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Boyhood books


Mechanisms and Ingenious Mechanical Devices
John Wheeler Scientist
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My dream always was to construct a railroad that would go around the farm. It was only a dream, I never had any likelihood of being able to do it. But toy railroads were a wonderful thing, and then toy guns, pull back a rubber band and that works a wooden plunger, and that drives a wooden bullet out. And then work up from that to a gun that is repeating, so you can pull the trigger over and over again, and bullet after bullet makes its way up through the handle to the plunger. But then, after reading the books in the library and looking in the encyclopedia for how guns worked, it was natural to turn to how safes work, the combination lock of the safe. But then, the terrible thing was there was a book that the family had, called Ingenious- no- Mechanisms and Ingenious Mechanical Devices. And there were all sorts of things one could do with levers. To me, making gadgets out of wood and putting in pivots out of nails and what-not was an absolute delight. Fortunately, around the house, I think, due to my great uncle's improvidence, there was a clock with wooden wheels, with teeth cut into the wood by machinery. And these wooden wheels could be meshed together and I could see the whole layout of a clock in a nice way. In New England of long ago, of course, metal cost money, wood was easy to come by, so it was natural to make a clock out of wood.

John Wheeler, one of the world's most influential physicists, is best known for coining the term 'black holes', for his seminal contributions to the theories of quantum gravity and nuclear fission, as well as for his mind-stretching theories and writings on time, space and gravity.

Listeners: Ken Ford

Ken Ford took his Ph.D. at Princeton in 1953 and worked with Wheeler on a number of research projects, including research for the Hydrogen bomb. He was Professor of Physics at the University of California and Director of the American Institute of Physicists. He collaborated with John Wheeler in the writing of Wheeler's autobiography, 'Geons, Black Holes and Quantum Foam: A Life in Physics' (1998).

Duration: 2 minutes, 34 seconds

Date story recorded: December 1996

Date story went live: 24 January 2008