Hughes' US Patent 14,917 for a Telegraph Machine

Hughes' US Patent 14,917 for a Telegraph Machine

It’s time to wish “Happy Birthday” to another inventor time sometimes seems to have forgotten, although it probably shouldn’t have.

You see, without music professor and serial tinkerer David Edward Hughes, a lot of modern conveniences – tv, radio, telephone, and music recording namely – probably wouldn’t exist. Although he was awarded countless honors in his lifetime, it seems he’s hardly a household name today.

Then again, as a man as well-known for his humility for his genius, maybe that’s how he’d have wanted it.
Continue reading “Humility on the Radio: A Moment in History”

"Congreves," the first successful friction matches ever successfully sold.

"Congreves," the first successful friction matches ever successfully sold.

This week we commemorate the 186th anniversary of the first-ever sale of friction matches.

As the story goes, a young Englishman named John Walker had become rather sickened by his surgeon apprenticeship and left the field in 1818 for a less gruesome job as a chemist: something he was apparently (and quite fortunately) good at!

By Walker’s time, a number of chemicals were known to create fire quickly, but none had yet figured out how to keep this quick flame alive and transfer it to a slower burning substance like wood or coal. Walker found himself dedicating many hours in his High Street shop in Stockton-on-Tees to the discovery of such a solution. Continue reading “Surgery & Sandpaper: The Match Turns 186”

Does this man look familiar? He should.

Does this man look familiar? He should.

This week we celebrate one of the most important patents ever to cross a USPTO examiner’s desk.

The patent describes a process for a producing a material we use nearly everywhere – our homes, our cars, our offices, our hospitals – we even use it in space!

It’s one of the most abundant materials on the planet, and it is infinitely recyclable.

But, without the work of one brilliant young scientist, its full potential might never had been realized.

Do you know what it is? Continue reading “The True Story of a Boy Wonder Who Totally Changed the World”

Today is Walt Disney’s 111th birthday.

In a few months, the invention that made Disney famous will turn 72.

photo credit: flickr

Disney's 1937 Multi-Plane Camera - photo credit: flickr

You see, when Disney first started in the business in 1919, animation involved layering transparencies of moving elements right on top of an opaque background. This primitive multi-layer technique allowed artists to focus more on the actual animation process than the stationary background, but it still had its limitations.

The largest of these was the problem of creating realistic depth and scale in the two-dimensional drawings.

In the 1930s Walt Disney set out to improve this process because, as he relates in his patent, “it is extremely difficult for the artist to properly create, by drawing, the shadow of the character upon these background objects.”

Continue reading “Walt Disney: Inventing the Art of Animation”

NiepcefirstphotoPhotography has come a long way from the first photographs. Photography has now progressed past the need for film and chemicals to the realm of sd cards and computer processing. The first photograph was taken by the Frenchman, Joseph Nicephore Niépce.

Joseph Nicephore Niépce was fascinated with lithography but he did not have a steady drawing hand. His son instead made the images for his experiments. In 1814, his son was drafted into the army and Niépce was left with no one to make his illustrations. He began looking for other ways to make images.

Niépce experimented with using silver salts and concocted his own light-sensitive coating. He used this on stones and glass plates. He was able to use this process to copy engravings. He is said to have created the first photogravure etching in 1822. The engraving of Pope Pius VII was his first successful attempt. Unfortunately, later when he tried to duplicate the image the first engraving was destroyed. Continue reading “Joseph Nicephore Niépce”

edisonbulbThe light bulb that is synonymous with Thomas Edison has reached the end of its hey day. After over 130 years, the light bulb whose design has virtually remained unchanged, will slowly no longer be imported or produced here in the United States. Starting on January 2, 2012, the 100W incandescent bulb will be the first to no longer be produced. The 75W bulb will stop being produced in 2013 and the 60W and 40W bulbs will follow in 2014. The incandescent bulbs are being replaced by compact fluorescent bulbs.

Thomas Edison was not actually the inventor of the light bulb. Edison built on the 75 years of work by other inventors and made major improvements on the bulb. He worked on over 3,000 different theories and materials for the building an efficient lamp. His basic idea consisted of a filament inside a glass bulb. A glass blowing shed at his laboratory provided him with the bulbs for this experiments.

On October 22, 1879, Edison tested his first successful, commercially practical light. The first bulb only lasted 13 hours. On November 4, 1879, Edison applied for a patent for his newly improved invention. He received US Patent 223, 898 on January 27, 1880 for an Electric-Lamp.

Experiments with the light bulb continued. Carbon filament in an oxygen-free bulb glowed as Edison as hoped but it burnt up after 40 hours. In order to make a bulb that would last much longer, Edison began testing carbonized filaments made from every plant he could find. He had fibers sent from tropical plants too. Eventually, in late 1880, it was the memory of a bamboo pole used on a fishing trip in Wyoming that led to finding the perfect filament. Carbonized bamboo filaments were burning in light bulbs for up to 600 hours.

In 1890, the first plant to manufacturer incandescent light bulbs was opened in Menlo Park, New Jersey. The success of the Edison style light bulb has been tremendous. Now, though this era has ended as Americans will slowly no longer be able to purchase the lightbulb that has looked almost the same since 1880.


firstflightThe Wright Brothers built the world’s first successful airplane. On December 17, 1903, the brothers made the first powered flight in North Carolina. The flight last for only 12 seconds with the aircraft only ever reaching a height of 20 feet off of the ground. Still, the flight was ground breaking.

This flight led to the Wright Brothers filing for a patent in 1903. They drafted their first patent application themselves and could not demonstrate a working aircraft. They were denied a patent and the US Patent Office suggested that they work with a patent attorney. Friends referred them to Harry A. Toulmin in Springfield, Ohio.

Toulmin assured Wilbur Wright that he would be able to secure a broad patent that would provide great protection for their invention. On January 22, 1904, Wilbur Wright hired Toulmin to help them with their patent. Toulmin suggested that instead of attempting to patent the entire plane the patent should protect the method of flight control. The flight control method included wing-warping and the three-axis system which controlled the aircraft in forward flight. Continue reading “The Wright Brothers Patent Wars”

superballs2Norman Stingley was not attempting to produce a new fad when he began conducting experiments with highly resilient rubber. The new compound manufactured by Stingley became unbelievably bouncy when compressed under extreme pressure.

Stingley was unsure what to do with his new product. He could not figure out a use for this new rubber. He offered the product to his employer, Bettis Rubber Company but they were not interested in the material. The material was not very durable and they feared it would never be marketable.

Eventually, Stingley showed his rubber to Wham-O Manufacturing Company, the very successful makers of the Hula Hoop and Frisbee. The company agreed to work with Stingley on the compound. For nearly two years, they worked to design a more durable rubber. They did finally succeed and produced a rubber that stood up to regular wear known as Zectron. The SuperBall was born. Continue reading “Zectron?”

giletteKing C. Gillette was inspired to invent the disposable razor by his job as a salesman. He was working for the Crown Cork and Seal Company in the 1890’s selling bottle caps. The inventor of the bottle cap, William Painter, advised Gillette to “invent something people would use and throw away.” Gillette recognized the brilliance of this statement when he saw how successful the Crown Cork and Seal Company had become.

Over the years, Gillette thought of and rejected many possible ideas for disposable products. Then one day, in 1895, he had the idea of producing a safe and disposable razor. When traveling, Gillette would often shave in the bathroom of a train using a safety-razor, which was a heavy blade fit into a wooden handle. This was much safer then using a straight razor but the safety-razor had to be sharpened often and wore out too quickly.

Instead, Gillette wanted to design an inexpensive blade using a piece of steel. The blade could then be replaced easily when it grew dull. For the next six years, Gillette attempted to have such a blade produced. He was told by many experts, including metallurgists at MIT, that it would be impossible to manufacture steel that would be thin, hard and cheap enough. Continue reading “Invent Something People Would Use and Throw Away”