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Published: Friday, 2/21/2003

Clever Ohioans give world light, flight, and more

BY DAVID PATCH
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Rare is the Ohio schoolchild who hasn't heard of Thomas Alva Edison or the Wright Brothers, sons of the Buckeye State whose inventions changed the world.

Not so well known are the others whose minds begot numerous innovations we now take for granted, including arc, sodium-vapor, and fluorescent lighting; the self-starter for automobiles; and a smelting process for aluminum ore that made the abundant metal cheap to refine.

Among them are numerous Toledoans. Not surprisingly, many carved their niches in the automobile and glass industries, which have been prominent here for more than a century.

But Toledo's invention credits also include the perfume atomizer, the electric cash register, and support hose.

Wilbur Wright was born in Millville, Ind., but by the birth of his younger brother, Orville, the family lived in Dayton, where the brothers established a bicycle shop in 1892.

They became fascinated with flight, studying gliders at first but graduating to a powered-flight concept by 1903, when they tested their first airplane in Kitty Hawk, N.C.

By 1905 they had developed their first practical airplane and four years later founded the Wright Aeronautical Co. in Dayton.

His first job as a telegraph operator led to his first invention, an automatic telegraph repeater that saved time re-sending messages.

More famous inventions followed, including moving pictures, the phonograph, the electronic vacuum tube and, of course, the incandescent light bulb. Most of his work was done in Menlo Park, N.J., where he established a laboratory to which he attracted other scientists and engineers.

But Edison's light bulb isn't the only artificial light developed by an Ohio native. Charles Francis Brush, born in 1849 in Euclid, invented the electric arc lamp in 1877. While impractical for home use - that was the problem Edison set out to solve - the arc lamp introduced the age of electric lighting to stores, factories, and streets.

During the 20th century, Wooster native Arthur Compton invented the sodium vapor lamp, a type that remains in common use for street and security lighting. He later did research for General Electric that led to the invention of the fluorescent light tube. He also participated with American scientists in the wartime effort to develop the atomic bomb.

Charles Martin Hall, born in Thompson, Ohio, and raised in Oberlin, has to share credit for his discovery that made aluminum easy to manufacture. During the same month in 1886, he and French scientist Paul Louis Toussaint Heroult independently discovered that high-powered electricity liberated the metal from its ore. Two years later, Hall sold his version of the smelting process to the Pittsburgh Reduction Co., a corporate ancestor of today's Alcoa.

The cash register was the brainchild of Charles Kettering, who later formed his own company to develop automotive devices.

His automatic starter eliminated the use of dangerous and difficult hand cranks. In 1912, General Motors bought his Dayton Engineering Laboratory Co. and shortened its name to Delco.

Yet another Ohioan who was fascinated with electricity's potential was Granville Woods, whose most prominent creation was a telegraph that could transmit messages to and from moving trains.

He developed other devices to improve streetcars and electric trains as well. Though known by the time of his 1910 death as the “black Edison,” he is largely forgotten among Ohio inventors.

The first Toledo inventor to make a national name for himself was Peter Gendron, who in 1877 began production of a new sort of wheel with wire spokes - ideal for tricycles, baby carriages, and early automobiles.

Perhaps the best-known names among Toledo's inventors are those of Dr. Allen DeVilbiss, a nose and throat specialist who invented the atomizer, and his sons, Thomas and Allen, Jr. Dr. DeVilbiss' invention, originally intended to vaporize medication, soon was found useful by perfume makers.

Thomas DeVilbiss modified the atomizer to develop spray-painting equipment that revolutionized automobile painting, while Allen, Jr., invented the automatic computing scale now known as the Toledo scale.

The scale is the most famous product with Toledo in its name but it's no longer made here.

Toledoan Michael J. Owens single-handedly mechanized the glass industry with his 1903 invention of a bottle-blowing machine, replacing hand-blowing.

Conrad Jobst's circulatory problem, meanwhile, inspired him to develop compression-gradient hosiery - commonly known as support hose - which he began producing commercially in 1950.

Toledo also claims Clarence W. Spicer, inventor of the automotive universal joint, among its inventors, although Spicer invented the product while he was a student at Cornell University, before he moved to Toledo.

The Toledoan with the most recorded inventions is Harold A. McMaster, among whose 99 patents is the technology for fabricating curved glass sheets such as those used in automotive windshields.

The founder of Glasstech, Inc., is also responsible for numerous innovations in solar panel technology and has donated millions of dollars to area universities and other organizations.



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