Innovation is driven by the need to solve problems and overcome obstacles. In times of conflict, a nation’s survival and stability can hinge on its ability to innovate. In the History Room at the National Inventors Hall of Fame® (NIHF) Museum, you’ll see that for more than 200 years, American ingenuity has preserved and advanced our society in times of war, and on the front lines as well as the home front.
Our History Room first introduces you to inventions of the Civil War era. While our nation was divided, visionary inventors developed bold new ideas that would affect the outcome of the war and the future of our citizens. For instance, NIHF Inductee Martha Coston invented signal flares, giving the Union a system of night communication that provided a significant advantage in the war. Also in this era, Inductee Gail Borden developed the process for condensing milk, which not only benefited the Union Army but would be enjoyed across the home front as well.
World War I
The first World War sparked a great number of innovations designed to support the war effort. One of first flying machines to land in water, the hydroaeroplane, was designed for the U.S. Navy by NIHF Inductee Glenn Hammond Curtiss. At the same time, the submarine that would become the model for the U.S. Navy’s fleet of submersibles was invented by Inductee John Phillip Holland; Inductee Elmer Ambrose Sperry invented the gyroscopic compass, which was used to pilot ships and airplanes and would later be applied to spacecraft; and Inductee John Hays Hammond integrated Sperry’s compass into his development of radio control, laying the foundation for all radio-controlled devices, including torpedoes, missiles and other weapons.
World War II
Perhaps more than at any other time in history, during World War II, innovation meant survival. Our History Room will introduce you to NIHF Inductee Mária Telkes, a pioneer in the field of solar energy, who invented a solar distillation device that saved the lives of torpedoed sailors and downed airmen. You’ll also learn about Inductees Hedy Lamarr and George Antheil, co-inventors of a frequency-hopping communication system that reduced the risk of radio-controlled torpedo detection, and Inductee Andrew Higgins, inventor of the Landing Craft, Vehicle, Personnel or Higgins Boat, used to land Allied troops on the beaches of Normandy on D-Day.
A long period of tension and conflict against global communism, the Cold War era brought about innovations that advanced both the security and the capabilities of our military. For instance, NIHF Inductee Stephanie Kwolek invented the revolutionary Kevlar® fiber used in bulletproof vests and military transport, while Inductee Roger Easton developed the TIMATION satellite navigation system for both land and sea, upon which the current Global Positioning System (GPS) is based. Also in this era, Inductee Forrest M. Bird applied his experience as an Army Air Corps officer during World War II to develop a medical respirator that would not only help pilots breathe at a high altitude but would also drastically reduce infant mortality due to respiratory problems.
To find each of these groundbreaking innovations and more in our History Room, start planning your visit to the NIHF Museum today.