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These all-star inventors own the middle of the alphabet

Second in a three-part series

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By Paul Niemann

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[JUNE 17, 2004]  Last week we introduced you to the top inventors whose names begin with the letters "A" through "H"; this week we bring you the top inventors whose names begin with the letters "I" through "O."


There are plenty of inventions that begin with the letter "I," such as ice cream, instant photography, the internal combustion engine and the Internet (see Al Gore in last week's column), but the staff here at Invention Mysteries World Headquarters had to search far and wide to find an inventor -- any inventor -- whose name begins with "I."

The Indians of the Navajo tribe invented the secret code that they used to encode and decode messages to help the Allies win World War II. Actually, the secret code was their own language, and the code talkers were instrumental in every major battle in the Pacific, including Iwo Jima. They were also the basis of the 2002 movie "Windtalkers."


Michael Jackson has a patent on a device that creates an anti-gravity illusion, but this show isn't about freaks, even though Jackson is an attractive woman. The greatest presidential inventor in United States history owns the letter "J." Thomas Jefferson invented a moldboard plow, a cipher wheel, a spherical sundial, a portable copying press, automatic double doors, the swivel chair, the dumbwaiter and a macaroni machine. He also introduced french fries, ice cream, waffles and macaroni to the United States. He helped establish the U.S. patent office in 1790.


Dean Kamen is an inventor from New Hampshire whose medical inventions include the first portable insulin pump and the heart stent used to repair the heart of Vice President Dick Cheney. His transportation inventions include a wheelchair called iBot, which allows users to climb stairs and raise themselves upright, and a gyroscope-based scooter called the Segway Human Transporter, which made national headlines a few years ago.

Second place goes to Margaret Knight, whose invention of the flat-bottomed grocery bag in 1871 has stood the test of time for more than 130 years.


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There was probably no inventor who surrounded himself with better company than Lewis Latimer, the only inventor who worked with both Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas Edison. He's also the only black inventor in this week's list. William Lear, though, held more than 100 patents in aviation and electronics, including the world's first working car radio, which he co-invented and sold to Motorola. He also invented the eight-track tape player. Disco lives!


There's a lot of competition for the letter "M," starting with fictional TV character MacGyver (whose mysterious first name was Angus). MacGyver could make things out of practically anything, but he loses out on a technicality -- the fact that he was a fictional TV character. "M" is for Samuel Morse, inventor of the Morse code and the telegraph which linked the East Coast and West Coast in 1861. A distant third-place prize goes to the inventor of the do-over in golf, David Mulligan, whose name is called out by cheaters everywhere.


On the one hand, you have Alfred Nobel, inventor of dynamite and some pretty cool awards. On the other hand, you have the inventor of the game of basketball, Dr. James Naismith. Call me superstitious, but I just don't think it's a good idea to upset the person who invented dynamite, so we award the letter "N" to Nobel.


The Olson Twins. No, not Mary-Kate and Ashley. We're talking about the hockey-playing Olson brothers -- Scott and Brennan -- who invented Rollerblades. The Olson name is derived from the Scandinavian word that means "ancestor's relic." How ironic, considering the oldest-known ancestor to Rollerblades was a relic made by nailing wooden spools to strips of wood and attaching them to shoes. Coincidence or conspiracy? I'll let you decide. P.S. The brothers are not twins.

Next week we'll reveal the top inventors whose names begin with the letters "P" through "Z."

[Paul Niemann]

Paul Niemann is the author of "Invention Mysteries -- The Little-Known Stories Behind Well-Known Inventions." He can be reached at niemann7@inventionmysteries.com.

Copyright Paul Niemann 2004

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