Steve Jobs and the Cotton Gin
By Macktion On 20 Sep, 2012 At 08:36 PM | Categorized As News | With 15 Comments

Editorial by Andrew McAffee:

Steve Jobs and Eli Whitney are not often seen as similar figures in history.  Perhaps this is because there is too much historical distance between us and Mr. Whitney, and not yet enough between us and Mr. Jobs.  However, I contend that in due time, we may see them as being so similiar in personality and method as to support notions of reincarnation.

As you learned in school, Eli Whitney invented the Cotton Gin.  This is demonstrably false.  Eli Whitney was responsible for (at the sugguestion of another person) adding a brush to the existing Cotton Gin machine, that had been in use for over a decade.

As you learn from the general body of available knowledge (news, blogs) Steve Jobs created Apple computers, the Smartphone, and the Tablet Computer.  But are those accurate claims?  Apple computers were a creation of Steve Wozniak, Mr. Jobs was responsible for being the public face.  That is similiar to claiming that George Washington created the U.S.  The Smartphone was a form factor that had already been under development for years by Palm, and even the touch based phone concept?  Try IBM’s Simon from 1992.  In 2002 windows released a version of Windows XP: Tablet edition.  This was used primarially in laptops that converted between a laptop and tablet form factor.

So, both of the notable figures publicly share the same misconceptions about their landmark achievements.  They also have something else in common; a fierce dedication to their (supposed) intellectual property.

Eli Whitney’s early use of this IP was to attempt to take 40% of the cotton that was Ginned, whether or not the Gins used the added brush.  This was considered laughable by the people of the day, and Mr. Whitney nearly bankrupted himself attempting to take what he considered his.  Before Mr. Whitney was elevated to legendary status, he was not looked highly upon by his contemporaries.  Many write about him unfavorably as being a jealous and fanatical man.

At present, Apple computers has many outstanding lawsuits (I stopped counting at twenty), against other manufacturers of: Computers, Tablets, Phones, and even a (recently settled) lawsuit against a school based in British Columbia whose trespass was that their logo bore a resemblance to that of Apple.

In short, two iconic men, nearly 200 years seperated in time, share the same characteristics.  And I believe that once we have the time for the Hero Worship to fade, that there too will be a frame of time when we wonder why we would have considered Mr. Jobs a hero.  Perhaps we can even learn to view both men, not on the merits of their PR team, or their patent portfolio, but on their lives and their actions.

If that day comes, I fear that history will not be kind to either man.

About - I am just a college student, attending university in the hopes of drilling teeth one day. I got A+ certified at the age of 14 and have been fixing computers ever since. I have a wonderful wife who also web develops, so my apartment is perhaps one of the nerdiest places you can imagine (I have the periodic table shower curtain to prove it too).


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  1. Chris Daw says:

    Sounds like your blaming Steve Jobs for a mass ignorance that personally, I don’t think even exists. I’d love to see the source that quotes Mr. Jobs claiming to have invented any of the devices which Apple is most famous for selling .
    As of late I’ve become a major supporter of what Apple does (even though I was born into contempt for them), but I’m the first to remind people that they’ve never been trailblazers, only perfectionists.

  2. Macktion says:

    Sorry that it took me so long to respond Chris, however, I will respond to your last statement first: I wish we had a guitar, so we could sing around the campfire together. I agree that Apple is not the Trailblazer (or in marketing terms ‘Innovator’) that they say they are MULTIPLE times in any given public statement. This, you see, is why you are making my point for me, that there exists a misperception (or ‘Mass Ignorance’ as you call it) about Apple. Clearly, if YOU must remind people that they are not trailblazers, then that commonality is not limited to my position alone.

    To be fair to me, I will assert that I NEVER claimed that Steve Jobs claimed himself as inventor (although, he did attribute that to his efforts) but as the general knowledge base making that claim. However I will go a step farther, and mention that Apple itself has made that claim on occasions.
    As I said, to be fair to me, I need not give sources, because I never made that claim (though I say with confidence that it is true) but, I will defend with sources none the less. I will start with the least obvious citation first:
    1. Pursuant to the Supreme Court ruling in the 1879 Baker v. Selden case, “similarities derived from the use of common ideas cannot be protected” Samsung used the evidence that the tablet was a form factor that has been in exsistance for quite some time (think StarTrek:TNG) and just because the Galaxy Tab, and the iPad has similarities, they were derived from common ideas. This defense was a response to the claim made by the prosecution that Apple had invented the Tablet.
    2. In the most recent Keynote address for the unveiling of the iPhone 5, Tim Cook said that Apple created the Tablet Market.
    3. In the engaging biography of Steve Jobs published last year by Walter Isaacson, Jobs claims that the very reason that he would bankrupt Apple to smash Android was because they had stolen Apple’s invention.
    I could go on, but in the end, I want to agree with you: Apple is a group of perfectionists that do a great job of what they do, but I take umbrage (as my wife keeps telling me, I get too worked up about it) when ANY company makes claims that are untrue. I see it as Fraud, and I will not stand for it. However, when I see other companies being held accountable for their fraud, and Apple being praised for it… I wonder what will happen when we are no longer seeing Apple through Jobs colored glasses.
    Chris, I hope to have many favorable exchanges with you in the future, and keep on questioning my work: I like being kept honest.

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