The Life-Changing Creativity of Spanish Inventors

Agencia EFE

Born out of necessity, competition or pure curiosity, the creations of Spain's big inventors have revolutionized the lives of many. Take a tour of Spanish genius and ingenuity to discover how simple and sometimes irrational ideas can change lives - whether a diving suit, an airship, an articulated train, a submarine, a mop, or a candy with a stick.

The 'invention triangle'
In order for innovation to take place, you need an inventor and an invention. But there's another factor in the equation: the patent. This document gives official recognition to the inventor and his or her invention, helping to protect the results of their creativity and hard work.

Before patent legislation was passed, the only thing that would encourage and protect innovation were Royal Privileges for Invention. But Spain never passed a law that set out conditions for how they were awarded, so the system was arbitrary and flawed.

But in 1811, 1820 and 1826, several patent laws were passed that set in motion a new era of regulation around inventiveness and innovation.

Early pioneers
These inventors shared an instinct, aptitude and analytical skill that brought their ideas to reality - and their inventions are now part of our daily lives.

The name Isaac Peral is inextricably linked to the submarine.

His vast military experience and enthusiasm for science led him to build a submarine, but not without overcoming many obstacles.

He invented the first one that could launch torpedoes.

The submarine launched on September 8, 1888, but - suspicious of his invention - the authorities campaigned against him, leading him to abandon the Navy.

He started various companies and worked tirelessly to fix his reputation until he died of cancer in Berlin in 1895.

Along with Peral, Narciso Monturiol and Cosme García Saéz were also renowned in the Spanish tradition of submarine innovation.

The image shows Felipe de Borbón, Prince of Asturias, on the 125th anniversary of Peral's submarine at the Museo Naval in Cartagena.

Engineer Juan de la Cierva y Codorniú is known for inventing the autogyro - predecessor of the helicopter - which used rotatory wings to take off.

Unlike the helicopter, the autogyro stays airborne and mobile as a result of aerodynamic forces in its blades.

In 1923, Cierva made the first trial flight from London to Paris and in 1934 he took his invention from the UK to Spain.

Tragically, just two years later he met his end, ironically in an airplane crash on board a KLM flight bound for Amsterdam.

Aviator and soldier General Emilio Herrera is considered a father of Spanish aeronautical engineering.

He designed this space suit, capable of withstanding temperatures of -70 degrees Celsius and altitudes of up to 18000m.

He also designed this hot air balloon helmet.

It features a microphone, a breathing system and a visor to protect the user from ultraviolet rays.

After patenting a stratospheric spacesuit for high-altitude air balloon crew in 1935, paving the way for the modern spacesuit, he sadly had to cancel its development the following year when the Spanish Civil War broke out.

Mathematician Leonardo Torres Quevedo made a huge contribution to aeronautics and artificial intelligence.

Among his inventions were the 'self-directed, tri-lobed airship', a calculator, a mechanical chess player and the first remote control, based on radio waves.

But his greatest invention was doubtless the cable car across Niagara Falls, which is still in use today.

On 21 August 1942, spanish engineer Alejandro Goicoechea Omar successfully trialled of a system of guided railway vehicles: the first articulated train.

It reached speeds of 75 km/h from Leganés to Villaverde, Madrid. The Talgo - Spain's high-speed train - was born.

After a trail period, the Talgo became operational in the Spanish railway network between Madrid and Irún in 1950, and later, in the 1960s, the Talgo went further over the Pyrenees.

Goicoechea died in 1984 but his train has never stopped evolving.

The genius behind the everyday
From the mop to the lollipop, behind the apparent simplicity of our daily comforts are stories of great men and women, whose curiosity, imagination, creativity and generosity have improved our lives.

On a US military base visit, engineer Manuel Jalón Corominas saw how floors were cleaned on hands and knees.

He attached a bunch of absorbent strips to a stick, and thus the mop was born. Brought into every spanish home, it prevented knee and spine injuries and bleach damage.

A restless observer, he also noticed how glass syringes were sterilized after each use and created a disposable syringe.

It was an instant success and is now used widely in fields beyond medicine.

Born into a Catalan confectioner family, Enric Bernat came up with an idea he thought could boost sales - a candy on a stick that would avoid the problem of sticky hands.

After several name changes and a logo design by Salvador Dalí, Chupa Chups came into being.

Bernat was inspired by watching children pull sweets from their mouths with their hands.

Since they were so simple and practical, Chupa Chups became a huge success, even with adults.

The confection was further popularized by US actor Telly Savalas, whose character in TV series Kojak replaced his cigarette addiction with a penchant for Chupa Chups.

Ex-footballer Johan Cruyff and motorcycle racer Jorge Lorenzo also became known for their fondness for the sweet.

Poet and publisher Alejandro Finisterre left home before finishing school, in search of work to help support his family.

As well as marking exams, and working in a print shop and as a builder, he invented table football, or foosball.

After sustaining injuries during the Spanish Civil War, he realized that he and his fellow patients may never play football again.

He patented his idea in Barcelona in 1937, but had to wait until his return from exile before going into production years later.

Juan de la Cierva y Hoces was the first Spaniard to win an Oscar - for his 1970 invention of the image stabilizer Dynalens.

The holder of 50 patents, he also created the photo-finish system, still in use today, to break ties in races at Madrid's La Zarzuela hippodrome.

Eduardo Barreiros Rodríguez, was a leading automotive inventor, securing 33 patents in Spain, including work that enabled the transition from oil motors to diesel.

His achievements in this area were so renowned that he received a visit from King Faisal of Saudi Arabia.

Innovators for a new world
The new breed of Spanish inventors is fighting to modernize transport, save energy and revolutionize medicine. In some areas, Spain is leading the field. Here are a few examples of the people inventing the new.

Asturian Margarita Salas has made a huge contribution to molecular biology, particularly for advancing DNA research.

Salas also secured the most lucrative Spanish patent of all time for her method that enables the copying and sequencing of DNA.

Former NASA engineer and the holder of 200 patents, Antonio Ibáñez Alba is one of the most prolific researchers in Spain.

He was awarded the 1990 World Intellectual Property Organization Gold Medal for a design for artificial palm trees that can produce water in desert areas.

While most famous for his journalism, Canarian Alberto Vázquez Figueroa is also a notable inventor.

Drawing on his knowledge of water-scarce sub-Saharan Africa, he developed a reverse osmosis technique to remove the salt from seawater.

While relatively unknown to the public, engineer José Angel Ávila leads his field of work.

He won European Inventor 2017 for improving the precision and interoperability of the European communication system, Galileo, a rival to GPS.

In 2013, the award also went to a Spaniard - engineer José Luis López for his stability system for Talgo trains. López has 21 registered patents.

Here, king Juan Carlos congratulates López on his award in La Zarzuela: 'You deserve it, you have deservedly won it'.

Agencia EFE
Credits: Story

Agencia EFE S.A.U.

Coordinator: Luis de León
They have participated: José Antonio González, Julio García Bilbao and the Department of Documentation and Graphic Archive of the EFE Agency.

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