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Short Stories of Science and Invention

A Collection of Radio Talks by
Charles F. Kettering


Weekly, from September 1942 to July 1945, Charles F. Kettering gave five-minute intermission talks about Science and Invention during the radio broadcasts of the General Motors Symphony of the Air.

Kettering invented the first automobile self-starter, and for 31 years directed a research laboratory for General Motors.

These radio talks are a fascinating legacy from the mind of a prolific inventor. The obvious anachronisms now add a historical perspective of the war-time period in which they were written.

These web pages now preserve some of the most popular stories for a new generation to read The text and art come from a General Motors booklet of selected talks. (Reprint, March 1959)

14. The Turning Wheel
A Radio Talk by Charles F. Kettering

Tank   When we think of our modern civi­lization - both in Peace and War, we must marvel at the ingenuity and complexity of the many things that make up our World of today. We hear about such things as the Electron Microscope - Radar - jet propulsion and the atom smasher, and we know of the marvelous devices that helped us win the war - the tanks, the huge bombers, subma­rines and amphibious vehicles.

     While we may think of the com­plicated nature of all this, in my judgment if we took away just one simple invention, an idea now over 4,000 years old, warfare on all fronts and a good part of the activity of our present civilization would cease almost instantly. That invention, as you may have guessed, is the wheel. You might suggest other elements such as bearings, lubrication, steel and wood which may be equally im­portant. Just who invented the wheel is not known as it is one of those natural evolutions that has come about as the result of men contribut­ing their ideas throughout thousands of years.

     This useful idea probably started when some prehistoric ancestor of ours tried to move a heavy object. He might have first put runners or skids under it and tried to drag it over the ground. And one day as he pulled it through the forest, it passed over a log which began to roll and the whole thing moved much easier. So he began to use runners and roll­ers together and gradually he used larger and larger rollers, and then sections of rollers and at last he put these on axles.


- 100 -
Sophie Germain
Gertrude Elion
Ernest Rutherford
James Chadwick
Marcel Proust
William Harvey
Johann Goethe
John Keynes
Carl Gauss
Paul Feyerabend
- 90 -
Antoine Lavoisier
Lise Meitner
Charles Babbage
Ibn Khaldun
Ralph Emerson
Robert Bunsen
Frederick Banting
Andre Ampere
Winston Churchill
- 80 -
John Locke
Bronislaw Malinowski
Thomas Huxley
Alessandro Volta
Erwin Schrodinger
Wilhelm Roentgen
Louis Pasteur
Bertrand Russell
Jean Lamarck
- 70 -
Samuel Morse
John Wheeler
Nicolaus Copernicus
Robert Fulton
Pierre Laplace
Humphry Davy
Thomas Edison
Lord Kelvin
Theodore Roosevelt
Carolus Linnaeus
- 60 -
Francis Galton
Linus Pauling
Immanuel Kant
Martin Fischer
Robert Boyle
Karl Popper
Paul Dirac
James Watson
William Shakespeare
- 50 -
Stephen Hawking
Niels Bohr
Nikola Tesla
Rachel Carson
Max Planck
Henry Adams
Richard Dawkins
Werner Heisenberg
Alfred Wegener
John Dalton
- 40 -
Pierre Fermat
Edward Wilson
Johannes Kepler
Gustave Eiffel
Giordano Bruno
JJ Thomson
Thomas Kuhn
Leonardo DaVinci
David Hume
- 30 -
Andreas Vesalius
Rudolf Virchow
Richard Feynman
James Hutton
Alexander Fleming
Emile Durkheim
Benjamin Franklin
Robert Oppenheimer
Robert Hooke
Charles Kettering
- 20 -
Carl Sagan
James Maxwell
Marie Curie
Rene Descartes
Francis Crick
Michael Faraday
Srinivasa Ramanujan
Francis Bacon
Galileo Galilei
- 10 -
John Watson
Rosalind Franklin
Michio Kaku
Isaac Asimov
Charles Darwin
Sigmund Freud
Albert Einstein
Florence Nightingale
Isaac Newton

by Ian Ellis
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