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Time hails inventors of the year

| Friday, Nov. 26, 2004

Hail the brave men of space flight!

Hail the brilliant innovators who've made America great!

Hail the eccentric tinkerers and cutting-edge companies who have invented useless cool toys like robots that kick soccer balls or figured out how to implant lenses between your cornea and your iris!

Time celebrates "The Most Amazing Inventions of 2004" and puts aviation entrepreneur/hero Burt Rutan on its cover for designing and building his ingenious SpaceShipOne, Time's "Invention of the Year."

Rutan's tiny flying rocket machine won the $10 million Ansari X Prize last month by taking two people into sub-orbital space twice in two weeks -- without killing them.

Time gives Rutan his due, not only for making space travel exciting again but for jump-starting a new era of commercialized space flight and tourism that breaks the monopoly of NASA, the hapless government space bureaucracy.

Time's 36 other cool inventions and brainstorms -- everything from strapless swim goggles and motorized baby cribs to a $12 million high-tech yacht that sets world speed records -- can't compete with Rutan and his mad new business partner, Virgin founder Richard Branson.

The multi-billionaire has ordered five larger versions of Rutan's plane and by 2007 plans to be selling sub-orbital flights on Virgin Galactic to the 7,000 folks on his waiting list that can afford the $190,000 ticket.

Paying homage to inventors and creativity and explaining the cultural impact of technology and invention on our lives is nothing special for the quarterly American Heritage of Invention & Technology magazine.

Invention & Technology's winter offerings include Pittsburgh free-lancer Tim Palucka's feature on Eugene Houdry, the Frenchman who invented the process to make high-octane gas for Sun Oil and helped the Allies win World War II, and an equally long story on cotton-gin inventor Eli Whitney.

I&T also has a good interview with legendary British journalist and historian Harold Evans about his new 500-page book, "They Made America: From the Steam Engine to the Search Engine -- Two Centuries of Innovators."

Evans' tome doesn't merely profile the Edisons and Wright brothers. He also tells the story of obscure innovators such as Martha Matilda Harper, the inventor of franchising, and explains the important difference between the inventor and the innovator.

The innovator, Evans says, is the person who can put the manufacturing and marketing muscle behind an intrinsically good idea. They "turn it out for the masses -- democratize it," as Henry Ford did with the automobile, unsung Samuel Insull did for electricity and Richard Branson will soon do for private space travel.

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