From submersibles that allow us to explore the ocean depths, to airplanes that let us fly across the world, some of the world’s most impactful inventions have given us abilities that can feel like superpowers.
In celebration of National Superhero Day, we invite you to learn more about a few National Inventors Hall of Fame® Inductees whose innovations have helped people achieve incredible things.
From a very young age, they had been interested in the idea of mechanical flight. In 1893, they opened a bicycle shop and used the profits from this business to fund their aeronautical experiments. They built their first machine, a biplane kite fitted with wings that could be mechanically twisted, in 1899. Then, on the morning of Dec. 17, 1903, they made history by achieving an unassisted takeoff from level ground that lasted for 12 seconds. Thanks to further experiments and improvements to their airplane designs, in 1905, they could sustain flight for over 24 miles.
Today, you can see the Wright brothers’ original plane at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.
X-Ray Vision Power
Born in Hudson, Massachusetts, William Coolidge revolutionized the field of radiology by inventing the Coolidge X-ray tube while working at the General Electric Research Laboratory.
In 1905, he was tasked with replacing the carbon filaments within electric lightbulbs with tungsten versions. Realizing this material could improve General Electric’s existing X-ray tubes, he decided to substitute heated tungsten filament as the tube’s electron source, allowing both greater operating voltage and greater control over the quality of the X-rays.
A prolific inventor throughout his professional career, Coolidge was awarded 83 patents during his lifetime.
While conducting experiments to make stronger and stiffer fibers, Stephanie Kwolek discovered an incredible branch of polymer science known as liquid crystalline polymers. Among these was the discovery of Kevlar®, a polymer fiber five times stronger than steel of the same weight.
Though originally developed and conceived as a replacement for steel bracing in vehicle tires, Kevlar has since become the material of choice for bullet-resistant vests and other protective equipment thanks to its combination of lightweight construction and strength.
Underwater Breathing Power
Together, Jacques-Yves Cousteau and Emile Gagnan invented the modern demand regulator, which is used in underwater diving. This invention enabled the creation of the Aqualung, also known as a self-contained underwater breathing apparatus (SCUBA), allowing for both safer and deeper dives.
Prior to this innovation, divers were only able to explore underwater using bulky diving bells and helmeted diving suites. It was Gagnan’s engineering expertise combined with Cousteau’s practical diving experience that enabled the creation of a demand valve system providing divers with compressed air on demand that adjusts to the surrounding water pressure.
Learn More About Our Astonishing Inductees
Highlighted throughout our education programming, NIHF Inductees serve as relatable STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) role models who continue to make an extraordinary impact in the lives of students across the country.
We invite you to visit our website to learn more of the stories behind our Hall of Famers — real-life superheroes who have changed the world with their inventions!