass bulb?
- Edison set up city lighting systems and power stations throughout the country. What effect did this have on him or his/her family? Did he/she work at any of these stations? Did he/she get light in his/her home or ride electric streetcars?
- Did he/she think that electric lighting was safer than gas lighting or candles? Why or why not? Did his/her opinion change as time went on?
- When did he/she first have electric light in his/her home? At the time, did he/she think it was a necessity or a luxury? How would his/her life have been different without it?
Was he/she interested in the invention of airplanes?
- The Wright Brothers were the first to have a manned flight. It occurred on December 17, 1903 at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. Did he/she believe that this had actually taken place?
- Did he/she think he/she would ever be able to travel by airplane? Did he/she want to fly? Why or why not? Was he/she amazed, scared, or shocked by the idea of flying?
- Did he/she think people would ever be traveling around the world by air? How did he/she think that airplanes would progress over the years?
- Did he/she ever fly on an airplane? When and where did he/she go? Was it a short or long flight? What was his/her reaction? Was he/she afraid? How did he/she feel about being able to travel in this way?
Was he/she fascinated by the invention of automobiles?
- What did he/she think the first time he/she saw an automobile? Was it a passenger car or farming machinery? Did he/she understand how it worked?
- The Model T was first produced in 1908. By the 20's it cost $280, allowing a large portion of America to own a car. Did his/her family have a Model T? When did his/her family purchase their first car, and what was it?
- Many people ridiculed the early cars, saying that a horse was a better form of transportation. What was his/her opinion on this? What were the benefits of each? Was his/her family's car reliable?
- The Model T had two speeds plus reverse, all controlled by foot pedals. Did he/she learn to drive one? If yes, did he/she ever have to go up a hill backwards because of the placement of the gas tank? Who else in his/her family drove?
- When and why did he/she replace his/her first car with another one? With what did he/she replace it?
- Would his/her life have been different without the invention of the automobile? Did his/her life change because of it? In what ways? Did he/she use it for entertainment? Did it let him take a job farther from home?
- Did the car replace a horse his/her family owned? What were the roads in his/her area like?
- Did he/she feel that the increased use and availability of the automobile reduced rural isolation? Why or why not? Did it bring different parts of society closer together?
Would you like to write about his/her interest in early motion pictures?
- Motion pictures were invented in the late 1800's principally in the United States, France, and England. Their popularity soared in the U.S. during the 1920's. What were his/her expectations when he/she first heard about motion pictures?
- How did he/she feel when he/she saw his/her very first motion picture? Where did he/she see it? What was it called?
- Did he/she go to the movies often? Why did he/she like to go? Was it expensive at the time? How much did it cost?
- As time progressed, how did motion pictures change? Did he/she feel that there were improvements in the quality of the sound and picture?
- For him, how did motion pictures compare to live theater? Which did he/she like better? Why?
- What did he/she think when he/she saw your first motion picture "talkie"? Was there a big difference? Why?
- Who werehis favorite actors? Did he/she think they were glamorous or dashing?
- What were his/her favorite kinds of movies to see? Romance stories? Slapstick comedy? Did he/she have a favorite film? Who were the stars?
Was early radio a part of his/her life?
- The first commercial radio broadcast was on November 2, 1920 from KDKA in Pittsburgh. When did he/she first begin listening to the radio? What types of programs did he/she listen to?
- What did his/her first radio look like? Was it a big investment for his/her family? Was it treated very carefully? Was he/she fascinated by this "magical box" out of which came music and people's voices?
- How did the advent of the radio change his/her family's daily activities? Did listening to music or the news, as opposed to singing or reading the newspaper together, become a daily family activity?
- Who were his/her favorite radio performers of the day? Did he/she wonder what they looked like? Did he/she ever actually get the chance to see them?
- What important news did he/she hear over the radio? Was that how he/she first heard about the 1929 stock market crash? The beginning of World War II in Europe? The bombing of Pearl Harbor? Did he/she hear about and believe the 1939 broadcast of the War of the Worlds?
Was television an innovation in his/her lifetime?
- Although experimentation with television began in the 19th century, regular broadcasting began in the mid 1930's. Did he/she see or hear about it? Did he/she understand how the pictures were transferred through the air?
- Did his/her family purchase a television? Was this something special or did most people have one at the time? Was he/she excited to own one? Did he/she stop listening to the radio at this time?
- It took some time for television to become popular because many people thought that it was only a fad. When did he/she begin watching television regularly? Did television change his/her family routines?
- What types of programs did he/she watch? Political debates? Musical or news programs? Which were his/her favorites? Who were his/her favorite television personalities?
- How would his/her life have been different without the television? Did television change society at all? How?
Did he/she have an interest in early computers?
- Primitive electric computers were first used in the 1940's. At what point did he/she see a computer? What was it used for? How big was it?
- When did he/she first use a computer? Did he/she find it complicated or was it easy to manipulate? What did he/she use it for? Number crunching? Games? Word processing?
- Did he/she ever own a computer? When did he/she purchase it? Before he/she bought it, did he/she ever believe that he/she would have this kind of machinery in his/her home or office?
- How did computers change his/her life, if at all? What was he/she able to do after computers became popular that he/she couldn't do before? In his/her opinion, what were some of the positives and negatives of computers?
- How did computers change after he/she first began to use them? Did they become more compact? Faster? What uses did he/she foresee for them in the future?
Was there an invention during his/her lifetime that interested him?
- What was it that was invented? When was it discovered or created? Who was behind the invention?
- When did he/she hear about this invention? What did he/she think about it?
- Did this invention or discovery change his/her life at all? Did it make his/her life easier? In what ways?
- How would his/her life have been different without this invention?