Review: A new book on rural America avoids the clichés. Why that’s only mostly a good thing
When people talk of the American Rust Belt, they invariably invoke images of shabby factories closed by imports, rural poverty and a vanishing middle class that has fled to the suburbs.
Yet this region, in which manufacturing jobs are increasingly offshoring to low-wage countries like China, is also home to some of America’s greatest creativity. From the rural communities where Thomas Edison and his associates came to work and where they made and patented many of their inventions, to the cities where Google was started, and to the Silicon Valley companies of which Apple CEO Tim Cook himself is a proud part, the life and work of America’s rural heartland have much to offer in the way of innovation.
At the center of that life is the life and work of Thomas Edison, the father of the light bulb, and his family. In this, his father’s story is as much a part of the story as the people who lived it.
Edison wasn’t the first American to come to the shores of the Middle East and the land of the Ottoman Turks, but in the early years of the 19th century, he became the most important. As a young man in 1799, his father, Richard, had built a small electric battery business in the small Ohio river town of Wheeling, and then in 1813 created the world’s first electric light bulb by taking an arc welding torch and turning it into an arc that produced light by heating a glass bulb filled with sulfur.
The device did not create the technology of the electric light bulb, which was invented a year later by Charles Wheatstone and Robert Goddard at the Royal Institution in England, as many of us know. But it did make possible the new kind of lighting technology Edison and his colleagues would soon be using in the new electric light bulbs that led to the birth of the electric light bulb.
Edison’s first efforts