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Who were they before they were inventors?

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By Paul Niemann

[JULY 29, 2004]  The inventor of the vacuum, Otto Von Guericke of Magdeburg, Germany, served as his town's mayor from 1646 to 1676. A mayor was also referred to as the "Burgermeister" back then and there.

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This made me wonder what other inventors had significant jobs in addition to their careers as inventors. It turns out that there were quite a few, including some whose other jobs, or "previous lives," were more significant than their careers as inventors. (On a separate but equally important note, I would like to officially be known as the "Writermeister" from now on. That's with a capital "W.")

For example, the inventor of the perfusion pump that keeps the heart and other organs alive outside of the body during surgery is known not for this invention but rather for his main career… as a pioneering aviator in the 1920s and 1930s. Who was this inventor? Charles Lindbergh.

In 1949 an Illinois inventor received a patent for "A Device for Buoying Vessels Over Shoals." He went on to become one of our nation's greatest presidents… Abraham Lincoln. He's also the only U.S. president to receive a patent.

The funding that enabled an inventor named Alfred Nobel to establish the Nobel prizes came from the invention of… dynamite. Nobel was a pacifist who didn't want a legacy associated with death, and he assured himself of a better legacy with the awards that bear his name.

The Jacuzzi brothers immigrated to America around 1917 and built aviation equipment before turning their attention to building -- go to the back of the class if you get this one wrong -- jacuzzis. A fatal crash of one of the planes they designed led them to make the switch. Candido Jacuzzi ran the family business until 1969, when he was indicted for income-tax evasion and returned to Italy.

The next time you adjust your radio dial, you can thank Hedy Lamarr. Who? Hedy was a silver-screen actress during the 1930s and 1940s. If you're too young to remember her (as I am), ask your parents. If they're too young, have them ask their parents. The "Secret Communication System" that she co-invented manipulated radio frequencies and was intended to prevent the Nazis from intercepting radio-guided torpedoes in World War II. The technology is similar to what happens when you hit the "scan" button on your car radio. The Navy, by the way, rejected the system in World War II, but the technology is used in cell phones today and in radio.


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Speaking of actors, there are others who have lived "previous lives" who were not inventors. For example, one actor received a $9,000 check for a movie that he appeared in, and he carried the check around with him to show to his friends. By the time he went to cash it, the film company had gone bankrupt, causing the check to bounce! That actor was Babe Ruth.

Another baseball player, spitball-throwing pitcher Bill Doak of the St. Louis Cardinals, was an inventor. Doak invented the modern baseball glove that has the webbing between the index finger and thumb.

The list goes on and on, but we'll conclude with the story of another actor -- the one from a small town in Illinois who went on to serve as president of the Screen Actors Guild, then as governor of California and finally as the person most responsible for ending communism in Europe and the Soviet Union while he served as the 40th president of the United States… Ronald Reagan.

However, even though President Reagan was a great man, he never invented anything!

[Paul Niemann]

Invention Mysteries is written each week by Paul Niemann, whose previous lives include playing hockey for the University of Kentucky and being the inventor of the Impeachment Card Game. He can be reached at niemann7@inventionmysteries.com.

© Copyright Paul Niemann 2004

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