Professor Chamberlain began his lecture by pointing out that the modern inventive activity of man has long been foreshadowed among primitive peoples. There has been something of mechanical skill in them all, and this instinct has in many cases been brought to a great degree of practical perfection. In the great majority of cases, in primitive folk-lore, the origin of all invention has been attributed directly to the God or Great Spirit. His very name has in many cases meant simply maker, shaper or in some cases even potter. He has been thought to have originated every single thing and men simply to have learned from him. From the Zulus and Polynesians to the American Indians, beliefs of this sort have been held.
Many tribes of Indians solved the difficulty of invention by simply thinking of the Great Spirit. In this way they thought they received directly from him inspirations to discover things. Among the Polynesians, all human inventions originated from the other world. Thus female cloth-beating came from a she-demon who beat the souls of the dead; the art of war was learned from the rebel spirits. Among many primitive peoples, all methods of transportation were supposed to be taken from restless shades who travelled back and forth from one world to the other.
In many cases inventions came from the spirit-world through the magic of medicine-men. By trances and dreams they discovered all arts and occupations. In America, especially, the idea of the culture-hero has been very strong. These heroes have taught everything from the highest arts to the meanest employment's. Other tribes have attributed almost all inventions to imitation from animals. Thus spinning has been learned from spiders and building from birds. Large numbers of primitive peoples give women credit for a large share of invention. Food-bringing, pottery, the beginnings of agriculture and all domestic arts have been attributed to women. From primitive times invention has always gone hand-in hand with freedom. It is perhaps because of this that men by invention have broken away from evolution and have done away with the struggle for existence which rules among the other orders of animals.