It is usually assumed that inventors possess a high degree of genius. When we think about the electric light bulb or telephone, we figure that some advanced intelligence must have been at work. But perhaps this is erroneous, it may be than inventiveness and intelligence is actually unrelated. As evidence for this hypothesis I offer the Stawar family inventions– prime examples of creativity without necessarily intelligence.
My father was a self-taught electrician and as I grew up I was exposed to variety of his attempts to advance the science of electricity. Nearly all of his inventions involved having several exposed live electrical wires hanging about so that any false move could result in a life threatening electrical shock. This danger may have never occurred to my father because he was personally immune to electrical shock. Like a snake handler who had been bitten so often that the venom was no longer toxic, my father had been shocked so many times in his 44 years as an electrician, be could literally hold two “hot” 100 volt electrical wires in his hands with no obvious ill effect—I’d like to see Thomas Edison do that.
My father built an elaborate workshop that included a long workbench with a one inch thick rubber mat to stand on to keep from getting grounded—although he could longer feel shock, he seemed to realize that it still could kill him under the right circumstances.
Dad built a test light into the workbench so he could test electrical circuits. This device consisted of two exposed live electrical wires which when touched together completed a circuit illuminating a 100 watt light bulb. The device was always on and could not be shut off. As a child I quickly learned to only touch the insulated part of the wires and I often played with the device, burning up flashlight bulbs and defibrillating small animals.
I believe my father may have actually designed and built one of the first fully electric lawn mowers. Now this was in the time before plugs had three prongs (ground fault technology) so using an electric lawn mower on dewy grass was like sticking a wet fork into a toaster. And the ever-present lethal possibility of running over the cord was an added source of excitement.
My father never grasps the basic principles of mechanical engineering, but he loved electrical motors. After several experiments he decided that he needed an enormous electric motor to power the mower. This motor resembled a turbine from Grand Couleedam. To support the gigantic motor he needed a very strong frame. Since he was able to arc weld a little, he constructed a square box out of heavy gauge metal. He hacksawed pointy grooves in the front and fitted it with a push handle made out of thick steel pipe. The mower now resembled a Shermantank with sharp teeth and weighted about the same. Although it actually could cut grass, it was so heavy you needed to take a nap after every 10 feet.
After using this Frankenstein of a lawnmower for a while, our old push mower seemed virtually weightless. Dad may have inadvertently invented the first Nautilus exercise machine.
In the fifth grade I took one of my father’s inventions to school to a sort of “show and tell” program. This was his famed electric hot dog cooker. He had soldered wires on to two nails, which he then mounted in a small wooden rack, the length of a standard hot dog. Then he attached the wires to a plug. When plugged in the hot dog completed the circuit and the meat was essentially electrocuted. Of course if you touched the hot-dog you stood the chance of also being cooked. A hot dog cooked in this manner develops an awful peculiar acidic taste. It also had the odor of searing flesh, which was reminiscent of the execution chamber at the state prison. When I demonstrated the device my science teacher yelled at me about the general hazard this miniature electric chair for wieners represented and the horrendous smell, which quickly filled the entire school.
Another time I took an electric magnetizer my father invented to school and was told to immediately take it home because it was too dangerous. Never discouraged by any setbacks, one Christmas my father decided to put red and green lights up on our front porch. However instead of using regular Christmas lights, he installed porcelain sockets and used full sized 200 watt red and green light bulbs with a timer which made them flash on and off. I thought it look pretty cool, my mother said it made the house look like a “God-damn tavern”. I suspect my father sort of liked that look.