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Bleeps and Blips to Rocket Ships: Great Inventions in Communications

by Alannah Hegedus and Kaitlin Rainey, Bill Slavin, illus.

Canada is such a sprawling, sparsely populated country that it comes as no surprise to learn that its citizens played vital roles in developing communications technology. What is startling is how little most of us know about these pioneers, from paper makers to satellite engineers.
Ontario authors Hegedus and Rainey trace the history of Canadian communications, beginning with Charles Fenerty of Halifax. Never heard of him? He was only a teenager in 1838 when he hit on the idea of using ground wood pulp, instead of costly rags, to make paper. But he neglected to patent his invention – how Canadian of Fenerty! When he finally did write to the local paper in 1844 about his discovery, no one seemed very interested. The fame and fortune went to German inventors who followed him by 10 years.
That familiar spectre of missed opportunities, lack of funding, and a frequently uninterested, unhelpful government haunts several other brilliant inventors in this history – as does our national lack of patriotic propaganda. Most of the astonishing scientific breakthroughs recounted in this book will be totally unfamiliar to Canadian readers. The first magazine in the world to carry photographs was created in Canada in 1869, and went on to publish pictures of the Riel Rebellion and the construction of the railroad. Canadians also pioneered the transmission of photos over wire, panoramic cameras, and TV (in 1919 – but no one was interested).
The book is text-heavy, enlivened but not overly cluttered with anecdotes and inventive scientific experiments such as how to make a simple telegraph, create a halftone image, and show how satellites work with a flashlight, mirror, and black paper. Its clear explanations avoid confusing technological language, and the authors excel in conveying the historic importance and context of each discovery. A glossary and index are included. Bleeps will be useful in the classroom, where its human interest stories and revelations of Canadian inventiveness may open doors to understanding for the science-resistant.