About the National Archives

Welcome Remarks for "Brainstorms and Mindfarts: The Best and Brightest, Dumbest and Dimmest Inventions in American History"

Greetings from the National Archives’ flagship building in Washington, DC, which sits on the ancestral lands of the Nacotchtank peoples. I’m David Ferriero, Archivist of the United States, and it's my pleasure to welcome you to today’s virtual author lecture with Jim Downey, co-author of Brainstorms and Mindfarts.

Before we begin, though, I’d like to tell you about two upcoming programs you can view on our YouTube channel.

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On Wednesday, June 2, at 7 p.m., Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Annette Gordon-Reed presents her latest book, On Juneteenth. She will recount the origins of Juneteenth and its integral importance to American history. This program is presented in partnership with James Madison’s Montpelier.

And on Tuesday, June 8, at 7 p.m., former President George H.W. Bush’s chief of staff, Jean Becker, will tell us about her book on the Bush post-Presidency: The Man I Knew. Joining Jean in conversation is Warren Finch, director of the George Bush Presidential Library.

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In his new book, written with Tom Connor, Jim Downey promises to bring us “the best and brightest, dumbest and dimmest inventions in American history.” The book presents patents for products and services that changed daily life as well as the unusual and peculiar.

My own favorite, which I was delighted to see in the book, is “Eye Protector for Chickens,” patented on June 16, 1903. The drawing accompanying the patent application shows a plump chicken sporting wire-rimmed glasses, looking a bit like an avian Benjamin Franklin.

The National Archives has roughly 4,100,000 patents in its holdings, and the archivist who works with them shared his own quirky favorite: an 1887 application to patent an apparatus for propelling balloons. The surprise source of propulsion— “birds—such as . . . one or more eagles, vultures, condors, etc.”

After today’s talk, you may discover your own favorites. I’m sure Jim Downey will tell us his.

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Jim Downey is an author, career copywriter, award-winning NPR essayist, and designer. 

Jim attended NYU’s School of Visual Arts and worked in the advertising department at New York’s Bonwit Teller Department Store, followed by a stint at Town & Country magazine’s editorial department.

Following a move to Westport, Connecticut, he commenced a decades-long career as a freelance copywriter with multiple national and international clients. He is also the author, co-author, and co-producer of a dozen and a half books, including the national bestselling parodies Is Martha Stuart Living, Martha Stuart's Better Than You at Entertaining, and The Smyth 'n Hawk'em Gardening Catalog. His projects range from humor and satire to pop culture, politics, design, and style.

Now let’s hear from Jim Downey. Thank you for joining us today.