Testing your knowledge on 400 years of Mass. innovation

Scott Kirsner

Part of a new display at Logan Airport on the history of innovation in Massachusetts.

By Globe Columnist 

When visitors to Boston arrive on a flight from Shanghai, Dubai, or Rome, they aren’t all coming here to visit Cheers or Old Ironsides. Rather, Massachusetts Port Authority chief executive Tom Glynn says, many of them are bringing kids to college, attending robotics conferences, or meeting with biotech firms.

So in addition to being known for the Shot Heard ’Round the World, Glynn wants to make sure Boston burnishes its rep as a place that regularly produces societal, scientific, and technical breakthroughs that change the world.


This summer, Logan will debut a new link between Terminal E, where all those international flights pull in, with the busy Terminal C, home to JetBlue. And part of the link is a major display on four centuries of innovation in Massachusetts. Says Glynn, “We have tons of posters about the past at the airport. This is a chance to try something different.” (You can already get a sneak peek of the exhibit, created by Bob Krim of Framingham State University and Janey Bishoff of Bishoff Communications, if you have a ticket on JetBlue and head toward Gate C9.)

I went to see the exhibit earlier this week, took lots of notes, and came up with this quiz based on some of the innovations it highlights. Easier questions first; answer key at the end.

Drop me an e-mail if you get 18 or more right, without Googling! (Not invented in Massachusetts.)

1. When Robin Chase and Antje Danielsen started _____ in Cambridge in 2000, it marked the start of the “sharing economy” trend that led to companies like Lyft and Airbnb. In 2013, the company was acquired by Avis for $500 million.


2. Few people know that _______ University was publicly funded for the first 200 years of its existence. Its faculty have won more Nobel prizes than any other single school.

3. Percy Spencer, the inventor of the _________ ____, now a common appliance, developed it after noticing that a magnetron device had melted a chocolate bar in his pocket. His next experiment entailed seeing what happened when popcorn was placed near the magnetron.

4. When James Naismith invented the game of “Basket Ball” in Springfield, players tried to toss a ______ ball into hoops made from peach baskets.

5. A ______ ____built in East Boston, the Flying Cloud, made it from New York to San Francisco in a speedy 89 days. Its record stood for more than 100 years.

6. Sales of the $300 ______ machine invented by Elias Howe of Cambridge didn’t immediately take off — even after Howe challenged five seamstresses to a competition and finished more work than all of them.

7. Launched in 2004, ___ ________ attracted 1,200 college students as users in its first 24 hours.


8. A Belmont dentist (and Harvard University prof) named George Franklin Grant patented the golf ___ in 1899 because he didn’t like getting his hands dirty.

9. In 1919, one of the country’s first female industrial chemists, Louise Giblin of Dorchester, contributed to the development of _______ as a breast milk substitute for infants. It can still be found on store shelves today.

10. Harvey Ball created what you might call the original emoji, the ______ ____, in 1963 to help raise employee morale at the State Mutual Life Assurance Co. in Worcester, following a series of difficult mergers and acquisitions. He was paid $45 for his icon, which was never copyrighted.

11. Ronald Herrick gave his identical twin, Richard, a ______ in 1954, marking the first successful human organ transplant. The operation was done by a team led by Joseph Murray at the Brigham.

12. The first liquid-fuel rocket was launched from an Auburn farm in 1926, reaching 141 feet in height. Its inventor, ______ _______, had studied at Worcester Polytechnic Institute before becoming a physics professor at Clark University.

13. William Morton and John Collins Warren performed the first operation on a patient who’d been anesthetized in 1846, using a surgical amphitheater atop _____________ _______ ________.

14. Rugged robots made by MIT spin-out ______ have gathered images and data from caves in Afghanistan, the wreckage of Ground Zero, and the earthquake-damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactor in Japan.

15. After being asked by his young daughter why she couldn’t see the photographs he’d just taken, _____ ____ invented instant photography.

16. Inventor _______ ________ sold his children’s textbooks and spent time in debtor’s prison to fund his research into rubber, eventually developing the vulcanization process that made the material more durable and better able to withstand temperature extremes.

17. A Harvard Business School student named Dan Bricklin came up with the idea to digitize the paper spreadsheets he had to use in classes. The end result was an Excel predecessor called ________, which helped persuade thousands of businesses to purchase personal computers.

18. When someone suggests, “Give away the razor, but sell the blades,” they’re referring to a business model created by ____ ________. He sold 51 razors and 168 blades in 1903, his first year of production. By 1915, razor sales had hit 450,000, and blade sales had surpassed 70 million.

19. Massachusetts was the first state in the United States to educate students in a public ______ (1635), establish a public ____ (1643), abolish _______ (1783), build a _____ to mitigate downtown gridlock (1897), and legalize ___ _______ (2003).

20. The telephone was invented in an “incubator” building owned by Charles Williams Jr. near Government Center in Boston. The first telephone line ran from Williams’ office in that building to his residence in nearby __________. His phone numbers? 1 and 2.

Scott Kirsner can be reached at
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