Exploring the History of Great Ideas with Make: Inventions

Science Workshop
Exploring the History of Great Ideas with Make: Inventions


In 2013, Make: contributor and friend Steve Hoefer created a wonderful, but short-lived video series, called Make: Inventions. The idea was to get hands-on with the history of inventions by looking at patents and patent drawings and attempting to build the devices based on these documents and the historical record.

Steve did a really wonderful job of establishing the problem the device was designed to address, what some of the design trade-offs were, the story behind the patented invention itself, and what the patent documents revealed about the design (or didn’t). From there, he would detail his version of the build and then discuss how and why it worked, issues he discovered, how he might do it better, and so. It was a very well put together program and Steve obviously put a ton of work into it.

I really enjoyed the series the first time around and enjoyed re-watching it in putting together this piece. I hope you enjoy it, too.

The Etch A Sketch

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In his first episode of Make: Inventions, Steve takes a look at the Etch A Sketch, the enduring kids toy invented by Andre Cassagnes in the late 1950s.

Pin Tumbler Lock

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In this episode, Steve looks at the pin tumbler lock, the most popular and enduring lock design of the last 150 years. Along the way, he shows how he built a working, transparent model to reveal the lock’s workings.

Building Morse’s First Telegraph

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On this Make: Inventions, Steve builds Morse’s original automated transmitter as well as a gravity-driven receiver that records Morse-coded message to paper.

Can Openers

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In this installment of the series, Steve examines the history of the can opener and constructs three different designs. Then he tests each one out to see how they fare.

The Airbag

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In this episode of Make: Inventions, Steve does his level best to fashion an airbag system that can detect a crash and deploy itself safely in 1/20th of a second. It’s as difficult as that sounds.

The Safety Elevator

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IFor this Make: Inventions episode, Steve builds an elevator and reenacts the death-defying stunt that Elisha Otis performed at the 1854 World’s Fair.

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Gareth Branwyn is a freelance writer and the former Editorial Director of Maker Media. He is the author or editor of over a dozen books on technology, DIY, and geek culture. He is currently a contributor to Boing Boing, Wink Books, and Wink Fun. His free weekly-ish maker tips newsletter can be found at garstipsandtools.com.

View more articles by Gareth Branwyn


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