Inventors of Queens
By Nick Abadjian
Jerry Seinfeld might have had a little more than inspiration from a classmate at Queens College when he invented the offbeat TV character George Constanza.
But there are others, who lived and worked in Queens, that came out with inventions that literally changed the world.
Chester Carlson began a new era when he copied Astoria – literally. Carlson is credited with inventing the first copy machine, which became the Xerox copier.
Carlson, a Jackson Heights resident, worked as a lab
researcher for a year and got laid off.
Then he worked for a patent attorney and went to night
school to become one.
While working there, he saw the tediousness of making
He wanted to create something that would make copies of
pictures and sketches to save time and money for businesses.
Carlson conducted experiments for a month in a lab tucked away behind a beauty parlor at 32-05 37th St. in Astoria.
Carlson rubbed a handkerchief over a sulphur-coated
aluminum plate, exposed the plate and made a copy of an image on a piece of
The first words copied were “10-22-38 Astoria.”
“Our community was the first page of the information
age,” said Bob Singleton, president of the Greater Astoria Historical
Carlson perfected the process and patented it himself.
It took a while before big business was interested in his copy
process, but eventually he became a millionaire.
By the time the first Xerox copy machine was made in 1950, Carlson had moved to Rochester as a very wealthy man.
Lewis Howard Lattimer was an African American and Flushing resident who perfected the filament for the light bulb and drafted the original design for Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone.
Born in 1848, Lattimer grew up poor in antebellum Boston,
where abolitionism was gaining momentum.
He was mostly self-educated after fifth grade and served in the navy
for the Union during the civil war at 16.
After the war, Lattimer taught himself mechanical drafting
and worked his way up to chief draftsmen in a Boston patent attorney’s
firm. Lattimer met the young
Alexander Graham Bell and the two toiled away at night, designing diagrams
for the patent of the telephone.
While employed by Hera Maxon, a competitor to Thomas
Edison, Lattimer made improvements to the incandescent light bulb. In 1882,
with his patent, “Process for Manufacturing Carbons,” he made the carbon
filament last longer and make it more marketable. He also lit the way for many cities in the Northeast and
London as he helped established the first electric lighting plants.
For many years, Lattimer worked for the budding Edison Electric
Lighting Company as an engineer and a patent investigator.
At the turn of the century, Lattimer moved to a
predominantly white Flushing. He
helped develop a local chapter of the Unitarian church and rubbed shoulders
with African American intellectual greats like Booker T. Washington,
Frederick Douglas and Richard Theodore Greener.
Jackson Heights resident and architect Alfred Mosher Butts
lost his job in 1931 during the Depression and devoted his free time to
making a board game.
Butts combined the elements of crossword puzzles and
anagrams, with a touch of chance. He
gave birth to Lexico, which eventually became Scrabble.
Butts analyzed the front page of The New York
Times to see how frequently the letters of the English language were
used. He found that vowels
appear more frequently than consonants, especially the letter E. He assigned points to different letters, but only provided
four S’s to the game, to limits its use.
Butt’s initial attempts to sell the game garnered a
myriad of rejection letters, but he kept going. He eventually hooked up with entrepreneur James Brunot, owner
of the original Criss Cross Word sets.
In 1948, the game started being made at the rate of 12 an hour in a
small factory in Connecticut.
They lost money on the game the first few years.
But in 1953 the game caught the eye of Jack Strauss, chairman of
Macy’s department store. Straus
dabbled with the game on a holiday and returned to the store with a
marketing campaign for the game. The
rest is history.
Jackson Heights became the site of the first school
Scrabble tournament when students from I.S. 145 converged at Community
Methodist Church, where Rev. Austin Armistead was pastor.
Today, over 121 countries play Scrabble and over 100
million sets are sold in 29 languages, including Braille.
Though rock is attributed to the creation of the electric
guitar, 21st century music could thank former Flushing resident, Robert Moog
(rhymes with vogue) for the modern synthesizer.
Robert Moog came out with his Moog synthesizer in 1964,
creating new standards for electronic music.
This new synthesizer radically changed the way electronic music was
Instead of splicing pre-recorded electronic music on tape,
the Moog synthesizer allowed a person to compose and perform.
It even stored music on the synthesizer to be played back.
Moog changed synthesizers from being big bulky computers
to becoming mainstream and selling in music stores.
Moog will admit that he was a nerd growing up in Flushing
in the 1940s and tinkering away. At
12, he built his first electronic instrument, and by 19 he built his first
theremin – an electronic instrument first built in 1920. The theremin was the impetus of the Moog synthesizer.
The stories of inventors is always interesting, but the
fact is most of them never make it.
According to Donna Hardiman of Advent Product Development,
which markets inventions, creating inventions is a risk.
“It’s kind of going into business for yourself.”
Hardiman presented a few Queens inventors who hope to make
it big with their gizmos. Robert Bland of Cambria Heights came up with the
EZ Travel Disposable Tooth Brush. The
toothbrush hopes to save time and cut down on clutter, since it is
toothpaste and toothbrush in one. Just
turn a knob on the toothbrush and toothpaste comes out through the bristles.
Wheelchair bound people have fought hard to gain
accessibility to mass transit, yet it still hard for them to move outdoors
on a hot summer day or in a storm. Claudeen
Proffitt of Corona has come up with a “Rain Protector” which hinges out
from behind a wheelchair and protects the person form rain or sunlight.
Marina Nyszczuk of Long Island wants to vacuum and spread
happiness, along with a nice smell. That’s
the point of Marina’s Happy Bags.
specially scented vacuum sprays a mist of beautiful scents while the air is
getting sucked out of it and sent across the room.
She also has pellets, which
can be placed, inside a vacuum bag for the same purpose.