Three Great American Innovators You’ve Never Heard Of

As the nation celebrates its 244th birthday this week, we want to recognize (and maybe brag about) just how impactful America’s ingenuity has been in that time. Pick a topic: automobiles, manufacturing, medicine – even electricity itself. History books are filled with Americans having, and pulling off, big, world-changing ideas. Think Edison, Ford, Gates and Jobs. 

Some names, though, never made it into the books. To celebrate the 4th of July this year, we’re highlighting three Americans that helped develop modern technology as we know it. And, as a testament to our country’s depth of talent, they’re names you’ve probably never heard of. 

John Vincent Atanasoff – While guys like Jobs and Gates get a ton of credit, it’s Atanasoff that provided the tools they were able to tinker with. Way back in 1937, the Hamilton, New York native developed several cornerstones of modern computing, perhaps none more fundamental than the use of binary digits to represent data. It’s said that his inspiration for what amounts to the first electronic computer came to him after a few glasses of bourbon. How American is that? 

William Yeager – The fact that you’re familiar with the term “network” in relation to your laptop is largely due to this former research engineer at Stanford University. It was his brainchild, The Blue Box, that proved essential to the success of then-fledgling Cisco Systems, which at the time was trying to accomplish the modest task of linking the campus’s computers. Since that seminal accomplishment in the early 1980s, the company has helped revolutionize the role of technology in the modern workplace – and even the workplace, itself. And it couldn’t have happened without Yeager. 

Gerald Lawson – The son of a longshoreman, this N.Y.-born engineer developed the Channel F, the first cartridge-based video game system, in 1976. The innovation allowed consumers to purchase interchangeable games, giving the Channel F a huge advantage over Atari’s Pong-only console. While the Channel F was eventually overshadowed by bigger competitors, Lawson’s contribution improved the accessibility, and thus, the popularity of at-home video games. Nowadays, video game consoles can do everything from stream movies to control your smart home. We have Lawson to thank for that. 

America’s technological trailblazing began with Franklin’s kite, and it hasn’t stopped humming since. And while the well-known names certainly deserve the credit, we should also take pride in all the American innovators we haven’t heard of. 

Altogether, it’s a pretty impressive story. 

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