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JAMES JOYCE (February 2nd, 1882 – January 13th, 1941) Irish novelist and poet, and major literary voice of the early 20th century noted for his use of stream-of-consciousness in his writing. Main accomplishments:
  • Author of three novels (Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Man in 1916, Ulysses in 1920, and Finnegans Wake in 1939) a play (1918’s Exiles), a collection of short stories (Dubliners in 1914), several collections of poetry, as well as several critical essays.
  • Namesake of the James Joyce Award, as well as the James Joyce Pub Award.
  • Named one of TIME Magazine’s 100 Most Important People of the 20th Century.
  • Named influence of Salman Rushdie, Joseph Campbell, and John Updike, among others.
  Generally considered one of the greatest modern writers, James Joyce’s name is often associated with his “difficult” masterpiece, Ulysses. But for many people, the Irish writer, as well as his funny and deeply human writings, remain unknown or extremely difficult. EARLY LIFE Though he spent most of his life on the continent, James Joyce has always been considered an Irish writer and spent his first 22 years in Dublin. He was the oldest surviving child of a large and well-off Roman Catholic family, but in his early teens, the family faced a long period of hard times due to his father’s alcoholism and financial incompetence. These difficulties ended James’s education at a Jesuit boarding school, and he spent time at various Dublin schools before enrolling in University College Dublin. There he studied modern languages, theater, and literature, becoming involved in the local literary subculture. He wrote a number of articles, the first of which was a 1900 review of Henrik Ibsen’s New Drama. He rejected Catholicism, and went to Paris after graduation, spending what little money he had while never quite getting around to pursuing a medical education he claimed to intend for himself. This dalliance was cut short when his mother was diagnosed with cancer, prompting him to return home. Despite her remonstrations, he was unwilling to come back to the Catholic faith, and was the only family member who did not kneel in prayer in her final moments. He took up drinking as his father had, barely making ends meet as a teacher, singer, and book reviewer. EARLY CAREER In 1904, he finished his first significant work, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, but had no luck selling it. He met and fell in love with a chambermaid, Nora Barnacle, on June 16, 1904, a date now celebrated as Bloomsday, which he commemorated in his next novel, Ulysses. The novel’s protagonist, Leopold Bloom, was inspired in no small part by Alfred Hunter, a Jewish friend of James’s father who came to James’s aid during a drunken brawl, and whose wife was rumored to be unfaithful to him. Believing he had secured a teaching position, Joyce left Ireland for Zurich. When it turned out that the Englishman who’d arranged the job for him had been swindled, the school suggested that Joyce try the Berlitz school in Trieste (then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, now Italy), and when he came up dry there as well, he finally found a position in Pula (also Austro-Hungarian, now a Croatian city). Nora accompanied him on this roundabout journey, as she did when he moved back to Trieste, following the expulsion of foreigners from Pula. Finally securing a job that would last, he worked in Trieste for the next decade. Though he and Nora didn’t marry for many years, they soon had their first child, Giorgio; Lucia was born two years later. Joyce made several trips to Rome and Dublin, to oversee the publication of his book Dubliners. After an argument with his Irish publisher in 1912, he never returned to Ireland again, ignoring the requests of his family, friends, and the literary community there. One of his students, a Jewish writer named Ettore Schmitz, who wrote under the name of Italo Svevo, became a close friend and contributed the remainder of Leopold Bloom’s character. WORKS AND WRITING STYLE An expatriate for most of his life, James Joyce wrote almost entirely about his native Dublin, despite refusing to return there after moving to continental Europe. His struggles with Catholicism and alcoholism may seem almost stereotypically Irish, but to his portraits of Dublin, he brought—indeed, helped to invent—a modernist sensibility, exploring the stream-of-consciousness technique, which seeks to portray an individual’s point of view by giving the written equivalent of the character’s thought processes, in such novels as Ulysses and Finnegan’s Wake. Joyce’s first major published work was Dubliners, released in 1914, a slim volume of 15 short stories exploring Dublin’s culture. This was followed, in 1916, by A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, a substantial rewrite of a work he had begun more than a decade earlier, and which serves as a semi-autobiographical coming-of-age novel. His final major work was the novel Finnegan’s Wake, published in 1939, a difficult stream of consciousness novel written in a peculiar, idiosyncratic language which alienated many of the critics who had come to love him. There is no doubt, though, that his masterpiece is Ulysses, published in 1922. The story of Leopold Bloom took fifteen years to mature from a notion to a manuscript; Joyce had set as a deadline his 40th birthday. The story takes place in a single day—now celebrated as the first “Bloomsday,” June 16, 1904—with eighteen chapters covering about an hour each. Each chapter is written in its own style, referencing a specific episode of Homer’s Odyssey—with Leopold Bloom standing in for Ulysses, Molly Bloom for Penelope, and Portrait’s Stephen Dedalus for Telemachus—and employs techniques ranging from stream-of-consciousness to crude jokes. JOYCE’S LATER LIFE Joyce and Nora moved back to Zurich during World War I, and the poet-critic Ezra Pound soon introduced him to Harriet Shaw Weaver, a publisher who became enamored with Joyce’s work in just the way he had been hoping a publisher would. At a time when Joyce’s health problems—he suffered from lifelong troubles with his eyes—were interfering with both his work and his finances, Weaver became his patron, helping to support him so that he could quit teaching and focus solely on writing. Lucia was diagnosed with schizophrenia, necessitating further expenses and even visits to Carl Jung—who, after reading Ulysses, concluded (we may assume erroneously) that Joyce himself suffered from the malady. Joyce finally married Nora in 1931, eleven years after moving to Paris, where he spent most of his full-time writing career. The family left Paris for Zurich in 1940 during the Nazi occupation of France, and Joyce died the following January after surgery for a perforated ulcer. At his request, there was no funeral mass.

The pre-eminent Irish novelist James Joyce (1882-1941) was one of the most important European literary voices of the 20th century. Master of the stream-of-consciousness technique and well-known for h...

VIRGINIA WOOLF (January 25th, 1882 – March 28th, 1941) British novelist, critic, essayist, and pioneer of both 20th century Modernism and Feminism Main accomplishments:
  • Documented Modernism—a style and artistic movement that aimed to disrupt classical or traditional forms—as well as the transition from the Victorian and Edwardian ages to modern society.
  • Ran a publishing company with her husband, the Hogarth Press, through which they produced seminal Modernist works and writers.
  • Co-founded the Bloomsbury Group, a circle of English writers, intellectuals, philosophers, and artists.
  • Examined, as a novelist, the concepts of family, consciousness, character and awareness. Most notable works include Mrs Dalloway, To The Lighthouse and the feminist essay A Room of One’s Own.
  English author, feminist, essayist, publisher, and critic, Virginia Woolf, was one of the most influential literary figures of the early 20th century. Her most famous works include Mrs Dalloway (1925), To the Lighthouse (1927), Orlando (1928), A Room of One’s Own (1929), and The Waves (1931). She was also a co-founder, with her sister Vanessa Bell, of the Bloomsbury Group, an informal association of English writers, intellectuals, philosophers, and artists. EARLY LIFE Henry James dubbed Adeline Virginia Woolf, née Stephen, “a descendant of a century of quill pens and ink pots.” She was third of four children born to noted Victorian philosopher and writer, Sir Leslie Stephen, founding editor of the Dictionary of National Biography and his wife, Julia. Her godfather was the poet James Russell Lowell. Unlike their Cambridge-educated brothers, Virginia and her sister Vanessa, were tutored at home and had constant exposure to a wide range of intellectuals who were friends of their father - such as James, Lowell, E. M. Forster and G. E. Moore. She would later rebuke her father for the lack of opportunity to have a formal education like her brothers. Family influenced much of Woolf’s life and work. Her first of several mental breakdowns came with the death of her mother in 1895. The death of her father in 1904 led to a suicide attempt and eventual institutionalization. Throughout Woolf’s life, stressful events triggered recurrent episodes of mental breakdowns. Despite the loss of her parents and younger brother, Woolf remained close with her sister and another brother, Adrian. She met her husband, the author Leonard Woolf, when she lived as a single woman with him and three other young men, including Adrian. Her sister Vanessa married the critic Clive Bell, who would later introduce the Woolfs to new writers for their publishing firm, the Hogarth Press. CAREER Despite her aristocratic lineage and privileged upper-class upbringing, one of the remarkable aspects of Woolf’s work, both as an author and publisher, is its portrayal of democracy. This view reflects education from classic works she received from her tutors. Woolf herself felt that society and “human character” had changed with the passing of King Edward VII in 1910, heralding the beginning of Modernism and the end of the Victorian and Edwardian periods. To explain this transition, Woolf fell back on the privileged life of her childhood, juxtaposed with the society of her time. She referred to the character of a cook. In Victorian times, the cook would remain ‘downstairs,’ planning meals and ruling over a large staff. In modern times, the cook would be seen—whether asking to read the paper or seeking advice on a new hat. Married in 1912, Leo and Virginia Woolf started the Hogarth Press in 1918 to publish their own co-written short story. The success it received led them to continue publishing, seeking out new or unknown writers like Katherine Mansfield (Prelude), T. S. Eliot (Poems) and further their own works, individually and jointly (V. Woolf, Kew Gardens). Hogarth Press’ best-selling author was Vita Sackville-West (The Edwardians), who had a passionate affair with Woolf. Both Sackeville-West and Woolf were part of the Bloomsbury Group. While she and Leo lived in Bloomsbury, London, Virginia Woolf became part of a group of intellects, artists, writers, and philosophers, who were united by their appreciation of the arts, love, beauty, and the pursuit of knowledge. Their influence and works helped form modern concepts of feminism, pacifism, and sexuality after the Victorian Age. The eponymous group included Virginia and Leo Woolf, Vanessa and Clive Bell, Julian Bell, Adrian Stephen, Lytton Strachey, Duncan Grant, Arthur Waley, Vita Sackville-West, John Maynard Keynes, and Roger Fry. This group became known for its repudiation of the very public social rituals of the Victorians and its rigid ideas on gender and sexuality. In discarding these Victorian mores, Woolf, and her cohorts, many of who were interrelated or close friends, sought to bring more pleasure into individual private life. This included experimenting sexually and living in non-traditional arrangements. LATER LIFE  Her death, in 1941, was initially called a drowning. But further consideration has led to a belief that the cause was suicide, stemmed from a cold reception to her latest work and the stress of living in England during World War II, which included the destruction of her house in London. Woolf filled her coat pockets with stones and walked into the river Ouse.

English author, feminist, essayist, publisher, and critic, Virginia Woolf (1882–1941), was one of the most influential literary figures of the early 20th century. Her most famous works include M...

PABLO PICASSO (October 25, 1881 - April 8, 1973) Spanish painter, artist, and sculptor. Founder of the Cubist art movement. Main accomplishments:
  • Along with fellow artist Georges Braque, founded the Cubist movement of art, which involved breaking down and re-assembling the subject in an abstract manner which would subsequently influence other styles such as expressionism, surrealism, and futurism.
  • Possibly the most prolific artist of all time: he produced over 20,000 works, ranging from paintings to sculptures to ceramic works. Among his most famous paintings are Les Demoiselles d'Avignon (1907), Guernica (1937), and The Weeping Woman (1937), the latter two dealing with the horrors of World War 2.
  One of the greatest artists of the 20th century, Pablo Picasso left behind an enormous body of work, spanning many distinct phases and styles, such as the Blue Period, the Rose Period, and his most famous contribution to modern art, Cubism. EARLY LIFE Pablo Ruiz y Picasso studied art with his father, the painter Jose Ruiz y Blasco, from a very young age—young enough, in fact, that at an age when most children are still doodling, he was producing oil paintings which today hang in museums devoted to his work. Hundreds of his works from the nineteenth century survive, and by 1896 his The First Communion, produced when he was 14, his work was as realistic and attentively created as any painter's of the day. So prolific was he, and so talented at such a young age, that by the end of his teens he had passed through two periods in his development as an artist—the early realism evident in his mid-teens work and the modernism of his late teens, when his brief formal education exposed him to the work of Munch, Rossetti, Toulouse-Lautrec, and others. EARLY WORK In 1900, at the age of 19, Picasso—still using his full name—moved to Paris, where he shared a room with the poet Max Jacob. Picasso worked at night and slept in the bed during the day; Jacob took the bed at night and worked during the day. These early years were hard but formative; he shortly began signing all his work simply "Picasso," and began his earliest love affairs with Fernande Olivier and Marcelle Humbert while making friends in the art scene. Those first years of the century correspond to the painter's "Blue Period." A remarkably prolific painter—the most prolific of the great artists—Picasso passed through a number of well-defined periods as his style and interests shifted. While a less prolific painter might produce three or four paintings based on images from African artifacts, and have them barely noted by history, Picasso's African period from 1907 to 1909 produced dozens of works, enough to study the period in as much detail as you might expect to find in a study of another artist's entire career. BLUE AND ROSE PERIODS During the Blue Period, Picasso painted portrait after portrait of despondent figures—musicians, beggars, prostitutes, artists, blind men, inspired by the struggles of his life—in shades of blue with rare touches of other colors. Perhaps owing something to the rapid mood shifts of adolescence, the Blue Period is immediately followed by the Rose Period (1905-1907). Though clowns and entertainers appeared in both periods, those of the Blue Period are the near-homeless performers of the street—those of the Rose Period are circus performers, and the hues are warm and cheerful, with heavy reliance on pink. His long-term relationship with Olivier, the first romantic relationship of his adulthood, is generally credited with this change. The previously mentioned African Period followed the Rose, as the French expansion into the African continent brought public attention to African figurines and tribal designs. CUBISM The Blue and Rose periods had been marked by the same realism of his younger work, but in toying with the representational style of African art, Picasso began moving away from strict proportions and realistic portrayals. By 1909, his Analytic Cubism period had begun. Picasso was one of the first Cubists, and the style became popular among his artist friends in Montparnasse. Analytic Cubism reduced an image to basic geometric forms—a mountain range became a cluster of triangles, a hand a sphere with cones and cylinders extending from it. The style emphasized the analysis necessary before the painting could begin—the divorce of the image from the painter's knowledge of what it represented. The term "cubism" had been coined in reference to a painting by Parisian painter Georges Braque, which looked like it was "full of little cubes." Many of the techniques employed by Cubists were later used by designers of 20th-century military camouflage—Picasso's friend, expatriate American writer Gertrude Stein, theorized that there may have been a direct inspiration, something that the press commented on repeatedly during the war periods, given Picasso's reputation as a pacifist. Analytic Cubism led to Synthetic Cubism, which incorporated collage and a greater sense of playfulness. The two schools coexisted, but Picasso personally moved from the first to the second, pursuing Synthetic Cubist painting from 1911 or 1912 until 1919 or so. His life went through a number of changes in this time, and it goes without saying that Europe—which fought the first World War during that period, and saw an end to the Age of Empires—did so as well. Picasso met and married his first wife, Russian ballerina Olga Khokhlova, in 1918; his first son, Paulo, was born the following year. His social world expanded from that of artists and expatriates to include high society and the very wealthy, many of whom were patrons of the ballet. This created a number of conflicts between the Picassos, though: he was never the eccentric that Salvador Dali was, but Picasso was most at home with other artists and oddballs, while his wife wanted a respectable, traditional life, one that would hold up to the inspection accordant to their social prominence. PERSONAL LIFE The conflicts in their desires probably encouraged Picasso's first long-term affair, beginning in 1927, with Marie-Therese Walter. Almost thirty years younger than him, Walter was 17 when the two met, and was soon hired as a nurse for Paulo, living in a house across the street from the Picassos. Olga discovered the affair when Walter became pregnant, but the Picassos did not divorce; Picasso did not want her to have half his wealth. They remained separated until Olga's death in 1955. Though Walter clearly hoped Picasso would marry her, their affair continued on a semi-clandestine basis while he entertained relationships with other women. He remarried in 1961, to Jacqueline Roque, the subject of one of his more famous later paintings, Jacqueline. Though Picasso was called a pacifist by the press, he rarely spoke out against war; he simply remained neutral through the major conflicts of the twentieth century. He opposed Francisco Franco's regime in Spain but took no action against it—and explained once that, "if I were a shoemaker ... I would not necessarily hammer my shoes in any special way to show my politics." In the period between the world wars, Picasso — like many other artists of the time — became interested in classical art again and began drawing on it for inspiration. His style remained famously "unrealistic," depicting faces out of proportion or with all their features clustered together, limbs arranged impossibly. After World War II, he began reinterpreting famous works with his style, including some of those by Manet and Goya. Late in life, his style became frenetic, almost garishly colorful, and his self-portraits reflected a growing dissatisfaction with his appearance and the knowledge that though he had and continued to attract lovers, it was because of who he was, not who he looked like. Unlike many artists, Picasso's skill and inspiration never flagged in old age. He never seemed old-fashioned compared to younger artists. He continued to work until his death, his final works often masterful examples of expressionism that would still look modern today, thirty years later. His last words, at dinner with Jacqueline in 1973, were "Drink to me, drink to my health, you know I can't drink any more."

One of the greatest artists of the 20th century, Pablo Picasso (1882-1973), left behind an enormous body of work, spanning many distinct phases and styles, such as the Blue Period, the Rose Period, ...

ALBERT EINSTEIN (March 14, 1879 – April 18, 1955) German-Jewish theoretical physicist, author, professor, and peace advocate. Main accomplishments:
  • Published the four “Annus mirabilis” papers, including his famous theory of relativity, in Annalen der Physik; earned his Ph.D. in the same year.
  • A solar eclipse demonstrated that the Sun’s gravity deflects the light from stars, proving true Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity; Einstein was launched into international scientific fame almost overnight.
  • Einstein and fellow physicist Leó Szilárd drafted the Einstein- Szilárd Letter, persuading President Roosevelt to begin research on atomic weapons before the Nazis and to kick-start the Manhattan Project.
  • His most famous published works include Special Theory of Relativity (1905), Why War? (1933), and The Evolution of Physics (1938).
  His formula about the relationship of mass and energy, E=mc2, revolutionized the world of science. Undoubtedly one of the most influential physicists of all time, Albert Einstein (1879-1955) radically transformed our understanding of the universe. Perhaps best known for his theory of relativity, his contributions to physics are varied, unique, and still very relevant. He furthered our understanding of time, space, energy and matter, and contributed to the development of quantum physics. Practically all the modern physicists and astrophysicists are drawing from Einstein’s groundbreaking work, a never-ending testimony to this quintessential scientific genius. EARLY LIFE Born in Ulm, in Württemberg, Germany, Einstein’s birthday happens to fall on "Pi Day" (3-14) and is informally celebrated by some mathematicians. Einstein was slow to develop in his early childhood—but it would be a mistake to think that “slow” equated to “stupid.” His father gave him a compass at the age of 5, sparking an early interest in physics that Einstein would pursue throughout his life. Popular legend claims Einstein was a poor math student, which isn't quite true. He was a late bloomer and had poor language skills at a young age, something that is often true of highly introspective individuals. But he taught himself calculus and geometry with the aid of a school pamphlet and a copy of Euclid he received as part of a stack of books from a family friend who was studying medicine. As a student, he disliked the gymnasiums—German secondary schools—and after leaving school at 16, he failed the entrance exam for the Federal Polytechnic Institute, which may be the source of the "bad student" myth. But failing the entrance exam on the first try wasn't that unusual. He passed it the following year in 1895, at which point he also renounced his German citizenship to avoid military service and moved to Switzerland to pursue mathematics. Though pure mathematicians usually peak early in life, doing their most brilliant and groundbreaking work at a very young age, as a physicist Einstein's early work only hinted at his aspirations. His first published paper dealt with capillarity—the ability of an object to draw a substance upwards despite the pull of gravity, such as plants taking water from the soil and the use of drinking straws. While studying for his teaching diploma in Zurich, Einstein met his first wife, Mileva Marić, whom he would later divorce in 1919. Unable to find a teaching position, Einstein instead took a job with the Swiss Patent Office and began studying for his Ph.D. at the University of Zurich. It was during this time that his scientific genius began to come to light. GROUNDBREAKING WORK In 1905, referred to as Einstein’s “miracle year,” he published four revolutionary papers in the Annalen der Physik scientific journal. The “Annus Mirabilis” papers, as they came to be called, dealt with the photoelectric effect, Brownian motion, the special theory of relativity, and Einstein’s theory of matter-energy equivalence—better known as “E=mc2”. Einstein’s publications shook the foundation of previously-established ideas about modern physics and inspired a new way of looking at time, space and matter. Anyone of these papers by itself would have been a scientific rainmaker, and together they read like a Greatest Hits of twentieth-century physics. The famous E=mc2 equation appeared in "Does the Inertia of a Body Depend Upon Its Energy Content?" His paper on Brownian motion supported the existence of atoms, which at the time was still a contested theory. His photoelectric effect paper would influence the entire field of quantum mechanics—which Einstein himself was uncomfortable with—and accordingly earned him a Nobel prize. Most famously, "On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies" proposed Einstein's theory of special relativity. Special relativity contradicted the widely accepted physics of Isaac Newton, in order to reconcile certain observed facts about bodies in motion. To understand the impact special relativity had, consider the beliefs it did away with. In Einstein's time, the dominant view of the universe, developed in the previous two generations, was that of "luminiferous aether." This aether filled space, beyond the atmosphere of the earth and other planets, and was the medium through which light traveled. Because light was known to travel in waves, scientists couldn't conceive of it doing so without some medium to travel through—it was like imagining the waves of the ocean without water. Aether was constantly redefined in order to keep from contradicting other theories, and finally, Einstein pointed out what should have been obvious: that if you assumed aether didn't exist, you could come up with a new theory that didn't have such contradictions. Doing so required changing the very model of the universe itself. RISE TO INTERNATIONAL FAME In 1914, Einstein returned to Germany after accepting a position as director of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Physics. During the first World War, he worked on his more radical theory of general relativity. While special relativity had undone the aether, general relativity contradicted Newton's model of gravity, one of the most basic and seemingly intuitive concepts in physics. Einsteinian gravity is an effect of curving spacetime, a harder concept to illustrate than an apple falling from a tree. The impact of Einstein's theories was delayed, despite the fame, he had attained from the Annus mirabilis papers; the war made it difficult to disseminate scientific papers. But in 1919, astronomical experiments conducted during the solar eclipse confirmed what general relativity predicted about the bending of light—while Newtonian models were shown to be in error. Though the general public didn't seem to understand immediately what the big deal was, the effect in the scientific community was tremendous. Einstein’s discovery launched him to international fame almost overnight, with the New York Times headline two days later reading: “Lights All Askew In The Heavens/Men Of Science More Or Less Agog Over Results Of Eclipse Observations/Einstein Theory Triumphs.” The name “Einstein” became synonymous with “genius,” a tribute that continues to this day. WAR AND SCIENCE In 1933, Einstein saw the rise of the Nazi party as a threat to his life. When Hitler rose to power, Einstein was traveling abroad in California. He elected not to return to Germany and instead remained in the United States and became a professor at Princeton University. Many other Jewish scientists fled to the United States as well, including Einstein’s colleague Leó Szilárd. Szilárd, an Austrian-Hungarian physicist who conceived the nuclear chain reaction, was fearful of the possibility that the Nazis might develop a nuclear weapon. He convinced Einstein to help him draft a letter to President Roosevelt warning him of the threat of Nazi nuclear weapons; despite Einstein’s lifelong pacifism, he agreed that the Nazis could not be allowed to control this power alone. The Einstein- Szilárd Letter convinced President Roosevelt to begin research on nuclear weapons in what would come to be called the Manhattan Project. Contrary to popular belief, Einstein did not directly contribute to the Manhattan Project himself, but the Einstein- Szilárd Letter was instrumental in getting it started. Following the American bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Einstein regretted drafting the letter, stating a year before his death that “I made one great mistake in my life ... when I signed the letter to President Roosevelt recommending that atom bombs be made; but there was some justification - the danger that the Germans would make them.” Perhaps out of a sense of atonement, Einstein spent his later years championing peace and tolerance. He was a member of the NAACP and referred to racism as “America’s worst disease,” and received the One World Award in 1948. Einstein was a strong advocate for a unified world government, stating that nationalism was “an infantile disease. It is the measles of mankind.” FACING DEATH WITH DIGNITY Einstein became an American citizen just before the start of World War II, and was later offered the position of President of Israel, which he declined. In his scientific research, Einstein's later work revolved around the search for a "unified field theory." The search for such a theory, a single theory that would describe all the physical laws governing the universe, had begun in the nineteenth century, and every revolution in physics rewrote those laws and thus the theory's demands. His approach centered around the treatment of curving spacetime and became increasingly abstract. It has been suggested that in refusing to incorporate quantum mechanics into his views, he may have found himself coming up with the same sort of convoluted explanations of the universe as the atheists had. In 1955, at the age of 76, Einstein suffered an aortic aneurysm while at Princeton. He refused surgery, stating: “I want to go when I want to go. It is tasteless to prolong life artificially. I have done my share; it is time to go. I will do it elegantly." He passed away the next morning, and during the autopsy, his brain was removed by Dr. Thomas Harvey, who wanted to study what made Einstein a genius. Harvey, who did not have any permission to do so, was summarily dismissed from the hospital. Einstein’s brain is currently kept at the Mutter Museum in Philadelphia. Einstein’s legacy, a marriage of science and philosophy, continues to endure to this day. From X-Rays to microwave ovens, many modern technological appliances make use of Einstein’s studies of physics. His pioneering work in physics shaped how scientists look at matter today and his views on peace and pacifism join the ranks of Gandhi, whom he greatly admired and corresponded with. The iconic image of Einstein as the wild-haired mad professor endures in the public eye, and to this day, his name means “brilliance” even to those who know nothing of him. SUGGESTED READING [table id=16 /]

His formula about the relationship of mass and energy, E=mc[2], revolutionized the world of science. Undoubtedly one of the most influential physicists of all time, Albert Einstein (1879-1955) radic...

WINSTON CHURCHILL (November 30, 1874 – January 24, 1965) British politician, statesman, and writer who is best known for his leadership of the United Kingdom during World War II. MAIN ACCOMPLISHMENTS
  • Served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1940-1945 and again from 1951-1955.
  • Leadership during World War II, including the decision to fight against Nazi Germany and the inspiring speeches he made to the British people.
  • Won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1953 for his six-volume work "The Second World War."
Best known for his leadership of the United Kingdom during World War II and his inspiring speeches to the British people, Winston Churchill was one of the most influential statesmen of the 20th century. He served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1940-1945 and again from 1951-1955, and played a key role in the Allied victory against Nazi Germany. Churchill was also a prolific writer, winning the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1953 for his six-volume work "The Second World War." In addition to his political and literary accomplishments, Churchill is remembered for his wit and eloquence, and his legacy continues to influence politicians and writers around the world. EARLY LIFE Winston Churchill was born into a life of privilege as the son of Lord Randolph Churchill, a prominent British statesman, and Jennie Jerome, an American socialite. He was educated at Harrow School and the Royal Military College at Sandhurst before joining the British Army in 1895. Churchill saw active service in Cuba, India, and the Sudan, where he took part in the Mahdist War and the re-conquest of Khartoum. CAREER BEGINNINGS Churchill entered politics in 1900, winning a seat in the House of Commons as a member of the Conservative Party. He later switched to the Liberal Party and served in a variety of government positions, including Home Secretary and First Lord of the Admiralty. In 1911, Churchill made headlines around the world when he traveled to the Ottoman Empire as a war correspondent and participated in the Siege of Sidney Street, a gunfight between British police and a group of Latvian revolutionaries. WORLD WAR I AND INTERWAR PERIOD During World War I, Churchill served as Minister of Munitions and later as Minister of War and Air. In the 1920s and 1930s, he held a variety of government positions, including Chancellor of the Exchequer and Minister of Health. However, he was also a controversial figure, and his views on India and other imperial issues made him unpopular with many. In the 1930s, Churchill became a vocal critic of the policies of Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and the appeasement of Nazi Germany. WORLD WAR II Churchill became Prime Minister of the United Kingdom in 1940, at a time when the country was facing its darkest hour. Hitler's armies had overrun much of Europe, and the British army had been forced to evacuate at Dunkirk. Churchill's leadership and strong speeches, including his famous "We shall fight on the beaches" address, helped to rally the British people and their allies. He also played a key role in the Allied victory, working closely with President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Soviet leader Joseph Stalin. POST-WAR YEARS After the war, Churchill's popularity soared, and he was re-elected as Prime Minister in the 1951 general election. However, his second term was marked by economic struggles and declining health, and he retired from politics in 1955. Churchill continued to write and speak about politics, and in 1953 he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature for his six-volume work "The Second World War." He died at the age of 90 in 1965, and his funeral was one of the largest and most elaborate in British history.  

WINSTON CHURCHILL (November 30, 1874 – January 24, 1965) British politician, statesman, and writer who is best known for his leadership of the United Kingdom during World War II. MAIN ACCOMPLISHMENT...

BERTRAND RUSSELL (May 18th, 1872 – February 2nd, 1970) British philosopher and logician. Main accomplishments:
  • Author of over 18 books, including The Principles of Mathematics (1903), Why Men Fight (1917), and The Analysis of Mind (1921), along with dozens of essays and articles.
  • Made significant contributions to mathematics and logic, including the discovery of Russell’s paradox, the “defence of logicism” argument, the founding of analytic philosophy, and the popularization of predicate calculus, among others.
  • Worked with Albert Einstein to write the Russell-Einstein Manifesto in 1955, which argued against the development of nuclear weapons; passionately argued against war and nuclear proliferation throughout his life and was imprisoned for it several times.
  • Winner of the Order of Merit in 1949. Also won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1950, "in recognition of his varied and significant writings in which he champions humanitarian ideals and freedom of thought."
  One of the foremost champions of analytic philosophy, Bertrand Russell was an early 20th-century philosopher and pacifist. A prominent social critic, Russell wrote dozens of books, forming a vast bibliography that stands as one of the cornerstones of 20th-century philosophy. Remembered as much for his passionate anti-war stance as for his dedication to and spirited defense of logic, Russell spent nearly a century shaping modern philosophy as we know it. EARLY LIFE Bertrand Russell’s childhood was marked by tragedy: although he was born into an upper-class, aristocratic family, he lost both parents and a sister to illness by the time he was five years old. Bertrand and his older brother Frank were left in the care of their paternal grandmother, Countess Russell. In contrast to Russell’s wildly progressive parents, the Countess was a staunchly traditional Victorian woman under whose strict upbringing Bertrand suffered. Despite this, she was also unusually passionate about women’s rights and social justice, and she imparted those views on to her grandson. Her husband, John Russell, had been Prime Minister from 1846-1852, and again from 1865-1866; the Countess attempted to train Bertrand to follow in his grandfather’s footsteps but to no avail. Russell was primarily homeschooled, but it was not until age 11, when he was introduced to Euclidean geometry by his brother, that he truly began to pursue mathematics and logic; he later described his introduction to Euclid as “one of the great events of my life, as dazzling as first love.” Russell, an unhappy and even suicidal youth, saw mathematics as a means of escape from his stifling upbringing, and he would continue to use it as such throughout the difficulties of his life. Mathematics led over to logic, which in turn led over to religion: Bertrand eventually rebelled against his grandmother’s heavily Christian beliefs, although he expressed difficulty in determining whether he was an atheist or an agnostic. “Sometimes I have said one and sometimes the other,” he lamented, “without any clear principle by which to go.” In 1890, Russell made for Trinity College, Cambridge, where he graduated and became a Fellow of the college in 1895. While studying at Cambridge, he became acquainted with the secret student group known as the Cambridge Apostles, who convinced Russell to abandon a mathematics career in favor of philosophy. It was also during this time that Russell met his first wife, an American Quaker named Alys Smith. The marriage was not a happy one: they finally divorced in 1921, after a painful two-decade-long separation process. PHILOSOPHY CAREER Russell’s first tract, German Social Democracy, was published in 1896. He studied mathematics at Cambridge and discovered Russell’s paradox in 1901, which proved that Georg Cantor’s naïve set theory led to a natural paradox. His first mathematics text, The Principles of Mathematics, contained the first steps of Russell’s logical philosophy. Inspired by the likes of Cantor, he embraced analytic philosophy, casting aside the popular idealism of the time in favor of logic. Alongside Alfred North Whitehead, Russell wrote the Principia Mathematica, which served to establish a set of logical rules by which both mathematics and philosophy could function. The Principia consisted of a three-volume set; although a fourth volume was planned, Russell and Whitehead were never able to complete it. In 1911, Russell met two crucial people in his life. The first was Lady Ottoline Morrell, with whom he engaged in a passionate affair that spelled the end of his marriage to Alys. The second was Ludwig Wittgenstein, a brilliant young Austrian philosopher whom Russell took under his wing. Inspired both by his romance with Morrell and his studies with Wittgenstein, Russell abandoned technical philosophy; he later wrote that thanks to Wittgenstein’s criticism of his work, “my impulse was shattered, like a wave dashed to pieces against a breakwater.” RUSSELL THE PROTESTER 1914 saw the advent of World War 1, and with it arose Russell’s passionate antiwar stance. Two years after the war’s start, Russell’s participation in antiwar protests led to his being fined 110 pounds and dismissed from Trinity College under the Defence of the Realm Act, and two years later he was imprisoned for five months for his protests. Following the war, Russell divorced Alys and married Dora Black, a British feminist author. Again, the marriage did not last; they divorced in 1935 after having two children, John, and Kate Russell. Nevertheless, Russell’s marriage to Dora was a productive one, and it was with her support that he wrote many of his most famous works, including The Theory and Practice of Bolshevism (1920), On Education (1930), and his famous “Why I Am Not A Christian” lecture in 1927. In 1931 Russell’s brother Frank died, making Bertrand the Earl of Russell. In 1936, he married a third time, this time to Patricia Spence—with whom he had another son, Conrad Russell. Three years later he was appointed a professor of philosophy at the University of California at Los Angeles. Although initially he was opposed to World War II and favored appeasement, he eventually realized that defeating the Nazis was more important than avoiding a world war. Despite this, he was vehemently opposed to nuclear proliferation following the war: in 1955, he worked with Albert Einstein to author the Russell-Einstein Manifesto, which called for nuclear disarmament by major world leaders. LATER LIFE Skirting bankruptcy, Russell was able to turn some of his lectures into a book, A History of Western Philosophy (1945), which became a bestseller and saved Russell’s finances. This was a high point of Russell’s life. He won the Order of Merit in 1949 and the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1950. He was invited to give a series of political lectures by the BBC, and in 1952, he divorced yet again. That same year he married his fourth and final wife, Edith Finch, with whom he stayed happily married until the end of his life. Russell’s final major philosophical work was Human Knowledge: Its Scope and Limits in 1948; thereafter he worked primarily as a political activist rather than a philosopher. He was firmly opposed to the United States’ participation in the Vietnam War; in 1961, he was imprisoned yet again for a week following his participation in anti-nuclear protests, at the extraordinary age of 89. Russell lived another eight years and finally died of influenza in 1970 at the age of 97.

One of the foremost champions of analytic philosophy, Bertrand Russell (1872–1970) was an early 20th-century philosopher and pacifist. A prominent social critic, Russell wrote dozens of books, formi...

MARCEL PROUST (July 10, 1871 - November 18, 1922) Award-winning French author whose life work was a seven-volume novel.  Main Accomplishments:
  • Author of one of the longest novels ever written, In Search of Lost Time.
  • Coined the term “involuntary memory.”
  • Recipient of the Prix Goncourt (1919).
  Best known for his epic seven-volume magnum opus À la recherche du temps perdu (In Search of Lost Time; previously translated as Remembrance of Things Past)Marcel Proust was a giant of twentieth-century literature whose extraordinary masterpiece continues to challenge and inspire readers. EARLY LIFE Valentin Louis Georges Eugène Marcel Proust was born in Anteuil, France, in 1871. His father, Adrien Proust, was a prominent doctor largely responsible for eliminating cholera in France. Proust’s mother was named Jeanne, née Weil, and descended from a wealthy Jewish family.  Shortly after his birth, Proust was baptized Roman Catholic. Though his parents raised him in the church, Proust did not practice the faith as an adult but preferred atheism and mysticism.  He was a sickly child who often suffered from asthma attacks. He dealt with this condition throughout his life. He attended the Lycée Condorcet and performed well in writing and literature, writing for class magazines throughout 1882 and 1889 and receiving an award for his talent the year he graduated.  While at the Lycée Condorcet, Proust made friends with students whose mothers were society hostesses. Through these friends, Proust participated in the events of the wealthy and influential. These experiences inspired many details found in In Search of Lost Time. From 1888 to 1889, Proust served in the French army. This experience provided him with content for the third volume of In Search of Lost Time: The Guermantes Way After departing from the Army, he studied at the School of Political Sciences and took licenses in law and literature. His writing abilities grew more formidable during his studies, and he released a collection of short stories the year after receiving his literature license. This collection was titled, Pleasures and Days (1896). Around the time of this first publication, Proust began expanding his breadth of reading. He dove into the works of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Thomas Carlyle, which informed him of his own role as a writer. He learned that his work was to do more than entertain and to be truly successful, it needed to yield change.  From 1896 to 1899, Proust worked on his book Jean Santeuil but never finished it. Proust struggled to develop the story's plot, yet his efforts were not in vain. The concepts introduced in this manuscript developed later in another novel; the most significant concept was the role of memory in our lives.  CAREER As Proust grew older, his aspirations of being among the high-class became increasingly apparent. However, Proust lacked the self-discipline to make much of himself, causing his family frustration. Though he refused to pick up a full-time job, he dedicated much of his time to activism between 1897 and 1899. At this time, the French government had arrested their own army captain, Alfred Dreyfus, and Proust was active in Dreyfus’ defense.  Dreyfus, a French Jew, was accused of treason for allegedly selling confidential military information to the Germans. Much of the public initially stood for his condemnation; however, many of these supporters hailed from anti-Semitic hate groups. As the trial went on, more information came out about another suspect who may have committed treason as well, Ferdinand Walsin-Esterhazy. Esterhazy was tried and acquitted, but Dreyfus had now received a guilty verdict. Dreyfus' supporters saw deep injustice before their eyes and continually protested on his behalf.  In 1898, a released document proved the French army had wrongfully accused Dreyfus, and the president pardoned him. This series of events deeply impacted Proust, so his view of the aristocracy was more disillusioned.  Following the death of his father in 1903 and his mother in 1905, Proust reignited the pursuit of his novel. In 1905, he completed an early draft of the first volume but felt it was only entertaining. He knew this piece had to be more philosophical than anything he had ever produced.  In January 1909, Proust had a flashback to his childhood. While eating a rusk biscuit and sipping on tea, he reminisced about his early years, and this event inspired the “Proustian moment” within In Search of Lost Time. The Proustian moment is now seen in literature and films, occurring when a character recalls the innocence of their childhood that sways their current situation. A popular contemporary example of this is in the Pixar film, Ratatouille when the austere food critic tastes a dish so good that he is thrown back into his childhood, recalling a memory that changes his demeanor forever.  In 1912, Proust finally completed the first draft of In Search of Lost Time, Swann's Way. The best publishers in France rejected the book, but a young publisher named Bernard Grasset accepted it in 1913.  Proust continued writing and received offers from publishers that once rejected him. By the summer of 1919, he released a revision of The Swann’s Way and published new volumes of the book Within a Budding Grove. In December of that year, Proust received the Prix Goncourt, a prestigious French literary award, which gave his career a welcomed jolt.  Two more volumes of In Search of Lost Time were published during Proust’s lifetime: The Guermantes’ Way and Sodom and Gomorrah. The final three volumes were published posthumously: The Prisoner, The Fugitive, and Finding Time Again. The total word count of the final edition was 1,267,069 words, all encompassed within 4,215 pages. END OF LIFE Proust died of pneumonia in Paris, France, on November 18, 1922. His lungs began to fail as he was drafting the final manuscripts of In Search of Lost Time. He was fifty-one years old. 

Best known for his epic seven-volume magnum opus À la recherche du temps perdu (In Search of Lost Time; previously translated as Remembrance of Things Past), Marcel Proust (1871-1922) was a giant of ...

MARIE CURIE (November 7th, 1867 – July 4th, 1934) Polish chemist and physicist. Main accomplishments:
  • First woman to win the Nobel Prize in Physics, 1903, and chemistry, 1911.
  • Discovered radioactivity, polonium, and radium.
  • First woman in the world to earn a doctorate in science.
EARLY LIFE Marie Curie was born on November 7, 1867, in Warsaw, Poland as the youngest of five to Ladislas and Bronsitwa Sklodowska. Ladislas was a math and physics teacher at a secondary school, and Bronsitwa was the headmistress of a private school. Because they were teachers and Polish patriots, the family struggled financially. While Curie's inquisitive mind followed the interests of her father, Bronsitwa caught tuberculosis and passed away when Curie was only eleven. She graduated high school with the highest honors at the age of fifteen. Curie developed a nervous illness, and her father sent her away to live with her cousins in the country for a year. After her recuperation, since she could not attend the male-only University of Warsaw, she was instead forced to continue her education through underground, informal classes called Warsaw's floating university, chased by the Czar's police. Her family did not have the funding to send her abroad to obtain her degree though it was a dream of hers and her sister Bronya. Together, they decided to work each other's way through school, one at a time. For five years, Curie worked as a governess and tutor, studying physics, chemistry, and math in her free time. She worked for the owner of a beet-sugar factory, also tutoring children of the Polish peasant workers to read, a risk punishable by Russian authorities. She also took chemistry lessons from a chemist in the factory. In 1889, she returned to Warsaw because her father was receiving a better salary as head of a reform school. He was able to send money to Bronya in Paris, allowing Curie secretly to study a chemistry course at a museum, which in reality was an illegal lab to train Polish scientists. In 1891, it was her turn to go finally to university on her carefully saved finances. She moved to study at Sorbonne, surviving on only buttered bread and tea, which was detrimental to her health. In 1893, Curie earned her degree in physics, and in 1894, she also earned a degree in math. CAREER Around the time Curie received her degrees, she was commissioned to work on a study of steel and magnetic properties. Knowing she needed a lab to work in, a colleague introduced her to Pierre Curie, a French physicist. They became devoted to one another as well as science and were married in 1895. Curie took on a project involved weak uranium rays, discovering that they always remain constant. She theorized that the rays came from the atomic structure of uranium, a revolutionary idea she coined as radioactivity. In 1897, she and Pierre had a daughter, Irene. Pierre's father (a retired doctor) moved in with them to help raise Irene, and Pierre ceased his own studies to contribute to Curie's radioactivity experiments. They worked with pitchblende and discovered radium. In 1903, Curie became the first woman to win a Nobel Prize. She won for physics, along with a prestigious honor, for her work on radioactivity. This gave her international recognition, and she used the prize money to continue research. She also went back to school to gain her doctorate of science and became the first woman to achieve this success. In 1904, her daughter Eve was born. This joy was followed by Pierre's tragic death in 1906 when he stepped in front of a horse-drawn wagon in Paris. Curie took over his post as Professor of General Physics in the Faculty of Sciences and Head of Physics Laboratory at the Sorbonne making her the first female professor there, as well. In 1911, Curie won her second Nobel Prize, this time for chemistry. Her husband was honored for his contributions to her discoveries of radium and polonium. Curie is the first scientist to win two Nobel Prizes. She was invited to attend the first Solvay Congress in Physics, among Albert Einstein and Max Planck. In 1914, World War I broke out, and Curie threw herself into helping her country. She pioneered portable X-ray machines for the field. After the war, her fame and resources helped her travel to the United States in 1921 and 1929 to raise funds for a radium research base in Warsaw. LATER LIFE In 1934, Curie traveled to Passy, France, to rest and regain her health. However, she had already overexposed herself to radioactive materials and was known to carry around test tubed of radium in her lab coat pockets. She died on July 4, 1934, of aplastic anemia. Her final remains were buried in the Pantheon in Paris, the first and only woman to be laid there. Her daughter Irene carried on the family legacy and won a Nobel Prize in chemistry in 1935.

Marie Curie (1867–1934) whose work changed our modern understanding of matter and energy, was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize and the only woman to win the award in two different fields. Along ...

FRANK LLOYD WRIGHT (June 8th, 1869 – April 9th, 1959) American architect and writer. Main accomplishments:
  • Laid plans for over 1000 building designs; over half of these were built, and 409 still stand today. Among these were some of his most famous works: the Guggenheim Museum, the Marin County Civic Center, and the Hollyhock House.
  • Recipient of multiple Gold Medals from the Royal Institute of British Architects, the National Institute of Arts and Letters, the city of Florence and the American Institute of Architects; also received the Royal Gold Medal for Architecture from King George VI and Franklin Institute’s Frank P. Brown Medal.
  • Inspired the creation of the Prairie School of Architecture, designed to adapt to the growing change in American domestic life and accommodate the Midwestern lifestyle.
  • Wrote 20 books including The House Beautiful: A Book Designed by Frank Lloyd Wright (1897), The Future of Architecture (1953), and A Testament(1957).
EARLY LIFE Born to a school teacher and a formerly widowed pastor, Frank Lloyd Wright’s early childhood was filled with travel as his family moved from state to state before finally settling in Wisconsin. Wright fell in love with the Midwestern landscape, and it was while working on his uncle’s farm that he began to discover his dream of being an architect. Wright’s parents divorced in 1885, and his father left the family; that same year, Wright left high school early to enroll as a special student at the University of Wisconsin. There he studied civil engineering for two semesters before moving to Chicago. Upon his arrival in Chicago, Wright began an apprenticeship under the architect Louis Sullivan, well-known as the “father of skyscrapers.” It was Sullivan who first started Wright on the path to establishing a uniquely American architectural sense; he eschewed European tradition in favor of functionality, stating the maxim of “Form Follows Function.” Wright would later adapt this into his own “Form and Function Are One.” Wright and Sullivan would eventually part ways when Sullivan discovered that Wright had breached their contract by accepting private commissions, but Wright would continue to cite Sullivan as a significant influence on his work even years later, referring to him as “lieber meister” (rather masterful). In 1889, he married Catherine Tobin, with whom he would have six children. ARCHITECTURAL CAREER Wright struck out on his own, opening his office in 1893 in Chicago before moving to Oak Park five years later. He began to design his early houses, displaying a pragmatic talent for designing uniquely simple and functional houses that followed a “horizontal” design: no basements, no attics. These early designs, called, “organic architecture,” became the precursors to what would later be known as the Prairie School, which adapted to the Midwestern landscape by featuring wide, airy rooms that were open to each other. His notable creations during this period include the Winslow House in River Forest and the Martin House in Buffalo, New York. Ironically, while Wright was attempting to establish a predominantly American architectural identity, it was in Europe that his work was most popular while he remained relatively unknown in America. Never one to remain sedentary, and perhaps following in his own father’s footsteps, Wright suddenly abandoned his wife and children in 1909 and ran away to Germany with a woman named Mamah Borthwick Cheney. The two remained in Germany for four years, during which Wright continued to build both his portfolio and his international fame, before returning to America. Wright’s mother had left him a portion of their ancestors’ land in Wisconsin, and Wright decided to build a house where he and Cheney could live. This house, dubbed “Taliesin” (Welsh for “shining brow”), was one of Wright’s greatest works to date. Unfortunately, however, a life-changing tragedy lurked just around the corner. THE TALIESIN MURDERS Taliesin was both a home and a studio for Wright: in addition to Mamah and her two children John and Martha, the house was populated by a six-man work crew as well as two servants: Julian and Gertrude Carlton. Julian and Gertrude were a married couple from Barbados, who served as a handyman and maid, respectively. The causes of the massacre that occurred on August 15th, 1914 have been dissected and examined by experts throughout history- some sources claim that Julian frequently clashed with Mamah, while others state he felt that the house’s residents were “picking on him.” This is all speculation, however; to this day, no solid motive for the motives has ever been revealed. What is known is that on August 15th, while Wright was visiting Chicago to work on a project, Julian Carlton went insane. He set fire to Taliesin and brutally murdered Mamah and her children with a hatchet; only two of the work crew survived, along with Gertrude and Julian himself, who was found hiding in the unlit furnace. Gertrude denied any knowledge of her husband’s actions, and Julian eventually starved to death in prison six weeks later. Wright was understandably devastated by the loss of his family, home and employees, but he resolved to “wipe the scar from the hill” and rebuild Taliesin. Unfortunately, the house’s second incarnation was no less unlucky than its first: it burned down again in 1925, this time, of an accidental fire, possibly caused by a lightning strike. Wright, undaunted, rebuilt it yet again, and Taliesin III would serve as his home for the rest of his life. LATER CAREER Where the Taliesin tragedy might have ruined anyone else’s life permanently, Wright’s career continued long after the horrific events of that day. He remarried two more times and continued to accept building commissions; his most famous work was the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo, the construction of which took six years. Wright claimed the building’s design was “earthquake-proof,” and was soon proven correct: following the Kanto Earthquake of 1923, the Hotel was the only building left standing. The 1930’s saw the beginning of the Great Depression and commissions for Wright’s work dwindled. Always one to roll with the punches, Wright put his architecture on hold and turned to teaching and lecturing, establishing the Taliesin Fellowship in Spring Green, Wisconsin in 1932. Surprisingly, it was during this stagnant period that Wright completed some of his more famous works, including Fallingwater and the Johnson Wax building. With his fame on the rise again, Wright began to accept more commissions, up until his final work, the Guggenheim Museum. While working on the Museum, Wright underwent surgery for an intestinal blockage but died suddenly five days later. He was buried in the cemetery at Taliesin, not far from both his mother and Mamah Cheney.

Widely hailed as the greatest American architect of all time, Frank Lloyd Wright (1867 - 1959) designed hundreds of iconic buildings and structures throughout the early 20th-century. Well-known for hi...

W.B. YEATS (June 13, 1865 - January 28, 1939) Irish poet, playwright, and Senator. Main accomplishments:
  • Wrote over 80 works ranging from plays, collections of poems, novels, and nonfiction essays. Some of his most famous works include the poems The Lake Isle of Innisfree(1890), Easter 1916 (1916), and The Second Coming (1920).
  • Won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1923; the first Irishman to do so.
  • Appointed to the first Irish Senate in 1922; re-appointed in 1925.
EARLY LIFE William Butler Yeats was the son of Irish painter John Butler Yeats, a former lawyer who abandoned his practice to work as a portraitist in Dublin. Though his father struggled with money, William's mother came from a wealthy family, and the education that came from such an upbringing may have been instrumental in the couple encouraging their children to be artistic. Sisters Lollie and Lily were prominent members of the Anglo-American Arts and Crafts Movement, and William's brother Jack became an expressionist painter and novelist (as well as producing the first Sherlock Holmes comic strip). As for William, he grew up amidst the growing prominence of Irish nationalism. A mediocre student, he was nevertheless an enthusiastic reader, and his juvenile work is heavily influenced by Percy Bysshe Shelley and Edmund Spenser. In time, his fascination with the fantasy of those Romantics shifted to an interest in Irish myth and folklore. As a young man in his 20s, he discovered a forgotten poem by William Blake, "Valas, or the Four Zoas," and his interest in Blake persisted for the rest of his life. INTEREST IN MYSTICISM Like Blake, his interest in mysticism and the supernatural experience was profound—in fact, he probably would have called himself a mystic or occultist who wrote poetry, rather than a poet with an interest in the occult. He was involved with Theosophy, astrology, and spiritualism, all of which were reflected in his work. In 1890, he joined the mystical organization the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and became heavily involved in its internal politics and arguments. An occult group formed in England in the previous decade, the Order was like a gentleman's club for mystic enthusiasts (though women were allowed to join), and included the secrecy and rituals that were characteristic of organizations like the Freemasons and the Rosicrucians. The beliefs of the Order combined elements of Christianity with those of Medieval Kabbalah, Theosophy, magical practices, and ancient pre-Christian religions. CAREER AND PERSONAL LIFE His first major publication was paid for by his father when he was 21. Mosada: A Dramatic Poem was followed three years later by The Wanderings of Oisin and Other Poems, which shows the strong Gaelic interest in Yeats' work and the adoption of a varying rhythm. He based the story on legends from pre-Christian Ireland—the Fenian Cycle, the same cycle of stories after which the Irish nationalists the Fenians named themselves. Around the turn of the century, he also helped to establish the Irish Literary Theater, an experimental theater meant to stage distinctly Irish plays, drawing on both old Irish traditions and the contemporary Irish spirit. For almost thirty years, Yeats was obsessed with a young Irish nationalist Maud Gonne, a member of the Order until her conversion to Catholicism. He hesitated in sharing her politics; she hesitated in sharing his bed. He repeatedly proposed before she married another man, and though they had sex once after fifteen years of friendship, Gonne assured him it would not happen again, and within months was writing him friendly letters recommending celibacy as a boon for the artistic spirit. Yeats called her his muse, and continued to develop his poetry, drawing on contemporary movements in Europe while spearheading the Celtic Revival in Ireland, which cherished the uniquely Irish facets of Irish literature, over the English elements that had been adopted. Ezra Pound called him the only worthwhile poet of his generation, but also felt no compunction about revising Yeats' work without consultation when he published it in the magazine Poetry. Maud's husband was executed for his involvement in the 1916 Easter Rising, and that summer Yeats proposed for the last time. She refused him, and it's likely that at this point—he was 51, disliked the extremism of her politics, and wanted an heir—he expected her to and proposed only so that her refusal would free him from her. He then proposed to her daughter—who had proposed to him months earlier—only to be rejected again, and in the fall he proposed to Georgie Hyde-Lees, a woman half his age whom he'd met through his mystic friends. Yeats wrote of his regret during the honeymoon, the foreboding, and surety that he had made the wrong choice—but the marriage proved a success, not only in producing an heir (they had two children, Anne and Michael) but in the couple's happiness. Together, Yeats and Georgie explored automatic writing. In automatic writing, the writer enters a trance similar to that of hypnosis and allows his hand to move the pen in response to unconscious will. Some mystics considered it a form of channeling (with some spirit or being guiding the pen) while others took a psychological view and saw it as a way to express ideas of the subconscious, much like in dreaming. In their automatic writing, Yeats and Georgie produced elaborate designs, including the gyres that soon became important to Yeats' work. The gyres were conical spirals contained within each other, which held great mystical significance for Yeats. The designs described fundamental motions expressed in history itself, he claimed, and this worldview was expressed in one of his best-known poems, "The Second Coming." He wrote it in the aftermath of the first World War, a couple of years into his marriage, while Georgie was pregnant with Anne. It's an anguished poem, capturing the despair not only of that war, but the Easter Rising and the Russian Revolution—portraying history as approaching its end. The poem begins, "Turning and turning in the widening gyre The falcon cannot hear the falconer; Things fall apart; the center cannot hold." It paraphrases both Blake and Shelley, while its title refers to the religious notion of the Second Coming of Christ—whose birth was at the meeting spot of the two conical spirals of history, with the first "life gyre" narrowing as it approached his birth, and the second expanding upon his arrival before encompassing the whole of the world at its end. Yeats saw this end of days as a positive thing, imbued with mystical significance—the end of one era and the beginning of something new. ACTIVE TO THE END Yeats had become a well-respected man in Ireland and served in the Senate for two three-year terms. He retired due to poor health, and six years later at the age of 69, he underwent dubious surgery to restore his sexual vigor. Though the procedure has long since been discredited, based as it was on faulty biology, the placebo effect led to a number of affairs with younger women. Despite the constant troubles of various illnesses, the last five years of his life were active both sexually and creatively—he continued to work up until the month of his death, in January of 1939.

Irish poet, dramatist, and prose writer, William Butler (W.B.) Yeats (1865–1939), is considered to this day as one of the greatest English-language poets of the 20th century. He received the Nobel...

ANTON CHEKHOV (January 29, 1860 – July 15, 1904)  Russian physician, as well as prolific short story author and playwright. Philanthropist and social reformer Main accomplishments:
  • Wrote hundreds of short stories and plays; introduced the stream-of-consciousness technique.
  • Author of classic plays The Seagull (1896), Uncle Vanya (1897), Three Sisters (1900), and The Cherry Orchard (1904).
  • Awarded the Pushkin Prize in 1888, the Russian honor of literary excellence.
  Russian physician and writer, Anton Chekhov is considered to be one the greatest short story writers, as well as a masterful dramatist and satirist. His works focus more on the character and mood rather than action, and tell the story of ordinary events and relationships in small towns and villages of 19th century Russia. EARLY LIFE Anton Chekhov was born to a lower-middle-class family in Taganrog, Russia; he was the third of six children. His grandfather, a serf, bought his and his sons' freedom, and Chekhov's father, Pavel, became a grocer. Pavel was a religious fanatic who terrorized Anton and his older brothers Alexander and Nicolai. He made the boys work long hours in his grocery store, which eventually went out of business in 1875. Chekhov's mother, Yevgenia, taught him to read, write, and tell stories. When he was eight, Chekhov attended grammar school, where he earned a reputation for pranking and satirical comments. When the grocery store went bankrupt, Pavel moved to Moscow, where Alexander and Nicolai were studying. Yevgenia stayed in Taganrog with the younger children until July 1876, when they could no longer afford their house. She moved the family to Moscow, leaving Anton to finish his education and sell the house. In 1879, Chekhov moved to Moscow to join his family and to study medicine at Moscow University on a scholarship. To bring in more money, he wrote weekly comics for a lowbrow magazine under the pseudonym Antosha Chekhonte. The two-and-a-half-page limit molded his style of short stories. Between 1883 and 1885, he wrote concisely, publishing his only serialized novel The Shooting Party (1884). His style developed as plotless, focusing on characters' inner emotions and crises rather than on events or actions. Though considering himself a comic satirist, the producers of his plays regarded his works as dramas. Chekhov argued with them during theater rehearsals, disagreeing over which threads of emotion the actors should emphasize. Today, his works are known to be a combination of tragedy and farce. CAREER In 1885, Chekhov sent his ironically comical stories to be published by The Petersburg Gazette, which had no length or content restrictions. By the next year, he established himself as an up-and-coming author, though his writing was still little known outside of Russia. In The Witch, Heartache, and Grisha, all published in 1886, he developed a literary technique called a stream of consciousness, detailing elements straight from the minds of his characters and evading a judgmental narrative voice. His refusal to pass judgment on his villains sparked criticism from some readers, and audiences - Russian literature of the time emphasized life instruction, a component that was missing from Chekhov’s works. He believed that “the writer should be as objective as a chemist… The artist must be not the judge of his characters and of what they say, but merely a dispassionate observer." All the while, medicine was his primary profession, and he was known to have called it his wife, while writing was his mistress. Chekhov wrote to keep afloat of debts his family fell into, especially his two older brothers. He took a trip back to Taganrog, also visiting the Steppes and eastern Ukraine for a bit of vacation. The journey inspired him to write The Northern Herald (1888), his first serious literary undertaking. Though it was considered too “plotless” to be published, it was the first work written in his "mature style"—comic satire showing the unhappy existence in the turn-of-the-century Russia. The same year, his collection of short stories, In the Twilight, received the Pushkin Prize, awarded by the Russian Academy of Sciences to the most distinguished of the country’s authors. In 1887, Chekhov began writing theatrical screenplays. He wrote two one-act plays before his four-act, Ivanov, was produced. It is an innovative contribution to modern theater, depicting a dying wife with a cheating husband who is never shown in a bad light, demonstrating Chekhov’s abilities in objectivity. While his plays were praised, Chekhov himself was never satisfied and went back to writing shorts. He began to incorporate his medical experience into his stories, using, in particular, his knowledge of labor pains to intimately describe a miscarriage in The Name-Day Party (1888). That summer, his brother Nicolai passed away from tuberculosis, the same disease that would later take Chekhov's life. His play Wood Demon was only performed three times before being canceled, and critics were bashing Chekhov's unorthodox writing. By April 1890, he decided to visit Sakhalin Island to report on conditions there and take advantage of a change of scene. He stayed there until October, when he sailed to Hong Kong, Singapore, and Ceylon before arriving back in Moscow. The trip inspired two works: In Exile (1892) and Murder (1895). In 1891, Chekhov visited Italy and France, inspiring An Anonymous Story (1893) and Ariadne (1895). That summer, he settled in a village of Bogimovo, where he worked on Sakhalin Island (1894), a comment on the prison system, and published The Duel. By September, he was back in Moscow working on The Butterfly (1892). The next March, he moved with his family to a country estate they occupied until 1899. Chekhov treated sick locals for free while financing schools and measures against cholera. His time there inspired Peasants (1897), which, again, drew criticism for his objectivity and lack of sentimentality in describing peasants’ misfortunes, though the Marxists (who were active in Russia at the end of the 19th century) appreciated it for its accurate description of the class gap. In this rural setting, Chekhov wrote Ward Number Six (1892), which was seen as a comment on repressive society. During the last decade of the 19th century, he produced a number of pieces that became classics, including The Seagull and Uncle Vanya. While Chekhov had several mistresses, he was not serious about any of them - he regarded sex as a contributor to senility. Given his limited love life, he modeled the relationship between the characters in The Seagull after a married friend's affair with an actress, rather than his experiences. Relatively late in life, in 1901, Chekhov married actress Olga Knipper, who starred in his plays and, unlike his critics, apparently understood the subtle meanings of his works. LATER LIFE In 1897, Chekhov was hospitalized for bleeding in the lungs. He had previously experienced symptoms of tuberculosis but, though a doctor himself, refused treatment. Despite his illness, he worked on Nevesta (1903) and The Cherry Orchard (1903). By the time Orchard opened in Moscow in January 1904, Chekhov’s lungs were ravaged, and he was physically frail. He died of a heart attack on July 14 of that year.

Russian physician and writer, Anton Pavlovich Chekhov (1860–1904) is considered to be one the greatest short story writers, as well as a masterful dramatist and satirist. His works focus more o...

Serbian-American inventor, engineer, and scientist, Nikola Tesla (1856–1943) made a number of breakthroughs in the production, transmission, and application of electric power.

SIGMUND FREUD (May 6, 1856 - September 23, 1939) Austrian neurologist, physiologist, psychologist, and influential thinker of the early 20th century. Founder of psychoanalysis. Main accomplishments: Coined the term “psychoanalysis.” Among his concepts and theories are Oedipus Complex; Levels of Consciousness, Libido; Id, Ego, and Superego; Defense Mechanisms; Psychosexual Stages of Development; Repression. Best known published works include:
  • 1895 – “Studies on Hysteria” with Josef Breuer
  • 1900- “The Interpretation of Dreams”
  • 1901 – “The Psychopathology of Everyday Life”
  • 1914 – “On Narcissism”
  • 1920 – “Beyond the Pleasure Principle”
  • 1923 – “The Ego and the Id”
  • 1929 – “Civilization and its Discontents”
  Sigmund Freud was not only the father of psychoanalysis, but also a profound and wide-ranging writer and theorist whose ideas influenced virtually every aspect of modern life and culture. He developed or popularized almost all of the core notions that comprise what the average person thinks of as “psychology.” He’s responsible not only for the ideas of sexual repression and the sexual nature of neuroses, but for the professional approach to dream analysis, the concept of the ego (and id and super-ego), and most importantly, for talk therapy. Three-quarters of a century after his death, he continues to be the focus of heated argument and controversy, an object of both adulation and denigration. EARLY LIFE It is thanks to Freud that concepts such as “psychoanalysis,” "Freudian slip," and the "unconscious mind" have shaped our perception of psychology and psychiatry—complete with talk therapy, a patient reclining on a couch, and dream analysis. Freud was born in Moravia, in what is now the Czech Republic. His father, Jacob, 41 at the time, was 20 years older than his mother, Amalié, and despite facing poverty in Sigmund's infancy, the two put all the money they could muster for Sigmund’s education when it became apparent how intelligent he was. They relocated to Vienna, Austria, where Freud graduated school with honors before joining the faculty at Vienna University. His early research involved eel physiology and the nervous systems of fish, and he soon opened his medical practice, specializing in neurology. GROUNDBREAKING WORK There was no separate industry for psychologists at the time; problems of the mind were problems of the brain. Freud's patients did not necessarily have physical problems but were troubled by neuroses and other issues that we now consider principally psychological. He quickly abandoned the popular use of hypnosis and instructed his patients to talk simply about their problems. Much of the efficacy of Freud's early treatments came from his sharp mind—he was able to see patterns of behavior that the patient might not, and to draw connections they had missed. “Talk therapy” was virtually unheard of before the end of the 19th century, so Freud was a pioneer in this field. Even staunch anti-Freudians who reject his theory of mind and sexual development, stand by the so-called "talking cure," which, to this day, is the cornerstone of therapy and counseling. At the same time, his views on human nature were, of course, subjective. He had a deep-set fear of death, and his analysis of his dreams led him to recognize a lifelong hostility towards his father, as well as early childhood sexual feelings for his mother. He often smoked, and used cocaine as a stimulant, recommending it as a remedy for many ills (including morphine dependency). His extreme and sometimes bizarre ideas spilled over into his marriage. In his 40s, he told his wife Martha that they would now live in celibacy because he needed to sublimate his libido in order to have more creative energy available to him. (There have always been rumors that Freud was having an affair with his sister-in-law; Carl Jung claimed to know about it but did so only after falling out with Freud). EXPLORING THE UNCONSCIOUS MIND Around the turn of the century, Freud published his first books advancing his theories of human psychology based on the 15 years he had spent treating patients. As developed by Freud, his technique of psychoanalysis involves leading the patient through free association, often using dreams as a starting point. The analyst remains as uninvolved as possible, interacting only as much as is necessary to keep the patient talking, or to pursue a conversational thread. Freud believed that unconscious memories—inaccessible to the conscious mind, but felt through dreams, yearnings, and instincts—were responsible for many neuroses and other mental ills. He didn't invent the notion of the unconscious, but he popularized the idea of a layered mind, in which some thoughts or feelings occur "below the surface." It's a compelling notion, one the general public accepts so thoroughly that it's hard to believe the idea didn't exist 200 years ago. Freud focused heavily on repression, the act of the mind burying feelings and memories it doesn't want to deal with. Nothing can be removed from the mind, Freud said—it can only be moved to the unconscious, the mental basement, the unlit storage area. He later developed and systematized this idea further into the id, ego, and superego, taking their names from the Latin: the id is the source of such fundamental cravings as food, sex, and instant gratification; the superego is the conscience, formed by emulating the father-figure (or an idealized father figure); and the ego is the self that mediates between those two extremes and the practical needs imposed by the outside world. (The superego says stealing is wrong; the id says it's hungry; the outside world has no food except for someone else's loaf of bread. The ego struggles with what to do.) Problems between the id and superego are sometimes dealt with by defense mechanisms—the ego may intervene to rationalize a decision the superego disapproves of, may sublimate the id's desires into other activities (as Freud believed his celibacy sublimated his sexual energies into success in his work), or may simply deny the reality of some unpleasant aspect of the outside world. LATER YEARS Many of Freud's theories were too complex for the general public—and even the scientific community—to accept. He built his model of psychosexual development with references to ancient mythology in order to demonstrate that it was a universal model of the human condition, not one created by cultural factors. According to his "Oedipus complex," the love or sexual feeling for one's mother and hostility towards one's father is a constant in human nature; most of human nature is similarly explained by sexual feelings, from the female's jealousy of the male phallus to the male fear of castration. This is the component of Freudian thought most likely to be discarded by his followers and opponents. Younger than Freud by 20 years, Carl Jung was one of his most promising students—the two corresponded from afar for years and had conversations that were known to last all day. In time, the two grew apart because of differences in their views of the unconscious. Jung believed Freud was too much of a pessimist, seeing only repression where Jung saw the unconscious's ability to create and imagine. Though they were bitter enemies by the end of Freud's career, Jung's most famous notion—that of the collective unconscious—built directly on what he had learned from Freud. In 1938, Freud—a nonobservant Jew—and his family left Austria after the Nazi annexation of the country. He died a year later. After dozens of operations on the mouth cancer caused by his cigar-smoking, he asked his doctor to end his life with a gradual overdose of morphine. He died on September 23, 1939, hopefully having conquered the fear of death that had plagued him for so long. THE LEGACY Although his contributions to the field of human psychology and psychiatry were substantial and undeniable—prompting Time Magazine to call him in 2001 “one of the most important thinkers of the last century—Freud’s theories and methods continue to stir controversy. A 2006 Newsweek article referred to him as "history's most debunked doctor." The ongoing debate about the merits of Freud’s work is perhaps best summed up in W. H. Auden’s 1973 poem entitled “In Memory of Sigmund Freud:”
"if often he was wrong and, at times, absurd, to us he is no more a person now but a whole climate of opinion."

The father of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud (1856–1939) developed or popularized almost all of the core notions that comprise what the average person thinks of as “psychology.” He’s responsibl...

OSCAR WILDE (October 16th, 1854 – November 30th, 1900) Irish dramatist, poet, playwright, and novelist. Main accomplishments:
  • Wrote over 15 works including plays, essays, poems, short story collections, and a single novel, The Picture of Dorian Grey (1890). Along with Dorian Grey, among his most famous works are Salomé (1893), The Importance of Being Earnest (1895), and The Ballad of Reading Gaol (1898).
  • Famously flamboyant and witty; an international celebrity and prominent figure in London’s social circles even before he began writing.
  • Had a significant impact on the development of modernist writing; has been cited by scholars as an influence on James Joyce, W.B. Yeats, and David Hare, among others. Wilde was also acquainted with many prominent authors of his day, including Walt Whitman and George Bernard Shaw.
EARLY LIFE Wilde was born in 1854 in Dublin to a well-off doctor, Sir William Wilde, and Irish nationalist Jane Wilde neé Elgee, who wrote poetry under the pseudonym “Speranza.” From an early age, Wilde was immersed in the world of poetry, literature, and aesthetics, and he would carry an appreciation for beauty with him throughout his life. Oscar was the second of three children; his younger sister Isola would later die at the age of ten, a loss that would scar Oscar deeply. Wilde was a studious boy who excelled at his schooling, and in 1871, he was awarded the Royal School Scholarship to attend Dublin’s Trinity College. It was while at Trinity that Wilde began to come into his own as a writer: he published his first poem, “Ravenna,” which won the Newdigate Prize, in 1878. It was also during this period that he became involved with the Aesthetic Movement, which proscribed “art for art’s sake.” He kept his hair long, spoke with eloquence, and dressed flamboyantly, a lifestyle that earned him as many enemies as it did friends. CAREER BEGINNINGS Upon finishing his degree, Wilde moved to London to stay with his friend Frank Miles. It wasn’t long before Wilde had established himself as a vibrant and eccentric figure in London high society. He thrived off the attention he received, publishing a book of poems in 1881 and embarking on a lecture tour in America the following year. Although many Americans were baffled and angered by Wilde’s dress and mannerisms, he found friendship among such great authors as Walt Whitman, whom Wilde grew to idolize. Upon his return to London Wilde continued lecturing and writing, and married Constance Lloyd in 1884. He fathered two sons, Cyril and Vyvyan. Plagued by severe financial difficulties, he turned to the world of magazines, frequently writing for the Pall Mall Gazette and becoming editor of Woman’s World. He continued writing his own pieces, however, and it was during this period that he wrote his sole novel, The Picture of Dorian Grey. Wilde’s plays began to hit the stage in 1892 and took the English stage by storm. With hits such as A Woman of No Importance and The Importance of Being Earnest, Wilde’s already-considerable fame skyrocketed, launching him to international celebrity. Sadly for Wilde, this was not to last: he had risen high, but this only meant he had further to fall. DISGRACE The man who would prove to be Oscar Wilde’s undoing was the Marquess of Queensbury, the father of Lord Alfred Douglas. When the Marquess discovered that Wilde was carrying on a homosexual affair with his son, he left an inflammatory homophobic message at Wilde’s estate. Wilde, enraged, sued Queensbury for libel, but this would prove to backfire horribly. Wilde’s homosexual affairs had always been something of an “open secret” amidst his social circles, but the libel case gave Queensbury an opportunity to showcase it in front of the law. In order to win the libel case, all Queensbury had to do was prove that his accusation was true; with myriad male prostitutes to act as witnesses and Wilde’s own letters as evidence, he did this with ease. The eye of the authorities rapidly shifted from Queensbury to Wilde, as sodomy was considered a crime in Victorian London and carried a prison term. Wilde, unable to refute the claims, lost the libel case and was forced to pay Queensbury’s legal fees, leaving him bankrupt. This was not the end of Wilde’s torment, however; upon the conclusion of the libel case, he was immediately arrested and tried for sodomy. Wilde’s former friends among the social elite turned on him fiercely, and his public image as a flamboyant eccentric was twisted to make him seem like a lecherous pervert who preyed on younger men. To be vilified by the same high society he had spent his whole life influencing was crushing to Wilde, and he was sentenced to two years’ hard labor in Pentonville Prison and later the Reading Gaol. LATER LIFE For Wilde, a pampered socialite, prison life was nerve-wracking and torturous. After writing a soul-searching letter to Douglas entitled De Profundis, he emerged from Reading a penniless and spiritually broken man and moved to Paris under an assumed name. He died of meningitis in 1900 and was buried in the Pére Lachaise cemetery in Paris.

Before James Joyce, there was another Irish writer who took the world by storm: Oscar Wilde (1854–1900), the famously eccentric poet and novelist of the later 19th century. One of the most pre-emine...

THOMAS ALVA EDISON (February 11th, 1847 – October 18th, 1931) American inventor and businessman; a central figure of the Second Industrial Revolution. Main accomplishments:
  • Acquired over a thousand patents and invented such devices as the incandescent light bulb, the kinetoscope (precursor to the modern camera-projector), and the phonograph. Significantly improved Alexander Bell Graham’s telephone design and patented the design for electrical distribution.
  • Founded 14 different international companies including General Electric, one of the largest and most successful firms in the world today. Also purchased or held a controlling share of dozens of other companies.
  • Winner of 9 different awards and medals; was nominated for a joint Nobel Prize in Physics, but refused to share it with Nikola Tesla.
  EARLY LIFE Born in Milan, Ohio in 1847, Edison was a sickly youth who lost three siblings by the time he reached adulthood. He did poorly in school, and after a schoolmaster called him “addled,” Edison’s outraged mother withdrew him from school and began to teach him at home. It was Nancy Edison who sparked Thomas’s interest in science when she presented him with a chemistry textbook that described how to do experiments at home. By the age of 10, Edison built his first primitive laboratory in his parents’ basement. Around the age of 12, Edison began to lose his hearing. Theories differ on the cause: Edison himself believed it was a conductor pulling him into a moving train by his ears that did it, but today experts believe it may have been a genetic disease. He never went deaf, and in fact enjoyed his poor hearing, stating that it made it easier to concentrate on his experiments without being distracted. Even at an early age, Edison was a determined businessman: at 12, he took a job selling candy and newspapers aboard the Grand Trunk Railroad. Where other children might have seen only a source of additional income, Edison saw a business opportunity. He set up a laboratory and a printing press in a baggage car, where he produced the Grand Trunk Herald, which he sold to customers for only a penny. This business venture came to an end when an accidental fire destroyed his workspace. UNSTABLE BEGINNINGS Let it never be said that Thomas Edison’s career didn’t get off to an exciting start. In 1862, Edison rescued the three-year-old son of J.U. MacKenzie, a stationmaster and telegraph operator, from being run over by a boxcar. A grateful MacKenzie offered to teach Edison telegraphy, an offer that Edison was happy to accept. While continuing his private experiments, Edison began taking telegraphy jobs around the country. Edison retired early in 1869, intending to devote himself full-time to inventing—a bold move that backfired when his first patented invention, the electric vote recorder, was a complete flop on the market. Bitterly disappointed, Edison decided he would never again invent a device that people didn’t want- or, more precisely, that people wouldn’t buy. Edison was resolved not to be a starving scientist, and the vote recorder incident had a blatant influence on his marrying science with economics. For the rest of his life, Edison was determined to invent machines that would not only be revolutionary, but profitable. A PROLIFIC CAREER The development of the telegraph marked a period of technological expansion in the United States, and it was a wave that Edison was fit to ride. His next invention, the Universal Stock Printer, was vastly more successful than the vote recorder, and was part of a series of patents for which Edison earned $40,000. He used the money to move to Newark, New Jersey, and set up a laboratory/manufacturing plant. It was during this time in 1871 that Edison’s mother died, and later that year he married his first wife, former employee, Mary Stilwell. The 1870s were an extremely profitable decade for Edison. He opened another laboratory in Menlo Park and invented several devices that brought in money. It was not until 1877, however, when Edison first began to make headlines with the invention of the phonograph, the first practical sound recording device. The invention seemed to arrive very suddenly, and the American public was highly impressed by it. Edison toured the country showing off the phonograph and was even invited to the White House to display it to President Hayes in 1878. THE WAR OF CURRENTS Edison next turned his attention to the development of an electric light system, putting the phonograph aside for almost ten years. The Edison Electric Light Co. was founded for this purpose, and eventually, Edison succeeded in 1879 with the development of the first incandescent light bulb. Although Edison cannot take credit for inventing the bulb alone- his work was built on the shoulders of countless others—he can be credited with refining the light bulb into a form that was safe and practical for public use. Edison wasn’t happy merely inventing the electrical system, however: he went on to make a business out of it, creating the first commercial electric power station in Manhattan in 1882. Edison was not the only one developing an electrical system, however. Edison’s direct current system or DC found itself challenged by the alternating current system or AC, developed by Nikola Tesla, one of Edison’s own mistreated former employees. Edison had promised Tesla $50,000 if he could redesign Edison’s direct current system to be more efficient; when Tesla did so successfully, he went to collect his money, only to be told by Edison that he did not “understand our American humor.” The dejected Tesla went on to improve the European-born AC electrical system, which was both cheaper and more efficient than DC, and found himself backed by financier George Westinghouse. Tesla and Westinghouse meant to use AC to provide low-cost power to customers. Edison and his backers, seeing a direct threat to their electricity monopoly, carried out a fierce and bitter campaign to discredit Tesla’s AC as harmful and unsafe. He financed and recorded the executions of several stray animals via AC electrocution, including the now-famous film of Topsy the elephant being electrocuted to death. Edison also (unsuccessfully) tried to spread the term “Westinghoused” as a synonym for electrocution. So desperate was Edison to smear AC that he was even willing to compromise his own beliefs; despite formerly being opposed to capital punishment, Edison funded the creation of the first electric chair using AC electricity in an attempt to turn the public against it. In the end, Edison’s attempt to destroy AC failed, and AC soon surpassed DC as the primary form of American electricity. Tesla, meanwhile, died penniless and obscure, having sacrificed the royalties he would have obtained from AC in order to assist Westinghouse in promoting its use. LATER LIFE Despite his loss of the War of Currents and the death of his wife in 1884, Edison went on to enjoy a fruitful and prolific inventing career. He remarried in 1886 and founded dozens of other companies to capitalize on his inventions, which were eventually reorganized into Thomas A. Edison Inc. His involvement in the creation of early motion picture projectors led to fierce legal battles with competitors over their use in motion picture filming. When World War I broke out, Edison devoted his time to naval research for the US Navy, mainly involved in submarine detection. He lived to see the end of the war in 1918, but his health began to fail in the 1920s, and he finally died in his sleep in 1931.

One of the most influential American inventors of all time, Thomas Alva Edison (1847—1931) is responsible for the creation of several devices that shaped the face of modern technology. Most famous f...