Calling all Edisons

Every now and then, amid the gloomy talk one hears about US industry and the nation's faltering economy, a bright note is sounded. Perhaps it is nothing more than the clap of a better mousetrap slamming shut. But it serves to remind us that the spirit of inventiveness and innovation that helped build the American enterprise system into the world's strongest is still very much in evidence. Many such reminders have been on display at the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry this week.

The one hundred remarkable inventions the museum chose to highlight represent the work of some of America's brightest inventors and, as such, they hold out the promise of making life for everyone easier in countless large and small ways. Included, for instance, was a new method of mining ore that minimizes environmental damage and eliminates the need to send miners underground. For the home there was a roll-top can opener that prevents contamination of food. Such innovations are testimony that US inventors are still capable of finding better ways to meet everyday needs and further improving living and working conditions.

Can anyone doubt that as long as there are better potato chip bags to be devised, there will be innovators willing to devote themselves to designing one? But the real trick is to make one that can be produced and marketed at an affordable price for both the manufacturer and the consumer, as one inventors group in Boston has done.

The Carter administration has shown that it recognizes the need to encourage more such individual and corporate efforts among small businesses, in particular , which have accounted for half of all American innovation in this century. Recent administration steps to reduce needless government red tape and to make more federal funds available for research and development should be an added stimulus.

But in the end, the driving force behind tomorrow's technological breakthroughs will likely be the same challenge to do things better that prompted the the Thomas Edisons, Alexander Graham Bells, and Eli Whitneys of the past to expand their and the world's mental horizon beyond the accepted limitations of their day. Better mousetraps spring from better ideas and, as the Chicago exhibit amply illustrates, the US has no shortage of good, workable ideas.

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