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 Inductees — the amazing men and women 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
The first era represented in the Gallery of Icons, from 1791 to 1911, is composed of 161 patents.
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
The next period represented is 1911 through 1935, with 57 patents on the wall representing this time.
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
The next million U.S. were issued from 1936 through 1960. 154 patents from this era are represented in the Gallery of Icons.
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
The period from 1961 through 1976 is represented with 113 patents in our Gallery of Icons.
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
The next era, from 1977 through 1991, is represented by 77 patents in the exhibit.
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 Adi Shamir, Ronald Rivest 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
The 1991-1999 period is represented by 25 patents in the Gallery of Icons.
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
17 U.S. patents from 2000 through 2004 are included in our Gallery of Icons.
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
As we progress in the 21st century, the period from 2007 through 2010 is currently represented by four Inductees from diverse fields.
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 the National Inventors Hall of Fame, 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.