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Despite his unusual name, Herbert The Inventor achieved great success

By Paul Niemann          Send a link to a friend

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[OCT. 7, 2004]  All right, before I get a bunch of hate mail from all the Herberts in the audience, let me explain that it wasn't the inventor's real name that was unusual. It was his nickname that was a bit odd. I'd like to reveal his nickname to you at this point in the story, but that would give away the ending, so I've sprinkled some hints throughout the story instead.

Herbert was born in New York in 1901 as the youngest of five brothers who would eventually "go West" to pursue their careers. The three oldest brothers were very involved in the family business, while Herbert only dabbled in it. His next-oldest brother, Milton, worked in women's clothing for a while. No, Milton didn't wear women's clothing, but he worked as a dressmaker before joining his brothers in a behind-the-scenes type of role. That's enough monkey business about his brothers; let's get back to Herbert's career.

Herbert had several jobs over the years, including that of a horse breeder (the brothers preferred a day at the races over a night at the opera), a grapefruit grower, a commercial fisherman and an inventor. Did Herbert have much of an impact as an inventor? You bet your life he did. It is also a role which very few people know anything about.

He created two inventions that were significant, for better or worse: a wristwatch for cardiac patients and a clamping device that was used in World War II. His wristwatch for cardiac patients had an alarm that went off every time it detected an irregular heartbeat. The inspiration for this device came from a friend who had this condition.

Herbert sold thousands of his patented wristwatch invention and it probably saved some lives, but his next invention helped end thousands of lives. It ended the war as well. Known as the Marman clamp, it was used to strap down the atomic bombs aboard the airplane that dropped them in Nagasaki and Hiroshima.

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It wasn't his career as an inventor that earned Herbert his fame and popularity, but rather his career as an entertainer. His unusual nickname may have given him some notoriety in this career. Herbert worked with his brothers in his first career; in fact, his famous older brother Julius once claimed that Herbert was the most talented of all the brothers. Herbert grew tired of that business, though, and gave it up despite the opportunity it offered him.

You see, unusual nicknames were common in Herbert's family. If you want proof, you can check with his brothers -- Leonard, Adolph, Julius and Milton -- who were also known as Chico, Harpo, Groucho and Gummo.

It was the youngest brother, Herbert -- the "Fifth Marx Brother" -- who invented both the wristwatch for cardiac patients and the clamping device used in World War II. You probably remember him as Zeppo.

I mentioned earlier that there are some hints spread throughout this story. If you go back and read it again, you'll find the names of some of the Marx Brothers' movies, including "Go West," "Monkey Business," "A Day at the Races" and "A Night at the Opera." There's also the Groucho Marx television show, "You Bet Your Life," that was mentioned earlier.

[Paul Niemann]

Invention Mysteries is written each week by Paul Niemann, whose company, Horsefeathers Publishing, is taken from the name of a Marx Brothers movie. He can be reached at niemann7@aol.com.

Copyright Paul Niemann 2004

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