This and That
Issue: 6.05 this is column 197
May 4, 2005
Unknown Jewish Inventors of Valuable Stuff

Robert Adler - Born 1913. A refugee from Austria, Dr. Adler worked for Zenith labs in the United States. He suggested the use of ultra sound transmissions for remote control television control and lead the team that developed the system that was in use in all remote control televisions until the early 1980's (it was replaced by a light-based system). Dr. Adler's talents extended to other fields, as well.

Zora Arkus-Duntov - (1910-96) Arkus-Duntov is credited as the co-designer of the famous automobile, the Corvette, the only true sports car produced by an American company. Also the inventor of four wheel disc brakes and a fuel injection system still used in many cars today. Born in Belgium of Russian parents. He served in the French Air Force in WWII. He fled to the U.S. when France fell to the Germans in 1940. He worked for GM from 1953 until 1974.

Emile Berliner - (1851-1929) Born Germany. Berliner came to the United States in 1870. Berliner was a multi-talented inventor. Berliner invented an early version of the microphone. His microphone drastically improved Bell's Telephone and made the telephone a really useful device. The patent was bought by the Bell Telephone Company and incorporated in the telephone only a few years after the telephone was invented. Berliner also invented the first light combustion engine used in airplanes. He invented a type of gramophone that played flat discs, instead of playing cylinders. This made the mass production of music for gramophones inexpensive (records were easy to mass produce; cylinders were not). He also founded an organization to protect the public milk supply.

Samuel Blum - Born, 1920. New Jersey. Excerpting his National Inventors Hall of Fame biography: "Samuel Blum was working with Rangaswamy Srinivasan and James Wynne at IBM’s T. J. Watson Research Center when they observed the effect of the ultraviolet excimer laser on biological materials. Intrigued, they investigated further, finding that the laser made clean, precise cuts that would be ideal for delicate surgeries. The laser technique they researched went on to become the foundation for LASIK (laser in situ keratomileusis) eye surgery. In LASIK, the shape of the cornea is permanently changed using the excimer laser. Adjustments can be made for nearsightedness, farsightedness, and astigmatism. Well over two and a half million people in the United States have undergone LASIK surgery." As noted in the rest of the piece, Blum got his undergraduate degree in chemistry from Rutgers. He was a meteorologist in the Navy during WWII. He worked on semi-conductor compounds before laser work. Blum gave a long interview about his life to historians of his Jewish college fraternity. He put himself through school in a way familiar to Jewish guys of his generation--he waited tables in the Catskill resorts.

Baruch S. Blumberg - Born, 1923. Blumberg, a medical doctor, was the 'co-inventor' of the vaccine for hepatitis "B". He shared the Nobel Prize in 1976.

Joshua Lionel Cowen - The founder of the famous Lionel Toy Train Company. Born 1877, as Joshua Lionel Cohen. He was a leading electrical engineer before founding Lionel in 1907. His son, Lawrence, joined him in the business and the company was marketed as the "Father and Son" railroad. The company was sold in the '50's and Joshua died in 1965. It is now owned by a group of investors who have brought the company back.

Michael S. Dell - Not quite an engineer, although he did study engineering/computer science for a couple of years at the University of Texas. Dell, who was born in Houston in 1965, is the CEO of the Dell Computer Corporation. He began with one thousand dollars and started selling computers out of his dorm room. The company mushroomed year after year based on providing a quality product, at low cost, directly to the consumer. It became pointless for Dell to continue his university studies and he dropped out. Michael Dell and Dell Computer are major benefactors of Austin, Texas where Dell Computer is based. He has been generous in giving to both Jewish and secular charities.

Daniel C. Drucker - Born 1918. One of the most pre-eminent structural engineers in the United States. He is Professor Emeritus, the University of Florida. His work is primarily in the field of stress analysis. The American Society of Mechanical engineers established The Daniel C. Drucker medal in 1997. It is conferred in recognition of distinguished contributions to the field of applied mechanics and mechanical engineering through research, teaching and service to the community over a substantial period of time.

Dorothy Feiner Rodgers - (1909-1992) Dorothy Feiner Rodgers was the wife of famous composer Richard Rodgers. Dorothy, like Richard, came from an upper middle class Jewish background. Her grandparents were Eastern European immigrants. Dorothy Rodgers was a great beauty in her youth and charmed many famous men with her looks and highly organized personality. Dorothy Rodgers had many talents including being an excellent writer (she wrote for McCalls and wrote several books on 'elegant' home decoration). She had a background in the arts and conceived of the permanent exhibit of the Jewish Museum in New York. It is a bit surprising to find out, given this 'elegant' background, that she was the inventor of two rather basic household items. Rodgers was an avid sewer and sometimes sewed her husband's silk shirts. She found pattern stays made out of tissue to be unsatisfactory. So, she invented a pattern stay made out of plastic that was a commercial success under the name "Basic Try-On Dress Patterns". Her more famous invention is the "Jonny Mop". This mop is still manufactured. It is a small mop to clean toilets. Its most notable feature is the use of a disposable sponge on the "business end". She brought the mop to Johnson and Johnson. They attempted to market the invention, without paying her, by slightly changing Rodgers original mop. They thought this was enough to not infringe on her patent. Stupid move! Rodgers had ample resources to protect her patent and was well known as being the "financial brains" in the Rodgers family. She sued Johnson and Johnson for patent infringement and won. She turned over the patent royalties to her daughters. Mary Rodgers, one of her daughters, is a well known composer/writer

Dennis Gabor - (1900-1979) Dennis Gabor was born in Hungary. He emigrated to Britain in 1933. He was the winner of the 1971 Nobel Prize in physics for his invention of the holographic method. Holograms, like the ones on your credit cards, would not be possible without him.

H. Joseph Gerber - (1919-1996). Born in Austria, Gerber was a tinkerer even as a small boy. When he was 15, he was imprisoned in a Nazi labor camp. But he managed to escape and Gerber and his mother came to the United States in 1940. The following full biography calls him the "greatest inventor whose name is unknown to the general public". He was a college junior when he invented, "what has been called the most revolutionary engineering tool since the slide rule: the Gerber Variable Scale. This device looks like a slide rule, but uses a triangular calibrated spring as a computing element which eliminates all conversions and scaling from numerics to graphics and curves. He launched a highly successful company to market this invention and other scientific devices. In the '50s, Gerber invented the world's first truly digital drafting machine, or 'photoplotter." This same device is used for over 75% of the television circuit boards manufactured today. In the late '60s, concerned that the U.S. was losing its clothing industry to foreign manual labor, Gerber invented the GERBERcutter S-70, a fully automated cloth-cutting system. Then, Gerber was hailed as 'the savior of the industry' and 'the father of apparel automation.' Today, over $500 million worth of GERBERcutters are used in factories in about 40 countries. In the '80s, Gerber helped perfect the computer-assisted equipment that allows opticians to produce eyeglasses in about an hour."

Charles Ginsburg - (1922-1992). Charles P. Ginsburg was the leader of the team, working for the Ampex company, that invented the first practical video tape machine in the early 1950s. The machine revolutionized television broadcasting and eventually, of course, lead to the home machine. Prior to video tape, programs had to be "live", or use much more expensive conventional film stock, or use much lesser satisfactory systems like kinescopes.

Leopold Godowsky, Jr. - (1900-1983) Leopold Godowsky, Jr. was the son of famed pianist Leopold Godowsky. He was trained as a classical violinist and eventually played violin with leading symphony orchestras around the world. Godowsky, Jr. also obtained a degree in physics. He was friends, from childhood, with Leopold Damrosch Mannes, the son of famous classical violinist and musical educator David Mannes. Leopold Mannes, like Godowsky, Jr., had a musical education and a degree in physics. The pair, as explained on the two linked articles, developed an early interest in color photography. George Eastman, of Eastman Kodak, had developed a color film he called Kodachrome, just before WWI broke out. However, the film quality was not very good and received a poor response from critics and the public. In short, Mannes and Godowsky were hired by the Kodak company in 1930 to develop satisfactory color film/photographic stock and help the company catch up with the Technicolor company. By 1935, they had succeeded. In rapid order, two and three color film was introduced--still film and film for slides and motion pictures. The 'new process' film was introduced under the revived name of Kodachrome. Interesting sidenote: Godowsky, Jr.'s wife was Frances Gershwin, sister of the famous composer George Gershwin.

Sidney Hersh - Hersh, who died in January, 2001, age 83, was chief engineer in charge of the US Navy's advanced ship development program at the time of his retirement in 1973. Hersh began with the Navy Department in Washington in 1938. He later was a senior engineer for the Polaris program and chief engineer for the deep submergence systems project.

Arthur Korn - (1870-1945) German Jewish inventor of the first practical system to send photos over telephone wires. In other words, the forerunner of the fax machine. He is credited with the first transmission of a photograph by telegraph, from Munich to Nuremberg and back (1904).

Hedy Lamarr - This famous actress was also the co-inventor/designer of a "frequency skipping" electronics innovation which ultimately was employed by the military and is now used in cellular phone technology. As the first linked piece makes clear, she and her co-inventor, composer George Antheil, did not benefit from the invention because it was ahead of its time and components necessary to make it work were not available during WWII, when the invention was patented. (Its original purpose was to render ineffective enemy radio signals which were deflecting allied naval torpedoes from their targets.)

Edwin Land - (1919-1991) Land was actually a physicist by training. He is most famous as the inventor of the process of instant photography--the Polaroid Land camera (1947). Land and his company did research into many other areas as well. Land was born into a religiously observant Russian Jewish immigrant family. His parents "landed"---and took their last name from that event. His father prospered running a salvage business and he supported his son's lifelong ambition to be a great inventor. Land is reported to rank only behind Thomas Edison for the most American patents granted an individual. Land's second most famous innovation was the development of materials to "polarize light". Prior to Land's work, automobile and other light sources usually emitted a harsh, glaring light that tended to blind other drivers and pedestrians. Polarized glass, introduced in the 1930s, largely ended this problem. Polarized sunglasses, as most people know, filter out the sun's glare. In addition to his consumer products, Land also developed a new optical system for the Sloan-Kettering Cancer Institute in 1948 that enabled scientists to observe living human cells in their natural color. Near the end of 1953 he also invented a microscope that used light invisible to the human eye for illumination. Both of these inventions were a great aid in cancer research. Land and his company were also active in defense work. In 1941 the Navy invited companies to bid on a contract to develop an altitude finder. Before the other companies even replied, Polaroid invented the item and presented it to the Navy. During the war, Polaroid provided the Army and Navy with various types of goggles, as well as improved gun sights for Sherman tanks. Land drove the company hard, convinced that the Allies' only hope of winning lay in the superiority of the science behind the effort. To this end, he invented "vectography," a system that took three-dimensional photographs. Such photos were invaluable in reconnaissance efforts, especially when camouflage was employed by the enemy. After WWII, Land provided invaluable help to the Defense Department program to monitor Soviet defense capabilities through aerial photographic reconnaissance. Interesting side note, two of Land's employees, Robert B. Woodward and William E. Doering, solved a critical problem for the Allies during WWII. With the Japanese controlling Java, and thus the world supply of cinchona trees, quinine--the only cure known for malaria--was unavailable. Woodward and Doering synthesized quinine and Polaroid waived the royalties from this synthetic compound and gave them to the government with no commercial limitations. Woodward later went on to win a Nobel in medicine.

Jaron Lanier - Born 1960. American. Lanier grew up in a remote corner of New Mexico. His parents are artists/musicians. Excerpts from the following linked biography: "Lanier is universally known as the 'father of virtual reality". He is a computer scientist, composer, visual artist and author. He is probably best known for his work in Virtual Reality. He coined the term "Virtual Reality", and was a principal pioneer in the scientific, engineering, and commercial aspects of the field. Currently, Lanier serves as the Lead Scientist of the National Tele-immersion Initiative, a coalition of research universities studying advanced applications for Internet 2. His 'firsts" include: the first "avatar" for network communications, the first moving camera virtual set for television production, and the first performance animation for 3D computer graphics. He was the first to propose web-based network computers. He was one of the originators of real-time surgical simulation and telesurgery. As a computer scientist, Lanier is also known as a pioneer in the field of visual programming. Sun Microsystems recently acquired Lanier's seminal portfolio of patents related to Virtual Reality and networked 3D graphics."

Adolph Lewis - (1912-2001) Well, we figured we would lighten up this category with a few "fun" inventors and there is no better one to start with than Adolph Lewis. We have heard it said that "the Slim Jim", a bar staple, is the most "non-Jewish" of foods next to pork products. One can argue that Jews have survived for 4,000 years because they have tended to avoid "dried mystery meat" served on a stick. On the other hand, maybe things would have gone better if they had ate such concoctions. In any event, "Slim Jim" type products are not a staple of the Jewish palate. Nor are they found in most Jewish households. So it comes as a surprise that "the inventor" of the original "Slim Jim" was a Jewish guy from Philadelphia--who also sold pickled pigs' feet! Lewis sold spices and pickles during the Depression, then moved on to pickled pigs' feet, among other items. Slim Jim debuted in the 1940's and was sold to General Mills in 1967. Today each batch of Slim Jim contains 30 spices and is cooked for 20 hours.

Michel Mirowksi - (1924-1990). From his National Inventors' Hall of Fame biography, "Michel Mirowski conceived of the automatic implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) in the 1960s after his mentor died of a heart arrhythmia. Facing formidable opposition from the medical community, Mirowski led a team that designed and tested the first ICD, which was also the first alternative to drugs and surgery. The first human implant occurred in 1980. The device was originally the size of a deck of cards and weighed nine ounces. Since then, ICDs have gotten smaller, but the technology remains the same. The device has saved hundreds of thousands of patients worldwide." As stated in the bio, Mikowski, who was born in Poland, was the only member of his family to survive the Holocaust. He trained as a medical doctor in France, and practiced in the United States and Israel.

Stanford Ovshinsky - Born, 1923. Akron, Ohio. Stan Ovshinksy is one of the more important inventors of our day (200 patents and growing) and most people have never heard of him. His full accomplishments are on the following link--they range into many fields. Excerting the bio: In 1955, he began working the field of amorphous materials, that is, materials that lack a definite crystalline structure. Ovshinsky was the first engineer to devise a method, called "phase change," for crystallizing these disordered materials, with resulting novel uses: for example, films that gain metallic properties without losing their original optical capabilities. One result was amorphous semiconductors --- which the engineering community had previously considered an utter impossibility....materials. These materials became essential to optoelectronic copying and fax machines, as well as large, flat-panel liquid crystal displays like those of computer monitors. As early as 1970, Ovshinsky had used his ovonic phase change principle to invent a reversible optical memory disk: that is, a prototype rewritable CD-ROM. Today, thirteen high tech companies around the world are developing rewritable CDs using Ovshinsky's technology...1983, he patented a system that allowed photovoltaic solar panels to be manufactured in continuous rolls 1000 feet in length. Ovshinsky's "Continuous Amorphous Solar Cell Production System" operates much like a newspaper rollpress, speedily imprinting a plasma of amorphous silicon semiconductors in a continuous web onto a thin, anodized metal sheet. The high energy-conversion efficiency of the thin-film cells and the high throughput of the process make Ovshinsky's photovoltaic cells a revolutionary leap forward for solar energy. They have been installed at various sites around and above the globe, from Mexican mountain villages to the Mir space station...After years of development, he earned a patent in 1994 for a high energy-storage, environment-friendly, maintenance-free, rechargeable battery. Although he is far from alone in the search for the perfect electric car battery, Ovshinsky's nickel metal-hydride (NiMH) model, when compared with its nickel-cadmium and lead-acid competitors, is twice as powerful, with none of their fatigue and discharge problems. In fact, Ovshinsky's battery shattered the Department of Energy's performance targets. Recently, ECD formed a joint venture with GM, whose EV1 features Ovshinsky's NiMH battery, to mass produce the battery for electric cars worldwide. A more modest version of the NiMH battery has been licensed by many of the world's major battery companies for retail consumption..."

Yuri Podrazhansky - Podrazhansky is a physicist who was trained as a radio frequency engineer in the old Soviet Union. He applied to leave in 1976 and was fired and had to wait five years for his visa. He came to the United States. He is now the chief research scientist for the Atlanta based "Enver" company. The company was built around Enver's invention: software-based chargers for two-way radio batteries. Like something out of the TV show "Deep Space Nine," the chargers use a pulsating current to revive a dead nickel cadmium battery to full capacity in about 20 minutes. (Most commercial chargers take 8 to 12 hours.) What's more, they minimize memory loss and extend battery life much better than other chargers. The chargers have been selling like "hot cakes" and have bought in large numbers by major corporations. His software based technology is also being licensed for other applications.

Ron Popeil - Born, 1935. Chicago. Well, Ron Popeil is a familiar name to anyone who has ever turned on a television in the United States. He has been pitching his own products since the 1950s. There have been some business setbacks along the way, but he has bounced back with new products. Popeil really does invent most of the products he has hawked through the years. As described in the nicely written linked bio, he invented the "Pocket Fisherman"; "The Vege-O-Matic"; the 'grip spatula; the "Ronco Spray Gun"; the 'Popeil Pasta Maker'; and others. (His father invented the "Chop-o-Matic"). Consumer Reports had a program on in late 1999 about the most popular television-marketed products of the last 50 years--the focus of the show was whether they lived up to their claims. Popeil's products, they found, lived up to their claims. They did what Ron said they would do.

Compliments of Jills Joke Line


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