Inventors, Patents and the Future

By Page, David | THE JOURNAL RECORD, September 13, 2000 | Go to article overview

Inventors, Patents and the Future


Page, David, THE JOURNAL RECORD


Innovation played a major role in building America into an industrial superpower.

Early innovators such as Eli Whitney, Thomas Alva Edison and the Wright brothers had major roles as the country's industrial base was developing.

Modern innovators -- many with high-technology companies -- continue to develop ideas that will help push the economy through the 21st century.

This past weekend seven innovators were inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in Akron, Ohio -- including one who worked with both Alexander Graham Bell and George Westinghouse.

The accomplishments of the inductees range from the revolution of the personal computer, the clarity of sound and music on the radio, the art of animation and film to a medical test for diabetics and the refinement of metals that produce quality-of-life materials.

Perhaps the best-known inventor inducted this year was Walt Disney. He invented the multiplane camera, which yielded richer animation and was first used for an animated full-length feature with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

Steve Wozniak was the most notable representative of our modern economy. He was recognized for the Apple II personal computer, which brought together the central processor, the keyboard and the disk drive in an affordable unit complete with color and graphic capabilities.

Wozniak was born in 1950 and is the youngest member of the Hall of Fame's class of 2000. He also is one of two new members still living.

The other living member of the class is Helen Murray Free, who was born in 1923. She also is the only woman in the 2000 class and was inducted along with her husband, Alfred Free, who died earlier this year.

In the mid-1940s, Alfred Free and Helen Murray were both chemists working together in the biochemistry research group at Miles Laboratories in Elkhart, Ind. They married in 1947, and continuing to work together, they became two of the world's leading experts on urinalysis.

Their contributions include the development of dry reagents that have become the standard in laboratory urinalysis and the more consumer-oriented "dip-and-read" tests that first enabled diabetics to easily and accurately monitor their blood glucose levels on their own. In 1975, the Frees co-authored their second book, Urinalysis in Laboratory Practice, which has become a standard in the field.

Another inductee this year was Franklin Hyde, who was born in 1903 and died in 1999.

After completing postdoctoral work at Harvard University in 1930, Hyde worked at Corning Glass attempting to create a pure, stable glass that could be used in devices like telescopes. Working with liquid silicon tetrachloride, Hyde discovered how to process it into a fused silica glass.

Hyde's ultra-pure glass has many uses, including spacecraft windows, telescopes, and precision lenses for manufacturing equipment. It also provided the bases for the semiconductor and fiber-optics industries.

Hyde also discovered how to convert silicon-containing compounds into silicones. Now, almost all major industries rely on the silicone industry to supply a wide range of important materials.

Hyde's work led to the 1943 founding of Dow Corning, a joint venture between Corning Glass Works and Dow Chemical formed specifically to produce silicone products. Dow Corning now has 26 manufacturing locations around the world.

Another new member is William Kroll, who died in 1973.

In 1932, the Luxembourg native invented a process to produce metallic titanium. He combined titanium tetrachloride with calcium to produce ductile titanium. By 1938, Kroll had produced 50 pounds of titanium using his process, later named the "Kroll Process."

Titanium in its pure form had been discovered by William Gregor in 1791, but it was difficult to obtain from its natural state and, when heated, it yielded a useless substance. …

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