Arthur Gardner was an electrician. Born in 1883, one year after Thomas Edison turned on the lights for 59 customers in Lower Manhattan, my grandfather was part of a new and rapidly growing occupation. He spent his workdays running wire through the homes of Chicago’s wealthy South Shore neighborhood. Electricity displaced the use of coal gas, which, in its turn, had displaced oil lamps and candles. Just as gas lighting propelled an expansion of industrial production and improved literacy, electricity—good for so much more than lighting—made vast new industries possible.
Arthur raised a family of gearheads—amateur engineers who tinkered with every kind of technology. My father began a career in computers in 1960, taking night classes in computer programming languages throughout my childhood. Coding books—FORTAN, COBOL, RPG—littered our basement. When our car needed winter “ballast” for snowy streets, we threw in 8 or 10 boxes of IBM cards. I still have a few. Read more »