In its first issue, dated Thursday, August 28, 1845, under the elaborate woodcut illustrating its logo, Scientific American summed up its mission: “The Advocate of Industry and Enterprise, and Journal of Mechanical and Other Improvements.”

Founder and editor Rufus Porter, himself an inventor and painter, noted that the new publication “is especially entitled to the patronage of Mechanics and Manufacturers, being the only paper in America, devoted to the interests of those classes.” With the industrial revolution in full swing in the still young U.S., the issue listed dozens of recent patents and innovations. Most focused on mechanizing processes that previously required backbreaking toil or the fine work of human hands.

Highlights for me include mentions of the new experiments Michael Faraday was conducting with zinc wires, speculation about the coming of the “electro-magnetic light as a substitute for oil or gas,” and the beginning of the information age: Samuel Morse's telegraph was then in operation only between Washington and Baltimore, but the editors predicted “this wonder of the age” would come into “general use through the length and breadth of our land.” (For a gallery from our archives, such as the watch factory from 1870 at the right, visit

A different kind of industrial revolution is under way today—one that combines the transformative power of information with our human need to remake pieces of the world to improve our lives. Put another way, “Manufacturing is order, intelligently applied,” writes Ricardo Hausmann of Harvard University in the introduction to our special report and cover story. Turn to page 36 for our package on “How to Make the Next Big Thing.” The feature articles cover such topics as human-robot collaboration, next-generation materials, 3-D printing, atomic-scale machines and digital simulations. In providing this essential guide to understanding the forces shaping the world today, Scientific American continues to fulfill a role it has held for 167 years.

SCIENCE IN ACTION: Last Call for Entries

Open to students ages 13 to 18, the Google Science Fair closes entries on April 30—also the deadline for being considered for the $50,000 Science in Action Award sponsored by Scientific American. I'm judging again and eager to see the ideas. —M.D.