The first practical radar system was invented in 1935 by the Scotish physicist Sir Robert Alexander Watson-Watt (April 13, 1892-December 5, 1973). He developed radar to help track storms in order to keep aircraft safe. His invention eventually helped the allies win World War 2 against the Germans.
Radar is short for RAdio Detection And Ranging. Radar is used to locate distant objects by sending out radio waves and analyzing the echos that return. Radar can determine where a distant object is, how big it is, what shape it has, how fast it’s moving and in which direction it’s going. Radar is now used to watch developing weather patterns, to monitor air traffic, to track ships at sea, and to detect missiles.
Dr. Solomon A. Berson (1919-1972) and Dr. Rosalyn Sussman Yalow (1921- ) co-invented the radioimmunoassay (RIA) in 1959. The radioimmunoassay is a method of chemically analyzing human blood and tissue and is used diagnose illness (like diabetes). RIA revolutionized diagnoses because it uses only a tiny sample of blood or tissue and is a relatively inexpensive and simple test to perform. Blood banks use RIA to screen blood; RIA is used to detect drug use, high blood pressure, infertility, and many other conditions and diseases. For inventing RIA, Yalow won the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1977 (Yalow accepted for Berson, who died in 1972). Yalow and Berson did not patent the RIA; instead they allowed the common use of RIA to benefit human health.
A radio telescope is a metal dish that gathers radio waves from space. Radio astronomy involves exploring space by examining radio waves from outer space. Radio astronomy was pioneered by Karl G. Jansky, who in 1932 first detected radio waves from a cosmic source - in the central region of the Milky Way Galaxy. Gote Reber (a ham radio operator) made the first true radio telescope (using a 32-foot diameter parabolic dish to focus the radio waves) after reading of Jansky’s discoveries. One example of a radio telescope is the Very Large Array (VLA) in New Mexico.
Rayon is a cellulose-based fiber that is made from wood pulp or cotton waste. Rayon is used as a substitute for silk. It was invented around 1855 by the Swiss chemist Georges Audemars; the process was refined in 1864 by the French chemist and industrialist Comte (Count) Hilaire Bernigaud de Chardonnet (1839-1924). Rayon was first commercially produced in 1910 by Avtex Fibers Inc. in the United States - it was called “artificial silk” at first, but the name was changed to rayon in 1924.
The Razor scooter is a new and very popular foldable scooter. It was invented by a team of people at the J.D. Corp. (a company that sells aluminum bicycle parts and electric scooters in Changhua, Taiwan, Republic of China). Gino Tsai, the president of the company, wanted a way to get around his factory floors faster (he says that he is a slow walker and he needed a more efficient means of getting around). It took about 5 years for the team to develop their current model, which uses airplane-grade aluminum and polyurethane wheels. It was introduced in 1998 at the NSGA World Sports Expo, when Tsai scooted around the show, attracting the attention of Sharper Image Corp., who ordered the first Razor scooters. The scooters quickly became popular world-wide.
The first lawn mower was invented in 1830 by Edwin Beard Budding. Budding (1795-1846) was an engineer from Stroud, Gloucestershire, England. His reel mower was a set of blades set in a cylinder on two wheels. When you push the lawn mower, the cylinder rotates, and the blades cut the grass. Budding patented his lawn mower on August 31, 1830. Before his invention, a scythe was used (or sheep or other grazing animals were allowed to graze on the grass). The first reel lawn mower patent in the US (January 12, 1868) was granted to Amariah M. Hills, who formed the Archimedean Lawn Mower Co.
The first method of refrigeration (cooling air by the evaporation of liquids in a vacuum) was invented in 1748 by William Cullen of the University of Glasgow, Scotland; Cullen did not apply his discovery to any practical purposes. Michael Farady, an English physicist liquefied ammonia to cause cooling (in the 1800’s). Faraday’s idea would eventually lead to the development of compressors, which compress gas to liquid form. The American inventor Oliver Evans designed the first refrigeration machine in 1805. In 1844, John Gorrie, an American doctor from Florida made a device based on Evans’ invention that would make ice in order to cool the air for yellow fever patients.
The first electric refrigerator was invented in 1803 by Thomas Moore. The first commercial refrigerator designed to keep food cold was sold in 1911 (by the General Electric Company) and in 1913 (invented by Fred W. Wolf of Fort Wayne, Indiana, USA); these model consisted of a unit that was mounted on top of an ice box. A self-contained refrigerator (with a compressor on the bottom of the cabinet) was invented by Alfred Mellowes in 1915. Mellowes produced this refrigerator commercially (each unit was hand made), but was bought out by W.C. Durant (the president of General Motors) in 1918, who started the Frigidaire Company in order to mass-produce refrigerators in the USA.
Jesse W. Reno was an American inventor who developed the first escalator in 1891. An escalator is a moving stairway that helps people move easily from floor to floor in building. On his “inclined elevator,” passengers rode on an wedge-shaped supports attached to a conveyor belt at an incline of about 25 degrees. The original elevator had a stationary handrail (which was soon replaced with a moving handrail).
The revolving door was invented in 1888 by Theophilus Van Kannel of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. in high-rise buildings, regular doors are hard to open because there is a slight vacuum caused by air flowing upwards through stairwells, elevator shafts, and chimneys. Van Kannel’s new type of door was easy to open in tall building (and also saved heat in the winter). Van Kannel patented the revolving door on August 7, 1888.
Norbert Rillieux (March 17, 1806-October 8, 1894) was an African-American inventor and engineer who invented a device that revolutionized sugar processing. Rillieux’s multiple effect vacuum sugar evaporator (patented in 1864) made the processing of sugar more efficient, faster, and much safer. The resulting sugar was also superior. His apparatus was eventually adopted by sugar processing plants all around the world.
The mechanical cash register was invented (and patented) in 1879 by James Ritty (1836-1918). Ritty was an American tavern keeper in Dayton, Ohio. He nicknamed his cash register the “Incorruptible Cashier,” and started the National Manufacturing Company to sell them. When a transaction was completed, a bell rang on the cash register and the amount was noted on a large dial on the front of the machine. During each sale, a paper tape was punched with holes so that the merchant could keep track of sales (at the end of the day, the merchant could add up the holes).
John H. Patterson (1844-1922) bought Ritty’s patent and his cash register company in 1884. Patterson renamed the Dayton, Ohio, company the National Cash Register Company. Patterson improved Ritty’s cash register by adding a paper tape that kept a printed record of all transactions.
In 1906, Charles F. Kettering (and employee of NCR) developed an electric cash register (Kettering later worked for General Motors and invented the electric car ignition).
The National Cash Register Company was later called NCR, until the company was bought by ATT in 1991; it was given back the name NCR in 1996, when it was split off from ATT.
Robert Hutchings Goddard (October 5, 1882-August 10, 1945) was an American physicist and inventor who is known as the father of modern rocketry. In 1907, Goddard proved that a rocket’s thrust can propel it in a vacuum. In 1914, Goddard received two U.S. patents: for liquid-fueled rockets and for two- to three-stage rockets that use solid fuel. In 1919, Goddard wrote a scientific article, “A Method of Reaching Extreme Altitudes,” describing a high-altitude rocket; it was published in a Smithsonian report. Goddard’s many inventions were the basis upon which modern rocketry is based.
After many years of failed attempts and public ridicule, Goddard’s first successful rocket was launched on March 16, 1926 from a relative’s farm in Auburn, Massachusetts. It was a liquid-fueled 10-ft. rocket that he called Nell. The flight lasted 2 1/2 seconds; the rocket flew a distance of 184 feet and achieved an altitude of 41 feet.
Goddard soon moved to Roswell, New Mexico, where he developed more sophisticated multi-stage rockets, rockets with fins (vanes) to steer them (1932), a gyro control device to control the rocket (1932), and supersonic rockets (1935). In 1937, Goddard launched the first rocket with a pivotable motor on gimbals using his gyro control device. Altogether, Robert Goddard had 214 patents.
X-rays were discovered in 1895 by Wilhelm Konrad von Roentgen (1845-1923). Roentgen was a German physicist who described this new form of radiation that allowed him to photograph objects that were hidden behind opaque shields. He even photographed part of his own skeleton. X-rays were soon used as an important diagnostic tool in medicine. Roentgen called these waves “X-radiation” because so little was known about them.
The first rubber band was made in 1845 by Stephen Perry of the rubber manufacturing company Messers Perry and Co., in London, England. This rubber band was made of vulcanized rubber. Perry invented the rubber band to hold papers or envelopes together.
Latex (a natural, stretchy substance from which rubber is made) is extracted from rubber trees. Rubber trees are large trees (belonging to the spurge family, family Euphorbiaceae) that live in tropical (warm) areas. These trees are tapped for their latex, which is produced in their bark layers (latex is not the sap). The Pará rubber tree (Hevea brasiliensis) is native to South American rain forests, and grows to be over 100 ft (30 m) tall. In 1876, Henry Wickham brought seeds from the Para rubber tree (taken from the lower Amazon area of Brazil) to London, England. Seedlings were grown in London, and later sent to Ceylon and Singapore. The technique of tapping rubber trees for their latex was developed in southeast Asia (before that, the trees were cut down to extract the rubber). Commercial rubber production now takes place in Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, and Sri Lanka (but not significantly in South America).