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Why has India failed to make more important things like mobile phones, computers and jet engines but has successfully developed nukes, rockets, space missions?

Look within yourself, my friend.

  • Indians are simply not inventive enough!
  • India lacked, and still lacks, the material infrastructure so necessary for spurring industrial growth.

By “inventive”, I do not only mean engineers with degrees and doctorates. I mean people like Julien Charles Tournier.

How many Tourniers did we have? And even when we had a couple, what was the chance they would be recognized by this IAS-worshipping nation?


Leaving aside jet engines, which very, very few countries have managed to bring to the present levels of efficiency and fuel consumption, and nuclear weapons which are under strict watch by the superpowers, everything else was developed by individual inventors, some slaving away despite disappointment.

Take the story of the Sperry family.

Yes, an entire family of inventors.

Dr. Elmer Ambrose Sperry was born in Cortland, New York, in 1860, and at the age of twenty founded the Sperry Electric Company in Chicago, to manufacture arc-lamps.

Dr. Elmer Ambrose Sperry

▲This was the time of the transformation from steam trains to electricity; and the then young Sperry followed the trend of the age soon after when he founded the Sperry Electric Railway Company in Cleveland, Ohio, to manufacture electric cars.

This business was sold in 1894 to the General Electric Company.

The Sperry mind was inventive rather than business-like, as with his contemporary, Thomas Edison, who also started his career in the midwest.

He then turned his face east to Brooklyn, where in 1910 he founded the Sperry Gyroscope Company in that city.

The Sperry searchlight, culmination of forty years and more of one man’s life work, giving a light that is actually brighter, unit for unit of radiating surface, than the sunlight which reaches the earth, would have been enough in itself to stamp Elmer Ambrose Sperry as one of the world’s great inventors.

▲Lower Manhattan bathed in a billion and a quarter candlepower of light from a Sperry searchlight in Brooklyn—illumination of efficiency greater than the sun’s. Left; The machine that casts the light

On August 30, 1927, the steam tanker Pulpit Paint cleared from San Francisco for Auckland, New Zealand. Captain Owens set his great circle course true South 38 degrees West by his gyroscopic compass and turned the wheel over to “Metal Mike.” For twenty-one days, except for an hour in detouring the Savage Islands, no human hand touched the helm. There were cobwebs on her steering wheel when the Auckland pilot clambered aboard.

The Sperry gyrocompass and gyro-steering ,device, applications to useful work of what was merely a physicist’s toy, would alone mark their inventor as one of the world’s most original thinkers.

But the acclaim of the scientific world for Elmer Ambrose Sperry was not based upon those achievements alone.

Some called him the greatest living inventor; others, second only to Edison.

There were men with more patents to their credit—he has only four hundred or a few more—but no other man has covered such a variety of fields, and certainly not more than one or two others had made inventions so fundamental and revolutionary.

Most inventions were adaptations or improvements. Sperry’s were basic.

ONCE in a while the public heard of Elmer Sperry, as a vague figure behind some demonstration of a new light or a new application of the gyroscope (soft “g,” please), or when his professional associates honored him with the Collier medal for aviation, or the John Fritz Medal, the highest honor that could be paid an American engineer by his fellows, which was awarded to him for 1927.

But the public never saw him. It is not of record that he ever presided at a public dinner or made a public speech. He would head the commission of seventy engineers, representing the United States’ at the International World Congress of Engineers at Tokio in 1929. In Chicago there was a fourteen-acre plant devoted to the manufacture of electric coal-mining machinery invented by Sperry.

The General Electric Company bought the Sperry patents on electric street cars capable of climbing steep grades.

▲One of the early Sperry street cars,first that could climb street grades, built around 1894.

In Brooklyn the Sperry Gyroscope Company, which made the gyro-compass, the gyrosteerer and the gyro-stabilizer for ships, and built the Sperry searchlights, occupied a twelve-story building at the end of the Manhattan Bridge.

Every navy and great merchant fleet in the world used these Sperry inventions for navigation. Every navy and most of the armies used Sperry searchlights. The Sperry aerial torpedo and a dozen other war machines, some of them among the US Government’s most carefully guarded secrets then, stood to his credit.

WHEN Prof. A. A. Michelson, the great physicist whose investigations of light were of extreme importance in scientific research, needed a light equal to sunlight for his experiments, Elmer Sperry alone could furnish it. And when Professor Michelson’s work called for flywheels with the incredible speed of 40,000 revolutions a minute, Sperry alone could design and build them.

The night flyers of the air mail found their airports by the aid of Sperry searchlights, their beams visible as far as 140 miles from their source, shooting a billion and a quarter candlepower into the sky.

Practically all motion pictures began to be made in windowless studios, for the Sperry carbide arc light made possible better lighting effects, even for supposedly outdoor scenes, than the sun itself.

Why, you wonder, with such achievements to his credit, doesn’t the public know more about Elmer Sperry the man?

The ever busy Sperry mind, which accounted for 400 patents in the United States, and Europe up to the time of his death, started to work.

It produced the gyro-compass, airplane and ship stabilizers of such value in marine circles.

The highest intensity searchlight (1% billion candlepower), a compound internal combustion engine, erection of the highest electric beacon in the world in Chicago, a design of an electric automobile, and a track fault finder were other products of his mind.

Dr. Elmer Ambrose Sperry died in June, 1930, after fifty years of inventive service to the safety of mankind.

However, a startling announcement followed the shock of Dr. Sperry’s death. Elmer Ambrose Sperry, Jr., had taken to the air to follow on in the dual footsteps of his father and brother. He would be a demonstrator-inventor just as his father before him.

At thirty-five years of age, Ambrose Sperry, Jr. had secured a pilot’s license in the record instruction time of three hours. Next followed the news of a six thousand mile test cross country of his robot gyro, sixty-five pounds of metal that operated the controls of a huge Curtiss Condor by simply pressing one of two buttons.

He accepted the successful results of the test in these words of his own style, “It reminded me of my brief experience on the farm where I saw men drive oxen by calling `Gee’ or ‘Haw’ to them.” No clamor nor desire for publicity or photograph to mark the occasion — typical Sperry action was displayed by the younger Sperry.

It was a further perfection of gyro stabilizer with which his brother Lawrence had won first prize in France in 1914 for the most perfect automatically controlled plane.

Sperry, one of the indisputable architects of the time, is scarcely known beyond science circles.

Yet mark the mere highlights of his usefulness.

As an inventor he was granted some 400 patents.

Developments which he authored gave substance to many great corporations.

He set up central lighting for metropolitan centers.

He made possible the power tool mining of coal.

He manufactured the first electric automobile.

He developed the first heavy-duty battery.

He engineered the most successful streetcar and outsold Westinghouse in its own home town of Pittsburgh.

He developed the process of salvaging tin from scrap metal.

He lifted aviation from the status of barnstorming to its role in transportation.

He assured at a critical time the supremacy of United States sea power.

He made a major break-through in railroad economy and safety.

He exercised a unique influence in organization of international science.

He was the father of the high-powered search-light. Even as a boy he helped build one of the first dynamos in America.

Recognition of Mr. Sperry’s catholicity of interest inevitably leads you to comparison with others whose names have been mentioned in the roster of usefulness.

The primary genius of the notable useful lay in their recognition of a need rather than in any specific bent of their minds.

To fill a need, sometimes intimately human and sometimes nationally significant but always pressing and practical, was the motivation of their efforts.

It was this consciousness and dedication that enabled the significantly useful ones to achieve notable inventions or originate far-sighted concepts, although they frequently lacked formal education or other background conducive to their achievements.

It was this consciousness which kept their minds from running off into useless tangents—the occupational hazard of the pure scientist or of the theoretically highly educated.

For example, Benjamin Franklin was not above inventing a stove or bifocal glasses or the lightning rod or the rocking chair.

These were things people needed.

That they also needed a plan of union for the Colonies ( which he was first to suggest), rural mail delivery, resistance to slavery, organized hospitals, circulating libraries, the backing of France to secure independence and other pertinent requirements which Franklin supplied, merely further illustrates his motivating philosophy.

Robert Fulton once said that his fertility of invention stemmed from recognition of need which he found around him.

Actually, he was a great painter, so great that Benjamin Franklin foresaw him as one of the masters, yet he gave up his art to concentrate on serving his times.

Piracy was the international menace of the sea in his day.

He invented the submarine and the torpedo to free the seas. Lack of transportation cursed the colonies.

Fulton invented the steamboat to utilize the rivers. But he saw many needs of lesser magnitude—a machine to quarry marble, another to spin flax, a third to make rope, a fourth to bore rifles, and so on.

Eli Whitney, exceptional among the most famed inventors as a college man, intended to be a lawyer but could never pass up the attraction of fixing anything he saw broken down or working ineffectively.

Visiting in Georgia he saw why cotton was an unprofitable crop and set about to make it profitable.

His notoriety today rests on his invention of the cotton gin.

Actually, his fame should rest on the fact that he was the father of the production line—the concept which gave American industry its mighty stature.

He never made a dime from the gin, although both it and his manufacturing techniques became vastly meaningful to the stream of history.

Or, take the story of Charles Goodyear.

Charles Goodyear was born in New Haven, Connecticut, December 29, 1800. He was the son of Amasa and Cynthia (Bateman) Goodyear, and a descendant of Stephen Goodyear, who was the associate of Governor Eaton, and after him head of the company of London merchants who founded the colony of New Haven in 1638. Amasa Goodyear was an inventor of important agricultural implements. The boy observed the good accomplished by some of his father’s innovations, and this contributed to his inventive bias.

His early years were passed in New Haven.

From seventeen to twenty-one we find him apprenticed at hardware in Philadelphia. He then returned to Connecticut to become a partner in the business of his father.

In 1826 he opened a store in Philadelphia for the sale of hardware, principally the products of their own factory. It was the first for the sale of domestic hardware in the country. Under his management the house acquired an ample fortune, but failed in 1830. It was a great trial to Goodyear, yet he submitted without regrets or loss of courage to what he considered providential.

The next ten years he was repeatedly arrested for debt, not wishing to take the benefit of the bankrupt law. He strove to complete his inventions in hardware, and from the sale of one of them, completed in prison, obtained temporary subsistence.

Soon after his reduction from affluence to poverty he decided to devote himself to invention; partly because he felt it would be difficult for him to get rid of the epithets ” inventor ” and “visionary,” so often considered synonymous.

As a schoolboy his attention was drawn to the mysterious property of India rubber. A thin pellicle peeled from a bottle attracted his notice, and suggested that it would be very useful as a fabric if it could be made uniformly so thin and so prepared as to prevent its adhering together and becoming a solid mass, as it soon did from the warmth and pressure of the hand. So his mind was dwelling upon the problem before Thomas Hancock in England made his first unsatisfactory solutions of rubber in oil of turpentine about 1819. The substance began to be known in the United States in 1820; its manufacture to attract attention about 1831.

Hancock introduced the first mechanical processes (from 1818), molding, ink-erasers, etc.; Mackintosh his benzene solution and garments in 1828. The shoes made by the South American Indians had been favorably received in Europe; but, at the critical period in the United States, and likewise from deterioration of the gum, the public was abandoning them and many other articles of rubber fabrication.

In the United States rubber became a subject of investigation, and Dr. Comstock obtained a patent in 1828 for its solution in oil of turpentine and its application to stuffs.

Charles Goodyear read of the success of these companies and, in casting about to help himself, naturally turned to the substance which had earlier attracted his attention. He at once began his experiments, melting his first gum in the debtors’ prison, Philadelphia. He continued them the winter of 1834—’35, making his mixtures with his own hands and rolling them with a rolling pin.

He considers it fortunate that rubber is five cents per pound, for as long as he can command that sum he will be able to continue experiments.

And he soon discovers that chemists, physicians, and researchers have been baffled in all attempts to make the substance take on the qualities desired.

He is thirty-five, bankrupt, and in poor health, yet does not shrink from what to the strongest might well have seemed a superhuman task; and is sustained by “the reflection that what is hidden and unknown, and can not be discovered by scientific research, will most likely be discovered by accident if at all, and by the man who applies himself most perseveringly to the subject “

With a friendly loan he makes shoes of fine appearance, but summer finds them reduced to an offensive mass.

He thinks there must be some substance to mix with the gum, and tries almost everything he can obtain.

None of the learned men indicate the course to be taken; he is on an unknown sea. He has the best success with magnesia, producing the first white goods; but his beautiful book and piano covers began to ferment and soon turned brittle and hard.

At New Haven he recommenced the work which was to occupy his attention to the end of his life, shoes being the first goods offered, as they were of easy manufacture.

This was the beginning of the long-continued family employment with caoutchouc, his eldest daughter making the first pair of vulcanized shoes that were produced.

The gum, dissolved in oil of turpentine, colored with lampblack, and hardened with magnesia, was spread upon flannel, and out of this material finely embossed shoes were made. But they proved to be a failure in the winter of 1835—’36.

“It was at this time,” says his daughter, “that I remember beginning to see and hear about India rubber. It began to appear in little patches upon the window panes and on the dinner plates. Father took possession of our kitchen for a workshop. He would sit hour after hour, working the gum with his hands.”

Goodyear failed again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again.

The increased attention excited by rubber at the time led to an order from the Government for mail bags, and he gave it the widest possible publicity. At last the world shall see what he can do! He hastened to gather his family around him to share in the beckoning prosperity, and his aged parents and two younger brothers, sufferers from his failure, joined him.

What was his mortification to find his beautiful mail bags decomposing and dropping from their hooks! In late experiments he had been using coloring matters, white lead, vermilion, etc. Introduced freely into the bag composition, they had proved deleterious, as the gum was then ” cured.” After his final invention he was enabled to make use of them. He says, ” Had it not been for this misfortune from the use of these articles, in all human probability the vulcanizing process would never have been discovered.”

So, in the spring of 1839, he is trying the effect of heat upon the mail-bag compound. While talking in the kitchen with persons familiar with India rubber, he makes a rapid gesture, and a piece of the gum he holds in his hand accidentally comes in contact with the hot stove. As the substance, in its natural state, melts at a low de-gree of heat, great was his surprise to find that it had charred with-out dissolving, and that no part of it was sticky. His daughter says: ” As I was passing in and out of the room, I casually observed the little piece of gum which he was holding near the fire, and I noticed also that he was unusually animated by some discovery which he had made. He nailed the piece outside in the intense cold. In the morning he brought it in, holding it up exultingly. He had found it perfectly flexible, as it was when he put it out.”

When further experiments show that his process ” cures ” the rubber through, and that the new substance resists heat, cold, and the action of acids, and before he has convinced any one of the value of his invention, “I felt myself,” he says, ” amply repaid for the past, and quite indifferent as to the trials of the future.”

Two years passed before he was able to convince any one outside of his family of the importance of his discovery. The world had to be shown, by time and varying temperatures, that ” metallization ” (as the process was first called) was effective.

This was a bitter period for the Goodyears.

It seemed as if his important secret was to perish with him. A thousand failures were to discover defects. The operation required exactness and promptitude; one condition a failure, all was spoiled; and often he could not apply the heat soon enough.

So he saw the necessity of reliable apparatus.

Rattier and Guibal, of Paris, made him an offer for his ” acid-gas ” process, which would have immediately relieved his pressing wants; yet he refused, saying he was perfecting another which would render it worthless.

The incident accords with the character of the man.

When gloom hung low above the Goodyear cottage, a ray of sunlight came in means for the inventor to reach New York, where William Rider advanced a certain amount for experiments. His family was freed from want, and better conditions for success were obtained. Before the new firm was well under way Rider failed, and it lost its capital.

Goodyear was also manufacturing, at Springfield, Massachusetts, sheets of vulcanized rubber and shined goods for suspenders and elastics. These were having a large sale.

Now that success was attained, his brother-in-law advanced capital to continue the business. About to continue his enterprise in 1841, he has his last experience with the debtors’ prison in the United States.

Yielding to remonstrances,he took the bankrupt law; but, when fortune favored him, one of the first things he did. was to pay off thirty-five thousand dollars’ worth of old claims. He was in no hurry to seek a patent, considering his invention safe, and was more intent on its perfection for the good of humanity than regardful of his personal interests.

So Hancock, in England, scraping Goodyear’s samples and smelling the sulphur, persevered until he rediscovered the process, and first obtained a patent, November 21, 1843. He and Brockedon (who secured the samples) named the operation ” vulcanization.”

It was ten years after beginning his experiments before Goodyear felt able to produce perfectly vulcanized rubber with economy and certainty.

After vulcanization was an established fact and patented in Europe and the United States, Goodyear worked on for sixteen years in the effort to apply rubber to new and especially humanitarian uses —life-saving appliances on water, sails, water beds, etc.

Gail Borden, famous for his condensed-milk process, once said to one of Mr. Goodyear’s sons: “After experimenting unsuccessfully so many years, I should have given up in despair if I had not read a sketch of your father’s life.”

America had a thousand Goodyears.

And now, on to industrial materials.

Do you know there can be no jet engines without rubber?

Let us take up just one item: rubber.

Hancock (Britain) and Goodyear (USA) invented vulcanization. But control of rubber production was necessary for industrial growth.

In this “treasure quest” America took the lead in 1928.

And with reason. They were are using rubber in such enormously increasing quantities that experts warned of a serious shortage by 1929 or 1930. Theirr automobiles were shod with nearly 100,000,000 tires, and the number was mounting.

At least 30,000 different articles of rubber were being made in a thousand factories.

Moreover, while they were using more rubber than any other nation and supplying the rest of the world with manufactured goods, they were almost entirely at the mercy of other nations for supplies of the raw product.

In 1927 the United States consumed 380,000 tons of crude rubber, nearly two thirds of the world’s total production. Yet of this they controlled less than four percent. The other ninety-six percent was largely in the hands of the British and the Dutch.

Thomas A. Edison told of his plans to produce substitute rubber from quick-growing shrubs and weeds, and of the belief he shared with Henry Ford and Harvey Firestone that a larger control of rubber supply was vital to the safety and peace of the nation.

And then came Henry Ford with an announcement that he had received from the Brazilian Government a rubber concession of from 3,000,000 to 4,000,000 acres in the Amazon Valley of South America, the native home of the Para rubber tree.

There he planned rubber production on a vast scale.

Harvey Firestone, too, after preliminary experiments in various parts of the world, had since 1926, under lease in Liberia, Africa, 1,000,000 acres devoted to growing rubber trees. Production began in 1930, and Mr. Firestone’s African plantations became a factor in the world market by 1935.

Meanwhile, America’s pioneer in rubber – growing, the United States Rubber Company, after seventeen years of experiment in cultivation, enormously increased the yield from rubber trees.

By 1928, its plantations, covering more than 184,000 acres in Sumatra and Malaya, had become the greatest single rubber estate in the world. These plantations were yielding 441 pounds an acre a year, as compared with the average yield of 350 pounds the world over. Estimated ultimate yield from the planted areas was a thousand pounds an acre annually.

Still another Amerkan venturer was the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company, which, since 1916, had been developing plantations in Sumatra that, in 1928, covered 5000 acres.

It was a real race for high stakes in a billion-dollar industry.

No rush for Klondike gold nor stampede for Transvaal diamonds ever offered richer rewards or a greater challenge to daring and skill.

Never before had rubber prospecting been attempted on so vast a scale as that planned by Ford in his Brazilian concessions. Picture a wild, unknown land equal in area to the states of Connecticut and Rhode Island combined. Imagine fighting a way through the jungles, slashing trees and tangled undergrowth, and finally converting the wilderness into an immense, orderly farm of rubber. Here is a tract that is almost equal to the combined area of all the -rubber plantations in the world.

Under entire cultivation, yielding a thousand pounds to an acre, it produced four billion pounds of rubber a year, enough for half a billion Ford tires!

The region was perilous, almost trackless, ridden with fever and pestilence, infested with venomous reptiles and spiders and treacherous savages.

To conquer it required thousands of men, elaborate plans of campaign, and millions of dollars.

For months Ford had been carefully laying his plans.

In 1926 he sent Professor Carl Larue of the University of Michigan to make preliminary surveys of the region, which lies on the Tapajos River, with the famed River of Doubt to the west and the lingo River to the east.

The army was sent to fight the jungle ed by skilled technical men—engineers, foresters, botanists; soil experts, chemists, railway and marine experts. Every task was under-taken with scientific precision. First, settlements and supply bases were established. These were served by steamships of the, Ford fleet, which made regular trips to the district, and later by airplanes. Medical experts enforced a wide-spread campaign of sanitation to safeguard against the danger of pestilence.

In the beginning of the 20th century, when the world’s consumption of crude rubber was only 54,000 tons, most of it was still “wild rubber” from Brazil. Then the automobile entirely changed the picture. Tires required huge quantities of high quality rubber.

The “wild rubber” gathered by South American natives who slashed the jungle trees haphazard was uneconomical and of uncertain quality.

As a result, thousands of plantations covering millions of acres sprang up in later years in the Dutch and British East Indian colonies.

By 1928, the world’s consumption had increased tenfold: and of the 600,000 tons of crude rubber produced annually, at least nine tenths came from cultivated trees of the tropical East.

And of this eighty percent went into automobile tires.

Where was India in all this?

Nowhere; we were slaves!

There are about a hundred and fifty such strategic materials which build a nation. We never had the opportunity or wherewithal (we never were colonists and we never grew anything outside our own land) to acquire these industrial essentials, and so the Americans had a head start.