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Innovation on Display

American History and the Gallery of Icons

The Gallery of Icons, located at our National Inventors Hall of Fame® (NIHF) Museum, represents the rich history of American ingenuity. The gallery holds hundreds of hexagon-shaped icons, one for each of our Inducteesthe amazing innovators responsible for conceiving the most recognizable and widely used inventions of our time.


American History as Told by the Gallery of Icons

This exhibit tells the exciting story of American innovation. The icons are displayed in chronological order based on patent number, separating the wall into significant periods of time in American history.


Patents 1 to 1,000,000 (1791-1911)

In its first century, the United States was largely an agricultural nation, and the inventors of this era often designed tools for farming. This inventive environment shifted in the mid-1800s, as public education improved and the U.S. Patent Office grew. As people sought better, faster and cheaper ways to bring goods to market, a new industrial age came to life. This period includes early inventions from mechanization and manufacturing, steam-powered transportation, construction and infrastructure.

Many significant inventors and inventions shaped this time period, including Thomas Edison’s invention of the electric lamp, Wilbur and Orville Wright’s invention of the airplane, and John Deere’s invention of plows.


Patents 1,000,001 to 2,000,000 (1911-1935)

Many of the innovations made during this period are still central to our everyday lives, like Mary Engle Pennington’s food safety innovations and Philo Farnsworth’s television, as well as Henry Ford’s advancements that revolutionized the automotive industry.


Patents 2,000,001 to 3,000,000 (1936-1960)

Many of the inventions that shape the modern world have their roots in this era spanning the Great Depression, World War II and into the Cold War. During this time, our country saw a shift toward more government-supported research and development. Major advancements included chemistry and materials science inventions, electronics, pharmaceuticals and travel by jet airplane.

Inventions during this period include Wallace Carothers’ nylon, Andrew Moyer’s methods for the industrial production of penicillin, and John Bardeen, Walter Brattain and William Shockley’s invention of the transistor.


Patents 3,000,001 to 4,000,000

Many advancements from this era are focused on communications, electronics and medical technologies. Some of the most recognizable inventions from this time include Wilson Greatbatch’s implantable pacemaker, Otto Wichterle’s soft contact lenses, and Federico Faggin, Ted Hoff and Stan Mazor’s invention of the microprocessor.


Patents 4,000,001 to 5,000,000 (1977-1911)

This time in history is defined by personal technology, security and healthcare. Steve Wozniak invented the personal computer, Steve Sasson invented the digital camera, and Ronald Rivest, Adi Shamir and Leonard Adleman invented RSA cryptography, the world’s most widely used public-key cryptography method for securing communication on the internet. Robert Gallo and Luc Montagnier discovered HIV and determined that the virus was the cause of AIDS, making it more possible to control the disease.


Patents 5,000,001 to 6,000,000 (1991-1999)

In the 1990s, more Americans began to embrace the idea that diversity and inclusion are essential for our country to realize its full potential. This is reflected in our exhibit, with nine of the 25 patents from this period coming from women and other Inductees representing diverse groups.

A few of the major inventions from this time include Eric R. Fossum’s CMOS active pixel image sensor camera-on-a-chip (a fixture in smartphones), Arogyaswami Paulraj’s MIMO wireless technology for broadband internet access, and Frances Ligler’s portable optical biosensors, employed to identify and quantify pathogens, toxins, pollutants, drugs of abuse or explosives.


Patents 6,000,001 to 7,000,000 (2000-2004)

This period is largely defined by connectivity, including the invention of Bluetooth® wireless technology by Jaap Haartsen, as well as Tom Leighton and Danny Lewin’s Content Delivery Network for the internet.

The environment continues to be a driving factor in innovation, and this is represented in our exhibit by Jacqueline Quinn’s emulsified zero-valent iron technology to clean environmental contamination.


Patents 7,000,001 to 8,000,000 (2007-2010)

Steve Jobs’ immense contributions to modern computing technology and Carolyn Bertozzi’s bioorthogonal chemistry showcase Northern California’s major impact on invention and innovation during this century.


The Building Blocks of Society

The Gallery of Icons truly tells the tale of America’s rich history of innovation. All NIHF Inductees, beyond the few highlighted here, have created the building blocks of our society. At NIHF, we are proud to honor these word-class inventors, and we look forward to a future of inspiring and challenging the next generation of innovators.

Learn more about the Gallery of Icons on our blog or by visiting our museum today.

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