restricted access Myth, Rumor, and History: The Yankee Whittling Boy as Hero and Villain

Myth formation and rumor formation share characteristics, due to transmission from person to person over time, of elaboration, exaggeration, simplification, fabrication, and retention of colorful detail. History formation unchecked by annotation and scrutiny also shares these characteristics, as exemplified by ascription of inventions in the nineteenth century to heroic inventors. Despite their aim of debunking myths, historians of technology are not immune from creating them, as exemplified by their demythologizing of "whittling boy" Eli Whitney as hero, only to remythologize him as villain. Myths, including recent ones, reveal more about the mythmakers' culture or subculture than about objective fact, and should be analyzed at more than one level. At some level, for instance that of the stimulus of handwork to brainwork, the "whittling boy" myth may be true, which would help account for its persistence.