Who was that first genius?

In answer to my “Finding a Unique Selling Point” (31 March), Steve Kurtz writes: “Perhaps an impossible job given that humans are the most complex living system known, and that wild cards inevitably come along which disrupt expected trends. But little harm in trying!”

Point taken. Although we tend to see history as the result of exceptional individuals (Nature’s trick of making sure that evolution works), it’s ironic that no individual is associated with the most powerful and unique period of change in all civilized history — the industrial revolution.

We simply don’t know the name of the individual who first had the idea of linking a rather crude machine of several cotton-spinning wheels to the differential gearing of a water mill via a leather belt. And not only that, but the first prototype cotton spinning factory must have been so immediately successful that dozens more were built within a few years.

We know the names of dozens of brilliant individuals who were involved in the growth of the cotton spinning industry and the subsequent industrial revolution into railways, electricity and electronics but not that of the first engineering genius who added two and two together.

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