From engines to the internet, from the magnifying glass to x-rays, these inventions have changed the way we live and work and have improved our lives in so many ways. But what about the inventors who first had the idea of creating these useful and revolutionary products?
National Inventors Month was created to celebrate the dreamers, doers and masterminds who have driven the world forward with their inventions. The creativity of innovators has made life easier, safer, and more efficient.
Therefore, we are observing this month by recognising a few of those daring individuals who had the vision and the courage to create something that had never been done before. They were pioneers, risk-takers, and visionaries who, in some cases, faced opposition from the very people who would later benefit from the inventions they created.
In celebration of National Inventor's Month 2023, we will be showcasing 4 influential inventors whose designs and discoveries helped form the world we live in today.
Hedy Lamarr – ‘’Mother of Wi-Fi’’
Hedy Lamarr was a true pioneer in the field of technology. Born in Vienna in 1914, her father perceived and so forth encouraged her natural talent for engineering from a young age. He coached her through the internal mechanisms of numerous machines and taught her the basics of engineering. At the age of five, she was already dismantling her music box to understand how it worked.
In 1942, during World War II, Hedy’s pioneering research led to the development of the spread spectrum and frequency hopping technology, that was meant to make radio-controlled torpedoes harder to detect by the enemy. This invention of hers was way ahead of its time, as it presaged the development of today’s Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and GPS.
However, few people know that her true genius was in the field of science and technology, as in 1940s and 1950s Hedy found fame in Hollywood, becoming a booming actress, with credits such as “Samson and Delilah” and “Boom Town”.
Unfortunately, Lamarr's invaluable contribution to science and technology was not recognised until much later in her life. She was never awarded a patent for her invention up until her death in 2000, due to the fact that she was a woman and an actress, and the technology was classified as military secrets. Nevertheless in 2014, Lamarr was posthumously inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame for her contribution to the world of wireless communication.
Valerie Thomas – Illusion Transmitter
Born in Maryland in 1943, Valerie Thomas is an American scientist and inventor who made a lasting impact on the world of science. As a young girl, she was captivated by the magic of technology after watching her father repair a television set. Despite being discouraged from taking math and science classes, she persisted and enrolled in a physics course.
Valerie Thomas went on to have a remarkable career at NASA. She began in 1964 as a data analyst and developed real-time computer data systems to support satellite operations control centres. In the 70s, she led the creation of the Landsat program, which would go on to become an international success. Thomas was instrumental in the development of the Landsat program, and her work built upon the efforts of other NASA scientists in their pursuit of seeing Earth from space.
In 1976, Valerie attended a science seminar that changed her life. Fascinated by the illusionary effects of light, she began performing experiments with flat and concave mirrors. After many months of trial and error, Valerie was able to project an illusionary three-dimensional image between two of the concave mirrors. This invention was granted a patent in 1980 and has since been used by NASA and contributed to the development of 3D technology.
She was widely respected in the field of remote sensing, and her expertise was recognised by the White House in 1982. That year, President Reagan awarded her a prestigious Presidential Rank Award for her accomplishments.
Walter Lincoln Hawkins – Telecommunication
Walter Lincoln Hawkins was an American chemist and engineer who revolutionised polymer chemistry and improved the lives of thousands of Americans. Born in 1911, in Washington, D.C., Hawkins became transfixed with how things worked at an early age. Growing up, he was always taking apart his toys to make something new. One of his most impressive achievements was building a working radio so he could listen to Washington Senators baseball games.
Hawkins went on to make great strides in polymer chemistry. He developed a new approach to the study of polymers which focused on the structure of the molecules and their components, rather than their physical properties. This allowed for a better understanding of how polymers interact with one another and enabled polymer chemists to predict the properties of any given polymer more accurately.
Working at Bell Laboratories for 34 years, Hawkins is most widely known for his invention of plastic sheathing for telephone cables, allowing telephone services to be extended to rural areas. This was an immense breakthrough as it provided people living in rural areas with access to telecommunication services that were not previously available.
Hawkins was also a tireless advocate for minority students and was the first African-American to be elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 1975. His lifetime of achievements was recognised with the National Medal of Technology for his extraordinary contribution to the engineering profession, awarded to him in 1992, shortly before his death.
Sir Tim Berners-Lee – World Wide Web
Sir Timothy John Berners-Lee is an English computer scientist best known as the inventor of the World Wide Web. Born in 1955 in London, his parents were computer scientists who worked on the first commercially built computer. As a child, Berners-Lee was a keen trainspotter, a hobby which taught him a lot about electronics. Through tinkering with a model railway, he developed a passion for technology that would set him on the path to becoming one of the most influential innovators of our time.
In 1973, Berners-Lee enrolled at The Queen’s College, Oxford, where he graduated with a first-class Bachelor of Arts degree in Physics four years later. As a student, he taught himself about computers by building his own from an old television set, which he bought from a repair shop.
In the late 1980s, Berners-Lee developed a proposal for a global hypertext which he implemented in 1990 while working at CERN and eventually released in 1991. His revolutionary idea of allowing people to share information across the globe quickly gained traction, and the World Wide Web was born.
Today, Berners-Lee is still actively involved in the development of the internet and continues to advocate for a more open and accessible online world. He is the founding director of the World Wide Web Foundation, which focuses on web literacy and digital inclusion. His contributions to the development of the web have been recognised with numerous awards, including the Turing Award, the Prince of Asturias Award, and the Millennium Technology Prize.