My IDEA Paid Me a Million as told by TEN FAMOUS INVENTORS (Jul, 1929)

My IDEA Paid Me a Million as told by TEN FAMOUS INVENTORS

Money and fame await the man who invents some new device which the world needs. These inspiring personal stories of great inventions give a fascinating glimpse into the successes which have come to men who have patiently developed an idea.

These Ten Inventions Are Making Millions for Their Owners: 1. Westinghouse automatic iron, invented by J. A. Spencer, former night watchman; 2. Disk record talking machine, of Emile Berliner, dry goods clerk; 3. Motion picture projector, developed by C. Francis Jenkins, stenographer; 4. Hoover vacuum cleaner, invented by Murray Spangler, janitor; 5. The outboard motor of Ole Evinrude, former handy man; 6. Rayon, the artificial silk, developed by scores of research experts; 7. Rice Flakes breakfast food, the idea of Howard Heinz, corporation president; 8. Pyrex glass baking dish, perfected by the Corning Glass Works; 9. Kodacolor colored movies, worked out by John G. Capstaff, former ship-building engineer; 10. Stenotype shorthand machine, the idea of Ward S. Ireland, stenographer.

I. An Automatic Iron by J.A. Spencer

IT WAS through watching the middle section of a furnace door move for a noticeable distance when it warped under the influence of heat at its center that I got the idea of contriving a metallic device which would make use of the principle that metal expands when heated, to turn on and off an electric current.

Seven years spare time went into the study of the problem. When the idea finally proved workable, practically all my limited salary resources were spent. With the assistance of friends a shop was rented and production of my current-controlling thermostat begun. The drawing below gives a good idea of the principle on which the device works. Two metals with different rates of expansion are fastened together, with an electric contact point at the center.

When, for example, the brass is heated to a certain temperature, it expands and the disk snaps up like the bottom of an oil can, lifting the contact and breaking the circuit. When cooled, the metal shrinks and snaps the circuit closed again. Thus this little device automatically controls the temperature of an electric iron.

Westinghouse experts, interested in the invention, insisted that it must turn a current off and on 350,000 consecutive times without a single failure before it could be considered a success. The device came through the test with flying colors, having proved its dependability beyond a doubt— the main reason why the housewife today finds the automatic control so satisfactory.

II. The Talking Machine By EMILE BERLINER

I WAS born in Germany in 1851 into a family of 11 children. I went to school up to the age of 14 and then worked as a printer’s devil without pay, later clerking in a dry goods store. Just before my nineteenth birthday a friend persuaded me to go to America to clerk in a Washington, D. C., dry goods store. For several years I worked in New York, Washington, and Milwaukee, clerking, selling glue, and working in a sugar analyst’s laboratory.

In 1883 I became associated with the Bell telephone interests, to whom I had sold my invention of the microphone which I had perfected after considerable experiment. In perfecting the microphone I had naturally acquired a great deal of information on the science of sound, and I became interested in seeing if I could devise a machine which would reproduce the human voice.

In 1857 Leon Scott, a Frenchman, had invented the phonautograph, an instrument which recorded but did not reproduce the vibrations of the voice. By 1883 both Bell and Edison had worked on the problem. They discovered that sound thrown against a diaphragm makes it vibrate, and were promoting the resulting devices. Edison’s phonograph involved a sound recording system whereby sound waves were vertically indented, while Bell’s graphophone had vertically engraved waves in a wax cylinder.

After five years of experiment I patented my gramophone in 1888. In contrast with other machines, its record was made horizontally and parallel with the record sur- face. Soon I was making disk records of the type in general use today, using zinc dies which solved the problem of making unlimited duplicate copies of an original record. It is the disk record which makes present day talking machines able to reproduce sound so faithfully. The Victrola company is the direct outgrowth of the Berliner Gramophone company, which I established in Philadelphia in 1892. The success of the company is well demonstrated by the fact that the name of its product has become a household synonym for “talking machine” throughout the world, with thousands of machines in use.

III. The Moving Picture by C. FRANCIS JENKINS

I WAS an adventure-loving young scamp born south of Dayton, Ohio. After a rural education near our farm outside Richmond, Indiana, I restlessly explored the northwest and southwest before finally settling down in Washington, D. C., at the age of 21 as a stenographer.

Always I had fiddled with machinery, and now, while boarding near the capitol, I enthused over Eastman’s crude box-camera. “Why not,” I argued, “make pictures which give the impression of moving?”

That was in 1890. I knew nothing of photography, but after taking a number of still pictures purporting to show people in chronological motion I drew up some rough sketches, bought a lamp, reflector, and camera box, and set to work.

My first “projector,” developed in 1893 after three years’ spare time tests, worked poorly. Funds were low, but by 1894 I had made a device called a phantascope which turned out better. It photographed moving objects and later reproduced them, giving the sense of continuous motion. Two essentials were involved: a picture mechanism for giving the film a jerky or intermittent movement at the picture aperture, thereby permitting a relatively long illumination, and a loop above this aperture to prevent the film from leaving the projector.

With limited funds, I had great trouble promoting the idea. The rest of the story contains little drama. In 1896, after my phantascope had been patented, Edison persuaded me to sell my rights for $2,500.

The phantascope was the forerunner of the modern motion picture projector, and I afterward regretted having sold it at such a low price. Since then, however, I have taken out over 300 patents, and today maintain my own private laboratory where ideas are turned into reality.

IV. The Vacuum Cleaner by MURRAY SPANGLER

TWENTY years ago Murray Spangler, an Ohio farmer, took a job as janitor in a Canton department store. A “bug” on efficiency, he used all the cleaning implements then available, and even invented a wagon like an old-time fire cart which contained a long hose connected with a tank inside which a vacuum was created by a gas engine. Drawing the wagon up in the street, Spangler would insert a hose through a window and suction the dirt into the tank outside.

From this crude beginning came the Hoover suction cleaner, hailed as the first efficient machine of the portable type familiar today. Backed by W. H. Hoover, a harness-maker who donated a portion of his workshop, Spangler perfected the cleaner after months of patient labor. More years of refinement followed before the cleaner became the small, compact machine in use today.

Murray Spangler, now dead, lived to see his suction cleaner in use in 3,000.000 homes throughout the world.

V. The Outboard Motor By OLE EVINRUDE

ALONG rowboat ride for a dish of ice cream was the immediate inspiration to the invention of the Evinrude motor which is the basis for the familiar out-hoard engine of today. I had rowed a young lady friend two miles from the lake shore to an island hamlet where a picnic was being held, and upon our arrival she expressed a desire for a dish of ice cream— which meant that I had to row to shore and back again, a distance of four miles. I decided then that there was a need for a motor which could be attached to a rowboat.

About a year later I showed that same girl (who was now Mrs. Evinrude) the model of the first outboard motor. The first one didn’t work very well, but in a few months I succeeded in perfecting it. My wife was my partner in our growing business—she engineered a mail-order campaign which sold the motors, while I designed and built the machinery for manufacturing them. In 1911 a national advertising campaign was begun and an organization built up on a production basis. Today there is hardly a lake in the United States without an outboard motor in use.

VI. Rayon, the Artificial Silk

NO ONE man deserves the entire credit for the invention of rayon, the first entirely new and distinctive textile in some 4,000 years of history. But if you were to ask any government textile expert who really put the new fabric on the map in this country, he would probably answer, ex-officio: “the Duponts.”

Back in 1884 two young Frenchmen, Reaumur and Chardonnet, after pains-taking study of the silkworm, succeeded in duplicating the process whereby it derived cellulose from nature. They found that when a mass of vegetable fiber, such as mulberry or oak leaves, has been boiled in water containing certain solvents, a mass of colorless, odorless, and tasteless material remains, composed of the membrane which forms the cells of vegetable matter. In 1902 Topham, an English inventor, per- fected an apparatus for forming textile fibre from this cellulose solution, and his method is now universally used.

Leonard Yerkes, president of the Dupont Rayon Company, describes rayon as an utterly new textile; it is as if a new color were added to the spectrum. Many fabrics are made entirely of rayon; in others wool, cotton, silk, or linen is combined with it.

The possibilities of profit for the man who can invent another new textile of this nature are evidenced by the fact that over 100,000,000 pounds of rayon were consumed in the United States last year. Already rayon has outdistanced silk in the textile markets.

An interesting fact is that the demand for rayon has been built up within less than a decade. The first Dupont rayon plant was erected at Buffalo, New York, in 1921, and in the first year it produced only 658,000 pounds of product.

VII. Rice Flakes Breakfast Food By HOWARD HEINZ

A DECADE ago I conceived the idea of developing a cereal food which would contain elements capable of overcoming the deficiency of cellulose in the average diet, a deficiency known to produce certain stomach disorders. Whole grain cereals contain an adequate amount of cellulose, but the harsh taste of such grains makes them unpopular. It took 10 years of research before our laboratory workers discovered that cellulose (which is merely “roughage” which aids digestion, but contains no food elements) can be obtained from rice bran in a purified, tasteless and odorless state, and then returned to the grain, which is cooked and flaked.

A manufacturing plant was erected at Lake Charles, La., where rice is raised in large quantities. The tasty product was introduced to the public and met with an immediately favorable reception. Today rice flakes are a favorite cereal food throughout the country.

VIII. Pyrex, the Glass Baking Dish

A MINOR household accident which occurred 14 years ago was indirectly responsible for the development of Pyrex, the trade name of a glass which will not break when subjected to heat. The wife of Dr. Sullivan of the Corning Glass Works in New York had lost a pudding dish while moving, and when she visited her husband in his laboratory to tell him of the accident she received such slight sympathy from him that she grasped a glass jar used for laboratory experiments and threatened to bake a pudding in it—which she did. The results were so tasty that Dr. Sullivan set himself to the perfection of an inexpensive glass which could be used for cooking purposes without shattering in the oven.

When finally perfected, Pyrex glass was not entirely the invention of one man. Hundreds of experts contributed their knowledge. Pyrex history really dates back to the pioneer work of Otto Schott of Jena, who studied the ability of glass to withstand sudden temperature changes. In May, 1915, the first large order of Pyrex baking ware was produced at the Corning works. It survived all tests. The formula for its manufacture provided for sufficient metallic content in the glass to make it, in effect, elastic; it could not shatter by expanding or contracting suddenly as temperature changed. Today it is used not only for baking dishes but for countless similar uses as well.

IX. Kodacolor, Movies in Color By JOHN G. CAPSTAFF

Fundamentally, the process by which movies in color are produced is simple enough. An immense number of tiny cylindrical lenses are embossed into the film by passing it between steel rollers. These lenses are only visible under a microscope, being seven times smaller than the dots making up the illustrations in newspapers. A color filter is placed on the lens of the camera and the function of the embossed lenses is to separate the rays of light falling on them so that the red, green and blue rays are imaged behind each tiny lens in three vertical strips parallel to the stripes of color on the filter. There were countless details to be worked out before the system was finally perfected; it would require a text book to explain in detail. The embossed lenses, however, are the real secret of the process.

Kodacolor’s history really covers something like 25 years of research. At first the colors were extremely poor, but by last summer the Kodacolor process was perfected and ready for the public. Today it is being used by thousands of amateur cameramen.

X. The Stenotype By Ward S. Ireland

MY WORK as a stenographer impressed on me the fact that taking notes by shorthand is an arduous job. Furthermore, notes taken by one stenographer can not always be transcribed by another in emergencies, even though both use the same system of shorthand writing. Why not devise a machine which would print shorthand symbols in much the same fashion as a typewriter prints letters of the alphabet? This idea for the Stenotype machine came to me in 1911.

Success followed almost immediately after the Stenotype was patented. The photo gives a good idea of how the machine works, printing shorthand characters on an endless tape. The device looks very much like an adding machine. The Stenotype is now produced by the LaSalle Extension University.

  1. Hirudinea says: March 9, 20115:42 pm

    Mr. Spencer holding his invention in his left hand, and by the look on his face a bomb in his right.

  2. Stephen says: March 10, 20114:42 am

    Nine out of ten ain’t bad…Kodacolor was not the breakthrough in colour films suggested here, which had to wait for Technicolor. The others, though, are all very serious successes, even if gramophones have now been superseded by digital technology. The thermostat, in particular, has way more uses than just making sure irons don’t overheat. There must be a dozen or more in this house, one in every electric radiator.

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