Today, who did what by when? The University of Houston's
College of Engineering presents this series about the
machines that make our civilization run, and the people
whose ingenuity created them.
Here's a neat little book by Andrew
Postman: There's Always Time for Greatness: Who Did
What When From Ages 1 to 100. It marches through the
years, giving us exemplars at each age. Brooke Shields
was named the Ivory Snow Baby at the age of one. The
present Dalai Lama was chosen when he was two. Tiger
Woods shot 48 on a nine-hole course when he was three.
The years of childhood and early teens are filled with
musical prodigies, people named as monarchs, and various
movie actors. Country-Western singer Loretta Lynn married
at the age of thirteen.
Serious athletic accomplishment begins in the mid-to-late
teens. At nineteen, Bill Gates became the cofounder of
Microsoft, and history shifted when nineteen-year-old
Adolph Hitler was denied entry into the Vienna Academy of
People begin making major scientific achievements in
their early twenties. Leakey identified the
Australopithecus Africanus skull at twenty-one,
and Darwin embarked on the voyage of the Beagle at
twenty-two. Newton began work on the Principia at
Of course, most human accomplishment occurs between the
late twenties and around seventy. But let's jump ahead,
skipping over much fine work, to see what happens in our
At seventy-four, Einstein gave us his unified field
theory, and Monet began his paintings of water lilies. In
their late seventies, Jefferson designed the University
of Virginia, and Ben Franklin invented bifocals. Jessica
Tandy and George Burns won Oscars at eighty, and Thelma
Pitt-Turner ran the Marathon at eighty-two.
At eighty-seven, Mary Baker Eddy founded the Christian
Science Monitor, Konrad Adenauer was premier of
Germany, and John Gielgud appeared (nude) as Prospero in
the movie Prospero's Books. Lisa Meitner was eighty-eight when she
won the Enrico Fermi Prize for discovering nuclear
fission. In their nineties, Lillian Gish was still
acting, Leopold Stokowski still conducting, and Martha
Graham still doing choreography. A Greek runner did the
Marathon at ninety-eight.
And here we see the embedded message: We reach a point
where our lives must be continuations of what we were
when we were younger. We're finally formed.
Goodness or meanness, either one, can become our theme.
Megalomania and racism were only background in Henry
Ford's earlier life. In his eighties, they became central
themes. We all know a few old people for whom life has
shrunk to the lingering ghosts of their old anger, greed,
On the other hand, I've been touched by the singing of
aging Jan Peerce and John Jacob Niles. Pablo Casals
taught a master class three weeks before his death at
ninety-three -- still improving his world. It's a fine
thing to keep drawing upon accumulated capabilities as we
grow very old. But, at some point, we do wake up to find
that we are what we've forged of ourselves -- back in the
days when vision, memory, and skill were still strong.
I'm John Lienhard, at the University of Houston, where
we're interested in the way inventive minds work.