American inventors, like many of their counterparts all over the world, have improved lives with their innovations. How have these brilliant minds contributed to society? What is it about their work that’s outstanding? We introduce you to some US inventors and discuss how they have changed the world.
How Inventions Have Changed
Before we discuss great American inventors and how they’ve shaped our lives, it’s good to know how the process of inventing has changed.
Some inventions were unexpected, but workable recombinations of components. Thomas Edison’s light bulb consisted of a filament, a glass envelope, and a vacuum, elements that weren’t unheard of during his time. However, he turned them into a patentable invention by combining them in a novel way.
Other inventions were complete innovations. William Shockley’s transistor was a new technology that became the foundation for today’s IT. Today’s inventions are still the results of these processes, but the balance between them has shifted. Early creations were fundamental, but there are many innovations now.
The inventions of yesteryear were physics-based. Most were machines or formulas like those created by Nobel Prize-winning physicist Albert Einstein. The disciplines biology and biotechnology have given rise to innovations like Magnetic Resonance Induction (MRI), which have revolutionized the medical industry.
These creations, new and old have one thing in common – they have all made a difference. And Inventors from the US have played an essential role in reshaping our lives.
7 American Inventors That Changed The World
The world would be a different place without these US inventors. We introduce them and their life-changing innovations.
1. George Washington Gale Jr.
First of all is George Washington Gale Ferris Jr., without whom fun fairs would be dull. The railroad engineer invented the Ferris Wheel.
He went to Chicago, Illinois after learning about the World’s Columbian Exposition. The directors of the exposition issued a challenge to American inventors to create a structure that would surpass the Eiffel Tower, the icon of the Paris International Exposition.
Ferris answered the call with a wheel from which people could view the entire exposition. The directors, however, feared that it would pose a danger. Ferris persevered. He got endorsements from respected engineers and more importantly, $400000 from investors to pay for its construction.
The structure had 36 cars. Each had 40 rotating chairs and could take in 60 people. The wheel could carry a total of 2160 passengers. It moved about 38000 daily, ferrying 2.5 million passengers before its demolition in 1906.
2. Whitcomb L. Judson
Whitcomb L. Judson, from Chicago, made it possible for us to keep our pants up conveniently, and that’s a plus.
The traveling agent for Earle Manufacturing company dabbled in inventions. He was particularly obsessed with developing a pneumatic street railway, which ran on compressed air. It had pistons suspended beneath the railcar. Many people found Judson’s system impractical, and it eventually went electric.
Despite this setback, Judson never stopped inventing. He secured 30 Patents over a 30-year career. His most notable invention was the chain-lock fastener, the precursor to the modern zipper. Known as the ‘clasp locker,’ it was an elaborate hook-and-eye fastener with a guide that opened and closed them. Judson’s motive was to make connecting clothes less troublesome.
He applied for a patent in 1891. The patent assistant examiner, Thomas Hart Anderson, almost rejected him because other inventors had also devised fasteners. He finally received approval in May 1893. Judson displayed his new invention at the Chicago World Fair. It didn’t meet much success at first. He created a new version by 1896, which included a cam slide.
Other inventors, like Swedish-American engineer Gideon Sunback and Catharina Kuhn Moos of Europe, improved the zipper in the 20th century. The little zipper allows us to wear many of the clothes we love today.
3. Lester Wire
Also on this list is Lester Wire. We would have chaotic streets without his invention, and persistence.
Wire’s revolutionary invention is the electric traffic light. The detective joined the Salt Lake City police force in 1910. Salt Lake City police chief BF Grant appointed him to head the traffic squad in 1912. Wire noticed the difficulties law enforcement officers had coordinating traffic. They would stand on little platforms and to be fair, would time traffic both ways.
Therefore, he wanted a better way to regulate traffic. He came up with a box for the job. The wooden box had red and green lights on all sides. He dipped the bulbs in some red and green paint, then mounted it on a 10-foot pole.
With a pitched roof, it resembled a pigeon house. Of course, it was the subject of ridicule. Many motorists would drive by and say, “Where’s the birdie?’ But Wire persisted with his invention. He came up with a durable metal stoplight, using the smokestack from an old engine. With his help, Salt Lake City had the first interconnected traffic signal system in the United States.
Our streets would be disorganized today if it weren’t for Lester Wire. His persistence has contributed to the order on motorways the world over.
4. Percy Spencer
Cooking wouldn’t be convenient today if it weren’t for Percy Spencer because he’s the inventor of the device we’ve all come to love – the Microwave Oven. As a young man, he studied the concept of electricity when he learned that the paper mill in his town was going to use it.
Wireless communications piqued his interest after he learned aboard the wireless operators on board the doomed ship, the Titanic. He studied radar technology and became one of the top experts in radar tube design by 1939.
Spencer worked at Raytheon, a contractor for the U.S. Department of Defense. He headed its power tube division. He helped Raytheon secure a government contract to develop combat radar.
What did electricity and radar have to do with him inventing the microwave oven? Spencer was standing in front of a radar set when his candy bar melted. So, he experimented with food.
He tried using radar on popcorn kernels, and they popped. He had innovated microwave popcorn. Spencer went on to create the first microwave oven by connecting a high-density electromagnetic field to a box that was enclosed.
How has he made a difference? You can now cook a simple dinner within 5 minutes.
5. Ransom E. Olds
Another inventor on this list revolutionized the automotive industry. Ransom Olds was the founder of the Olds Motor Vehicle Company, established in 1897.
By 1901 he had created 11 prototype vehicles using steam, electricity, and gasoline. He was the only American automotive manufacturer to have built and sold cars made using all three elements.
Olds was also the first automotive manufacturer to use a stationary assembly line to build cars. The automotive industry, now fast and furious, produces them in droves.
6. Theodore H. Maiman
Where would we be without pyrotechnics? American physicist and engineer Theodore H. Maiman built the first laser, an instrument that emits amplified light.
For his doctoral thesis in experimental physics, Maiman split stimulated helium atoms. He laid the groundwork for the development of the laser. Maiman’s experiments with helium atoms continued when he joined the workforce. In 1956, he became an employee of the Atomic Physics Department of the Hughes Aircraft Company.
Maiman persuaded Hughes’ management to fund his project using company funds. He created the first, solid-state ruby laser, which emitted coherent light with rays.
We use lasers in all industries today. The laser has allowed us to enjoy Michael Jackson’s laser-filled, sellout concerts.
7. Thomas T. Goldsmith/Elsie Ray Marin
Worried parents may wish that these inventors hadn’t succeeded with their innovation. Pioneer of American television Thomas Goldsmith co-invented the arcade game with Elsie Ray Marin.
They connected a cathode ray tube to an oscilloscope and devised knobs that regulated the angle and trajectory of the light traces shown on the oscilloscope. Using screen overlays, they also came up with a missile game that had the effect of firing missiles at targets.
The circuits decided a player’s ability to aim. They called it the Cathode-Ray Tube Amusement Device. Few teenagers can survive a long train journey without playing video games on their mobile phones. Whether a bane or a boon, one thing’s certain – few people can do without them.
In all, American inventors have played significant roles in making the world what it is today.