Great Inventions


Categories 51 Voices
Theme(s) Countryside,
Historical era
Date 1951
Object number Special Collections
  • Description

Marie Neurath and Joseph Lauwerys, The first great inventions (Max Parrish, 1951)

This children’s book was designed using a graphic tool called the isotype to tell the story of human innovations. Isotypes are a style of visual device used to communicate complex ideas in clear and simple ways. The illustrator of this volume, Marie Neurath, helped pioneer this approach to book design. Many of the technologies explored in its pages were linked in some way to histories of rural and agricultural life. These same subjects remain commonplace in children’s books to this day.

The book featured a double-page spread on ‘inventions that changed the countryside’, which charted power sources, exploring the move from wind, first to water and steam, and later to petrol and electricity. These different ways of powering infrastructure had a major part in how people farmed the countryside in the past. Marie Neurath’s careful illustrations were key to communicating the significance and visual difference of these technological shifts.

Elsewhere the book also featured animal-powered transports such as carts and wagons, as well as ploughs and other rural machinery. As a whole it helped to reveal how much innovation stems from needs that arise in contexts of farming, or when dealing with how to manage large landscapes. The double-page spread on lamps and lighting hinted at a very linear way of thinking about technical change. This was not dissimilar to the way in which collectors amassed and arranged objects to tell stories of change.

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