Science and Technology

Celebrating National Inventors Month in the Great Lakes Region

Invention is as much a part of the Great Lakes region as perch and walleye. Because of its access to waterways and large-scale shipping, the region always has been a hub of innovation. Rini Paiva, vice president for selection and recognition at the National Inventors Hall of Fame in North Canton, Ohio, says that throughout history, societal drivers have created pockets of innovation here. While the turn of the last century drove automobile innovation, 100 years later the region is driving biomedical inventions forward at astounding rates.

Consider Garret Morgan, now featured in the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. In 1916, one of his inventions saved workers trapped in a water intake tunnel under Lake Erie on the shores of Cleveland. His invention, a helmet that allowed him to breathe air in a smoke-filled tunnel, was the pre-curser of the gas mask. Farther west along the coast of Lake Erie, Russell Games Slayter invented fiberglass during Toledo’s glass industry boom. To the east, Steven Sasson developed the digital camera in Rochester, New York, the home of Eastman Kodak. These inventors have changed lives and made a difference in the world, but they rarely get the kind of attention typically heaped on successful athletes and entertainers.

Paiva says the National Inventors Hall of Fame honors these individuals and provides the acknowledgement they might not otherwise receive. She says the selection team considers several factors in the choice of Hall of Fame inductees. Perhaps surprisingly, the invention design itself isn’t the only major factor. To qualify for induction, the candidate must hold a United States patent for the invention. The team also evaluates the invention’s societal and economic impact as well as its practicality or marketability.

“Patents are important for encouraging business and competition and to drive that economic engine. We’re talking about work that has great societal or economic impact,” says Paiva. “People always think of the invention part – coming up with the idea – but then there’s the challenges of further R&D, marketing, manufacturing, distribution, and commercialization. Those are all really important parts of the challenge.”

Paiva says the other goal of the National Inventors Hall of Fame is to use the inductees’ stories to inspire and challenge new generations.

“It’s so important to grab them when they are young so they know what the possibilities are,” Paiva says.

Edith M. Flanigen, of UOP, LLC., a Honeywell Company, shakes hands with President Barack Obama after being awarded the National Medal of Technology and Innovation in the East Room of the White House, in Washington, Thursday, Nov. 20, 2014. The awards are the highest honor bestowed by the United States Government upon scientists, engineers, and inventors. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci) Edith Flanigen, of Buffalo, New York, earned her chemistry degree in the 1950s, a time when not many women were engaged in the field. Flanigen, who holds 109 patents, attributes the true genius status, however, to her two sisters – also chemists. All three sisters attribute their interest in the field to one teacher at Holy Angels Academy. It just goes to show the affect one person can have on the world.

The National Inventors Hall of Fame prides itself on using historical examples to inspire future generations. Jayme Cellitioci, senior creative content specialist, designs children’s programs to highlight not only the novelty of historic inventions, but also their use. Inventors who are recognized in the Hall of Fame programs have “opened up a world not only for themselves, but also for society,” says Cellitioci.

“We need to make sure children have the opportunity to be in environments where they can take risks, learn to accept, and problem-solve through failure. Many of our inductees say, ‘If you are not failing, you are not striving for novelty. You are not trying hard enough.’ Failure should be accepted and celebrated,” says Cellitioci.

Right now, the Great Lakes region is experiencing an explosion of innovation. Cellitioci says cities where abandoned buildings have been sitting dormant for decades are now turning to creative innovation to rebuild. She says people in Great Lakes communities are hungry for change and feel empowered to move their cities forward.

“The climate of a community can force creativity and form a new innovation center. Language and conversation are at the heart of innovative change,” says Cellitioci.

The balance of critical and creative thinking is key to keeping innovative momentum going forward, she says. Failure is a key lesson, as is developing a tolerance for ambiguity and a commitment to persistence.

As we celebrate National Inventors Month this April, Salt will share stories and encourage conversations that seek solutions and pursue opportunities.

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Elizabeth Connor

Elizabeth Connor

Elizabeth is the owner of EWC Media, LLC and founder of Salt. She has won numerous digital marketing awards from local and statewide agencies, even receiving a nomination for the national SoMe awards in Portland, OR. She is a proud graduate of the Ohio Tourism Leadership Academy.

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