According to U.S. Patent Law, ‘an invention is any new process, machine, or improvement etc. that did not exist previously and is recognized as the product of some unique intuition or genius, as distinguished from ordinary mechanical skill or craftsmanship.’ Keeping this in perspective, courts consider the inventor as a person or persons who conceived the idea. Intellectual domination is more important than product realization, and to be an inventor one must contribute to the conception.
1. Leo Szilard: Atom Bomb
Leo Szilard was born to Louis Spitz and Thekla Vidor in Budapest, Austria, Hungary on February 11, 1898 and died at La Jolla, California, U.S. on May 30, 1964 at the age of 65. He was educated at Technical Universitat, Berlin and Humbodt Universitat Zu, Berlin. He was also associated with Columbia University, University of Chicago, and Brandeis University and Salk Institute. He is best known for discovering the nuclear chain reaction and the relevant invention of the atom bomb in the Szilard petition and Einstein-Szilard letter. Leo submitted his application to get the atom bomb patented on July 4, 1934. He described the concept of a neutron-induced chain reaction which could cause immense energy with an explosion. Leo Szilard also contributed to the research and development of the atom bomb taking Einstein and the U.S. President on board.
2. William Spicer: Night Vision Devices
William Spicer was born in Baton Rough, LA, U.S. on September 7, 1929 and died in London on June 6, 2005 at the age of 76. His early schooling was a bit slow on account of some speech problems, but later he got his master’s degree from the University of Missouri in 1953 and earned his doctorate from the same university in 1955. He taught Electrical Engineering at Stanford for more than 40 years. He is best known for the development of military night vision goggles. Efforts are being made to develop a fourth generation of night vision devices by the combined use of night vision and thermal imaging technology.
3. Chester Floyd Carlson: Photocopier
Chester Floyd Carlson was born in Seattle, Washington, U.S. on February 8, 1906 and died in New York City, New York, U.S. on September 19, 1968 at the age of 62. He studied at the California Institute of Technology and New York Law School. He is best known for the invention of electrophotography later known as xerography; literally meaning ‘dry writing’ because the process could produce dry photo copies. The process utilized static electricity charging a lighted plate while the area to be kept white is coated with a plastic powder called toner. The machine was quite expensive in the beginning, but very soon it was affordable by the common man. The invention has contributed in enabling a common person to keep pace with a faster life style.
4. Johan Edvard Lundstrom: Safety Match
John Edvard Lundstrom was born in Jonkoping, Sweden in 1815. He is best known for the invention of the commercial safety match. Alonzo D. Phillips got the patent for the ‘manufacturing of friction matches’ in 1836. These matches, named :locofocos’ by him, were unsafe. John Edvard Lundstrom improved and invented the safety matches which could be ignited at will and safely by friction against a purposely made surface. This was a big achievement in the history of match making because it had many advantages over the previous versions which involved the use of white phosphorous. The white phosphorus match could ignite spontaneously by oxidation or exposure to air; therefore, they were a big fire hazard. Not only this, but also it was a health hazard because the workers who handled white phosphorous suffered from a dangerous disease called ‘phossy jaws’ which caused severe deformity of the jaw bones. In 1855, John Edvard Lundstrom used red phosphorus which was completely safe, and its mode of ignition involving the exclusive use of a friction surface made it even safer.
5. Percy Shaw: OBE Cat’s Eye Reflector
Percy Shaw was born to James Shaw and Esther Hannah Morrell in Halifax, West Riding of Yorkshire, England on April 15, 1890 and died at Boothtown Mansion, Halifax on September 1, 1976 at the age of 86. He is best known for the invention of the ‘Cat’s Eye Reflector’ for which he was honored with the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth of England in 1965. He received a patent #’s 436, 290, and 457,536 for his invention of the Cat’s Eye Reflector. There are different versions of how this invention was discovered. One story says that he saw a cat sitting on a road on a foggy night and conceived the idea from her fluorescent eyes, while another version is that he saw a reflective roadside billboard and thought of placing the light-reflecting material on the surface of the road. Blackouts during WWÃŽâ„¢ enhanced its importance. The invention is an effective and proactively life-saving device.
6. Dr. Percy LeBaron Spencer: Microwave Oven
Percy LeBaron Spencer was born in Howland, Maine on July 9, 1894 and died on September 8, 1970 at the age of 76. He is best known for the invention of the microwave oven. While working at Raytheon, he improved the process of production of magnetrons increasing its production from 17 per day to 2600 per day. The U.S. Navy honored Dr. Percy LeBaron Spencer with a Distinguished Public Service Award for this achievement. During his work he observed the melting of a candy bar exposed to magnetrons. He confirmed his finding by exposing corn, which quickly turned into popcorn. The idea conceived by him was realized by inventing the household microwave oven. He was granted a U.S. patent for the invention of the microwave.
7. Dr. John Smith Pemberton: Coca-Cola
Dr. John Smith Pemberton was born to Martha L. Grant and James Clifford Pemberton in Virginia on July 8, 1831 and died in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S. on August 16, 1888 at the age of 57. Having been wounded in the Battle of Columbus, Georgia in April, 1865, he started using morphine to relive pain and got addicted to it and started looking for an alternate to get rid of it. The drink he prepared was alcoholic and contained cocaine and the Cola nut, but after the prohibition of alcohol, he was constrained to still find another substitute. Ultimately, he developed a non-alcoholic beverage which was basically carbonated, colored, flavored with acidified syrup with the assistance of Frank Mason Robinson who merged cocaine and the Cola nut and named it ‘Coca-Cola.’
8. Thomas Edison: Light Bulb
Thomas Alva Edison was born in Milan, Ohio, U.S. on February 11, 1847 and died in West Orange, New Jersey, U.S. on October18, 1931. Nothing much is known about his formal education, though he was a prolific inventor and was known on this account as the ‘Wizard of Menlo Park.’ Edison is best known for his invention of the light bulb. After extended research and several trials, he inferred that a carbon filament in a bulb devoid of oxygen glowed without burning. This resulted in the product’s realization and the end product, the light bulb, changed the life of people. On his death, light bulbs in America were dimmed for one minute to pay homage to him.
9. John Mauchly: ENIAC
John Mauchly was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, U.S. on August 30, 1907 and died in Ambler, Pennsylvania on January 8, 1980. He was educated at Ursinus College, University of Pennsylvania, and Johns Hopkins University. He is best known for the invention of one of the first computers. ENIAC is an acronym for ‘Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer.’ The computer was big like the size of a room measuring 30’x 50’. It contained 70,000 electrical resistors, 17,468 vacuum tubes, and 10,000 capacitors. It could efficiently add up 5,000 numbers/second. The device laid the foundation for the multi-million-times- more efficient computers today which have revolutionized the world.
10. Louis Braille: Braille Code
Louis Braille was born to Monique and Simon Rene in Coupray, France on January 4, 1809 and died in Paris, France on January 6, 1852 at the young age of 43. While toying with his father’s tools in his workshop, Louis, who was just a child then, was hit by a splinter in one eye which could not be treated, and the other eye too got infected with a consequent total loss of sight in both eyes. Until he was ten years old, he was educated at home and then attended the National Institute for Blind Youth, which was the first school for blind children in the world. He studied through the Hauy system named after the sighted philanthropist founder of the school who invented the embossed Latin alphabet. It was too expensive and voluminous a system. Braille devised a raised dots system utilizing only six dots. The sytem prevails throughout the world in all languages. The childhood home of Louis Braille is a listed Historical building. The 200th anniversary of Louis Braille was celebrated globally. The USA minted a one dollar coin; India, a two rupees coin; while Belgium and Italy minted a two-euro coin to mark the day.
There is no misery worse than blindness and no blessing better than human intellect which keeps inventors constantly engaged in the quest for inventions to benefit humanity.