Not seldom the functions of these three great departments of human knowledge and progress are merged into one, so far as general opinion may reach, while the fact is they may be as distinct as any separate departments in any one art. The scientist deals with the qualities of matter and the laws which govern them separately or in combination. He is, or sjiould be, in close communion with Nature, a student in her school, and a progressionist into her mysteries. He grasps the bare crags of knowledge, climbs to their summits, or explores their caverns. He notes the substances with which Nature works and the methods and agents of her working. Some times from the knowledge thus gained he becomes, himself, an inventor, but usually his investigations are too absorbing for him to relax his efforts in this direction, and he is satisfied with the almost endless vistas that open to him as he clears away the rubbish left by previous explorers and surmounts the obstacles placed by Nature herself. It is a noble department of human endeavor, as its demands are large, its obstacles formidable, and its rewards glorious. Moreover its field, although patiently worked by his predecessors, is ample enough for the exercise of all the energy and determination of the scientific explorer. However many may have scoured the ground before him, there are points of interest they have never seen, and mines of wealth they have never discovered only dreamed of. But even if the scientific explorer is content to traverse paths already worn bare by the feet of his predecessors, he will not infrequently find unnoticed flowers by the roadside and rejected gems in the dust of the way. He prepares the way, by his accumulations of facts and his series of theoretical suggestions, for the inventor, who asks only the opportunity and means to give a living form to the scientist's discoveries. The inventor must have a practical mind, whether he has a practical knowledge of mechanics or not. The constructive faculty is absolutely necessary to the inventor. He takes the facts discovered by the scientist and gives them form, which the mere student never could have done. In his hands the crude or bare facts of scientific investigation, in connection with the experiments necessary to their development, assume form and may be brought forth into useful shapes to bless and assist toiling millions, instead of merely astonishing and entertaining gaping audiences. The curious experiment becomes under him the useful possibility; the discovery of the student becomes to him a suggestion of practical use ; facts, or even possibilities, are to him living realities. But it is the mechanic who elaborates the idea of the inventor. He it is who clothes it with a practical form, furnishes it with nerves of steel and muscles of iron, and endows it with life and motion. Without his skill the result of the scientist's search and of the inventor's thought would be comparatively valueless. Indeed, his skill is frequently the only means of making the inventor's idea useful. In short, the mechanic, who as the model maker elaborates the inventor's idea, is often the real inventor. The crude, unworkmanlike contrivance of the inventor, that in his unskillful hands is merely a travesty on a machine, is made to assume form, proportions, elegance, and efficiency. So valuable is mechanical skill to the perfection of an invention that it is not surprising that practical mechanics constitute the large proportion of invent' ors. But if valuable inventions are often made by unskilled persons, it is seldom they are successful until after they have passed through the hands of the mechanic ; and sometimes the addition or alteration, made by the mechanic and modestly termed an improvement, is the element of the inventor's success.
This article was originally published with the title "The Scientist, Inventor, and Mechanic" in Scientific American 20, 15, 233 (April 1869)