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writing for godot

US, the book to make the country for US, part 3

Written by Tom Cantlon   
Friday, 26 February 2021 11:27

This is a chapter in the book:


Everything is Done By US

We Can Make it For US

by Tom Cantlon


The list of links to chapters can be found at:


The previous installment described how everything that's made, even things we can't imagine making, like microscopic electronics and computer chips, did not come from magical companies but had to start literally from the hands of some of US. Now, how that same idea applies to the companies themselves.


Big companies from garages

It's not just technologies that sometimes seem magical; it's also the huge corporations we are impressed with. But those companies started from US, grew big by our work, and continue all they do today thanks to US. Following are just a few sample stories. The link for some of these stories was found looking for sources on Wikipedia, which is entirely appropriate since it is a volunteer, collaborative effort created by some of US.

Hewlett-Packard was started by Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard in a garage, literally. They were two electrical engineers in Palo Alto, before the area had any special claim on the electronics industry. It was 1938 and they rented a garage and started making electronic products. It's ironic that they started off with so little that between them they didn't even have a garage to use, they had to rent one. Making electronic products was fairly easy to do then since you could hand wire circuits with vacuum tubes. It was their own inventiveness that gave them a leg up to succeed. A common piece of equipment often needed for engineering work was being sold by competitors for around $200 and didn't even work that well. Hewlett and Packard came up with a clever way to make one that was cheaper and worked better.

An early customer for the product was Walt Disney Productions. Disney was just distributing its ground-breaking Fantasia movie and was installing its own new sound system in theaters to make it an even more impressive event, and needed the product that Hewlett and Packard were making.

HP, as it came to be known, eventually grew into one of the largest and most innovative companies in electronics in the world.

Speaking of Disney, Roy Disney and Walt Disney started making home-made animated movies in a garage. They didn't even own the garage (much like Hewlett and Packard); it was their uncle's. Many kids still today like making their own movies with animation on paper or with stop-action toys. The Disneys were serious about it though. Within a few months they had a contract with Universal Studios to buy their animated films.

You likely know the story of Apple Computer. It was Steve Wozniak who was the initial technical driver of it, who designed its first computer. He got together with Steve Jobs, and they started the business in the garage of Jobs parents.

Amazon started a little better off. Jeff Bezos had already been a high executive in a finance company but launched off on his own in his garage, again, to start an online bookstore. Like so many tiny startups, there wasn't an actual office, so for business meetings he had to meet people at local coffee shops and, ironically, bookstores.

Google is the same thing. A couple of guys, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, had a business idea and a rented garage.

It's not all high tech though. Mattel, the toy company, started from a couple who were making picture frames at home. They decided to put some of the excess material to use to make dollhouse furniture. It progressed into all sorts of other toys from there.

Whole Foods Groceries started from a couple, John Mackey and Rene Lawson Hardy, opening a tiny store in Austin. Things were so tight that for a while they had to live in the store because they couldn't afford a place to live. Dell Computers, one of the biggest computer manufacturers in the world, was started by Michael Dell out of his college dorm room. Starbucks was started on a tiny budget by three college teachers opening one little store to sell coffee beans. EBay was created by Pierre Omidyar setting up the site on his computer in his living room. Mark Zuckerberg famously started Facebook on his computer in his college dorm room. Ben & Jerry's ice cream started in a converted gas station in Vermont. Subway Sandwiches started with two guys, Peter Buck and Fred Deluca, a tiny budget, and one store in Connecticut.

You might know the story of McDonalds. That it was started by the McDonald brothers as a little burger drive-thru. They decided to sell franchises and had a few going when Ray Kroc came along and liked the idea, bought into it, and made it really grow from there.

It is people like US who start these corporations. It is people like US who build them up. Sometimes the entrepreneur may just be smart or lucky about hiring the right people, and it is those people who come up with the ways to make a business grow. Sometimes the entrepreneur might be a real visionary who pushes things farther or is especially clever about a new business model, and those visionaries are part of the picture too, and we're glad for them. But they still started out in a garage. They still needed an army of US to support and carry out their cleverness. Apparently, we do it very well, judging by how these companies have grown.


Valuable innovations

Even when companies get big or start off big because some powerful interests formed a company, the magic that comes out of them still comes from US. Here are just a couple of examples, well-known stories of people discovering product ideas.

A Swiss mechanical engineer named George de Mestral was working for an engineering company back in the 1940s when he came upon the idea for Velcro. It occurred to him separately from his work, because of the burs that stuck to his clothes when he hiked. He examined the tiny hooks in the burs and got the idea. It took him many years, but he eventually managed to develop a practical way to manufacture it, patented it, and then form his own company to sell it.

A more typical story is the Raytheon Corporation and its invention of the microwave oven. This was during the period of World War II and the years after. Raytheon was a big government contractor for defense projects. The corporation had been developing and producing microwave radar for tracking enemy planes. As a side development it invented the microwave oven. This was a seemingly magical thing. You can imagine, as this was the time before anything like it had been seen. TV was still new, and many people still used wood in stoves to cook, and here was this magical box that in couple of minutes could make cold food hot. The early ones were impractical, large and expensive, but still Raytheon could claim to be bringing this magic to any home that could afford it.

But did Raytheon create this magic? Yes and no. It was a combination of the existence of Raytheon and its research for defense and one of US, an engineer named Percy Spencer. Percy was very knowledgeable and innovative about microwaves. That's why Raytheon hired him. It was a collaboration. Percy made Raytheon look good and make money by making Raytheon look like the inventor of various advances in microwaves, and Raytheon was a place with the facilities and funds where Percy could pursue his innovations.

While working with microwaves he noticed things would get hot, like a candy bar in his pocket would melt. He was observant enough and curious enough to pursue this, and knowledgeable enough to know how. With some experiments he figured out how to confine the microwaves in a metal box and heat up things in it.

Here's the typical scenario of how an inventor like Percy in a big company like Raytheon works. Percy was paid a salary to do research. He probably had a contract, which is common for this kind of work, so that any invention or valuable discovery he came up with, while employed by Raytheon, immediately became the property of Raytheon. Typically, this even covers inventions dreamed up outside of work, on the theory that they may have been inspired by work. This is also so that the inventors can't just claim they did it outside of work. Raytheon got the patent and the profit. Percy got his salary.

Actually, Percy eventually did well. He became a high executive in Raytheon and did much more in the field. Any company that's smart will find some way to reward its inventors or when their contract is up they'll just go somewhere else. Still, this is how these seemingly magical companies create their magic. The companies play an important part too, by providing the facilities and tools and by hiring skilled people and letting them do their work. But ultimately it comes down to people, US, creating the magic.

Sometimes it can be big steps, like Percy and his microwave oven, and sometimes it can be a lot of little steps, like the assembly line supervisor who sees a change that could make assembly quicker and easier, and then that company has an advantage over their competitors.

For a small company to grow very big, or for a big company to stay big, and if that happens because they really do things better, it takes an accumulation of a lot of innovations and advances and things done right. And all of those things are not some magic that just appears out of the company. They are all done by US.


Apple, the Macintosh, and the iPhone

Apple, Inc. might seem like the most magical company with the most magical products, but dig a little deeper and it’s really the best example of the work of US.

Two examples. The first is about the Macintosh. It was famously the first popular, successful computer with a graphic user interface and a mouse. Before that, personal computer screens just had text, no graphics, and you typed in what you wanted them to do. People can't be blamed for thinking that Apple, famously led by Steve Jobs at the time, invented the graphic system and the mouse, but the development of each involves a lot more of US.

The invention of the mouse was preceded by the trackball, a sort of upside-down mouse with a large ball on which the user placed on open hand in order to roll it in a given direction. That in turn moved the cursor on a screen. It was first invented by a British engineer, just after World War II, about 1946, for use in radar systems.

In 1963, in America, an engineer at Stanford Research Institute thought of something similar but flipped the design, so the ball would be on the table and move as the hand moved the mouse. A few years later a German company offered a mouse-like device with one of their computers.

In the early 1970s Xerox started selling the first computer intended to be a one-person, one-workstation computer, sort of the first personal computer. It included a mouse.

In 1982 Microsoft made their program Word able to use a mouse. It was still text based, but you could move the mouse to move the cursor.

Then, after all of that, it was in 1984 that Apple started to sell the Macintosh.

The Macintosh had more than just a mouse; it had the graphic user interface, the graphic icons on the desktop which you could use the mouse to interact with. It was the first popular computer that could do things like let you grab a document icon with the mouse and drag it to the trashcan icon.

But that didn't start with the Macintosh. Before that, Apple had briefly sold the Lisa computer, which was similar but expensive and never sold many.

The Lisa was inspired by work done at Xerox by the same engineers who had developed the mouse for their computer. They had for several years been working on a graphic user interface or GUI. Steve Jobs and some Apple engineers saw this work in 1979 and made an agreement with Xerox. From that, a team of engineers at Apple developed the ideas of the GUI and mouse into the finished Lisa product.

When the Lisa and then the Macintosh came out, Microsoft engineers had already been working on Microsoft Windows. Their first version came out shortly after the Macintosh but was very limited, sort of a bit of graphics added on top of the text-based DOS systems. It took until about 1990 for them to create a version that started to become popular.

So the mouse evolved by various engineers over decades, and the GUI was largely invented by the engineers at Xerox. The Apple team then advanced it and turned it into a product.

Apple's other most famous product is the iPhone, or, to use the generic term, the smartphone. Like the GUI and mouse, you can't blame people for thinking Apple invented it, but the smartphone was created in steps by engineers at numerous companies over years.

The first product that could be called a smartphone was demonstrated in 1992 and started sales in 1994. It was developed by an engineer at IBM. It was a large, bulky phone with a touch pad which you could use to send email, take notes, and get some news. Lots of companies made products in the following years that improved on it. Some of these companies had for years been making products that were similar to the early smart phone, only without the phone. They were digital data devices that could take notes, keep calendars, and communicate that information, in and out, to other similar devices or to computers. Some could communicate via email and text. The market for those quickly adapted to combine those devices together with the cell phones of the time.

Over the next decade these devices evolved, and design teams at many companies made versions: Palm, Hewlett-Packard, Nokia, Qualcomm, Ericson, Kyocera, and Blackberry, as well as companies that produced and sold products mostly in Japan. It wasn't until 2007 that Apple released its iPhone.

Apple, which is perhaps the company that seems most nearly magical, and its two flagship product categories, the Macintosh and the iPhone, two products that most exemplify almost magical products, gained such success by leaning on the work of US. The various leaders of Apple deserve credit for foreseeing the most popular directions that tech was going to go, and gathering up those of US whose skill and innovation were developing those technologies, and combining those people together to develop products quicker than the competition did. They deserve credit. But what they can accurately be credited with is being good at making the most out of the work of US.



In the next installment in the book: We don't need them, they need US. We've become almost hypnotized to believe we need the powerful and the rich. That we need their capital for money to do things, their big companies for jobs, their help to create wealth. They can be part of the picture, but in fact we could continue to do each of those things even if no particularly rich or powerful existed. The reverse, for them, is the opposite. They need US. Without US they have nothing. As will be described in detail, for all of those good things, economically and otherwise, the real source is US. your social media marketing partner
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