Greatest Innovator -- Dec. 12, 2004

A weekly feature on This Week.


Who's the greatest innovator in American history? PBS ran a contest to accompany the series and book, "They Made America." Author Harry Evans announced the winner on "This Week."

"America became the most prosperous country in the world because its innovators kept on coming with big new ideas. … There is a danger we are losing our edge now, but it is the nature of innovation to take us by surprise.

"[In an old] photograph, one of [the] workmen is an innovative genius of the first order. Imagine you were hiring. Could you pick him out?

"[Henry Ford, who was in the picture,] was a foreman in a power plant. But he went on to build and race cars, and he went on to put "Mr. and Mrs. Everyman America" on wheels with his Model T.

"So who has made the biggest difference? On their Web site, the folks who created the 'They Made America' series on public TV solicited votes for a real American idol -- the one who has made the biggest difference to our lives. It was a knockout tournament, NCAA style, with 32 head-to-head contests. Three hundred thousand people came to the Website.

"Ida Rosenthal, who gave us the bra, and Levi Strauss, blue jeans, were knocked out in the first round to the annoyance of some. In the final eight: Henry Ford; Charles Drew, the black doctor who invented the blood bank; Samuel Morse, inventor of the telegraph, annihilating time and distance; Malcom Maclean who invented container shipping; Edwin Drake, the pioneer of drilling for oil; Gary Kildall, the Mozart of code who invented the operating system for personal computers; the Wright brothers, a couple of bicycle mechanics who flew us into the unimaginable future; and Thomas Edison, who lit up the world.

"The number one real American idol? Edison [won] with 79 percent of the vote. Ford was second with 21 percent.

"American innovation is indeed challenged as never before. Now, nearly half of U.S. patents are won by foreigners. So, where are our new Tom Edisons?"


The Tonight Show with Jay Leno:

Leno: "Today in Kuwait, [Secretary of Defense] Donald Rumsfeld held a question-and-answer session with soldiers on their way to Iraq. One solider asked why a lot of their vehicles still don't have the proper armor, and Rumsfeld said, 'You go to war with the Army you have, not the Army you wish for.' And then he said, 'Besides, armor doesn't always protect you.' And then he got in his armored car and he left."

Jimmy Kimmel Live:

Kimmel: "It's been a tough week for Rumsfeld, but through it all one thing he has not lost is his sense of humor."

["Rumsfeld" logo on screen, in the pattern of "Seinfeld" logo]

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld: "I don't know what the facts are. But somebody's certainly going to sit there with him and find out what he knows that they may not know, and make sure he knows what they know that he may not know."

Saturday Night Live:

Impersonated soldier 1: "Secretary Rumsfeld, our troops have been in Iraq for three years and our vehicles don't have armored plating, so we're digging though landfills for pieces of scrap metal. My question is, Why aren't resources like armored plating readily available?"

Rumsfeld impersonator: "That's a fair question. And I suppose my answer would be that in any war there are going to be shortages of equipment. That's simply the nature of war -- especially a war as poorly planned as this one. In fact, I would suspect your complaint is a common one. Who else here is short of equipment?"

Impersonated soldier 2: "Our unit has almost no communications gear."

Rumsfeld impersonator: "You, sir."

Impersonated soldier 3: "We need night vision goggles."

Rumsfeld impersonator: "Yes."

Impersonated soldier 4, in underpants: "Sir, we still don't have any pants."