Not every inventor or innovator is as famous as Steve Jobs.
Many other inventors and innovators died in recent weeks. While most obituaries offer only generic references, a few obits detail the ingenuity of and important contributions made by the deceased in their lifetimes. Here are a few of the most interesting inventors who’ve died recently.
Kimball W. Allen, who died 12 days before his 92nd birthday, “developed the first coin-operated laundry mat,” according to his obit in the San Francisco Chronicle. Initially, the concept was so novel, “he had to hire an attendant with a white uniform just to explain the concept and the use of the equipment.” The public caught on, and Allen “soon had a small chain of laundry mats in San Francisco.” Allen, who “never stopped inventing,” later “developed and patented a coin-operated shoeshine machine which he manufactured himself.”
Melanie Sue Eldridge “was the inventor of the Red and Blue alert and the Community Exchange systems, which helped thousands of people with mental health challenges receive assistance in their time of need,” according to her obituary in the Arizona Republic.
Jack Edmonds “worked on projects for the country’s defense, including bioluminescence in ocean flagellates,” according to his obituary in the Ithaca Journal of New York. During his career, he “worked on methods to clear airplane wings of ice and ways to detect hazardous road conditions in inclement weather,” and just “weeks before his passing,” Edmonds “was developing methods to detect the content of plumes from volcanoes.”
During his research career at Caterpillar Inc., Lloyd Johnson “was listed as the inventor and a major or sole contributor on 18 U.S. Letters of Patent in diesel and gas turbine engine technology.” Johnson “initiated research on gas turbine engines for Caterpillar and managed its gas turbine research program for 14 years,” according to his obit in the Peoria Journal Star of Illinois. In the late ’40s and early ’50s, Johnson was an early user of what is now known as ethanol, testing the fuel for the Peoria Research Laboratory of the United States Department of Agriculture (Peoria Ag Lab) on his own brand new 1949 Ford.
Stanley Grossman of Norman, Oklahoma “participated for over forty years in many key transportation and building projects throughout the state and nation,” per his obit in The Oklahoman. Also an inventor, Grossman held “numerous patents, most prominently for the Inverset bridge system, a prestressed, modular product that could be erected in a few days instead of the months ordinarily required to complete or replace a highway bridge.”
During his 30-year career as a chemical engineer with RCA, Robert E. Hurley was involved in “the early days of the electronics industry development.” Among his achievements: “his work on the printed circuit board, the refinement of radar, and the ferrite ceramics which made up the component for the first color television picture tube,” according to his obituary published in the Indianapolis Star.
Edgar Villchur of Woodstock, New York, invented an acoustic suspension loudspeaker in 1954 that “revolutionized the field of high-fidelity equipment, providing better bass response than was previously possible, at the same time radically reducing the size of the cabinet,” according to his obituary in the Daily Freeman of Kingston, New York. Villchur also received a patent “for the dome tweeter, which greatly improved the ability of loudspeakers to reproduce accurate high-end sounds,” and later went into hearing aid research, developing “the multichannel compression hearing aid, whose basic design has become the industry standard.” One of Villchur’s designs, his AR-3 speaker, is “on display in the Smithsonian Institute’s Information Age Exhibit in Washington, D.C.”
This post was contributed by Alana Baranick, a freelance obituary writer. She was the director of the Society of Professional Obituary Writers and chief author of Life on the Death Beat: A Handbook for Obituary Writers before she passed away in 2015.