Thursday, November 15, 2012

On Early Progressivism in America

On Early Progressivism in America: Progressivism, as a political ideology which developed at the turn of the twentieth century, contained both liberal and conservative elements. Aside from its formal connection to Theodore Roosevelt and the short-lived Progressive Party in the 1912 presidential election, progressivism can be defined as a political ideology of reform that intended to make American society more economically and politically fair. At times, however, there were a variety of unintended consequences which emanated from certain progressive reforms. For example, prohibiting the manufacture and sale of alcohol with the Eighteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1920 gave rise to a massive black market controlled by mafiosos like Enoch Johnson and Al Capone. Such a reform, while deemed progressive at the time, was quite regressive in hindsight, as it instigated a high degree of violence. This regressive instinct was also present in the 1916 legislation that created the National Park Service (NPS), which like other environmental initiatives, was partly driven by an underlying elitism. What good were the aesthetics of NPS conservation lands for the urban working classes and underprivileged racial minorities who had limited opportunities to enjoy them?

Thursday, November 1, 2012

The Genius of Thomas Edison

The Genius of Thomas Edison: For many historians, Edison's greatest invention was himself. Andre Millard was one such historian who concluded that Edison was just as much a marketing guru as inventor. In fact, Edison's career signified the paradigm shift in American business history from machine-shop craftsmanship to large-scale industrial research. Since Edison was one of America's first superstar inventors, a cult of personality developed around him, which helped foster a kind of Edisonian mythology. He became known as "The Wizard of Menlo Park" after establishing his laboratory in New Jersey following the sale of his quadruplex telegraph to Western Union in 1874. Essentially, Edison's laboratory became an idea factory where trial and error reigned supreme over any systematic methodology. His famous statement that "Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration" not only diminished the role of genius in the innovation process, but also captured two basic values cherished by most Americans: hard work and self-determination. Even after securing around 1,100 patents during his career, Edison always emphasized the notion of making life more livable. An example of this idea was evident in his 1879 remark that "We will make electricity so cheap that only the rich will burn candles."