Who Figured that Out?

imageEarly last year, I sent a few family members an article about the work that was being done in Pittsburgh to clean Kaufman’s Clock. My daughter asked a somewhat technical question about the sandblasting technique the workers were using and my brother quickly answered it. My daughter replied:

Interesting. I always wonder who first makes these discoveries.”

And…, my brother answered that:

Most of the time we can’t trace them to one person but… Benjamin Chew Tilghman (1821–1901) was an American soldier and inventor. He is best known as the inventor of the process of sandblasting. Go to Wikipedia for more info — he later patented a process he called a liquid sharpener for files.”

That’s how our family is. My wife shares this trait (so Faith is doomed) of not being content with merely accepting stuff – we all want to know more, we will all conduct some research on a subject of interest. Faith’s question may have its origins in my genes though, because I often wonder who figured out the things we take for granted today.

In my day job, I have had the pleasure of listening to some of the people who figured out Graphical User Interfaces (GUI), Laser Printers, Mice and the technical stuff behind local area networks. We take all of this for granted today, but back in the early ‘80s, people were calling it crazy talk. Knowing this doesn’t make my job easier, but it makes me appreciate things more.

I started thinking about this again after reading another great imagepost on my blog friend’s ItKindaGotAwayFromYou blog. This time, the subject was mushroom hunting. So now I have two blog buddies who seem to know how to hunt for mushrooms, check out West Virginia Mountain Momma’s blog (search for mushrooms because she has several wonderful posts on the subject).

So here’s my thing with mushrooms: Some are delicious, some can make you sick and some are poisonous with a capital POISON but who determined which kind are which? I’m sure at some point there was the unfortunate observation that a particular kind of mushroom killed some of the folks who ate it. But, how did they go forward from that point? I mean, there are about 10,000 kinds of mushrooms. Did they start testing them on the dog? The neighbor? The spouse? My wife doesn’t eat mushrooms; is that a taste preference on her part or a survival instinct?

My father once boiled some mushrooms with a silver Quarter in the pot. He said that if they were poisonous, the Quarter would turn black. Of course this was in the ‘60s, before the Internet and Snopes and when Quarters were still made with silver.

Note: there is no scientific evidence that you can test for mushroom toxicity in this manner. I have a degree in Chemistry, you can trust me.

I don’t get hung up over every discovery. Some stuff, once you think about it, makes perfect sense. Take, for instance the colors we use for clothing and painting our world. I can easily imagine some cave woman looking at a smushed berry, liking the color of the stain and saying “I need shoes and a pocketbook in that color.” I don’t think guys cared about color until cars were invented, by which time most colors had been replicated in the paint shop.

Similarly, I can see how Newton and others discovered and refined our understanding of gravity, but how did we discover how high is too high to jump from? I think somebody probably figured that out before those brainiacs came up withgravity-eq I’m guessing that there were several observations involved but I doubt a bunch of cavemen started by jumping off a rock, increasing the height little by little until one of them broke a few bones. It was probably more like

Thag jump from there. Thag die. That too high.”

The flip side of this is when I “discover” things. (I mentioned this in an earlier post “Is Anything Obvious” in a rant against people ignoring obvious things). I discovered that Kanga and Roo (in the Disney Channel’s Winnie the Pooh), were kangaroos. My very young daughter looked at me and my wife with the perfect “really?” look on her face as I tried to explain that:

No, of course I knew they were kangaroos, but their names make up the word kan – ga – roo. Oh, did you guys already know that? I …see.”

You might remember the Presidential Debate where Texas Governor Rick Perry said:

“…there are three cabinet departments I would eliminate: Commerce, Education and… (insert sound of crickets here)”

I’m having a Rick Perry moment right now. Somewhere in my notes, there are three things that I wonder who figured out. I can only find two. Oh well, I guess you get off easy today. Thanks for stopping by. If you wonder about stuff like this, please share that in a comment below.


  1. I have lapses of memory, which I laughed a chuckle or two right at all of us growing a little older these days, I find the whole mushroom situation a conundrum, you are absolutely right! How did certain ‘experts’ determining poisonous, and if you don’t get it, I certainly couldn’t! Dan, I like to analyze words, language is my interest, which has nothing to do with my original premise of my blog, but it ‘seeps’ into it, weekly! I like your curious family and it would fit in with mine, I think. Mom was a high school Spanish and English teacher, so hip and cool she had one of the first Mustangs off the Ford lot, her students loved her and she played, “Guess who’s coming to dinner?” Druggies, (it was the 60’s and 70’s after all) and prego’s (girls expecting or loose and not yet expecting but needing guidance and love) were part of our ‘tribe.’ My Dad worked as a nuclear engineer at NASA. I am one of the ‘lighter’ weights’ in thinking but somehow everyone finds my practicality and my survival skills ‘good enough’ to keep up with their brains! Smiles!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. My Russian grandmother also swore by the silver coin/poisonous mushroom trick. She said as long as it was pure silver, it would turn black if the mushrooms were inedible. The fact that she’d been picking wild mushrooms (both in Canada and in Russia) for 70-some years still wasn’t enough to get me to try a batch we picked and she cooked up though. Why risk it, you know? I think a better way to tell if mushrooms are poisonous is to just look for worm holes. If even the bugs won’t eat a particular type of mushroom? I think it’s a safe bet you shouldn’t either!

    I too have that “research gene” you’re speaking of. It gets tiring though, doesn’t it? I can’t take anyone’s word for anything, it seems. Some days I’d just like to be able to read something or talk to someone and say, “Oh, is that so? I didn’t know that,” and then change the subject and never, ever even think of it again! Instead of wasting hours of my time researching a topic I really couldn’t care less about. ;P

    Fun post, Dan!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Wendy. That gene may explain the fact that we also like things like The Twilight Zone and The Addams Family (sorry, Munsters). Science Fiction might just be a story told ahead of its time..

      The first time I tried mushrooms, my father did the quarter thing and proclaimed them “safe to eat” I ate them, I was hooked, but a little part of me was waiting for something to go radically wrong. I think this tendency to want to know how things came to be / are works against my accepting intuition a.k.a. my previous post. I guess I have to accept that some things just are.


  3. Hey , thanks for the mention . I often wonder who had those ‘first’ ideas and how such discoveries came about . With mushrooms ………….. well I think testers could eat just enough to get sick but not die and then they might know ; or , test ’em on the husbands . There’s the joke about the woman who had ten husbands ( not at once ) and nine of them died of mushroom poisoning . The tenth died of a broken skull . ( He wouldn’t eat the mushrooms ) . Take care and keep the fine posts coming .

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s funny Dan. Thanks for the inspiration for this one. I figured that either you (Ada) or JoLynn could answer this one. Oh well, I guess it remains a mystery. Thanks for the comment.


  4. :-) great post!

    The family was discussing mushrooms this weekend because we saw a couple varieties and wondered how to tell whether poison or not. Dad had a theory but wasn’t willing to put it to the taste test!

    I enjoyed hearing your Dad put them to a “boil with a quarter” test, which would spoil the texture of the mushrooms in the process of finding them edible!


    1. Thanks Sammy. As for mushrooms, I’m sticking with the ones I can buy in a market, or the ones served with my meal in a restaurant. I don’t think that I would taste anything to see if it might be poisonous :) I’m glad you enjoyed the post.Thanks for the comment.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. In my family, I believe I am more into asking questions and observing things. In fact, with time I started finding out more answers to how someone discovered certain things. Not just things, I observe people. In the train, on the bus, in the office, on the streets, a stranger staring me from far, I also observe the river flow that I see from office window. I know the time when it flows left to right and when it does right to left (high- low tide effects). Its a built-in feature that’s in me. I guess because I talk less, I observe more.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Our family is split between the ones who keep asking questions and looking for the answers and the ones who favor fiction to reality. So it makes for interesting dinner conversations! Reading your post and the comments I see that we are all curious about life. In just different ways. The clock by the way is gorgeous. We used to have clocks in Paris and since I never wore a watch but still needed to be on time I relied on them. They have disappeared and it’s a shame because they truly were gorgeous. Now we’ve got our phones. Convenient and wonderful, but the clocks…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I enjoy being curious Evelyne. As for the clock, my mother used to work in Kaufmans (now Macy’s). “Meet me under Kaufman’s clock” was a favorite saying in Pittsburgh. Mu father had a different saying, but I can’t print it here. I was very glad to see that they took the time and spent the money to clean and restore it. I still wear a watch. I can’t seem to get used to using my phone as a timepiece. Thanks for the comment.


  7. I had already earned my minor in French, and had moved quite swiftly into French history for a few semesters…I had been a student of French for NINE years, when all of a sudden, one day, out of the blue, I realized “Bonjour” was actually, literally “Good day.” Because I am daft, like all people, sometimes.


  8. This question of discovery has crossed my mind. Things like a house may have been easy to invent, putting up a couple of sticks first, then holes, etc. But foodstuff? How did they figure out which vegetables were okay to eat, which fruits? If it was a matter of just tasting first, I wonder how many of them had to die in the process? Then there are metals. Steel, for example, iron, brass, bronze, copper. Where the hell did the ideas come from, that you could dig up some dirt from earth, clean it up well, process them, and get such materials? In the Bible, gold is first mentioned in Genesis 2:11 and 12, when Adam has just been formed and he shouldn’t be concerned with gold. Yet it says: “And the gold of that land is good” and proceeds to add: “there is bdellium and the onyx stone.” They even knew which gold was good!
    I don’t know.
    In the 2014 movie, Noah, the director implies that there were angels that helped humans along after creation. The movie is a corrupted version of the Flood story, but the angels part gave me a perspective. Also, there are some Sumerian documents about the Annunaki, our creators. Their leader is, or was, Enki. The interesting part is that the old Africans–that’s before the British guys arrived here and initiated irreversible ruin–referred to God as Enkai, Ngai, etc, especially in Kenya. It is the same name, except tribal accents.
    So I’ve been thinking, maybe the Annunaki educated our ancestors. We were to be their servants, slaves, and mine gold for them.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Those are some of the thoughts I had Peter. I can figure out how certain things could have been made and perfected over time, but other things seem like they must have come at the cost of unexpected experiments. I hope that our creators had more in store for us than mining.


  10. Awesome Dan. My husband would LOVE to sit and talk with you. I admire an inquiring mind. I am this way also, especially when it comes to wondering who found out which mushrooms were poisonous, or which berries, in fact. I just figured there are many unmarked pioneer graves scattered across the lands with DNA that could answer just those questions. The only negative to the inquiring mind is that when I take my husband for a walk (yes, it is rather like walking the dog because he doesn’t so much walk as meander) when I stop to admire nature’s beauty and snap a photo, a poem poised on the edge of my busy brain, he instantly launches into technical information about said natural phenomenon. I get it. Information is so cool. But if I am sitting down to watch a live performance of Swan Lake, I don’t care to hear about the nasty foot conditions or anorexia that ballerinas often suffer from. And neither to the people sitting next to us. All of our boys have managed to be a balance of wonder and curiosity with tenacious drive thrown in. They will either inspire the world or drive someone nuts! I love your posts. oh. And I “discover” cartoon truths every day, even the ones I grew up on. I pretend too. lol

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the comment. I often pause in the middle of a lengthy explanation and say to my wife or daughter “oh, was that a rhetorical question?” so I think I’d get along well with your husband. Just don’t ever take us both to an opera :)


  11. Oh, yeah, that Kanga and Roo thing. When I twigged to it I felt so silly, and then just pretended I knew all along.
    My Dad and I are always chasing down this sort of thing. He’s an engineer so his mind is always churning away. We have more fun. We’ll resort to the internet if needs must, but much prefer books.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Glad that I’m not alone on the Kanga/Roo deal. It’s become a standard joke in our family now. I think it’s fun to chase these down. It beats reading the news on most days. Thanks for the comment.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. George – and his many, many relatives – that’s who figured out what plant items weren’t poisonous. At least that is what my then-husband and I determined years ago on a weekend away while driving through fields of artichokes. (People had to be really hungry to even try to figure out these plants were at all edible…) Now George comes up periodically in family discussions about origins.

    Liked by 1 person

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