When lecturing about creativity I often ask the crowd how they know what they know – How do we really know Edison invented the lightbulb, or that Newton got hit by an apple? A common answer from audiences of my generation is the popular cartoon Schoolhouse Rock. It’s curious how we dismiss things by saying “it’s just for kids”, but what happens when those kids grow up?
I loved Schoolhouse rock as a child, and it’s probably the only reason I know what a conjunction is. But in watching a local performance of the musical based on the TV show, I found some problems with the stories that I learned, stories I researched for The Myths of Innovation.
- Newton did not get hit by an apple – at best he watched one fall in his grove decades before he completed his treatise on gravity (From the song Victim of Gravity). See The Myth of Epiphany for more about Newton.
- Robert Fulton didn’t invent the steamboat. He was, however, one of the first Americans to make a successful business of it, much like Edison and the light bulb. (From the song Mother Necessity)
- Galileo most likely did not perform the famous falling bodies experiment at Pisa (From the song Victim of Gravity).
- It’s disputed whether Franklin ever flew his famous kite, though he did have the idea (From Electricity).
- Elias Howe did not build the first working sewing machine. He was the first American to do so, but that’s not the same thing. Same for Ford and the automobile. (From the song Mother Necessity).
- Betsy Ross may not have sewn the first U.S. flag, as most claims come from her relatives. (From the song Sufferage).