The Trail: A Daily Diary of Campaign 2008


The Debate Rages On...

Americans Invented What?

By Frank Ahrens
A small flap has been developing over President Obama's gaffe in his speech to Congress Tuesday about the origins of the automobile.

"And I believe the nation that invented the automobile cannot walk away from it," the president had said.

As reported last night by The Post, it's doubtful that Obama was referring here to Germany, home of Karl Friedrich Benz, inventor of the first true, four-wheel, gasoline-powered, internal-combustion-engine auto, or his contemporary, Gottlieb Wilhelm Daimler, who did same. America -- Henry Ford -- invented mass production of the auto, but not the auto itself.

Was Obama also mistaken about an American inventing solar technologies? An Atlantic blog suggests so, disputing his statement, "We invented solar technology, but we've fallen behind countries like Germany and Japan in producing it."

But it appears Obama is on a little better ground with the solar cell claim.

While it's true that work on the technology behind solar cells was done abroad during the 19th century, early solar cells had energy conversion efficiencies of under one percent. In 1941, the field progressed when the silicon solar cell was invented by Russell Ohl, an American.

Then, in 1954, it took another leap forward when three American researchers, Gerald Pearson, Calvin Fuller and Daryl Chapin, designed a silicon solar cell capable of a six percent energy conversion efficiency with direct sunlight.

It was only after American work in the mid-50s that solar cells became commercially viable.

Posted at 5:22 PM ET on Feb 25, 2009  | Category:  The Debate Rages On...
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What I detest extremely, is this practice of making side issues the central piece in what is supposed to be discussion/rebuttal.

Clearly the issue of fact, in this case, are neither central, germane, nor add or detract from the theme of the speech. Thus the value is trivial in the extreme, in consideration of the greater tasks to which the speech was directed of needs!

Thusly, this being a side issue, it should be relegated to the sidelines, to be discussed and debated by those who care more about the relevance of the facts, than they do about the issues under discussion.

Additionally, this "cloud of effluvium" only serves to distract from the fact that our detractors had plans, ideas, and agendas that were totally wrong, wrong headed, impractical, impracticable and therefore led to the universe of disasters and crises that now plague the nation!

So That Now!!! :
America and it's ideals of individual freedoms are on trial! On the very serious charge: Failure of equitable law enforcement!

There is strong evidence that there is not the will or the ability in a free society, to enforce the laws society has written. A conviction will take away individual rights! Nor can the matter be "fudged", since the jury will be nature her self!


Posted by: obwon | February 27, 2009 12:58 AM

I don't think that either statement was an intentional deception. See how I have a CONSISTENT standard?

Posted by: JakeD | February 26, 2009 2:12 PM

Got to hand it to JakeD... real accomplishment to equate Obama's rhetorical misstatement about where the automobile was invented more than a century ago to Bush's intentional deception of the Congress and the people of the United States, concerning the existence of a threat to our nation, in order to take the country to war.

That isn't comparing apples to oranges... its comparing apples to hand grenades.

Posted by: Observer44 | February 26, 2009 12:48 PM

Ford didn't invent Mass Production ,or assembly lines either ,which existed in present day Italy by the late rennaisance.

Posted by: Sambacomet | February 26, 2009 12:04 PM

mascman7: You have your fairy tales mixed up with history. The Children's Crusade was led by republicans who sold the children into slavery when they reached the Mediterranean Sea. Pied Piper was the Democrat who led the repbulican rats out of Hamlin.

Posted by: HighPlainsJoker1 | February 26, 2009 11:59 AM

President Obama was absolutely correct to say that Americans invented the automobile. The first authentic internal combustion engine was developed by Samuel Morey around 1826. Yes, 1826, long before Nicholas Otto's 1860 prototype. Morey's engine powered an experimental wagon, and also a small boat that ran at eight miles per hour up the Connecticut river. Like many other inventors, was never able to attract financing for his idea and only the prototype was built; still, the invention was patented and there are many references in the primary literature. I take it as a reflection on the modern lack of concern with history that the conventional wisdom is so far afield of well known facts.

References: William Kovarik, "Henry Ford, Charles Kettering and the Fuel of the Future," (Society of Automotive Historians, 1998); Lyle Cummins, Internal Fire (Warrenton, Pa.: Society of Automotive Engineers, 1989); Horst Hardenberg, Samuel Morey and his Atmospheric Engine (Warrendale, Pa.: Society of Automotive Engineers, Feb. 1992), SP922; Katharine Goodwin and Charles E. Duryea, Captain Samuel Morey: The Edison of His Day (White River Junction, Vermont: The Vermonter Press, 1931); also Gabriel Farell Jr., Capt. Samuel Morey who built a Steamboat Fourteen Years Before Fulton, (Manchester, NH: Standard Book Co., 1915); Ray Zirblis, "Was Samuel Morey Robbed?" Vermont Life, Autumn, 1994, p. 53.

-- Prof. William Kovarik

Posted by: wkovarik | February 26, 2009 9:29 AM


It wasn't just "semantics" when Bush claimed that the British government learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.

Posted by: JakeD | February 26, 2009 12:59 AM

It's semantics, mostly. There were US patent requests a decade before the Benz invention, and there were steam engine powered carriages over a century before that. I think he was referring to Ford and the auto industry myself, but like his inaugural statement about 43 previous presidents (vice 42), he abbreviated it for rhetorical purposes, knowing no one serious about the issue would care about the semantics, because trying too hard to be 100% correct about a purely rhetorical issue undermines the purpose of including it (ie., if he said 42 presidents, and everyone knew he was #44, more people would be busy questioning that statement and missing the point he was leading to than would be caused by the eventual fact checking).

Posted by: kreuz_missile | February 25, 2009 11:51 PM

If Bush II had said Americans invented the auto the mass media would have denounced him in headlines and by commentators such as the crazed Keith Doberman of MSNBC. Try to call him Doberman from now on. The Pied Piper had the gift of oratory and led thousands of children on the ill fated children's crusade on which thousands died of cold, heat and hunger. Our Pied Piper born in Mombassa, Kenya will not revive the economy as the dollar eventually becomes worthless. Grin and bear it folks.

Posted by: mascmen7 | February 25, 2009 11:27 PM

The WaPo is like the pickpocket's accomplice, the one whose job it is to distract you while the pickpocket is stealing your wallet.

In addition to all the hundreds of billions BHO is spending, he's stocking the low-level adminstration positions with people from far-left groups that support illegal activity:

Posted by: LonewackoDotCom | February 25, 2009 10:52 PM


Perhaps you've forgotten those infamous "sixteen words" in Bush's speech. I only want the same standard applied consistently.

Posted by: JakeD | February 25, 2009 10:30 PM

This is such a non-issue. To whom is this a flap?

Obama presented a masterful speech detailing a high level and integrated approach to restoring prosperity to our nation.

He *may* have had a minor slip with respect to whom the first auto should be attributed. Which do you think we should be focusing on right now?

Posted by: seangallagher | February 25, 2009 10:08 PM

I wonder what Bush haters would have said about that had he claimed that America invented the automobile? BUSH LIED, DETROIT DIED!

Posted by: JakeD | February 25, 2009 6:24 PM

Yeah, I caught that too during the speech, BUT, we may as well have invented it because Henry Ford was the first to actually mass-produce automobiles and make them affordable to the public, THAT we did invent and THAT is one of our big problems right now that Obama has to address.

Posted by: JRM2 | February 25, 2009 6:08 PM


Posted by: JakeD | February 25, 2009 5:32 PM

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