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The Most American Thing

If I had to pick the one thing I admire most about this country, it would be our ability to invent.

It’s just about the 4th of July as I write this, and the signs are everywhere. The guys minding the front desk downstairs have their American flag ties on. All my friends are either leaving for the beach or planning cook-outs. Even the Google doodle is red, white and blue.

As contentious as our politics is these days, there’s so much to love about this country. The political freedoms we’ve gained and fought to keep; the public library system; In-And-Out Burger; comic books; minor-league baseball; the Grand Canyon; the free market; the separation of church and state.

But if I had to pick the one thing I admire most about this country, it would be our ability to invent. Not just actual inventions but also political systems, narratives, new ideas—even the way people here are allowed to invent and re-invent themselves.

Nowhere else in the world, I think, is an individual so able to shape their own destiny. Problems of class and poverty are real and a drag on the prospects of many, and plain bad luck can scuttle the brightest promise, but everywhere you look in this country you see the rags-to-riches story come true. Where else could someone like Pierre Omidyar found a company like eBay? Not in the Iran of his parents; probably not in the France where he grew up. John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, Oprah Winfrey, Ralph Lauren—even Arnold Schwarzenegger—all rose from humble beginnings to win their own American Dreams.

I think that facility for invention—looking always for the new way of doing, that new way of being—is rooted in our nation’s history. It was the people who decided to take the risk of an Eighteenth-Century transatlantic voyage in the hope of finding a new world and building a new society who were the original settlers. It was the people who took the risk of making a revolution and forging a new political system who became our founding fathers. It was the people who wanted a new start, new territory, new resources who fueled our westward expansion. 

That ability to invent—and all the ways we foster it in our nation and our society—is still, I think, our country’s greatest strength. I don’t agree with some of the moves the Trump administration has made on trade, but I absolutely believe it was time to draw a hard line with China on our intellectual property rights. At the end of the day, what really matters is who designs the widget, not where it’s made.

That said, American manufacturing has been on the upswing. Just last year the U.S. added 264,000 manufacturing jobs, the highest number of new workers in the sector since 1988. Our annual Made in America feature celebrates some of these fantastic companies and their products.

And speaking of products, you’d think that for something as foundational as plumbing—moving water through pipes—the human imagination would have exhausted all the possibilities by now. But instead every day brings some new product, tool, system or innovation. I run pages of new products every month, online galleries every week. Last month more than 1,500 attended Milwaukee Tool’s New Product Symposium.

It seems that Americans are always looking for the newer, faster, better, more efficient way of doing everything. That restless, relentlessly striving spirit—I think it might just be the most American thing.

TAGS: Technology
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