Thursday, June 22, 2006

Creativity and Innovation in Dayton

Everyone knows about Dayton and the Wright Brothers; after all, Ohio is the "Birthplace of Aviation", right? (Forget that "First in Flight" stuff in North Carolina-heh)  Orville and Wilbur Wright owned a bicycle shop in Dayton but had been fascinated with the idea of airplanes and flight since a young age.  They studied every scientific article they could get their hands on but soon decided there wasn't enough published data to support their idea of manned flight, so they built their own wind tunnel to experiment with gliders and to learn how to lift an airplane into the sky.  Countless hours of experimentation led to that historic 12 second flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina on December 17, 1903 and within a few years other innovators assisted in the eventual development of a stable flying machine.

But Dayton and the Miami Valley area seem to be a fertile area for inventive minds as there is a lengthy list of inventors and patent holders for not only specialized items but those things we use every day.

The Pop-top beverage can.  The story goes that on a hot day at a picnic, Ermal Fraze found himself without a church key (bottle opener) to open his beer.  Mr. Fraze was the owner of Dayton Reliable Tool, a tool and die business, so he was familiar with the properties of metals and the manufacturing process so after much thought he came up with the primitive pop-top opening for beer cans in 1962 which was first used by the Iron City Brewing Company.  The early versions had a tendency to slice fingers and lips and even noses, but eventually the pop-top was perfected into the ubiquitous opener found on every aluminum drink can in the world.

Waterproof cellophane.  While cellophane had been invented in France, Dupont researcher William H. Charch, originally from Dayton, created waterproof cellophane which eventually led to the creation of cellophane food wrap and cellophane tape.

The safety stepladder.  In 1862, John Balsley, a Dayton carpenter, received a patent for the first wooden safety stepladder.

The electric motorized wheelchair.  Levitt L. Custer invented the "Custer Car" or "Custer Invalid Chair" after seeing all the injured/wounded soldiers returning from WWI.  It was a three-wheeled battery operated vehicle that could be operated by hand, which he followed up with a gasoline powered version later.

Micro-encapsulation.  Barrett Green, a chemist with NCR (National Cash Register) developed the micro-encapsulation process which led to the development of timed-release medications, carbon-less paper, mood rings and scratch and sniff cards in magazines.  Two out of four isn't bad.  Heh.

The electric self-starter.  When Henry Ford invented the car, man had to hand-crank the engine to get it started.  Charles F. Kettering patented the first self-starter for automobiles and within a couple of years most automobiles manufactured had his device installed.  He also developed the spark plug, an electric motor for cash registers, the automatic transmission, freon and much more.  Mr. Kettering's home, Ridgeleigh Terrace, was the first air-conditioned home in America.  He and Edward Deeds founded the Dayton Engineering Laboratory Company (Delco) which became vv a major manufacturing presence in Dayton.  Later Mr. Kettering and Alfred Sloan created the Sloan-Kettering Institute for Cancer Research.

The movie projector.  First patented in 1895, Charles F. Jenkins used a silk handerchief as a screen for his moving picture images.  He later partnered with Thomas Armat who assisted him in improving his projector, but Armat ended up secretly selling the projector to Thomas Edison without Jenkins' knowledge.  Jenkins had over 400 patents to his name at the time of his death.

Electronically stimulated ambulatory motion.  Jerrold S. Petrofsky of Wright State University has invented several methods for electronically stimulating muscles to work in people suffering from paralysis.  One of his devices allowed a young woman who was paralyzed by a car accident to walk across the stage to accept her diploma at Wright State U.

The cash register.   The first mechanical cash register was invented in 1879 by James Ritty , who owned a bar in Dayton and was troubled by thefts from his employees.  He and his brother started a company to market the cash registers but later sold the patent rights to John Patterson, who established the National Cash Register company in Dayton.  "The Cash" was a major employer in Dayton and while Mr. Patterson sometimes followed some questionable business practices, he redeemed himself during the flood of 1913 when he had his employees build boats to save families, started soup lines and allowed displaced families to stay on the factory grounds.

The price tag.  In 1891 Frederick Kohnle invested a device that printed and stuck a price tag on items.  This allowed merchants to label and price items quickly and easily.  Mr. Kohnle owned several small firms created to continue the development of his marking systems which were eventually combined to create the Monarch Marking System Co. (now Paxar) in Miamisburg, Ohio.

The list of inventors and their patented inventions goes on and on, including everything from speed control devices for the automobile to putting green cups to the hand-held propulsion gun used by Gemini astronauts on their space walks.  The Dayton area has proved to be a fertile ground for inquiring minds. 


Nancy said...

I'm glad you're getting around better! Sounds like you're doing what the doctor orders and getting some good results.


Linda and Denny said...

Hi Nanc-thanks! Yep, yesterday I went all day without crutches, although I walk like a peg-legged pirate due to the brace. Five days and counting until the darned thing comes off and I begin physical therapy. Yay!

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