People of Progress

American Heritage, November 1999 | Go to article overview

People of Progress


The artist EDWARD SOREL updates for our century a classic view of Americans who changed the world

SAY YOU WANTED TO BRING UP TO DATE CHRISTIAN SCHUSSELE'S 1862 MASTERPIECE Men of Progress, a heroic four-by-six-foot scene of nineteen innovators of the age. Whom would you put in it? Who are the men of progress, or the men and women of progress, or whatever you would call them now, of the twentieth century? The administrators of Cooper Union, which owns that painting (a copy hangs in the National Portrait Gallery, in Washington), decided recently to find an answer. To do so, they commissioned one of their most illustrious graduates, the artist Edward Sorel, to paint a sequel. We unveil it here.

Schussele, an Alsatian-born academic painter, had gotten the job from a New York ironmaker named Jordan Mott, and Mott had picked his cast of characters for his work simply by choosing himself (he had invented stoves that helped popularize the use of coal), a number of his friends, and some other important American innovators and manufacturers of the time. Sorel turned to the editors of American Heritage and American Heritage of Invention & Technology to help him choose his subjects, and we advised him with the help of several outside experts.

Schussele's nineteen have become Sorel's twenty, to accommodate two Wright brothers, and the earlier artist's snapshot of a time and place--the 1850s and the industrial Northeast--has given way to a convocation of men and women from across a continent and a century, but the focus on technological pioneers remains. The notion of progress may seem as battered today as is the idea of men as progress's only progenitors, but of course the role of technological pathbreakers in society has only magnified over a century and a half.

Of Sorel's twenty Americans, half a dozen are household names, a couple are virtually unknown today, and the rest lie somewhere in between. They all have either conceived inventions that changed technology or deployed those inventions to remake our world--with the one exception of Rachel Carson, whose impact was so immense and focused so completely and effectively on technology that the gathering would have seemed incomplete without her.

Schussele's placement of Benjamin Franklin in a painting on the wall as a tutelary genius overlooking the whole assemblage has been supplanted in Sorel's work by a benevolent Thomas Edison. Edison lived and invented well into the twentieth century, but his big achievements were all in the nineteenth, and he has continued to loom as the very symbol of the heroic resourcefulness that all these men and women embody.

--The Editors

1. Philo T. Farnsworth, 1906-1971. Inventor of television. Visualized the principles of electronic TV as a thirteen-year-old farm boy; sent his first image, a single line, when he was twenty-one--after he had already applied for a patent. The patent expired before he could profit from the commercialization of his technology.

2. George Washington Carver, 1861-1943. Botanist and agricultural innovator. Born a slave; taught and experimented for forty-seven years at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. Pioneer investigator into soil conservation, plant diseases, crop diversification; developed peanuts and sweet potatoes as leading crops and invented hundreds of plant-based products. He stands for all the enormous, underappreciated field of agricultural technology.

3. Jonas Salk, 1914-1995. Developer of a polio vaccine. Created his killed-virus vaccine with a team of researchers at the University of Pittsburgh; it reduced the incidence of polio in the United States 96 percent between its introduction in 1954 and 1961. Dr. Albert Sabin's live oral vaccine (Dr. Salk's was injected), introduced in the United States in 1961, became the standard thereafter.

4. Henry Ford, 1863-1947. Automotive pioneer. Built his first automobile in 1896 and had two failed efforts to start a car company before incorporating the Ford Motor Company in 1903. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

People of Progress
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.