Invention at Play

Inventors’ Stories
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Borrow From Nature

Learn from the Inventors

A burr clinging to clothing, the sight of birds soaring in the wind, the grooved surface on the bottom of a dog’s paw--these everyday natural phenomena inspired such varied inventions as Velcro®, human-powered flight, and deck shoes.

Many inventors, even those working with highly mechanical tools and materials, have borrowed from nature. Sometimes this is a deliberate technique, as in turbine inventor Roman Szpur’s observation of the way wind circulates around curved surfaces like feathers or eggshells. At other times, the natural world serves as a place for reflection and daydreaming, as did the bluffside “dreaming place” where the idea of the telephone came to Bell.

The inventors in this section demonstrate the ability to make imaginative and unlikely connections, a skill all of us begin to develop in our early efforts at make believe and pretend play.

Alexander Graham Bell
Alexander Graham Bell 
Telephone Inventor

Alexander Graham Bell

“Father was the most elemental person, a creature of water and the woods and the night. He would float about in the water by the hour, particularly at night, smoking a cigar and looking up at the stars.”
--Daisy Bell Fairchild

Other Inventors in "Borrow From Nature":

Barbed Wire

Barbed Wire 
The Thorny Fence that Transformed the West

George de Mestral

George de
Velcro® Inventor

Ruth Foster

Ruth Foster 
Co-Inventor of the Gentle Leader® Dog Collar

Paul MacCready

Paul MacCready 
Human-Powered Flying Machine Inventor

Sally Fox

Roman Szpur 
High-Efficiency Wind Turbine Inventor

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