The Inventors Who Changed Our World


Joseph Schuman
May 4, 2013
National Inventors Hall of Fame Class of 2013

And now for something completely different.

Patent Truth focuses on the laws and policies aimed at protecting the rights of inventors to benefit from the fruits of their hard work and innovation, the system that gives them and new inventors an incentive to keep innovating in a virtuous circle that, if you’ll forgive a clichéd truism, helps make the United States great.

But on Wednesday night, at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office just outside Washington, we got a first-hand look at the face of invention and 17 newly enshrined heroes in the American pantheon of inventors. It was both humbling and awe-inspiring.

At the National Inventors Hall of Fame’s 41st induction ceremony, the makers of the first radio telescope, the Steadicam Camera Stabilizer and key technologies empowering cellphones and smartphones, along with 13 others, joined the ranks of 487 inductees who range from cotton gin creator Eli Whitney and steamboat pioneer John Fitch to Robert Gallo, inventor of an AIDS diagnostic kit, and Robert Kahn, one of the architects of the Internet.

Patent Truth was struck not only by the stories of human beings seeing intractable problems and solving them for the greater good, but by the respect each of the inductees had for the fellow inventors sharing the stage and no small amount of wonder at being among them.

The late Albert Loomis was lauded for producing the Long Range Navigation System (LORAN), which helped ships and airplanes find their way across the world in the pre-GPS age and helped the allies win World War II. The late Samuel Alderson was praised for creating a series of crash-test dummies for all means of transportation that have saved thousands and thousands of lives. Irwin Jacobs and Andrew Viterbi, two co-founders of Qualcomm, were honored for creating “the computers in your pocket that connect you to the world.”

Here’s a quick rundown of the laureates, courtesy of Invent Now, the nonprofit that looks after the Hall of Fame and has camp and afterschool programs teaching kids to invent and let nothing get in the way of their innovation.

That was another quality shared by many of this year’s inductees. Critics in higher authority told them their ideas were worthless and wouldn’t work. Such stories produced a lot of last laughs on Wednesday. You can visit the Hall of Fame site and read about them.

Arthur Ashkin: Optical Trapping, also called optical tweezing, a process that traps molecules and macroscopic particles by using laser light.

Donald Bitzer, Robert Willson, Gene Slottow (1921-1989): Plasma Display.

Garrett Brown: Steadicam camera stabilizer, which enhanced movie and television production by allowing directors to obtain shots that were previously thought impossible

John Daugman, Leonard Flom, Aran Safir (1926-2007): Iris Recognition, which is now considered the most accurate in the field of biometric identification based on physical or behavioral characteristics.

Irwin Jacobs, Andrew Viterbi: CDMA Technology, the technology used in cellular telephone networks that now supports over 1.6 billion subscribers in developing and developed countries with voice and high speed Internet access.

Joseph Lechleider: Digital Subscriber Line (DSL), which turned existing copper wire phone network into a high-speed broadband delivery instrument, allowing for transmission of data at equal rates in both directions.

Samuel Alderson (1914-2005): Crash Test Dummy, which has provided automotive engineers with valuable information, enabling them to design more effective safety features including seat belts and air bags.

John Birden (1918-2011), Ken Jordan (1929-2008): Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator, a self-contained power source that obtains its power from radioactive decay and powers most of the U.S. deep space exploration vehicles.

Alfred Loomis (1887-1975): Long Range Navigation System (LORAN), the radio navigation system for marine and flight navigators.

Robert Moog (1934-2005): Moog Synthesizer, the first complete voltage controlled modular synthesizer, an instrument capable of producing a wide variety of electronic sounds.

Grote Reber (1911-2002): Radio Telescope, the first dedicated to astronomy and which allows for the detection of objects and phenomena not possible with optical astronomy.