I have to pick two, Edison for obvious tech advancements and Louis Armstrong because, I am using intellectual shorthand, but I will give him credit for being the first Big Time Jazz Man and therefore the one of the first exporters of America's greatest cultural export...
Here's a cute little summary that echos my thoughts on the matter: http://www.wintermittens.com/feature...aboutcool.html
"In an online forum, a friend asked an interesting question that struck me as worthy of thought. The question was "Do you remember when only kids said 'cool?'" Of course, my immediate response, even if only in my own head, was "what is she talking about, it was adults that created the term cool in the first place." It seemed to me a more relevant question would be, "do you remember when 'cool' actually meant something?" Her choice of question really illuminated the overwhelming misunderstanding of the word and underlined a newfound attitude towards the word's co-optation by capitalist forces. The fact that this misconception of cool is so pervasive inspired me to make one of many attempts disseminate truth about cool. Look here kids, this is the Winter Mittens quick guide to what we think is real "cool."
The term "cool" has a long and interesting history. The reason everyone says "cool" now is because the idea of "cool" has been packaged and sold for so long. The origin of "cool" as a concept dates back to the 20's or so with what I'll misname black jazz culture. The reason for the misnomer is that black culture in the 20's and 30's essentially was jazz culture and I use the two terms as interchangeable. The only way for black people to actively resist white, oppressive "authorities" was to create a language of their own. The language, called jive, was "cool" in itself. It could not call attention to itself and had to be coded enough for "the man" to not catch on to what "cats" were saying. While mainstream culture dictated that black people be quick to jump, hop, step, and serve white people in the friendliest of ways; being "cool" resisted all that. Instead of pandering, you just chilled out. It was something that was not obvious to the "squares," or people outside of cool culture. Staying cool was a cryptic form of resistance that had much less harsh repercussions than shooting a white guy in the face. Even if you were arrested, made to work for minimal pay, an unwilling slave to "the man," or whatever the case may be, you still had this language of your own. So in a somewhat Darwinian way, the language of jive was pretty fluidly changing from circumstance to circumstance, city to city, and month to month but the one term that would prove its staying power, "cool", which meant "superlative" or "excellent," served as a behavioral axis and definition of jive culture.
The culture of cool took on a larger than life dimension in the late 40's and all of the 50's with the proliferation of heroin and larger acceptance of whites who lived outside the conventional 50's paradigm. Cool was a stark contrast to the prevailing rigidity in mainstream 50's culture. First recorded in writing in the title of an album by the Charlie Parker Quartet "Cool Blues," cool culture became a hiding ground not only for jazz-loving blacks, but for suburban whites in their late teens getting away from the high-strung atmosphere of their homes. Quickly entering into the inner circles of cool culture in an attempt to refute the prevailing idiocy of America in the 50's, those whites were often referred to as "white Negroes." This planted the seed for the counter-cultural explosion known to all as "the 60's."
The 60's was an explosion, from the underground up, of cool culture. The concept of "cool" became so mainstream that it was being used by anyone that felt oppressed by authority. This included kids with parents, kids with school teachers and administrators, white kids, black kids, as well as Asian kids. There was also a large population of older folks that though not "cool" in the 50's felt oppressed by the climate the previous decade had created. And of course, there were black people who were still being oppressed by whites. The new cool population was hidden behind the shimmering wall of rock n' roll culture just as the jive-talkers were hidden behind jazz. Cool had reinvented itself in a sense, but still remained the same- a cryptic language used to befuddle the man. The massive additional population relating to cool culture famously evolved into a standoff between cool culture, newly represented by the hippies, and conservatism, represented by the archetype, Mr. Nixon. The battle was essentially over the hearts and minds of the American people. The new attitude of cool's facelift was "either you are with us, or you are against us." This was clear in the actions and diktats of groups like the Black Panthers (who had a superb sense of cool style), and the Yippies (who had a cool style all their own, albeit an ugly one)."
And so on and so on...straight to the Hip Hop Generation.
Remember "now international" gestures as common as putting on a pair of "shades" and "chillin" can be traced back to COOL JAZZ.