The Unknown Geniuses Behind 10 of the Most Useful Inventions Ever – Part 2
ALANA HOROWITZ - MAR. 3, 2011
1925: Charlie Brannock creates the first accurate way to measure shoe size using toys.
Whose idea: Charlie Brannock
The inspiration: The son of a shoemaker, Brannock grew up thinking about feet. As a young man, he became obsessed with figuring out the best way to measure one. The only way to figure out your size at the time was with a wooden block, a method that didn't work very well.
While attending Syracuse University, he set out to solve the problem once and for all. Using a toy construction set, Brannock built a prototype of a device that accurately measured foot sizes.
What came of it: With sales in the millions, the Brannock device has become a staple for shoe stores all over the world. And even though the product is about 85 years old, it remains more or less true to the original model.
1966: James Goodfellow creates ATM pin numbers so people can take money out of the bank after hours.
Whose idea: James Goodfellow
The inspiration: The Scottish engineer was tasked with figuring out a way for people to take out money from their banks after hours and on weekends. Eventually, the idea for the ATM was born, and some credit Goodfellow as its inventor. But what Goodfellow undoubtedly created was the Personal Identification Number (PIN).
Goodfellow knew there needed to be a way to confirm the customer's identity at an ATM, but fingerprint scans or voice recognition devices seemed a little too complicated. Then he realized he could link a set of numbers, known only to the account owner, to an encoded card. If the two numbers matched, the person would receive their money.
What came of it: Goodfellow patented the pin number in 1966, and 40 years later received royal honors for his invention. Today, his system can be found in ATMs worldwide, not to mention anywhere debit cards are accepted.
1967: Robert Kearns invents windshield wiper speeds and wins a $30 million lawsuit against auto companies that steal his idea
Whose idea: Robert Kearns
The inspiration: Kearns, an engineer, grew up right near a Ford plant and believed the auto industry was a beacon for innovation. Then, while driving his Ford Galaxie one rainy night, he came up with an idea of how he could contribute to it. In the 1960s, windshield wipers typically had two settings, high and low. So if rain wasn't steady, driving could be extremely difficult. Kearns, who had a bad eye, began to squint to try and see more clearly. Then he wondered, why couldn't windshield wipers blink too? (Note: there is an excellent documentary on Kearns called "Flash of Brilliance").
What came of it: Kearns patented his idea in 1967 and sent it around to the major American car companies, but none bit. However, they eventually all began using his intermittent wipers in their cars. Kearns spent most of the rest of his life battling Ford, Chrysler and other car companies. He eventually won over $30 million, but he lost his wife and his mind in the process. Kearns died in 2005 of complications to brain cancer caused by Alzheimer's disease, shortly after winning the legal battle.