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, September 30, 2007

Famous inventors: John Boyd Dunlop

John Boyd Dunlop should be a familiar name to you - at least the surname Dunlop, should.

Mr. Dunlop (February 5, 1840 - October 23, 1921) was a veterinarian by training, having graduated from the University of Edinburgh. Now, although born in Scotland, he spent most of his life in Ireland, in Belfast (in what was then not "Northern Ireland", but is now). So, although Scottish by birth, you could call him a naturalized Irishman.

John Boyd Dunlop had a veterinarian practice but this is not what he became famous for. Like many a father, he paid attention to his son's doings. He couldn't help but notice that, everytime his son rode his tricycle, he seemed to be in some great discomfort. This was not surprising, since, in those days, tires (tyres Br.) were solid rubber. Every bump in the road was felt deeply. Something had to be done.

Dunlop was a man of some imagination and inventiveness. So, he took his son's tricycle and set about the task of improving the situation. He wrapped thin rubber sheets around the wheels and then glued them together. Then he pumped them up with a footpump. The world's first commercially practicable pneumatic tyre had been invented. It was 1887. In 1888, he received a patent for this invention. Sadly, however, two years later he was informed that there was some overlap with the invention of one Robert William Thomson - a Scottish inventor, curiously - who had patented a similar idea in 1846 in France and 1847 in the US. Nevertheless, Dunlop didn't let go of his idea. He sold his patent to a William Harvey Du Cros was intent on commercializing it, in exchange for 1,500 shares in the resultant company, Dunlop Tyres. (American's might insist on Dunlop Tires, I suppose!)

Though Dunlop Tyres went on to become a world beating company, their products displacing solid rubber tyres around the world, within ten years, John Boyd Dunlop himself did not make a great fortune from his invention. Yet, he is still remembered for his inventive moment, with his son - so all is not lost.

Dunlop Tyres has diversified since then - there are Dunlop Motorcycle Tires (Tyres Br.), Dunlop Truck Tires (Tyres), Dunlop Racing Tires (Tyres Br.), Dunlop Mud Tires (Tyres Br.) and beyond that into merchandizing: Dunlop bags, Dunlop golf equipment, Dunlop bowling shoes, Dunlop squash rackets (racquets Br.), Dunlop tennis rackets (racquets Br.) and Dunlop golf balls. Dunlop has become a global brand. Yet, how many know that John Boyd Dunlop was a relatively humble vet with a practice in Belfast in the 19th century? A few more, now, perhaps.

What strikes me about all of this is that although Dunlop lived a relatively quiet life, that one moment of invention for his son, changed the world, in some significant way. It was Dunlop's pneumatic tire (tyre Br.) that was commercialized. It is Dunlop tires (tyres Br.) that many of us drive around on. Dunlop could have become a big industrialist - but he didn't have the appetite - and perhaps not the aptitude - to commercialize his work - so this was done by William Harvey Du Cros. So, although Dunlop did not become a mega-rich Bill Gates type figure - as he could have done, through revolutionizing transport - he did transcend the everyday limits of his life - and left behind a brand name that continues to grow until today. Yet, all he was really trying to do was make his son's tricycle ride a little more comfortable. I find that rather sweet - but also significant. It is difficult for us to know the full impact of what we do in life. John Boyd Dunlop didn't know - and neither do we.

(If you would like to learn more of Ainan Celeste Cawley, a scientific child prodigy, aged seven years and ten months, or his gifted brothers, Fintan, four years and three months, and Tiarnan, twenty months, please go to: I also write of gifted education, IQ, intelligence, College, University, Chemistry, Science, genetics, left-handedness, precocity, child prodigy, child genius, baby genius, adult genius, savant, gifted adults and gifted children in general. Thanks.)

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 11:21 AM 


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