Today, we learn from a game of intellectual
kinship. The University of Houston's College of
Engineering presents this series about the machines
that make our civilization run, and the people
whose ingenuity created them.
Play an odd circle game with
me. It's the "Who knew each other" game. Once you
start, you learn some remarkable things.
I'll play a round with you. I'll begin when the
English industrialist Josiah Wedgwood hired an
Evarina Wollstonecraft as governess for his
daughters. She, in turn, was the sister of Mary Wollstonecraft -- the mother
of modern feminism.
And Mary Wollstonecraft married the anarchist
writer William Godwin. He brings us back to
Wedgwood. Wedgwood's son Tom was a disciple of
Godwin and of his ideas on social reform. So was
the poet Coleridge. Coleridge and Tom were close
Those two in turn were friends of the scientist
Sir Humphry Davy. Davy
led them through experiments with laughing gas. The
experiments got rowdy enough to draw public
disapproval. Davy quit after the gas almost killed
him. But, by then, their horseplay had sown the
seeds of modern anesthesiology.
Tom Wedgwood's health began failing after that. His
brother went to an old family friend for help in
outfitting a house for ailing Tom. That friend was
James Watt, and the trail
has led us back to Josiah Wedgwood again. You see,
when Watt was young, he joined Matthew Boulton in Birmingham to
make steam engines.
But he also met with literary people in Birmingham.
Most of his life he sat with a small and very
high-powered group called the Lunar Society. But so did Boulton
-- and Wedgwood!
I'll close this circle here, though I could've gone
off in many more directions. I could have circled
into America. Benjamin
Franklin visited the Lunar Society now and
then. Member William Small had once taught math to
Thomas Jefferson in Virginia. Member Joseph
Priestly was first to isolate
oxygen, He ended his days in Pennsylvania.
So you see how we play the game. It's fascinating
on many levels. On one level it makes great gossip.
But on another, it lends a sudden insight. All at
once, the remarkable vision of these people wells
up from the chain of connection.
You can begin the game anywhere. Start with the
friendship between Mark
Twain and the electrical pioneer Nikola Tesla.
Begin with Rachmaninoff and
helicopter inventor Igor Sikorsky working
Our world isn't shaped by specialists. It's given
its form, instead, by people who see beyond the
road they walk. The greats among us often do know
each other. They become great because they're able
to gaze through another's eyes -- as well as
through their own.
I'm John Lienhard, at the University of Houston,
where we're interested in the way inventive minds