National Inventors Hall of Fame – 2009 Inductees


OK, ladies. Take a look at this listing. See if our gender is … um … underrepresented. The one gender-ambiguous name is Jean Hoerni (1924-1997) … and Jean was a he.

I find the lack of women on the 2009 National Inventors Hall of Fame inductees’ list somewhat disturbing; I’m not sure what trend or trends it displays. Should women complain? And, if we should, to whom should we speak? To the judges at the National Inventors’ Hall of Fame? Or to the teachers who traditionally encourage girls to head toward the softer sciences and the humanities while steering boys toward engineering and hard sciences?

In prior years, women have been inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame, but the gender ratio leans heavily toward men in every year.

I find it hard to believe that women don’t change the world as much as men do. A woman invented:

  • the first electronic telephone central office (US Patent No. 3,623,007);
  • wrinkle-free cotton (US Patent No. 3,432,252)
  • adjustable bed lamps (US Patent No. 1,750,993)

Each of these, and many, many other, inventions changed the world in its own art.

I’d like to see one year (or maybe one year per decade) when one of the requirements for induction into the National Inventors’ Hall of Fame is two X chromosomes.

Invention Convention

Get ’em while they’re young….

I sit on a committee at the Schenectady Museum that deals with educating kids about invention and the inventive processes. My job is to go to schools and talk about invention with kids. Understand that these kids are mostly elementary age children, 4th and 5th graders (that’s age 9-11 for any readers who don’t know the US grade system).

Teachers all want their children to behave beautifully for the visitor; I learned early on to warn the teachers that I want the kids to get rowdy. And they do.

I did such a talk today, at an elementary school in Canajoharie, New York, a tiny little town not too far from Cooperstown (Cooperstown is the home of the Baseball Hall of Fame). The kids were very rowdy and very, very fun to talk with. Part of my talk is to get the kids to think up inventions — whether practical or fantastical, and get them to think about how to actually make these things. I do this with light bulbs and with the fact that I need someone to PLEASE invent a transporter such as the one in Star Trek. Heck, flip phones come from Star Trek imagery; why can’t we have a device that disassembles and reassembles atoms? These two things seem to get the juices flowing and we get many fantastical inventions — x-ray vision goggles, flying, fire-breathing dragon aircraft, and the ever-present improvements on the commode (these are 10-year-old boys we’re talking about here). The kids have fun coming up with this stuff, and I love listening to them and encouraging their inventions.

Once each kid has come up with something could be patentable under 35 USC 101, that kid has to set about building a model and developing instructions for making and using the invention. These inventions are then entered at the regional Invention Convention competition at the Museum. The entries are judged by a panel (which I do not sit on) made up of scientists, engineers, and patent lawyers. This panel selects 100 top inventions, then selects 50 from those 100. Those 50 inventions are modeled by their young inventors and the models are put on display for a month (in May) at the Museum. The judges then select a regional winner. The winner of the regional competition gets to go to the statewide Invention Convention competition; that winner gets to enter the national Invention Convention competition. At the national level, there are some serious prizes involved.

This competition is annually held for the New York Capital District and surrounding areas at the Schenectady Museum for school kids of all ages — elementary through high school. If your school does not participate, perhaps you might consider suggesting that it be incorporated into the curriculum. 

There’s nothing like the thrill of solving a problem to get a kid’s juices flowing — perhaps for life.

The USPTO, NIHFF & Ad Council are inspiring invention

Press Release, 08-41.

This is so cool. A contest for inventive kids. Open to elementary, middle and high school kids, the “inspiring innovation” campaign, launched in 2007, is working at making invention and idea development a part of the everyday lives of American kids (and more power to them); the idea is to motivate kids to pursue careers in invention and innovation.

Keep it coming, folks! American kids need this and programs like it. The US is beginning to struggle to stay at the top of the pile (oh…you hadn’t noticed that?) in part because the kids turn their noses up at math and science. Well, math and science aren’t so dull, boys and girls, when math and science let you do cool things like play video games, turn on a light, and watch cable TV.

I really hope that the teachers can be encouraged to get their kids participating in programs like this one; here in the wilds of upstate New York, schoolkids are invited to participate in the Invention Convention. Yes, we get a goodly few, but there are a lot of kids who don’t participate but could with their teachers’ help…


USPTO = US Patent & Trademark Office

NIHFF = National Inventors’ Hall of Fame Foundation