Of Air Brakes and Ramen Noodles

We take a few minutes out of our busy publishing day today to acknowledge the achievements of just two inventors, each of whom has had a big impact on his contemporary world (and ours)

First there’s Momofuko Ando, the savior of the budget-strapped college student and the father of the instant ramen noodle, the invention voted by the Japanese in 2000 as the greatest of the 20th century. And if that weren’t enough, he is the subject of today’s Google Doodle. It doesn’t get much higher on the pinnacle of achievement than that, does it?

True fans can make the pilgrimage to Osaka, Japan, and visit the Momofuko Ando Ramen Museum. Ando would have been 105 today.

A little closer to our engineering hearts, if not our stomachs, is George Westinghouse, 19th-century inventor extraordinaire, proponent of hydroelectricity (He built a hydroelectric plant at Niagara Falls to send massive amounts of electricity to Buffalo, New York, 20 miles away.), inventor of the transformer, a rotary steam engine and the air brake, which eventually became standard equipment on most railroads around the world. He also famously quarreled with Thomas Edison over whether AC or DC current was best. March 12th will be the 101st anniversary of his death.

The hat tip for this piece of engineering trivia goes the the U.K. publication, The Engineer, which published this piece the other day, and Westinghouse’s obituary in March, 1914. With characteristic British understatement, the obituary writer explains the problem that Westinghouse’s invention of the airbrake addressed: “It can be readily realized that this disability to stop [a train] quickly could very easily lead to accidents.”  Gee, ya think?