Before we jump into
the usual topic of inventions, let's start with a brief history of
Valentine's Day. There were actually three men named Valentine, and
all three became martyrs.
Around 270 A.D., the emperor Claudius
banned marriage in the Roman Empire. His reasoning was that married
men were weak soldiers. But a Catholic priest named Valentine
secretly married the couples that came to him. When Claudius found
out, Valentine tried to convert him. He failed, though, and the
emperor had him imprisoned before executing him. While he was in
prison, he fell in love with the jailer's blind daughter and cured
her. Upon Valentine's departure, he gave her a farewell message that
read, "From your Valentine."
Legend has it that the middle of
February may have been chosen as Valentine's Day because it was the
mating season of birds during the Middle Ages in Europe. I guess
that clears up the misconception that Hallmark created the holiday.
Actually, Valentine's Day was created in the fifth century A.D. to
replace a pagan festival. As for Cupid, he was the son of Venus, the
Roman god of love.
Now back to our story.
Two of the most notable Valentine's Day
inventions came from Christopher Sholes and George Ferris. Since you
know what Ferris invented, we'll start with Sholes.
As you type away on your computer
keyboard, have you ever wondered why the letters are arranged that
way? Why didn't they just put them in alphabetical order?
Christopher Sholes was born on
Valentine's Day in 1819 in Danville, Pa. A two-time Wisconsin state
senator who helped found the Republican Party in Wisconsin, Sholes
was asked by President Lincoln to become customs collector for the
port of Milwaukee. Later he invented the first practical typewriter,
In the early days, people used the
two-finger "hunt and peck" method that's still popular today. The
letters of Sholes' typewriter were originally arranged in
alphabetical order, and a typewriter tended to jam when the user
typed too fast. To solve this problem, Sholes redesigned the
keyboard so that the most common letters were farther away from each
other, hoping to slow down the rate of typing and reduce the
jamming. The result is the "QWERTY" design.
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second column in this article]
The following year, Sholes sold the
rights of his typewriter to Remington, which is the same company
that makes Remington rifles. He later added the shift key so that
people could type lowercase letters as well as uppercase letters.
Mark Twain, who sometimes invested in
new inventions, was the first author to submit a typewritten
manuscript to his publisher.
As for George Ferris and his wheel,
George Washington Gale Ferris was born on Valentine's Day in 1859 in
Galesburg and moved with his family to Carson City, Nev., at age 5.
There was a second person named George Ferris who was born just two
weeks after the first one. He also moved to Carson City, but it was
much later than when the first George Ferris lived there.
Like Sholes, Ferris was also an
engineer. George built the Ferris wheel for sightseeing purposes,
and it made its debut at the Chicago Fair in 1893. It was 264 feet
tall and had 36 cars, each one seating 40 people. It carried more
than 1 million paying customers during the 19 weeks of the fair,
grossing a little more than $725,000.
A duplicate of the wheel was
constructed for the 1900 Paris Exposition, while the original wheel
was taken down and reconstructed in St. Louis for the 1904
Exposition. Two years later, it was torn down.
Ferris' wife stopped the wheel when it
reached the top for the very first time and toasted him. What a
great way to celebrate Valentine's Day! What a great way to end this
Actually, it didn't happen on
Valentine's Day. It happened in June. And this story is not quite
A few other interesting events surround
Valentine's Day. Two states, Oregon and Arizona, were added to the
union on Valentine's Day. Oregon became the 33rd state in 1859, and
Arizona became the 48th state in 1912. Two other well-known people
were born on Valentine's Day
-- Jimmy Hoffa in 1913 and Mrs. Brady herself, Florence Henderson,
And now the story is officially over.
Invention Mysteries is written each
week by Paul Niemann. He can be reached at
Paul Niemann 2004
Last week's column in LDN:
"Celebrate Black History Month with