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10 surprising day jobs of famous inventors and scientists
Famous inventors and scientists submission to the daily grind
- Albert Einstein worked as a patent clerk for seven years.
- In between painting and inventing, Leonardo da Vinci made war machines for the Duke of Milan.
- Isaac Newton was almost forced to forget mathematics and become a farmer.
Many of the greatest inventors and scientists weren't able to work on their craft and subjects all the time. They were subject, like many of us, to the usual mundanities of everyday life. This meant working a full-time day job oftentimes not even close to their main inventive pursuits. Even so, they were able to create some of the greatest inventions of all time.
Here are some of the most surprising jobs of famous inventors and scientists.
Benjamin Franklin is one of the most famous inventors, statesmen, and philosophers of the early American era. Not only was Franklin a productive inventor, he also worked a number of interesting and challenging day jobs.
Throughout his life he worked as the Postmaster of Philadelphia and would later go on to become the Ambassador to France. Of course, no one can forget that he was one of the Founding Fathers of America as well.
As an inventor, his famous kite experiment immortalized his inventive genius into almost mythical proportions. Franklin would go on to create a number of inventions both patented and sealed away in his own personal papers.
Leonardo da Vinci
The archetype of the Renaissance Man, Leonardo da Vinci embodied the spirit of his era. Scientist, inventor, painter, polymath, and overall curious spirit, we still can't get enough of Leonardo's genius. For a man of so many talents and aspirations, it comes as no surprise that he had a number of interesting odd jobs. For 17 years he was in the service of Duke Ludovico Sforza of Milan. It was here where he worked as a military engineer, crafting death machines, and defensive fortresses.
Amongst his many conceptions, were early ideas of a tank, crossbows, helicopters, and even scuba diving gear. Few of what he invented was created in his time, but would go on to inspire many inventors of the future. Aside from his contributing inventions and advances in both science and the medical field, da Vinci is one of the most accomplished and revered artists of all time.
There has never been a scientist like Jane Goodall. A renowned figure who dedicated most of her life to pursue of knowledge of our closest relatives. The greatest expert on chimpanzees, Goodall's 55-year study on the social and primitive dynamics of wild chimpanzees is an unmatched study. Yet throughout the years, she wasn't always a great apes scientist.
Her first job was as a secretary working for her aunt who ran a children's orthopedic clinic. Her job was to take down notes shorthand and type them out. Eventually she'd go on to become a secretary at the Registry Office at Oxford University. Finally, making her way to Africa she remarked on her final job before studying the great apes full time:
"When invited to Africa, I earned money by being a waitress in a hotel around the corner from my home in Bournemouth — very hard work indeed. And the last job prior to my career was to be secretary for Louis Leakey at the Natural History Museum in Nairobi. So the boring secretarial course was certainly worth it in the end!"
Born in the early 1800s, John Deere grew up and worked as a Blacksmith before going on to invent one of the most revolutionary pieces of farming equipment, a steel plow. The invention would go on to become such a great success, that John later founded the business we know today as John Deere and Company.
To this day, they're still at the forefront of developing farming equipment and other assorted machines. John would later spend his time working on civil and political issues. At one point even serving as the Mayor for the town of Moline.
Famed science popularizer and theoretical physicist wasn't always pondering the mysteries of the universe. During World War Two when his father was in a Japanese internment camp, his father was working as a gardener. He went along with him and started working mowing lawns, watering plants and throwing down some fertilizer.
On the subject of this time in his life, Kaku remarked:
"As a child I basically had a choice of two paths: One, my father wanted me to take over the gardening business. And two, I wanted to become a physicist. After that gardening job, I decided I would much rather work with my mind."
The first woman to win a Nobel Prize for work on radioactivity — as well as the first person and only woman to win the Nobel Prize a second time — once worked as a governess taking care of a family in a little factory village north of Warsaw.
With a limited education and some scientific training from her father, Curie was largely self-taught. Working in difficult and poor laboratory conditions during her early years, she would eventually go on to expand on the works of Henri Becquerel in the field of radioactivity. Her research would led to the isolation of the chemical element polonium, named after the country of her birth.
One of the most famed men of the scientific sphere — Isaac Newton, the inventor of calculus who developed the laws of motion, gravity, and classical mechanics — and so on — was once led by his mother to become a farmer. After his mother had divorced for the second time and Isaac was around 16 years old, Isaac quit school and was supposed to work as a farmer.
That didn't quite go as planned. Newton would go on to develop one of the first practical telescope, develop the theory of the color spectrum and advance the sciences into an entirely new paradigm of inquiry.
The ever-prevailing need for day jobs and other more menial pursuits seemed to have even dragged Albert Einstein down. In 1902, Einstein started working as a technical expert for the Federal Office for Intellectual Property in Bern, or more commonly known as the patent office.
Einstein jokingly referred to this profession as his "cobbler's trade." This turned out to be a good job for the scientist as it was undemanding work that let him focus on his more lofty scientific pursuits. At the time of his work, his schedule was said to be eight hours of regular work, eight hours of scientific work followed by a healthy eight hours of sleep. Which in the case of the latter was often exchanged for writing his manuscripts and letters.
Einstein referred to his time working at the patent office as "that worldly cloister where I hatched my most beautiful ideas."
Samuel Morse gives his namesake to the famous technology we now know as Morse code. Born in a relatively modest household and regular upbringing, Morse was fond of art and painting. He excelled in portraiture and at the time was even commissioned to paint a few famous figures. Some of these works include portraits of John Adams and James Monroe.
While painting was his mainstay of work and life, he also dabbled in the realm of electromagnetism. After his wife died, he was inspired to work on a long distance device which would turn out to be the single wire telegraph.
Robert Fulton invented one of the first successful steamboats. He also built the famous boat commissioned by Napoleon Bonaparte, the Nautilus. Born to a family of Irish Immigrants in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, he was sent to a Quaker school at the time he was 8 years old.
Fulton started off as an apprentice jeweler where he painted little portraits on lockets and rings. Eventually he'd begun work in Europe where he developed early conceptions for inland water transportation. On top of the Nautilus he created and gifted to the French in 1800, Fulton also developed early torpedoes in 1804.
Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti get stuck in an infinite wedding time loop.
- Two wedding guests discover they're trapped in an infinite time loop, waking up in Palm Springs over and over and over.
- As the reality of their situation sets in, Nyles and Sarah decide to enjoy the repetitive awakenings.
- The film is perfectly timed for a world sheltering at home during a pandemic.
In more than a dozen countries as far apart as Portugal and Russia, 'Smith' is the most popular occupational surname
- 'Smith' is not just the most common surname in many English-speaking countries
- In local translations, it's also the most common occupational surname in a large part of Europe
- Ironically, Smiths are so ubiquitous today because smiths were so special a few centuries ago
Meet the Smiths, Millers, Priests and Imams - the most popular occupational surnames across Europe.
Image: Marcin Ciura<p>Although very few people are smiths by profession these days, there are millions of Smiths by surname the world over. It's the most popular surname in Britain, Australia, New Zealand and the United States, as well as the second most popular surname in Canada and the fifth most popular one in Ireland. And they're a thriving bunch, at least in the U.S.: the 2010 Census (1) counted 2,442,977 Americans called Smith, 2.8% more than in 2000.</p><p>Curiously, 'Smith' also is one of the most popular surnames across most of Europe –translated in the various local vernaculars, of course. This map shows the most common occupational surnames in each country. By colour-coding the professions, this map shows a remarkable pro-smith consistency across Europe – as well as some curious regional exceptions.</p>
‘Smith’ popular throughout Europe<p>'Smith', in all its variations, is the most popular occupational surname throughout Europe. Not just in the UK, but also in:</p> <ul><li>Belgium (<em>Desmet</em>) and Luxembourg, (<em>Schmitt</em>);</li> <li>France (<em>Lefebvre</em>), Italy (<em>Ferrari</em>) and Portugal (<em>Ferreira</em>);</li> <li>Slovenia (<em>Kovačič</em>), Croatia (<em>Kovačevič</em>), Hungary (<em>Kovács</em>), Slovakia (<em>Kováč</em>), Poland (<em>Kowalski</em>), Lithuania (<em>Kavaliauskas</em>), Latvia (<em>Kalējs</em>) and Belarus (<em>Kavalyov</em>);</li> <li>Estonia (<em>Sepp</em>); and</li> <li>Russia (<em>Kuznetsov</em>).</li></ul>
‘Miller’ on top in many Germanic-language countries<p>'Miller' is the most popular occupational surname in many Germanic-language countries, but also in Spain and Ukraine (perhaps because the grain in both countries is mainly in the plain):</p> <ul><li>There's <em>Müller</em> (in Germany and Switzerland), <em>M</em><em>ø</em><em>ller</em> (in Denmark and Norway) and <em>Möller</em> (Sweden);</li> <li><em>Molina</em> (in Spain – the map also shows the most popular surname in Catalonia/Catalan: <em>Ferrer</em>, i.e. 'Smith'); and</li> <li><em>Melnik</em> (in Ukraine).</li></ul>
Clergy surnames rule in the Balkans<p>Catholic clergy must remain celibate, so 'Priest' as a surname is rare to non-existent throughout Europe. Except in the Balkans, where Catholicism is largely absent. Here, the Orthodox and Islamic clergies have passed on the title from father to son, eventually as a surname, to popular effect. Orthodox clergy are addressed as <em>papa</em> or <em>pope</em> (which means 'father' – so the surname rather redundantly translates to 'father's son'). Islamic teachers or imams are known by the Turkish/Persian term <em>hodzha</em>. An overview:</p> <ul><li><em>Popov</em> (in Bulgaria), <em>Popovic</em> (in both Serbia and Montenegro), <em>Popovski</em> (in Macedonia);</li> <li><em>Popa</em> (in Romania); </li> <li><em>Papadopoulos</em> (in Greece); and</li> <li><em>Hodžić</em> (in Bosnia-Herzegovina), <em>Hoxha</em> (in both Kosovo and Albania).</li></ul>
Landowners and other professions<p>Austria and the Czech Republic have different national languages but are neighbours and share a lot of history. Could that explain why they have a similar most popular occupational surname, for 'landowner'?</p> <ul><li><em>Huber</em> (in Austria) and</li> <li><em>Dvořák</em> (in the Czech Republic).</li></ul> <p>Just four professions, that wraps up all but five countries on this map. Those five each have their very own most popular occupational surname:</p> <ul><li><em>Bakker</em> (in the Netherlands): 'Baker'</li> <li><em>Kinnunen</em> (in Finland): 'Skinner'</li> <li><em>Ceban</em> (in Moldova): 'Shepherd'</li> <li><em>Avci</em> (in Turkey): 'Hunter'</li> <li><em>Murphy</em> (in Ireland): 'Sea Warrior' </li></ul>
Even more Smiths<p>Judging from the popularity of these surnames, your generic European village of a few centuries ago really couldn't do without a smithy. It was a much more essential craft even than that of the miller (or the baker, who put the miller's flour to good use) – except in the Balkans, where spiritual sustenance apparently sated a greater need. On the outskirts of <em>Anytown, Europe</em> live the shepherd and the hunter, the skinner and the pirate.<br></p><p>A bit too simplistic? Perhaps not simplistic enough. This map could have been dominated by even more Smiths. As the original poster explains, he always picked the most frequent version of an occupational surname, even if multiple variants point to a more popular alternative. </p><p>In the Netherlands, for instance, people with the surnames <em>Smit, Smits, Smid, de Smit, Smet </em>and <em>Smith</em> collectively outnumber those with the surnames <em>Bakker, Bekker, de Bakker</em> and <em>Backer</em>. So, the Netherlands could be considered another win for 'Smith' – except that the variant <em>Bakker</em> is more frequent than any other single variant.</p><p>Same story in Germany: added up, there are more people named <em>Schmidt, Schmitt, Schmitz </em>and <em>Schmid</em> than <em>Müller</em>. Ditto for Spain: <em>Herrero, Herrera </em>and <em>Ferrer</em> together outnumber <em>Molina</em>. Also in Finland, where <em>Seppä</em>, <em>Seppälä</em> and <em>Seppänen</em> together have a higher count than <em>Kinnunen</em>. </p>
Smiths in other cultures<p>'Smith' was a crucial occupation in other cultures too, judging from the familiar ring it has in these languages:<br></p><ul><li><em></em><em>Demirci</em> (Turkish)</li><li><em>Hadad</em> (Syriac, Aramaic, Arabic)</li><li><em>Nalbani</em> (Albanian)</li><li><em>McGowan</em> (Gaelic)</li><li><em>Faber</em> (Latin)<span></span></li></ul>
Other most popular surnames<p>Take note, though: 'Smith' may be the most popular surname in in the Anglosphere, this map does not mean to show that its variants in French, Russian and other languages also are the most popular surnames in the countries marked grey. They are merely the most popular <em>occupational</em> surnames.<br></p><p>As this sample of most common ones for each country shows, surnames can refer to a host of other things. Personal qualities or physical attributes, for example:</p> <ul><li>Russia: <em>Smirnov</em> ('the quiet one')</li> <li>Turkey: <em>Yilmaz</em> ('unflinching')</li> <li>Hungary: <em>Nagy</em> ('big')</li> <li>Italy: <em>Rossi/Russo</em> ('red', in northern and southern Italy, respectively)</li></ul> <p>Another option: the origin of the name-bearer (be it a place or a person):</p> <ul><li>Sweden: <em>Andersson</em> ('son of Anders')</li> <li>Slovakia: <em>Horvath</em> ('Croat')</li> <li>Kosovo: <em>Krasniqi</em> (refers to the Krasniq tribe and their mountainous home region)</li> <li>Portugal: <em>Silva</em> ('woodland')</li> <li>Latvia: <em>Bērziņš</em> ('little birch tree')</li> <li>Estonia: <em>Tamm</em> ('oak')</li></ul> <p>But sometimes, even for the most popular ones, the exact origin of the surname is lost in time:</p> <ul><li>Spain: <em>Garcia</em> (originally Basque, possibly meaning 'young', 'bear' or 'young bear')</li> <li>Finland: <em>Korhonen</em> ('hard of hearing' or 'dim-witted'; 'village elder'; 'proud'; 'upright'). </li></ul>
Smith popularity theory<p>So why exactly is Smith – and not Miller, for example – the most popular surname in many English-speaking countries? The theory propounded by historian C.M. Matthews in <em>History Today</em> (July 1967) probably also holds for the other-language variants so popular throughout Europe:<br></p><blockquote>"The reason for (the) multiplicity (of the surname 'Smith') is not so much that metal-workers were numerous as that they were important and widespread. On the skill of the smith, both rich and poor depended for the most essential things of life, the tools of husbandry and the weapons of hunting and war. Every community in the land must have one, every castle, every manor; and so distinctive was his trade that he would seldom need another name".<em></em></blockquote><p>That does not mean all people with the surname have a forefather who forged iron into weapons and farm tools. Especially in North America, 'Smith' was adopted by many people precisely because it was already common – as a secret identity or to blend in, for example by natives, slaves and immigrants.</p>
A recent analysis of a 76-million-year-old Centrosaurus apertus fibula confirmed that dinosaurs suffered from cancer, too.
- The fibula was originally discovered in 1989, though at the time scientists believed the damaged bone had been fractured.
- After reanalyzing the bone, and comparing it with fibulas from a human and another dinosaur, a team of scientists confirmed that the dinosaur suffered from the bone cancer osteosarcoma.
- The study shows how modern techniques can help scientists learn about the ancient origins of diseases.
Centrosaurus apertus fibula
Royal Ontario Museum<p>In the recent study, the team used a combination of techniques to analyze the fibula, including taking CT scans, casting the bone and studying thin slices of it under a microscope. The analysis suggested that the dinosaur likely suffered from osteosarcoma, a type of bone cancer that affects modern humans, typically young adults.</p><p>For further evidence, the team compared the damaged fibula to a healthy fibula from a dinosaur of the same species, and also to a fibula that belonged to a 19-year-old human who suffered from osteosarcoma. Both comparisons supported the osteosarcoma diagnosis.</p>
Evans et al.<p style="margin-left: 20px;">"The shin bone shows aggressive cancer at an advanced stage," Evans said in a <a href="https://www.rom.on.ca/en/about-us/newsroom/press-releases/rare-malignant-cancer-diagnosed-in-a-dinosaur" target="_blank">press release</a>. "The cancer would have had crippling effects on the individual and made it very vulnerable to the formidable tyrannosaur predators of the time."</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"The fact that this plant-eating dinosaur lived in a large, protective herd may have allowed it to survive longer than it normally would have with such a devastating disease."</p><p>The fossilized fibula was originally unearthed in a bonebed alongside the remains of dozens of other <em>Centrosaurus </em><em>apertus</em>, suggesting the dinosaur didn't die from cancer, but from a flood that swept it away with its herd.</p>
Dinosaur fibula; the tumor mass is depicted in yellow.
Royal Ontario Museum/McMaster University<p>The new study highlights how modern techniques can help scientists learn more about the evolutionary origins of modern diseases, like cancer. It also shows that dinosaurs suffered through some of the same terrestrial afflictions humans face today.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Dinosaurs can seem like mythical creatures, but they were living, breathing animals that suffered through horrible injuries and diseases," Evans said, "and this discovery certainly makes them more real and helps bring them to life in that respect."</p>
Join the lauded author of Range in conversation with best-selling author and poker pro Maria Konnikova!
UPDATE: Unfortunately, Malcolm Gladwell was not able to make the live stream due to scheduling issues. Fortunately, David Epstein was able to jump in at a moment's notice. We hope you enjoy this great yet unexpected episode of Big Think Live. Our thanks to David and Maria for helping us deliver a show, it is much appreciated.