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Book Notes

March 2023
1min read

When Horatio Alger had one of his characters say, “I was lucky enough to invent a machine, which has brought me in a great deal of money” (“Ten Books That Shaped the American Character”), he certainly struck a responsive chord in many a youngster at the turn of the century.

New inventions were indeed creating fortunes, and it was the ambition of all of us to “get a patent” and make ourselves rich, rich, rich. It mattered little what the patent was for, and nobody had any idea that it was not the product but the process that was patented, nor did we have the slightest idea how anything was manufactured or distributed. All that mattered was to invent something and get that almighty patent. Even “Patent Applied For,” which appeared on many articles, would have been acceptable.

Whenever two or three of us got together to make our own telegraph set from a spool of wire wound around a nail and activated by a bent key cut from a tin can, we would discuss how, someday, we would make a machine that could transmit without wires. Or send pictures, or “somp’n like that, you know.”

We were aided and abetted in all these dreams by the articles and stories in The American Boy and Youth’s Companion . Clarence Budington Kelland’s creations, such as Mark Tidd, the fat kid who did all sorts of things to gain fame and fortune, and others of his ilk, were our heroes. Then there were the Rover Boys and Tom Swift, who actually went out and invented all sorts of highly remunerative things.

I wonder what the kids who break sophisticated codes with their little home computers would think of those unsophisticated magazines and books. But, of course, our new kids really are doing just what we dreamed of accomplishing.

We hope you enjoy our work.

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