The boy who knew too much: a child prodigy

This is the true story of scientific child prodigy, and former baby genius, Ainan Celeste Cawley, written by his father. It is the true story, too, of his gifted brothers and of all the Cawley family. I write also of child prodigy and genius in general: what it is, and how it is so often neglected in the modern world. As a society, we so often fail those we should most hope to see succeed: our gifted children and the gifted adults they become. Site Copyright: Valentine Cawley, 2006 +

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Karl Benz: child prodigy.

You may find the name Karl Benz familiar. It should be. From him sprang Mercedes Benz, Daimler Benz and Daimler-Chrysler. Yet, did you know, he was a child prodigy?

Many of history's most accomplished individuals began life as child prodigies. Prodigy is not just a childhood phenomenon, therefore: it can presage the beginning of a most productive life. That this is not more widely known is simply because in time we remember these former prodigies for their adult achievements - and forget that once they were prodigious children. Examination of the lives of adult geniuses, turns up many who were child prodigies.

What did Karl Benz do? Well, he was the inventor of the petrol (or gasoline) powered automobile; he held the patents for all the processes that allowed a petrol powered internal combustion engine to work; he invented the carburettor; the water radiator, the ignition system based on sparks from a battery; the spark plug; the clutch; the accelerator. It would be fairly true to say, that he invented the car (in the sense of most of the things that allowed it function in the way that is familiar to us all). He also invented an engine now used in motorsports - the flat engine or boxer engine - oh, and the axle-pivot steering system. On top of that, he made car designs, too.

All of this accomplishment has its roots in a scientifically prodigious childhood - a prodigiousness that was clear in his primary school years. Though he came from a very poor background (owing in large part, one would think to his father being killed, in a railway accident, when Karl was only two years old), his mother struggled to ensure he got the best of educational opportunities. He didn't disappoint her and he started at the scientifically oriented Lyzeum at nine years old. From there he moved onto the Poly-Technical University and finally another University - the University of Karlsruhe which he entered at the age of 15 to study Mechanical Engineering.

After his formal education, Karl Benz, like many people of genius, found it difficult to fit into normal working life. He moved from job to job, never really finding his place. After seven years of this, he started a mechanical workshop with Auguste Ritter. Though the first year was a disaster - to which he responded by buying out his partner - this new independence proved the foundation of his future success. It allowed him to work on his ideas. Soon he had invented a two-stroke engine. Thence forth a river of inventions flowed from him, each contributing to the motor age.

It was not until he had formed another company, however, Benz and Company, having been sidelined by others, in his first company, that he was free to work on his dream: "a horseless carriage". In 1885, he invented the Benz Patent Motorwagen, the world's first automobile. The age of the car had begun.

He was born in the age of the railway, and by the time he died in 1929, the world had been transformed by the car - and it was largely his doing.

Benz is but one example of a child prodigy, who grew up to be an adult who changed the world. I shall look at others, over time, for each is an interesting example of what may come from a prodigiously gifted child who receives the opportunities they need to flower as they might.

(Karl Benz, child prodigy, inventor of the automobile, 1844 - 1929).

(If you would like to read of Ainan Celeste Cawley, a scientific child prodigy, aged seven years and five months, or his gifted brothers, Fintan, three or Tiarnan fifteen months, please go to: I also write of gifted education, IQ, intelligence, child prodigy, child genius, baby genius, adult genius, savant, the creatively gifted, gifted children and gifted adults in general. Thanks.)

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 6:51 PM 


Blogger trudy said...

Karl also had a sister Christina who married Joseph Schoemer who had 8 children. The first child was my grandfather (faternal). They married and lived in America.

7:01 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Thank you, Trudy. It feels good to learn that he has living relatives, still. How do you feel at having such an illustrious - and important - relative? How does the family speak of him and his legacy? Is he background or does he remain a significant figure to the family?

Best wishes.

7:34 AM  
Blogger Lizzie Burt WAS Harper said...

Hi there Trudy,

I have just found out that I am a relative of Karl Benz - please get in touch my grandma was his grandaughter, would be great to hear from you! My mother is from the Thompson side if that rings a bell?

6:03 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

How wonderful. I hope you two get together. Best of luck.

7:57 PM  
Blogger RadDymund said...

Wow its amazing that you some of you are relatives of him. I think he was one of the smartest men that ever lived. I also think that he has created the best automobile company in history.

2:37 AM  
Blogger sonia said...

no way! bertha is my grandmother's aunt.. karl benz is my great great uncle! so cool that we're related too then! i'm currently searching for my family tree:)

1:50 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

It amazes me that the Internet and this blog page is allowing relatives of Karl Benz to find each other. How wonderful.

I hope you all manage to get in touch.

Best wishes.

3:18 PM  

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