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Some inventors don't need a last name

By Paul Niemann

[MARCH 3, 2005]  Forget about Madonna, Cher and Fabio for a second.

That was easy enough.

Since this column is always about inventors and their inventions, we take a look at three of the most famous and successful one-named inventors of the pre-modern era.

When it comes to inventors who don't need to use their last names, even Tom (Edison), Ben (Franklin) and Alexander (Bell) needed a surname. But Archimedes, Galileo and Leonardo needed only their first names.

Greek mathematician and inventor Archimedes (287-212 B.C.) was born in the city-state of Syracuse and educated in Alexandria, Egypt. He invented the hydraulic screw, also known as -- all together now -- the Archimedes screw. It was used in pumping water from the Nile River. Another one of his inventions, the worm gear, is still in use today. He also invented the world's first winch with a system of ropes and pulleys, which he used to move a ship while it was docked on land.

Wartime inventions go all the way back to Archimedes' era, and it was Archimedes who invented the catapult. Known more as a mathematician than an inventor, he also calculated the value of pi. He also had a couple of inventor colleagues who were known by just their first names: Ctesibius and Hero.

If you've ever wondered where the word "eureka" comes from or what it means, it was Archimedes who coined this word. He did so when he discovered the displacement of water while taking a bath one day. He sprang up out of the tub and ran through the streets naked yelling "eureka." The word literally means "I've found it."

When the Romans invaded Archimedes' hometown in 212 B.C., the Roman ruler ordered that Archimedes be left alone. One of the soldiers didn't recognize him, though, and killed him with his sword.

Galileo (1564-1642) was an Italian mathematician, astronomer, and physicist. He never ran through the streets yelling "eureka," but he did invent the thermometer in 1593. But he did not invent the device for which he is most famously known -- the telescope. That was invented by optician Hans Lippershey, who needed two names.

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Galileo did make improvements to the telescope, but his only lasting improvement is the technology used in opera glasses. Also, at age 20, he discovered "the law of the pendulum," which he used to suggest using a pendulum to time the pulse rate of medical patients.

It's been said that the world doesn't want an invention that's 15 years ahead of its time but rather one that is 15 minutes ahead of its time. Left-handed inventor Leonardo da Vinci created new inventions as much as 400 years ahead of their time. For example, he designed the submarine before Cornelius Van Drebbel invented it in 1620; he designed the world's first bicycle 200 years before Bermany's Baron Karl von Drais invented it in 1817; and he designed the first modern scissors nearly 300 years before Louise Austin invented them in 1893.

In the world of aviation, he designed his version of what an airplane should look like nearly 300 years before the Wright brothers invented their version in 1903. He also designed his version of a parachute nearly 300 years before the Baldwin brothers and Stefan Banic both invented their own versions of it in the early 1900s.

He designed a rocket with an engine 400 years before the first rocket was invented, and he designed a helicopter that is believed to have inspired Igor Sikorsky, the inventor of the modern helicopter, to study helicopter design.

In case you were wondering, Galileo's last name was Galilei. It remains unknown what Archimedes' last name was, or even if he had one. Or maybe "Archimedes" was his last name.

[Paul Niemann]

Paul Niemann is the author of Invention Mysteries. He can be reached at niemann7@aol.com.

Copyright Paul Niemann 2005


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