Discount Airline

As the airline market developed, the US found it necessary to regulate interstate air transport as a “public utility.” Significantly, the “Civil Aeronautics Board” (CAB) regulated fares, routes, and schedules.

The benefit of regulation was predictability and widespread routes. For example, a carrier that wanted to fly from New York to Chicago might be required to open three far less profitable routes to lesser-demand airports. Conversely, traveler to major hubs subsidized the lesser-used routes through higher ticket prices.

Industry incumbent airlines favored regulation because it kept competition at bay. Indeed, the interstate airlines of the day needn’t worry about competition between one another nor from a startup.

Eventually, entrepreneur Kenny Friedkin realized California alone was a large enough market to support a small airline. Because his routes did not cross state boundaries, his airline was exempt from CAB regulation and free to set their own routes and rates.

Pacific Southwest Airlines

In 1949, Friedkin launched Pacific Southwest Airlines. They flew a Douglas DC-3 and operated out of a refitted WWII surplus latrine. The sole route was between San Diego and Burbank. However, by 1955, they upgraded to two DC-4’s, painting them to look like DC-6’s. Pacific Southwest added San Francisco and, later, Sacramento and San Jose. In time, they steadily increased the number of flights.

Friedkin liked to have fun, both in the offices and in the air. His motto was “The World’s Friendliest Airline.” He painted smiles on the nose-cones of his planes and encouraged his flight staff to joke with passengers. Unfortunately, Friedkin died of a stroke in 1962 leaving his son, a pilot, as the owner of the business. They stumbled for years, attempted to diversify into foreign markets like radio, and suffered a fatal crash in 1978. In 1988, Pacific Southwest sold to the airline that became USAir.

Pacific Southwest Flight Attendant Goofing Around

Southwest Airlines

Herb Kelleher noticed Pacific Southwest and decided to create a similar airline in Texas. In 1967, Kelleher launched Air Southwest later renamed to Southwest Airlines. Kelleher’s Southwest initially flew between Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio.

In 1971, the US began to deregulate airlines, enabling competition across state lines. Kelleher jumped on the opportunity and became the first national discount airline in the US. Today, Southwest remains the largest discount US airline. Discounting and deregulation vastly lowered the cost of airfare, yet small markets are still served. Some of the prior regulated airlines failed, most notably Pan American World Airways (Pan Am). However, their failure is likely more attributable to financial shenanigans than deregulation or failure to compete in their respective markets.

Bullet Trains

Bullet trains are capable of travel at 300kph (186mph). They cost less to operate than aircraft and have a lower environmental impact.

Japan invented bullet trains and started acquiring land for their super-fast train in the 1930s, before WWII. In 1959, they broke ground for the first bullet train, or Shinkansen as they’re called in Japan. On Oct. 1, 1964, the first bullet train opened for traffic at 6 AM from Tokyo to Osaka. The train was shown to the world in time for the summer Olympic Games in Tokyo that year.  

By 1975, the Sanyo Shinkansen connected Osaka and Fukuoka. The 611km trip takes about five hours, one-third less than the time required to travel by car assuming no traffic.

Over time, Japan added many lines. Trains featured multi-class service and dining cars.

In 1981, France unveiled the TGV bullet train system and the Inter-City Express opened in Germany in 1991. China has since built countless bullet trains. The most technologically challenging train is the Eurostar, which runs under the English Channel. In 2019, the 50.45 km. (31.4 mi.) remains the longest undersea tunnel in the world. It took six years to complete and cost £4.65 billion (about £12 billion in 2019). The American Society of Civil Engineers label the train and tunnel one of the “Seven Wonders of the Modern World.”


Sonography is the process of using sound waves as an imaging device, typically for medical purposes.


Indeed, the principles of sonography come from the natural world. For example, bats and whales are mammals that use sound waves for navigation. In 1794, after performing medical studies on bats, Lazzaro Spallanzani gained a basic understanding of ultrasound physics.

In 1880, French brothers Jacques and Pierre Curie discovered piezoelectricity. Simplifying, piezoelectricity is an electric current generated by deforming certain crystals. For example, flint-less cigarette lighters and inkjet printers both utilize the piezo effect. Getting to the point, piezoelectricity enables ultrasound transducers that emit and receive soundwaves.

On April 14, 1912, the RMS Titanic famously struck an iceberg and sank, killing about 1,500 people. Accordingly, government agencies around the world called for some method to better detect icebergs. Eventually, In 1914, Paul Langevin built on the work of Reginald Fessenden (of AM radio) to invent the first ultrasound transducer aimed at icebergs. His machine detected icebergs up to about two miles away but had no directional capability. To clarify, it could detect there was an iceberg somewhere close but not in which direction.

Ultrasound as Weaponry

The use of submarines in World War I increased the need for directional ultrasound in water. Eventually, Langevin and Constantin Chilowsky created a high-frequency ultrasound machine with directional capabilities. On April 23, 1916, their “hydrophone” was used to sink a German U-boat.

Medical Imaging

Eventually, in 1942, Austrian Neurologist Karl Dussik used sonography to detect brain tumors. Dussik used a method where sound waves were beamed towards the head of a patient partially submerged in water and the resulting echo recorded on heat-sensitive paper. Specifically, this became the first ultrasound image. Eventually, George Lewig used ultrasounds to detect gallstones and kidney stones.

Progress continued with physicians and engineers using ultrasound to measure various fluid-based organs. Most notable are studies in cardiology and obstetrics. By the 1970s, Doppler and color Doppler ultrasound imaging became commonplace. In the 1980s, Kazunori Baba of Japan developed 3D ultrasound.

By the 1990s, with the help of computers, real-time 3D ultrasound enabled surgeons to see inside a body during biopsies. Today, ultrasound machines are common, especially in obstetrics. Unlike radiation-based imaging devices, the ultrasound machines are entirely harmless.

Supersonic Flight

On Tuesday, October 14, 1947, a B-29 bomber took off in the Mojave Desert in California. Instead of a bomb, it carried another plane.

Chuck Yeager & the X-1

The Bell X-1 “research vehicle” was a rocket fired aircraft. As the bomber climbed, test pilot Capt. Charles E. “Chuck” Yeager, climbed into the rocket aircraft. At 20,000 feet (6100 meters) the bomber released the new aircraft and Yeager.

Yeager fired the rocket and his small aircraft experienced 6000 pounds of thrust, quickly climbing. At Mach .85, Yeager temporarily stopped accelerating because the aircraft was untested at that speed. No wind tunnel could stream air that fast. He resumed acceleration and, at 40,000 feet, the aircraft passed the speed of sound.

Yeager brought the aircraft to Mach 1.06, a speed faster than any person or machine ever traveled before. Engineers were unsure of what might happen. Some predicted a loss of control or even a disintegration of the aircraft, but it flew straight and steady. Soon enough, Yeager slowed down and landed. That flight heralded the start of the supersonic era.

Engineering Matters

Supersonic flight wasn’t simply a matter of flying continually faster. Fluid dynamics function differently at speeds above the speed of sound. Isaac Newton first published a good guess about the speed of sound by measuring the difference between a flash of light from a cannon at a set distance and the resulting sound. Future scientists continued refining both the speed of sound and also how various properties acted above and below the speed of sound.

The scientists concern was two-fold. First, because air flows over a wing at slightly higher speed than under it, they worried these differences could tear a wing apart as an aircraft approached supersonic speeds. Secondly, crossing the speed of sound creates an extremely thin but strong shock wave that could also damage the aircraft.

Their easiest task was creating a rocket pushing an aircraft beyond the speed of sound. A more difficult task involved keeping the aircraft intact and under control of a pilot.

John Stack & NACA

Researcher John Stack did much of the research into shock waves and supersonic flight during the 1930s. The National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA, later renamed NASA) sponsored the research. However, the agency initially declined to fund for a supersonic airplane.

During WWII, NACA remained underwhelmed at the thought of diverting resources for a supersonic aircraft. However, by 1943 they greenlighted limited research to “design features of a transonic airplane could not hurt anyone, providing they did not distract from more pressing business.”

Shortening an extremely long story, Stack worked with Kotcher to build the X-1.

Tri-Motor Airplane

The Ford Tri-Motor airplane popularized the notion of low-cost, reliable, rugged, and serviceable planes. Before the Ford Tri-Motor, there were countless aircraft, but many were proprietary with difficult-to-service parts that frequently broke down.

Along with 20 other wealthy individuals, Ford and his son Edsel funded a new airplane company by designer William Bushnell Stout. In 1925, Ford bought the company. His engineers worked to improve the design, making the plane inexpensive, study, and reliable. Furthermore, they focused on passenger comfort, a notion taken from the auto business that existing plane manufacturers overlooked until that time.

When finished, the plane had three propellers and held a pilot, co-pilot, flight attendant, and 8-9 passengers. Additionally, by removing the seats the plane could work as a cargo carrier.

The plane was revolutionary in that during a time everybody was trying to produce revolutionary planes, Ford aimed for the ordinary. He eliminated as much as he could. For example, pilots looked out the windows to check gauges on the engines rather than spending more money running wires inside the plane.

The earliest commercial transcontinental air transport relied on Ford’s tri-motor planes. Pan American Airlines, the then largest and best-run airline in the world, strongly preferred the planes.

Ford produced only about 200 planes. Eventually, Boeing picked up the concept of simplicity. They produced the Boing 247, a superior aircraft that also relied on simplicity and standardized parts. Ford eventually lost interest in this specific business and shuttered the company, though the ideas he pioneered remain in use. However, during WWII, Ford factories produced airplanes for the war.

Panama Canal

The 80 km. (50 mi.) long Panama Canal connects the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, avoiding the need to sail around South America.


Unquestionably, the French were stoked after their completion of the Suez Canal. Given that the project took 3800 years from start to finish their enthusiasm is understandable. Subsequently, they decided to undertake a canal between the Pacific and Atlantic oceans through Panama.

Count Ferdinand de Lesseps broke ground on a sea-level canal in Panama in 1880. Soon he quickly realized the sea levels are too far apart and changed his mind to a lock-and-dam system that raises and lowers ships. Nevertheless, constant rain and landslides made the work difficult. Straightaway, his construction crew kept contracting malaria and yellow fever. Finally, in 1888, he gave up and the French left.

Eventually, in 1902, US President Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt purchased the French work for $40 million. The US needed a faster sea route between the east and rapidly developing west coast.

At the time, Panama was Columbian territory and the Columbians refused to allow the Americans rights to the canal. Rather than negotiate, the US arranged for an overthrow of the government and negotiated a lifetime lease with the new puppet regime.

Chief engineer John Wallace started work May 4, 1904, and faced the same problems as the French. Plus, the French had fallen into disrepair by then due to jungle weather. He quit after a year.

Engineer John Stevens

Railroad engineer John Stevens took over in July 1905 and realized building a canal wasn’t all that different than building a railroad. He solved malaria and yellow fever by hiring West Indian and local laborers, who knew how to live in the jungle. Stevens pivoted to railroad equipment rather than proprietary canal making equipment. Consequently, Stevens quickly realized a lock-and-dam system would require a lot of cement, a positive attribute to help offset the landslides.

Dr. William Gorgas embraced the then-new idea that mosquitos carried deadly diseases. He focused on fumigation and eliminating pools of stagnant water, vastly decreasing the mosquito population. Eventually, by November 1905, yellow fever cases ceased and malaria cases continuously declined for the next decade.

Engineer George Goethals

In November 1906 construction was on-schedule and on-budget when Stevens suddenly quit. To this day nobody knows why. President Roosevelt replaced him with Army Corps engineer George Goethals, granting him dictatorial-like powers. Goethals quashed a work strike.

By 1909 the crews were building locks to guide ships to an enormous man-made lake in the middle of Panama. In October 1913 President Wilson detonated the last dynamite blast via a telegraph in the oval office, flooding the last dry part of the canal.

The canal officially opened August 15, 1914. At a final price of $350 million, it was the most expensive construction project in US history and arguably in world history.

From start to finish, about 56,000 workers worked on the canal. The project had a fatality rate of about 10%, about four times the fatality rate for soldiers fighting WWI. On December 31, 1999, the US gifted the canal to Panama.

Windshield Wiper

Windshield wipers are a vital component of a car.

Inclusion Criteria

However, countless other components in cars are also important. Excluding the vast majority of auto components from innowiki is a purposeful decision. Undoubtedly, these components are oftentimes enormous markets. However, they do not teach us about anything especially important. They are components in a larger machine.

Accordingly, we’ve tried to separate cases from the meaning behind the cases we make a special exception for windshield wipers. They illustrate the difficulty of personally profiting from one’s work, even after successful commercialization.

Particularly in the case of windshield wipers, auto companies refused to pay, declaring the invention was “obvious” after-the-fact. Different patent offices around the world carry differing definitions of “obviousness” creating a slippery slope. Undeniably, countless inventions intuitively feel obvious after-the-fact. And, arguably, countless innovators were lucky with timing. To read more, switch over to the analytical part of the site.

Windshield Wiper Inventors

All three major windshield-wiper inventors had their patents blatantly infringed.

Noticing that it was difficult to see, Mary Anderson realized the need to keep windshields dry in the rain. Subsequently, she invented a hand crank to wipe the water off auto windshields. She hired an engineering firm to perfect the device and patented it in 1903. However, nobody purchased nor licensed the patents.

Charlotte Bridgwood invented and patented the automatic electric wiper in 1917; nobody paid her either.

Robert Kearns invented and patented the variable speed wiper in 1969. Nobody paid him either until he engaged in a prolonged series of lawsuits and prevailed against Ford ($10.1M), Chrysler ($18.7M initially – $30M in final verdict after $10M in legal fees).

Kearns served as his own lawyer for much of the litigation though at least four firms he hired throughout quit, saying he was too difficult to work with. He lost cases against GM, Mercedes, and Japanese companies on technicalities usually related to filing deadlines. The 2008 movie Flash of Genius is about Kearns and his legal battles.

Heavy-Duty DC Motor / Trolley / Subway

Faraday proved an electric motor was possible but, like his many inventions, neither scaled the idea up nor commercialized it. Voltaic piles at that time were the sole source of electricity. Because they produced little electricity high-power motors seemed pointless.


The new field of electricity interested Sprague, a Navy officer. While serving in the Navy, Sprague invented a new type of dynamo generator and installed it on his ship, the USS Lancaster, powering an electric call system.

In 1883, Sprague resigned his Naval commission and joined Edison. He did well working for Edison, especially demonstrating how mathematical modeling can be used in place of some real-world experimentation. This reduced the time and cost of building Edison’s electric plant.

Sprague’s real interest was in electric motors. Noting the large and filthy steam-engines of the day, he imagined a world where heavy-duty electric motors ran everything from streetcars to factories. Edison was the boss and his interest was in lighting, not motors. When Sprague suggested motors, Edison shrugged him off. Rather than arguing, Sprague quit and formed the Sprague Electric Railway & Motor Company.

A New Motor

Sprague quickly innovated two major electrical components. First was a high-power electric motor strong enough to move streetcars or other heavy objects. Second came a regenerative braking system where the brakes act as a generator, returning power back to the grid. The combination enabled streetcars, elevators, subways, and about a century later hybrid cars.

Soon, Sprague’s motors powered streetcars powerful enough to climb the hills of Richmond, Virginia, or pull cables hoisting streetcars up the hills of San Francisco. By 1889, Sprague engines powered 110 “electric railways.” It wouldn’t be long until people realized that, due to no exhaust, the electric trains are suitable for underground use. Tunnels were bored and streets opened to dig out space for underground electric trains.

Sprague also tried convincing long-distance train operators that electricity is a better option than coal but, at the time, the motors were not strong enough. Eventually, a half century later, trains converted from coal to electric motors powered by diesel generators.

Sprague created brush-based DC motors. Eventually, Nicola Tesla would invent the brushless AC motor. However, to this day, the New York City subway and countless others run on DC electricity rather than the easier to manage AC. To this day, Parisian subway trains are referred as “les rames Sprague” (Sprogue trains).


After engineering a buggy that runs on four wheels it didn’t take long to realize a motorized bicycle would work well. Motorcycles are more efficient than cars: they use less fuel and take less space. However, they’re more dangerous than cars, offering far less protection in the event of a crash. They’re also fun.

In 1885, Gottlieb Daimler and Wilhelm Maybach created the first motorcycle, the Daimler Petroleum Reitwagen. Earlier steam-powered motorcycles existed but, like steam-powered cars, they never worked well. Daimler and Maybach’s bike is the first internal combustion engine motorcycle.

The motorcycle itself looks like a somebody bolted an engine to a bicycle. It is large, clunky, and uses metal rather than pneumatic tires. People sat on a leather harness on top of the engine with no provision to dissipate the heat. It seems unlikely anybody actually drove the motorcycle. “The first motorcycle looks like an instrument of torture,” wrote motorcycle journalist Melissa Holbrook Pierson.

The Butler Petrol Cycle is the first production motorcycle. It had a liquid-cooled engine that drove a rear-wheel and pneumatic tires. The Butler sounds like a usable bike except it did not include brakes. Butler failed to find investors, possibly due to their fate after getting the bike up to speed and finding no practical way to stop it.

Daimler’s primary interest in motorcycles focused more on the miniaturization of engines with motorcycles being an obvious use.

Towards the late 1800s, countless bicycle companies tried adding motors to their bikes, some with more success than others. Eventually, dedicated motorcycle companies were established. Triumph Motorcycles began production in 1898, Norton in 1902, Indian in 1901, and Harley Davidson in 1903. Triumph and Harley Davidson sold countless bikes to the army during WWI.


Supertanker ships transport enormous amounts of oil.

They were invented by Ludvig and Robert Nobel, brothers of Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite who founded and funded the Nobel Prize.

“Dy-na-mite!” said Ludvig and Robert Nobel’s brother, Alfred, when they shared their invention, an enormous ship to move oil.

OK, we’re 99.99% sure that didn’t happen. But the Nobel brothers certainly had an interest in the exploitation of natural resources.

Supertankers make the modern world possible by moving oil from where it’s plentiful to where it isn’t. The early ones were dangerous, with just one hull filled with explosive and filthy oil.

In one early accident, the oil caught fire and burnt half the crew alive. For example, in 1989 the Exxon Valdez supertanker ran aground and spilled 10.8 million US gallons (about 41 million liters) of oil into a pristine wildlife sanctuary.

Despite the dangers, tankers are necessary. They continually evolved in size and scope. Today, the largest supertanker is 450 meters long and 25 meters wide, an entire kilometer in diameter.

Besides tankers that carry oil, there are newer ships that carry other natural resources. Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) tankers carry natural gas turned into a liquid, but still stem from the same basic idea of enormous specialized ships to move natural resources.