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Leaders in Innovation

Otis Boykin’s Enduring Impact on Technology

National Inventors Hall of Fame® (NIHF) Inductee Otis Boykin’s innovations to electronic resistors enabled the development of many of the devices we use every day. Found in everything from televisions to smartphones, variations of Boykin’s resistor designs enable the precise regulation of electrical current within a circuit.

Boykin was born on Aug. 29, 1920, in Dallas, Texas, to a family of modest means. However, this did not deter him, and after graduating as valedictorian from Dallas’s Booker T. Washington High School in 1938, he earned a scholarship to attend Fisk University. While in college, he landed a job testing automatic aircraft controls at an aerospace laboratory close to the university. In 1944, he moved to Illinois to work in the P.J. Nilsen Research Labs. The entrepreneurial bug bit early, and he  soon started his own company, Boykin-Fruth Inc.

Boykin decided to pursue his graduate education at the Illinois Institute of Technology in 1946. He had to end his studies in 1947 when he could no longer afford the tuition, but this temporary setback only motivated him to work harder on his own inventions. He focused primarily on resistors — technology that reduces the flow of electricity to allow the safe operation of an electronic device.


Becoming a Patent Holder

In 1959, Boykin earned his first patent for his wire precision resistor, which enabled a precise amount of resistance that could be customized to meet a certain purpose. Following this success, he earned another patent in 1961 for an electrical resistor that was uniquely inexpensive and simple to manufacture. Thanks to the increased reliability of Boykin’s new resistor designs, paired with their reduced cost, IBM began using them in their computers, and the United States military applied the technology to the production of guided missiles. Over the course of his career, Boykin would go on to earn a total of 12 U.S. patents relating to resistors and similar electronic components.


Improving the Pacemaker  

Perhaps Boykin’s greatest contribution came in 1964, when he created a control unit for pacemakers, small devices that help regulate the heartbeat by administering electric stimulation. In an interview with Medical Design & Outsourcing, Gabriel Mouchawar, divisional VP of product development at Abbott, explained that Boykin’s early technological contributions proved essential to making pacemakers accessible for many more people.

“Otis’s work was instrumental in making the components of the pacemaker longer-lasting and manufacturable at a lower cost, which in turn helped increase access to the therapy to improve patient care,” Mouchawar said.


Making a Lasting Impact

With technology playing an even greater role in our everyday lives due to our increased need to work and learn remotely, we often take advantage of Boykin’s contributions to resistor technology without even knowing it. For those who have benefited from using a pacemaker, his impact remains even greater.


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