Inventors are born every day, and April 5, 1951, was no exception. Dean Kamen was an inventor as well as a master of hype. Among his inventions are the iBOT an all-terrain electric wheelchair and a device that uses compressed air to launch SWAT teams to the roofs of tall buildings in a single bound.  Interestingly enough, Kamen’s father was an illustrator for Mad and Weird Science.

The most famous of his inventions by far was a closely guarded secret that he claimed would change the world when made public.  Among those touting its revolutionary potential was Apple’s Steve Jobs. Unveiled in 2001, the Segway is an electric, self-balancing human transporter. It has two parallel wheels and is controlled by the shifting of the operator’s body weight. Its computerized gyroscopes make it almost impossible to tip over (although George W. Bush did in a test drive).

Consumer reaction was more a whimper than a bang. About the only groups it caught on with are mall and airport security personnel. Adding to the insult, Time Magazine included the Segway in its list of the 50 worst inventions.

British entrepreneur Jimi Heseleden bought the Segway company in 2010. He died that same year when he fell off a cliff while riding his Segway.

Segue to Wholesomeness in Washington

In an April 5 Washington Post interview, U.S. Secretary of the Interior James Watt shocked proponents of unwholesomeness throughout the country when he let it be known that the Beach Boys who had performed in July 4 concerts on the National Mall for the past few years would not be invited back in 1983. In Watt’s opinion, previous concerts had attracted “the wrong element.” “We’re trying to have an impact for wholesomeness. July 4th will be a [traditional ceremony] for the family and for solid, clean American lives. We’re not going to encourage drug abuse and alcoholism as was done in past years.” Instead, the celebration would be headlined by military bands and the ever so wholesome Las Vegas lounge singer, Wayne Newton.

After the national uproar that followed the Secretary’s announcement, the Beach Boys received a personal invitation from First Lady Nancy Reagan to return to the Mall, which they did in subsequent years, attracting crowds of up to a million unwholesome types. Watt received a foot-in-the-mouth award.  And he would shortly outdo himself. A few months later he mocked affirmative action by saying about a panel he had appointed: “I have a black, a woman, two Jews and a cripple. And we have talent.”  Within weeks of making this statement, Watt submitted his resignation letter.

Today more people – wholesome and unwholesome alike – remember the Beach Boys than James Watt.  They are in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  James Watt, on the other hand, is not in the Department of the Interior Hall of Fame.

Another important music event took place on this date two years later. Some 5,000 radio stations around the world simultaneously played the song “We are the World”, written by Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie and sung by a group of superstars for African famine aid.  Now that’s wholesome.


My favorite animal is steak. ― Fran Lebowitz



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