Here are the stories of five National Inventors Hall of Fame Inductees that served in the Navy in peace and wartime, at home and abroad. They each emerged from the Navy with a unique set of experiences that undoubtedly influenced their future inventions that have shaped our country.
The son of escaped slaves, Lewis Latimer was a self-taught draftsman, poet, artist, Navy veteran, teacher, husband, father, and grandfather whose invention helped bring affordable and safe incandescent lighting to the world.
Abolitionist Newspaper named for Lewis Latimer's fatherNational Inventors Hall of Fame Museum
The Latimer Journal, and North Star. This abolitionist newspaper was published to bring attention to the case of Lewis Latimer's parents, George and Rebecca Latimer. They were slaves who escaped to Massachusetts in 1842, though George was recaptured and had to wage court battles to maintain his freedom.
USS Massasoit by U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command PhotographNational Inventors Hall of Fame Museum
Lewis Latimer was so compelled to fight for the freedom of slaves that he lied about his age in order to enlist. He served on the USS Massasoit toward the end of the Civil War.
This double-ended ironclad gunboat was part of the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron and protected Union ships on the James River.
Process of Manufacturing Carbons Patent by Lewis LatimerNational Inventors Hall of Fame Museum
Lewis Latimer, far left, and other members of the Grand Army of the Republic presenting a flag to Public School 24 in Queens, New York. by Courtesy of Thomas Edison Historic ParkNational Inventors Hall of Fame Museum
Lewis Latimer's commitment to civil rights did not end with his military service. As a lifelong member of the Grand Army of the Republic, he visited schools to educate children about the war.
A U.S. Naval Academy graduate known as the "Father of Electric Traction" for his prolific and groundbreaking inventions in transportation including the electric railway or streetcar, early electric elevators, and electric motors.
The US Naval Academy Class of 1878. Frank Sprague is second row from bottom, seated, far left. by Courtesy of Naval Academy ArchivesNational Inventors Hall of Fame Museum
Frank Sprague (second row from bottom, seated, far left) with his U.S. Naval Academy graduating class of 1878.
Frank Sprague's Report on the Crystal Palace Electrical Exhibition, 1882-1883National Inventors Hall of Fame Museum
Electric Railway System Patent by Frank SpragueNational Inventors Hall of Fame Museum
Frank Sprague's patent for regenerative braking, a system that uses rather than wastes the kinetic energy produced when slowing a vehicle. It was a critical step in the development of electric trains and elevators.
Click here to see the full patent
Frank Sprague with a Depth Charge by Courtesy of the Shore Line Trolley MuseumNational Inventors Hall of Fame Museum
Frank Sprague also served his country as a civilian testing new technologies, including depth charges, an anti-submarine weapon (pictured) in his role with the Naval Consulting Board.
Frank Sprague was a tireless inventor until the day he died. A colleague once said, "He seems to be full of wire springs that constantly coil and uncoil inside of him."
Lloyd Conover was a sophomore at Amherst College when he left to join the U.S. Naval Reserve Midshipman's School, an accelerated program to train much-needed officers for the war. In August 1944 Ensign Conover was headed to the Pacific. Back home in 1952 he invented the antibiotic tetracycline, a highlight of his successful career in chemical research.
World War II Landing Ship, Tank 712National Inventors Hall of Fame Museum
Lloyd Conover's ship, LST-712 (Landing Ship, Tank). Over 1000 of these amphibious ships were built for the war to quickly deliver soldiers and heavy equipment to almost any shore. Conover and LST-712 were part of the largest amphibious assault in the Pacific, an 82-day- long battle known as the "typhoon of steel." It was ultimately successful, allowing the establishment of an air operations base for the planned invasion of Japan.
Lloyd Conover returing home from World War II by Courtesy of the Conover FamilyNational Inventors Hall of Fame Museum
"On deck one day, I saw a Japanese torpedo coming right toward our huge LST. It looked as if it would be a direct hit. However, because of the short draft of the LST...the torpedo went right under the ship and out the other side!"
-- Lloyd Conover, grateful that LSTs were designed to float high on the water to allow for beach landings.
Patent for Tetracycline by Lloyd ConoverNational Inventors Hall of Fame Museum
As a boy, Maxime Faget enjoyed building model airplanes and rubber-band-powered submarines with his brother. These inventive pastimes worked their way into the rest of his life and career. Faget served on a submarine in World War II and later at NASA, became the primary designer of all US spacecraft.
Maxime Faget, standing, on USS GuavinaNational Inventors Hall of Fame Museum
Maxime Faget, standing, aboard the USS Guavina.
No stranger to tight spaces, Faget could empathize when astronaut Wally Schirra later said, " You don't get into Mercury, you put it on."
USS Guavina in 1945 by NavSource Online, Submarine Photo ArchiveNational Inventors Hall of Fame Museum
Maxime Faget's submarine, the USS Guavina. He recalled, "...We managed to sink a rather large tanker and got pinned down in shallow water, which is not a very comfortable place to be. [We] stayed submerged for 20 hours before we could come back up."
This incident was the sinking of the 8,673 ton Eiyo Maru after which the USS Guavina endured 98 depth charges from the Japanese. It was one of the most severe anti-submarine attacks of the war.
Space Shuttle Vehicle and System Patent by Maxime FagetNational Inventors Hall of Fame Museum
Maxime Faget was the chief designer of NASA's spacecraft from Project Mercury through the space shuttle.
This is his Space shuttle vehicle and system patent from 1972.
Click here to see the full patent
Maxime Faget in spacesuit next to space capsuleNational Inventors Hall of Fame Museum
It was Faget who came up with the initially controversial blunt-end shape of the Mercury capsule. He knew, and eventually proved, that this design would allow for a safe re-entry into Earth's atmosphere.
Chris Kraft, the flight director of early NASA missions said of Faget, "There is no one in spaceflight history, in this or in any other country, who has had a larger impact on man's quest in space exploration."
To Leroy Grumman, Long Island was home and boats were his first love. Though his sights were soon set to the sky, he translated a short career as a flight instructor in the Navy to a long and storied life as one of the greatest builders of airplanes in history. Some of the best were made to land on boats.
Retractable Landing Gear for Airplanes Patent by Leroy GrummanNational Inventors Hall of Fame Museum
Leroy Grumman was the first to produce airplanes with retractable landing gear, making flight more efficient. This is just one of his many practical innovations in flight.
Click here to see the full patent
Leroy Grumman holding paperclip plane. by The Grumman Story (book), Scan by HeroicRelics.orgNational Inventors Hall of Fame Museum
Leroy Grumman and a re-creation of the eraser and paper clip model he made one day to help him figure out how to make a stable, folded wing for an aircraft.
Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corporation's Hellcat, World War II Ad by Grumman Aircraft Engineering CorporationNational Inventors Hall of Fame Museum
A Grumman Aircraft Engineering Company advertisement from World War II. It depicts the U.S. Navy Hellcats, a folded-wing aircraft, taking flight from an aircraft carrier.
The folded-wing design allowed for many more planes to be kept per carrier. This, and the superior performance of the Hellcat in the air, played a critical role in the victory in the Pacific.
Leroy Grumman on the cover of Time, September 11, 1944National Inventors Hall of Fame Museum
Leroy Grumman on the cover of Time Magazine, September 11, 1944.
Leroy Grumman spoke of his passion 33 years earlier in his high school graduation speech:
"The final perfection of the aeroplane will be one of the greatest triumphs that man has ever gained over matter...Power over the air, which extends over both land and sea, and breaks down the barriers between all nations."
World War I Veterans
In recognition of the 100th anniversary of the United States' entry into The Great War, we honor our Inductees who served their country in uniform during the war and later improved the world with their ingenuity. This exhibit is on display in our museum through October 2018.
Though Frederick Jones had only four years of formal education, his natural curiosity and aptitude in engineering propelled him beyond the segregated labor battalions most common for African-Americans during World War I. He achieved the rank of corporal and created a new industry when he returned home. His refrigerated transportation systems were vital during World War II and changed the food industry forever.
US Patent 2303857National Inventors Hall of Fame Museum
In 1939, Frederick McKinley Jones, applied for this patent, the world's first successful refrigerated transportation system. Jones has patents on more than 60 other inventions. Click here to see the full patent
Frederick Jones with refrigerated truck by Minnesota Historical SocietyNational Inventors Hall of Fame Museum
Frederick Jones, a founder of the Thermo King Corporation, standing next to a truck outfitted with a mobile refrigeration unit c.1950.
Arnold Beckman found a chemistry book when he was nine that hooked him on the subject for the rest of his life. Even before he finished high school, he was recruited to help with the war effort and analyzed the content of melted steel. Many of his later inventions were instruments designed to simplify formerly cumbersome scientific tests or procedures.
US Patent 2058761National Inventors Hall of Fame Museum
Arnold Beckman's patent for an Apparatus for Testing Acidity, which later became known as the pH meter. It was used immediately in a variety of ways both in the lab, to aid in the study of biology and chemistry, and in practical applications such as citric acid production.
Click here to see the full patent
Arnold Beckman with ph meterNational Inventors Hall of Fame Museum
Arnold Beckman with a pH meter, the invention that started his company.
"I accumulated my wealth by selling instruments to scientists,... so I thought it would be appropriate to make contributions to science, and that's been my number one guideline for charity."
By 2004, the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation had given more than $400 million to charities and organizations.
Born in Domont, France, in 1892, Eugene Houdry was working in his father's steel-making business when he entered into the French army to serve in the Great War. He later invented a process to refine oil waste into high-octane fuel. This fuel gave British planes an edge over the Germans, helping to win the Battle of Britain in World War II.
US Patent 1837963National Inventors Hall of Fame Museum
Eugene Houdry's patent, Process for the Manufacture of Liquid Fuels filed in 1928.
Click here to see the full patent.
In 1954, he patented the catalytic converter, greatly reducing the carbon monoxide and particulates that enter the atmosphere from automobiles. Click here to see the catalytic converter patent.
Eugene Houdry's US Naturalization documentNational Inventors Hall of Fame Museum
Eugene Houdry's Certificate of Naturalization.
Eugene Houdry emigrated to the United States in 1930 and became a naturalized citizen in 1942. His two sons, Pierre and Jacques, later served in the U.S. Army.
Alfred Loomis was born into an affluent family in 1887, graduated from both Harvard and Yale and went to work as a lawyer on Wall Street. He joined the Army in 1917 and was able to put his lifelong interest in machinery and artillery to use. During World War II, he developed LORAN, a radio navigation system that was used extensively by ships and aircraft in the Pacific theater.
Alfred Loomis testing a cannonNational Inventors Hall of Fame Museum
Alfred Loomis at the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland where he made major refinements in artillery, including the recoil-less "Loomis Shooting Cannon."
US Patent 2884628National Inventors Hall of Fame Museum
Edwin Armstrong was fascinated with wireless telegraphy from his youth. His experiments while enlisted in the Signal Corps and throughout his life resulted in many inventions. The principle of his superheterodyne circuit remains a basic component of all television and radio receivers today. In 1933, he made his biggest breakthrough, introducing FM radio to the world.
US Patent 1342885National Inventors Hall of Fame Museum
Edwin Armstrong and wife Esther Marion MacInnis at Palm Beach, 1923. by Public DomainNational Inventors Hall of Fame Museum
Armstrong and his wife, Esther Marion McInnis on Palm Beach in 1923. The radio is a portable superheterodyne that he built for her.