Thomas Edison was fired from his first job for setting a railroad baggage car on fire. Apocryphally, Edison had set up an amateur chemistry lab in the railcar to amuse himself when he wasn’t selling newspapers to passengers on the daily commute from Port Huron to Detroit on the Grand Trunk Railway. Young Edison made a mistake in handling phosphorous which apparently started no little fire in the baggage car.
I find that many of radical tinkerers I meet share a number of unusual experiences sometime in their childhood. One commonality was, like Thomas Edison, lots of them blew something up as a kid. And they felt good about it. Few apologies, little remorse. It was something that happened, they did it and that’s about all there was to it.
Usually the object of destruction was something old and worthless, a thing whose highest value role in the world was probably its sacrifice of itself, thereby inspiring the nascent extreme tinkerer to move on to more sophisticated and credible projects. But sometimes the targets of childhood high impact experimentation were not well chosen. One of the tinkerers I talked with once blew up a car, one a fence, several blew up sheds or garages. (Beside the baggage car incident, the youthful Edison bought his tinkering chops by filling a log with gunpowder and blowing up an icehouse.) A couple of them accidentally started fires that required the assistance of the fire department to contain.
My extreme tinkerer acquaintances reported “successful” experiments involving fuel oil/fertilizer explosives, “rock dynamite”, “stump dynamite”, rupturing pressure vessels filled with sublimating carbon dioxide, garbage bags filled with hydrogen, fulminate of mercury and ammonium triiodide (the darlings of college freshman chemistry classes), nitric acid soaked cotton, and pipe bombs filled with all manner of ill advised and dangerous powders and propellants.
A couple questions for readers of this blog:
1.Safety issues aside, do you believe there are moral or ethical ramifications of blowing things up for fun? Have you blown anything up?2. Can you tell me about any famous scientist, inventor, engineer, who blew something up accidentally, either in childhood or as an adult?