Who Was Jerome Lemelson?


BY MARTHA DAVIDSON

There is little in our contemporary world that has not been touched by the creative genius of Jerome Lemelson. Barcode readers and cordless phones, cassette players and camcorders, automated manufacturing systems, even crying baby dolls—these devices and hundreds of others that have shaped our lives derive from the inventions and innovations of this remarkable man. With more than 600 patents to his name and others still pending, Jerome Lemelson was one of the most prolific American inventors of all time, and in the sheer range of his ideas—from cutting-edge medical and industrial technologies to novelties, gadgets, and toys—undoubtedly one of the most versatile.

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Portrait of Jerome Lemelson

(Courtesy of the Lemelson family)

Physically unimposing—a thin, sharp-featured man of average height.  Lemelson possessed not only an extraordinary intelligence and insatiable curiosity, but also an indomitable spirit. They enabled him to persevere in the face of financial and legal obstacles, championing the rights of the independent inventor and becoming, late in life, a multimillionaire. He used his wealth for philanthropic endeavors, as well as to support and defend his patents.

The Lemelson Foundation

In the 1990s, he and his wife Dorothy established the Lemelson Foundation, inaugurated the Lemelson National Program in Invention, Innovation, and Creativity, and gave major grants to Hampshire College, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Nevada, and the Smithsonian Institution. These grants funded programs to encourage young people to pursue careers in invention and entrepreneurship.  Also, to promote industrial innovation, and to foster greater awareness and appreciation of inventors and invention in the United States.

Jerome Lemelson Early Years

Born in Staten Island, NY, on July 18, 1923, Jerome Lemelson was the oldest of three brothers. Their father, a physician trained at Columbia University School of Medicine, was a second-generation American of Austrian Jewish descent. Also, he maintained his medical office in their home.  Jerome was able to support the family in relative comfort through the years of the Great Depression.   Their mother was a teacher, so she trained at the Trenton Normal School in New Jersey. Most noteworthy, the boys’ education began at PS 33, a two-room schoolhouse on Staten Island, where their mother had once taught.

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Who Was Jerome Lemelson?

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