21 May 2007


There's a fascinating column in today's WSJ offering an unexpected glimpse of the 1940s.

Reporter Cynthia Crossen summarizes for us a book published in 1942 by Raymond F. Yates, with the title "2100 Needed Inventions." Crossen uses the book as a way to remind us of how much the world has changed.

Mr. Yates thought inventors should get to work on, for example: "a means of automatically setting pins in a bowling alley that will entirely eliminate the use of pin boys." Such machines appeared about 15 years after Yates' suggestion.

He also thought the world could use "a means by which the essence of tea or coffee can be crystallized so that it can be readily dissolved in hot water." Nestle USA announced the first instant tea only four years later.

Yates said that somebody could make a lot of money with "shaving soap that could be sprayed on the face." Right again.

There was a war on when the book was published, and his book has some military proposals. It also has something rather militaristic-sounding for the home front. "A machine gun that would fire wooden slugs from a cartridge belt for boys who like to play with war toys."

Those would be the boys who would, no doubt, have spare time since they'd no longer needed for setting up pins in the bowling alley. Upon asking for this toy, though, they'd receive the stern admonition, "you'll shoot your eye out, kid."

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Knowledge is warranted belief -- it is the body of belief that we build up because, while living in this world, we've developed good reasons for believing it. What we know, then, is what works -- and it is, necessarily, what has worked for us, each of us individually, as a first approximation. For my other blog, on the struggles for control in the corporate suites, see www.proxypartisans.blogspot.com.