Celebrating Independence & Innovation
The Fourth of July is America’s birthday bash – a solemn commemorative of independence that doubles as a rad block party for the country. In recognition of the moment, we’re highlighting a handful of rockstar innovators – pioneers, trailblazers and outlaws in spirit – who helped lift the United States from its humble beginnings to the toast of the modern technological world. But you already know Ben Franklin, Henry Ford and the Wright Brothers. Steve Jobs and Elon Musk are as familiar as your weird uncle. So rather than rehash your junior high history lessons, we’d like to honor some of America’s movers and shakers whose tinkering, toil and eureka moments may not yet be on your radar.
Jan Ernst Matzeliger: Born in what is now Suriname, his mother a slave of African descent, Matzeliger emigrated to the U.S. in the late 19th century and spun his mechanical brilliance into one of the most important breakthroughs in modern history. Matzeliger patented the first automated shoe laster, a machine that fastened the upper shoe to its sole. This invention not only supercharged production, it slashed the cost of product by half – a development that helped shoe countless Americans who otherwise could not have afforded them.
James Edward Hanger: Having lost his leg to a cannonball blast on June 3, 1861, Hanger became the first amputee of the Civil War. Shuttering himself in his home during recovery, Hanger’s despair turned to compulsion. He emerged from isolation with a modernized prosthesis, featuring rubber bumpers and hinges at the knee and ankle. Hanger went on to patent the invention, improve and refine it, and found the eponymous Hanger Clinic, which operates today as one of the world’s foremost prosthetics developers.
Hedy Lamarr: The Austrian-born Lamarr lived enough for several lifetimes, marrying and fleeing an ammunition tycoon, flourishing as a Hollywood starlet and, later, leaving a far more lasting influence. A self-taught inventor, Lamarr made quite a pair with composer George Antheil, who together developed radio technology for jamming enemy torpedoes in World War II – which became the basis for modern Wi-Fi and Bluetooth technology.
Charles Richard Drew: The first-ever African-American examiner named to the American Board of Surgery, Drew was a leader in developing early blood storage and transfer techniques. He spearheaded “Blood for Britain,” a project that collected and shipped donated American blood plasma to Europe for treating World War II wounded. Later enlisted to organize blood banks for American Red Cross, Drew took a stand against the policy of segregating banked blood and resigned his position.
Grace Murray Hopper: Before Bill Gates bought his first pocket protector, “Amazing Grace” had invented the first program linker, or compiler, and oversaw the development of COBOL, the first universal coding language. Hopper, who rose to the Naval rank of rear admiral and, in 1991, earned the National Medal of Technology, is considered the godmother of coders and software developers the world over.
Are you a creator who’s paving a new way, building a better solution, making something easier or more enjoyable? We’d love to hear from you.