America was not discovered, it was invented. Its name was invented; its machines were invented; its way of life was invented. America sprang from the minds of that unlikely breed of people who were able to pack up a few belongings and step into a great unknown. That step into the expanse of a new continent unleashed astonishing creative energy. America was an adventure of the mind. The land seemed to reach into infinity, and minds opened to fill it. The colonists had limited recourse to the European intellectual mainstream. They were poorly equipped, but they were freedom-driven and freedom-shaped. They were free of method and free of tradition. They were free to create a new life. Colonial technology was so molded by the imperative to be free that it is hard to talk about it without being drawn into that infectious drive. You cannot just report it; you have to celebrate it. As I look back at the early episodes of The Engines of Our Ingenuity upon which this chapter is based, it is clear that I too was drawn in. My first impulse in reworking this material for print was to tone it down and mute my enthusiasm. In the end I did not do so. History gives us too few moments with such verve. Why not go back and be the irrepressible child that America itself once was? The need to rediscover the childhood of our nation is great. We are drifting into a new sobriety. It was in my generation that we first lost a war. We no longer take our leadership in productivity for granted. We have found that we have a capacity for failure, and that we do not always emerge as the good guys. We have deconstructed our heroes until they seem to be heroes no more. But they were heroes. Any chapter on colonial technology inevitably yields up the names of Jefferson (no mean inventor himself), Fulton (with his thumb in so many pies), and the towering figure of Benjamin Franklin. These people appear here not because they were the only heroes we had, but because they were true paragons of colonial creativity.
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