The Wonderful World of Tinkering

Making the world a better place through tinkering.

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Tinkering includes, but certainly isn't limited to electronics.
Photo:Breakfast for Dinner/Sinclair Lewis (Flickr Creative Commons)
Alec Foege, author of "The Tinkerers: The Amateurs, DIYers, and Inventors Who Make America Great"
Photo:Chion Wolf
The Wonderful World of Tinkering
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The Wonderful World of Tinkering

What do Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Edison, Steve Wozniack, and the Wright Brothers have in common?

They’re tinkerers, of course.

Yes, tinkering isn’t just something that your uncle does on the weekends. As author Alec Foege says, tinkerers help make America great.

Today, the word tinkering can refer to any number of things. From fixing up old cars, to designing things with 3D printers, tinkerers are using the tools at their disposal to make even better tools, gadgets, and items that many of us take for granted.

But a tinkerer doesn’t have to change the world. Even just messing around with computers can give us a better understanding of the way the world works.

Today, we’ll talk with Alec Foege about his book, “The Tinkerers: The Amateurs, DIYers, and Inventors Who Make America Great.” We’ll also talk with someone who helps bring your tinkered creation to the masses, and a public library here in Connecticut that makes 3D printers accessible to patrons. 

This episode originally aired on January 10, 2013.



Blog comment from Helen

We encourage young inventors, their parents, and their teachers to get in touch with Connecticut Invention Convention at to find out more about our school-based programs in more than 140 schools. For over 30 years, CIC has been supporting young inventors and innovators to develop their problem-solving skills and prototype their ideas into designs, products, and even patented and manufactured products. Our inventors are showcased at the CT Science Center in the Invention Dimension Gallery every month. With over 300,000 inventors over 30 years, we continue to expand our programs through the state's new Innovation Centers in Storrs, Hartford, New Haven, and Stamford where young inventors can seek help from IP attorneys, vc's, marketing and manufacturing experts. Over 54% of our inventors are girls so there's no lack of gender equity in invention, innovation and entrepreneurship! The public is welcome to our 30th annual event at UConn on May 4, 2013, hosted by the UConn School of Engineering, our partner. It all starts with your school getting involved with our annual program, so ask your teachers or administrators to find out how to get involved. Young inventors whose schools don't yet have a program can also participate, as can home-schooled inventors. Be a part of the CIC and support kid inventors, innovators and entrepreneurs.

Email from Dan

I'm a software tinkerer, and wanted to point out that ideas are crucial for tinkerers, and will often inspire a fix, or a new project.

For example, you can't use a capacitor in your tinkering-fix if you don't know a bit about capacitors and electricity.

Collecting these ideas is part of the amateur (which originally meant "lover of") side of tinkering - discovering ideas because they're lovely. Only later, maybe, will some of them be useful.

Email from Terry

There was a wonderful story this morning on Morning Edition about a tinkerer who helped disabled people.

Bill Sand of Cincinnati has made it his mission to help those who need assistance. Sand spends most of his free time crafting, creating and building gadgets to help the disabled enhance their lives. He volunteers for the group May We Help.

Maybe you could listen to the link and tell the Bill Sand story.

Email from Theresa

Listening to the show today and I just wanted to add something I feel you're missing, especially considering the title of your guest's book. Sure, there are American tinkerers. But there are tinkerers and inventors and people who hack and fix things all the time around the world. America is great and all, but all this American exceptionalism is a bit silly. Tinkerers of the world, unite!

Email from Greg

I just wanted to say thanks the great program today. I've spent my whole life tinkering, building, and engineering. I'm now the technology manager for the neuropsychiatry department at Hartford Hospital where I get to continue tinkering, building MRI compatible equipment. I'm still thrilled every day when I walk into work to get to do what I love.

Email from Art

I'm a member of CT Hackerspace in Watertown, CT. We have a 4,000 sq-ft shop with a machine shop, wood shop, electronics lab, lounge and a classroom area where we hold workshops on electronics such as Arduino programming.

We have 3D printers among our various tools.

The Waterbury Linux Club also meets at our space.

There are many other Hackerspaces opening opening in CT such as MakeHaven and the Danbury Hackerspace.

Look us up at: