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Inventor Spotlight – Garrett Morgan

Inventor Spotlight – Garrett Morgan

Garrett Morgan proves that you don’t have to be a scientist or an engineer to be an inventor. You also don’t have to have a college degree. But there is one trait you must have if you want to be an inventor, and that’s curiosity.

 

Garrett Morgan was the son of former slaves who set out at the age of 16 with a 7th grade education and headed into Cincinnati, Ohio to find work. He was good at repairing things since he had spent his teenage years working as a handyman. He found work repairing sewing machines for a clothing manufacturer, and that’s when his curiosity really took shape. It’s not surprising that he would come up with his first invention during this time.

 

Before the war women would tend to invent the things that they were exposed to everyday. So, in the beginning those inventions were things that made their work at home easier. Once they started working on assembly lines in factories, they were exposed to different problems and would create inventions to solve them.

 

Since Garrett was exposed to the problems of fixing sewing machines, that’s where his focus was. Inventors solve problems. It usually starts with a problem of your own and a great need to fix it. Garrett sold his first invention, a sewing machine belt, which helps improve the machine’s efficiency, for $50. Besides just being a clever inventor, he also had a knack for business. He opened his own sewing machine repair shop, and eventually his own tailoring shop, which employed 32 people.

 

This would have been enough for most people, but Garrett Morgan was just getting started. In 1914 he was granted a patent for a gas mask and set up a manufacturing company to produce them. The product was called the Morgan National Safety Hood. Garrett traveled across the country pitching his invention by wearing the mask in a smoke-filled tee-pee, and proved that he was quite a showman. If he was around today, he probably would have done his own infomercial.

 

His mask was put to the test when he used it to save over a dozen men from a tunnel explosion below Lake Erie. He put on the mask and went into the tunnel to save the trapped men. He was awarded a gold and diamond medal by a group of citizens in Cleveland for his heroism.

 

Ever concerned about safety, Garrett noticed the increasing number of accidents at intersections, since horse-drawn carriages had to share the road with cars. One in particular involved a young girl. This was the impetus for him to figure out a way to do something about it. He received the first patent for the three signal stoplight in 1923, and eventually sold the rights to General Electric for $40,000.

 

Garrett Morgan would go on to invent other things and would start his own newspaper. He was a prolific inventor, but always considered himself an entrepreneur first.

 

 

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Bra Inventor and Art Patron Caresse Crosby

Bra Inventor and Art Patron Caresse Crosby

Caresse Crosby lived the life of an upper class debutante in New York and Connecticut growing up. One night while she was dressing to go out to another ball, she put on her customary whalebone corset under her evening gown. Disappointed in the way it made her dress look, she called her maid to help her fashion another garment to wear underneath.

 

She stitched together two handkerchiefs which accented her bustline, instead of the clunky corset women were wearing.

 

At the ball she was mobbed by women intrigued by her new invention. When a stranger offered her a dollar for one, she realized she might have a valuable product on her hands and she set out to patent it.

 

Her patent claims stressed that it didn’t interfere with evening gowns and was suitable for a variety of different customers. It also stressed the versatility of uses from evening wear to tennis wear. The patent and trademark office granted her a patent. She called it the Backless Brassiere.

 

She decided to manufacture the product herself and formed the Fashion Form Brassiere Company where she hired women to sew the garments. At the request of her new husband, who had a very generous trust fund, she closed the shop and sold the patent to the Warner Brothers Corset Company for $1500. They went on to make over $15 million on the product throughout the years. The “crosby” bra that Caresse had manufactured was manufactured and sold by Warner Brothers for a while, but the style never caught on and it was discontinued.

 

Caresse and her new husband, Harry Crosby, went on to live an adventurous and exciting life, traveling around the world in a whirlwind of art and decadence. They became publishers and art patrons who rubbed elbows with the likes of Dorothy Parker and Salvadore Dali.

 

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Women Inventors – Marie Van Brittan Brown

Women Inventors – Marie Van Brittan Brown

In keeping with Women’s History Month, I wanted to highlight women inventors who exemplify the phrase “Necessity is the Mother of Invention”. Marie Van Brittan Brown is one of those inventors.

 

Marie was a nurse who didn’t keep regular hours. While her husband, Albert, was at work, she was often home alone for hours at a time. Her neighborhood in Jamaica, Queens, New York was becoming more dangerous, and she wanted to find a way to make her feel safer.

 

One thing that bothered her was having to open the door to find out who was there.  So, she worked with her husband to devise a series of four peepholes in the door to show different heights of visitors, so she wouldn’t have to open the door. The peephole at the top showed a tall person and the one at the bottom would show if it was a child at the door.

 

They kept a TV monitor in their bedroom, which had a two way microphone so they could communicate with visitors. The wireless system fed images to the TV monitor. There was even a button that could be pushed in case the home owner felt threatened, or another one that could be pushed that would let a friend in.

 

Today, buildings everywhere are equipped with this technology, but at the time nothing like it existed. She and Albert applied for and received a patent on their home security device in 1969. It has since been referenced in future patent searches. And there have been many.

 

Since then the home security business has skyrocketed. With rising crime rates, closed circuit security cameras are becoming much more popular. But it all started with the “necessity” of one woman’s feeling of safety and security to get the ball rolling. Home owners everywhere can rest easier, thanks to this woman inventor.

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Inventors Spotlight – Abraham Lincoln

abraham-lincolnAbraham Lincoln is best known for the Gettysburg Address and for abolishing slavery, but did you know he is also the only President to be an inventor and patent holder? In 1849 he filed a patent for a device that would help lift riverboats over sandbars, and two months later his patent was granted.

 

It seems that honest Abe developed an interest in all things mechanical early in life, which may have been a trait he inherited from his father, who was also interested in how things worked mechanically, and how they could be designed to be more time-saving.

 

 

As a lawyer and inventor, Abraham Lincoln had a strong respect for the patent system and believed it was vital for moving innovation forward because it gave inventors the incentive to take risks. I definitely agree. Though you don’t have to have a patent to get a product on the market, it does offer you a lot of legal protection in exchange for the enormous time, energy, and money you put into the development of an invention.

 

 

Lincoln was fascinated with inventions before he became President and did two speeches on the topic. His creative problem solving is one thing that made him such a good president. He was always trying to find a better way to do something.

 

 

So, when a boat he was riding in got caught on a sandbar, the “aha” lightbulb went off. He came up with a better way to get the boat over the rocks without using a lot of manpower by having buoyant chambers expand and contract as needed.

 

 

When he got home, he enlisted the help of a local mechanic and made a small prototype of the idea he envisioned. He took that prototype to an attorney who drafted up the patent. Though the actual product was never manufactured, Lincoln still goes down in history as the only President to date to be a patent holder.

 

 

He stated that “the patent system added the fuel of interest to the fire of genius”. His prototype remains on display at the Smithsonan Institution National Museum of American History.

 

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