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Martinis, TV, Baseball, Jazz--Perfect as a Sonnet?

Today's Random Friday Question comes courtesy of the menu at the new Rock Creek restaurant at Mazza Gallerie in Friendship Heights, where the copywriter touting the eatery's martinis noted that none other than the great and crafty journalist H.L. Mencken dubbed that drink "the only American invention as perfect as the sonnet."

Which, along with one of those very fine martinis, got me to thinking about what the perfect American inventions really are.

Your mission, should you decide to accept it, is to list your top five perfect American inventions, along with the briefest of rationales for your selections.

Here's mine--sorry, Messrs. Mencken and Bond, the martini didn't make my final cut--in no particular order:

1. TV. Changed the world, and its invention is a classic American story of persistence in the face of official rejection, though the ending is a tragic one.

2. Baseball. A bizarre combination of mathematical elegance, pastoral setting, teamwork and rough 'n' tumble individualism that perfectly captured the emerging American formula for achievement in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

3. Burger on a bun. Sure, the Germans played around with meat patties, but the Americans invented the concept of fast food, of eating as convenience, of life on the run.

4. Jazz. The American experiences of immigration and assimilation, the blending of cultures, the power of place and tradition, and the essential importance of improvisation--quintessentially American concepts, all wrapped up in one form of music, the one that invented the notion of swing.

5. Internet. Another world-changer, and with the added prospect of being the invention that undermines American supremacy and hastens the end of our century astride the planet.

Your turn....

By Marc Fisher |  September 7, 2007; 7:39 AM ET
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Comments

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You also forgot the blues and rock and roll.

Blue jeans come on Marc. Levis?

Coke.

Apple pie, MTV, Chevrolet and American consumerism too which led to downfall of the Soviet Union and will ultimately lead to downfall of Islamic Fundalmentalism because it appeal to young males. An experienced hot babe in bed and ready to go beats any number of virgins in paradise.

Posted by: vaherder | September 7, 2007 8:13 AM

TV and then Internet are truly inventions. If you include them, why not also mention the electric light, motion pictures, and the airplane?

On the other hand, baseball, jazz, and burgers are not "inventions" in the same sense. I would add rock and roll, iced tea, and ice cream cones to this list.

Posted by: Frank | September 7, 2007 8:50 AM

Five inventions that make the US:

The Telephone.
The Transistor.
The Television.
The Airplane.
The Integrated Ciruit.

All of these are invented in the US, and together have changed the world.

Posted by: Guy | September 7, 2007 9:54 AM

Here are to that have and will shape mankind forever:

1. The Atomic Bomb
2. Dianetics

Posted by: Charles | September 7, 2007 10:01 AM

Opps. I was supposed to write why.

1. The Atomic Bomb. This simple technology gave mankind the ability to utterly destroy itself. At the same time, it also unlocked what could be a revolutionary power source, if we learn how to use it.

2. Dianetics. Another simple technology that finally lays out the only workable description of the human mind. By knowing how the mind works, it is very easy to cure, yes I said cure, a host of psychosomatic ills such as; migraine headaches, ulcers, arthritis, astigmatism, bursitis, stammering, glandular imbalances, asthma, allergies, depression, and alleviate stress. Further research into Dianetics even opened up the door to knowledge about life itself.

These 2 amazing discoveries are each powerful enough to radically alter the future of mankind.

Posted by: Charles | September 7, 2007 10:11 AM

The banjo -- when you hear it, you know exactly what it is, and it has an "American" sound.

Posted by: ML | September 7, 2007 10:16 AM

Scientologists with nukes - a truly frightening prospect.

Posted by: Psycho Charles | September 7, 2007 10:19 AM

vaherder,

Blues and rock'n'roll are both inextricably tangled up with jazz, and apple pie wasn't invented in America. I mean, seriously, you think Americans were the first people on earth to dream up making a fruit pie with an apple? Cheese and rice, hillbillies sure are dumb.

Posted by: fwiw | September 7, 2007 10:25 AM

Notes:

1. Jazz / Rock and Roll / Blues are all one, just variations. They are the great American gift to the arts.

2. Much as I love baseball, it's really just the perfect culmination of a whole series of ball and stick games that goes back hundreds of years in England.

3. Dianetics / Scientology is a laugh. It's simply the transformation of a medical fraud into a cult.

4. The Banjo is probably an African invention.

5. All of which leaves us with the communications revolution and the products that make it work. Telephone, Transistor, Internet, TV, Radio.

This leaves us with the ability to download 5 versions of "Shake a Hand" or 8 versions of "Stack O Lee" onto our iPod.

In fact, that one set of "inventions" has basically defined the world that we live in. Maybe more than the wheel.

Posted by: mikes | September 7, 2007 10:43 AM

1. terrestrial dry fly fishing - limestone streams of Pa.

vince marinaro, ed shenk, charlie fox etc.

one of the best ways to enjoy summer fly fishing is with a foam beetle.

2. coke a cola

Posted by: rob | September 7, 2007 10:47 AM

Jazz / Rock and Roll / Blues are all one, just variations. They are the great American gift to the arts.
----------

only a tin-ear loon would say that Jazz and Blues are one. They are totally different. Rock and Roll has no relationship to jazz- totally divergent. They're both "music" but they aren't at all similar in construction or design. Rock and roll is based on the blues and western music, this is really noticeable in people like Bill Haley. Jazz is in a different direction entirely. Traditional 1920s blues is one guitar and one singer. Traditional 1920s jazz consists of at least a mid-sized band. blues = came from rural areas. Jazz came from urban areas. They are dissimilar in every aspect except they're southern.

Posted by: DCer | September 7, 2007 11:03 AM

Here's and idea--- the lightbulb!

Posted by: Falls Church | September 7, 2007 11:03 AM

Do we really have any inventions that are purely American, considering that most Americans were immigrants when things were invented?

Posted by: YourStrawberry23 | September 7, 2007 11:05 AM

1. The Bill of Rights.

2. The credit card.

3. Mass production with interchangeable parts.

4. National parks.

5. Public libraries.
.

Posted by: gitarre | September 7, 2007 11:11 AM

Mass production

Electronic Digital Computer (ENIAC)

Microbrews

Ice Cream

Manmade fibers (Nylon, rayon, fleece)

Posted by: Mister Methane | September 7, 2007 11:13 AM

The assembly line

Posted by: NoVa | September 7, 2007 11:18 AM

With due respect to DCer, only a tin-ear loon would not understand the relationship between Jazz, Blues, and Rock and Roll. King Bolden led to Robert Johnson led to Dion DeMucci, who refers back to both Johnson and Bolden.

Posted by: mikes | September 7, 2007 11:26 AM

The Model 1911/1911A1 Colt Automatic Pistol

Posted by: Bob in Virginia | September 7, 2007 11:28 AM

An accompaniment to the TV that in fact changed Americans' viewing habits and contributed to obesity, marital strife, and short attention spans--- the remote control.

And, of course, the true sign of the Appocalypse--the invention of diet dog food. What did it say about us as a society when we had to put our pets on diets ?

Posted by: jmsbh | September 7, 2007 11:33 AM

I like your list, Marc; here are five others:

1. Pizza. An example of immigrants taking a mediocre product from the old country and developing it to perfection on our shores.

2. Rock and Roll. America's greatest cultural export. The perfect musical form to match the English language (lots of short words that rhyme, so it's easy to match a beat).

3. Skyscrapers. Dense urban development, with all its upsides and downsides, wouldn't be possible without them. They epitomize continual progress and renewal.

4. Mail-order catalogs. Online shopping is just a more efficient version of the concept pioneered by Montgomery Ward and Richard Sears. They made it possible for everyone to be mass consumers, no matter where they live.

5. The airplane. By Getting Us There faster, it connected the country and the world. Plus, it enables the projection of military power like no other weapon.

Posted by: DT | September 7, 2007 11:37 AM

Point of order:
"Electronic Digital Computer (ENIAC)"
Was not the first digital computer. The first digital computer was invented in England during WWII to bread the Enigma code. It was VERY Top Secret and was further used to break Soviet codes after WWII.

So the US of A does not get credit for the digital computer. :-(

Posted by: John | September 7, 2007 11:46 AM

Bob, actually it is the Model 1911/1911A1 .45 Automatic Colt Pistol (ACP) but why quibble? I totally agree with you, Number 1 in my book.

My next four are:

• the Martini (made with Gin, of course, and, as that Honary American Winston S. Churchill once said, hold the Vermouth bottle turn east and bow towards France then put the Vermouth away).
• the Manhattan (made with Rye)
• Bourbon Whiskey
• The Southside (made with gin, not white rum).

Posted by: 20th Street and Pennsylvania Ave., NW | September 7, 2007 11:49 AM

How about:

LSD. A mind altering chemical that ruins lives.

Psychotropic drugs that cause people to go on mass killing sprees. Columbine, Virgina Tech, etc.

The Hospital Emergency Room, born out of the illegal drug culture of the late 1960s.

Posted by: James | September 7, 2007 11:53 AM

A second vote for the lightbulb -- it safely changed night into day and fundamentally changed the habits of human beings. Greatest invention in the history of the world.

The airplane? Edison's phonograph? Not mentioned yet, but would be my nos. 2 & 3.

How much credit can the US be given for antibiotics, the elevator, and talking movies? They ought to be up there, too.

Posted by: Georgetwoner | September 7, 2007 11:55 AM

T-Shirts and Ball Caps
Cover folks of all nations,
But Films reign supreme!

Posted by: American Invention Haiku | September 7, 2007 11:57 AM

Re: the computer. Actually, the US does get credit for that: the first working computer was a tabulator built to process the 1890 census. The company later became IBM.

Posted by: Georgetwoner | September 7, 2007 11:59 AM

Ooooh the immigrant comment made me remember Alexander Graham Bell -- A Scotsman who invented the telephone in the US.

That's up there before the internet.

I'll shut up now.

Posted by: Georgetwoner | September 7, 2007 12:02 PM

Sure there's a relationship, if at times an uneasy one, between jazz and rock 'n' roll. Bill Haley was influenced by the likes of Bob Wills and his western swing, which had plenty of jazz elements. Fats Domino's rockin' blues was an offshoot of the New Orleans rhythmic tradition begun by Louis Armstrong and company. Elvis Presley was influenced by Dean Martin, who in turn was influenced by Bing Crosby (whose jazzy early singing was extremely popular with black audiences). And let's not forget Les Paul.

Posted by: Vincent | September 7, 2007 12:13 PM

LSD was invented in Switzerland by Sandoz staff researcher Albert Hoffman.

Posted by: Owsley | September 7, 2007 12:22 PM

slavery. Forcing black people to leave their country and then treating them as domesticated animals with the sole purpose to work on the fields and procreate.

Posted by: Joe | September 7, 2007 12:48 PM

antibiotics was invented by Alexander Flemming, a british doctor.

Posted by: Joe | September 7, 2007 12:50 PM

America invented slavery.

Check some facts. It's mentioned in the Bible written by non-American men over 2000 years ago.

I'm actually surprised nobody has listed the Bible.

Posted by: Tim from Silver Spring | September 7, 2007 12:55 PM

iced tea

marc fisher

Posted by: anandale dude | September 7, 2007 1:30 PM

passover is the story of the 'slaves' exodus of egypt.

pretty sure that occurred before the u.s was established.

pass the harosset please.

Posted by: anandale dude | September 7, 2007 1:34 PM

Regardless of when and where, why would anyone suggest "slavery" as one of the five most perfect American inventions? That's really sick.

Posted by: athea | September 7, 2007 2:07 PM

1. Movies and the hollywood culture.

2. R&B Music, especially the singing groups.

3. The personal computer.

4. The cell phone.

5. Outsourcing and mass layoffs.

Posted by: CEEAF | September 7, 2007 2:18 PM

1. Movies and the Hollywood culture.

2. R&B Music, especially the singing groups.

3. The personal computer.

4. The cell phone.

5. Outsourcing and mass layoffs.

(Observation: Anyone else notice that the Sign-in/Registration page is the fastest-loading page on the WP site?).

Posted by: CEEAF | September 7, 2007 2:19 PM

1. Air conditioning. Opened whole regions of the nation to large scale human habitation.
2. Modern grain farming which gave us low cost Coke.
3. High stakes educational testing- Enabled central authorities to control schools.
4. Of course the Internet, where a school child has access to more infomation that anyone before 1990.
5. The mouse. What would the Internet be without it?
5. The keyboard. What a brilliant idea to put the rarely used "j" under the index finger of the right hand.

Posted by: etlan, va | September 7, 2007 2:29 PM

Many people could be considered to have invented the typewriter (i.e., the keyboard), some American, some not. If you're entirely concerned with the layout as the comment about J suggests, that was indeed the fault of an American.

I would argue the Internet would not have taken off like it did without the WWW (I have a hard time imagining the Washington Post's Gopher repository -- does anyone here even remember Gopher? Now get off my lawn...), which was invented by a Brit living in Switzerland. Still, the Internet itself was obviously extremely important, and of course was a DOD project.

Posted by: kevin | September 7, 2007 2:39 PM

Sorry, John, your point of order does not stand. I've just finished reading the several web sites about Enigma and the efforts to crack it, and not one mention of an electronic digital computer. ENIAC was the first electronic digital programmable computer. There were a number of tabulating machines and hard-engineered calculators and Turing machines before, but ENIAC was the first modern digital computer that could be programmed. here's a summary:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ENIAC

Posted by: Mister Methane | September 7, 2007 3:39 PM

Antiseptic and telephones.

Posted by: Kamantha | September 7, 2007 4:05 PM

etlan, va and kevin,

The QWERTY keyboard was planned so the most-used letters were scattered throughout the keyboard and less-used letters were placed in easier places to use so the typewriters (people) could not type faster that the machine could handle. Hence the J in a prominent place.

Remember what the original, manual typewriter machines were like before the invention of the Selectric typewriter with its font balls? The letters were on the end of spokes that needed to rise up and strike the paper. If one typed too fast, they got caught on each other and one needed to reach up and unhook them.

My mother used to need to pace herself so she did not type too fast and waste time unhooking them.

Posted by: Historian | September 7, 2007 4:34 PM

The only reason I called slavery as America's greatest inventions is because that's the only time in history that the world was able to get honest productive work out black people and be able to effectively control them so that crime was at a minimal. Even many black people agree that they had it better during that era.

Posted by: Joe | September 7, 2007 5:02 PM

"The only reason I called slavery as America's greatest inventions is because that's the only time in history that the world was able to get honest productive work out black people and be able to effectively control them so that crime was at a minimal. Even many black people agree that they had it better during that era. "

Marc,

THE ABOVE COMMENT BY "JOE" IS RACIST AND OBJECTIONABLE. IT SHOULD BE REMOVED AND "JOE" SHOULD BE BLOCKED FROM MAKING FUTURE COMMENTS. PLEASE SEE TO IT THAT APPROPORIATE MEASURES ARE TAKEN.

Posted by: CEEAF | September 7, 2007 5:29 PM

I agree that cola is the perfect American drink. And some thought it wasn't perfect enough, so they invented diet cola.

Posted by: Cosmo | September 7, 2007 5:31 PM

Silicone breast implants

Posted by: Mister Methane | September 7, 2007 5:49 PM

I did some wikipediaing on the first computer in light of the ENIAC discussion above, and it turns out wiki's got five listed (my IBM 1890 census thingie wasn't electronic, it appears), but the patent office recognized something called an ABC developed in Iowa as the predecessor to ENIAC with no mention of the ULTRA device.

I think the key here is whether you could program its internal operating system.

I bet that there's no firm consensus and the debate will continue eternally.

Antibiotics: oh I know about Fleming, but I also know there was another Brit and a German plus an unheralded female American scientist involved who got shafted on the Nobel due to her gender. God bless Fleming for penicillin, but the larger antibiotic research was I recall multi-national.

There's got to be a a major US medical invention. Discovery of the blood types? Salk/Sabin? Artificial heart?

My top 10 undisputed Americans-only so far:

Lightbulb
Airplane
Telephone
Air conditioner
Alternating current
Assembly line
Phonograph
Cotton gin
The PERSONAL computer
Television


Birth control, populariztion of the automobile, the series of tubes known as the internets, nuclear reactors, and many many more left off of the list due to too many pesky foreigners allegedly involved.


Marc: baseball? BASEBALL?!

That's personal preference, no matter how badly the Redskins stink this season.


Posted by: Georgetwoner | September 7, 2007 11:00 PM

Without going deeply into the non-evolution of the QWERTY keyboard, Historian is absolutely correct.

The ironic thing is that there is and available alternative. The Dvorak (think I spelled it right) keyboard layout. It's set up so that your strongest fingers are naturally set on the most popular letters (etaoinshrdlu). The real irony is that software is readily available (in fact, was an alternative default in some early Operating systems) that will turn your QWERTY into a Dvorak and significantly speed up your ability to input.

I'd use it, but after 50 years of touch typing, my hands are pretty much hard wired.

BTW, if anyone seriously doubts the relationship between Jazz, Blues, and RocknRoll, I would recommend some of the music of W.C. Clark. I might suggest the CD: "Deep in the Heart".

Posted by: mikes | September 7, 2007 11:02 PM

Only one person mentioned radio. Pity. Radio was the first simultaneous mass medium. Like few other things it knit the country together, bringing Southerners and Yankees, blacks and whites, Jews and Christians together to experience the power of a Martian invasion of New Jersey, laugh at Jack Benny, and cringe at Ed Murrow's description of the liberation of Buchenwald. For those who don't know what it was like it its salad days, the days before it became a jukebox, radio was like television, only with better pictures.

(To be fair, radio wasn't an entirely American invention. Marconi was Italian, but De Forest was born in Iowa, and Fessenden and Tesla were immigrants. There's even a pretty fair claim that a Kentucky man with the unlikely name of Nathan Stubblefield may have been the first to transmit voice over the air.)

Posted by: AC in AC | September 8, 2007 6:54 PM

sarcasm...even if we did not invent it, we perfected it...

Posted by: karen | September 9, 2007 2:07 PM

The Internet - AL Gore invented it, remember? It must be true because he told us so.

As far as the comments about all American inventions being made by immigrants - this is mostly true. What is also true is they were here legally.

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