Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Ohio 50 State Quarter features the 1905 Wright...Ohio is well-known as the birthplace of seven U.S. presidents and space pioneers Neil Armstrong and John Glenn. What many people may not realize, however, is that our state has also been called home by numerous individuals who would go on to invent items that would promote the progress of science and mankind and inspire future generations of innovators and thinkers. The month of August has been designated National Inventors Month, and as such I would like to take a moment to recognize a few of the many Ohioans whose creativity and technological advancements have helped change our world.

Granville T. Woods was born in Columbus in 1856. He studied electrical and mechanical engineering and worked for a railroad company after graduating. Woods patented roughly 35 inventions, including automatic railroad brakes, a furnace and boiler and a new type of battery. He also invented a telegraph that could transmit messages to and from moving trains, helping to reduce the number of train wrecks.

Charles Kettering invented the first electric cash register and an accounting machine. Kettering established the Dayton Engineering Laboratory Company in 1909, which invented a self-starter for automobiles as well as other car-related items. General Motors bought the company in 1920, and Kettering became the director of research for the vehicle manufacturer. During this time, he oversaw projects that led to the development of shock absorbers, a new type of transmission and improved headlamps for use in cars. He eventually held 140 patents, many of which were for items that became standard equipment on cars.

Charles M. Hall was born in northeastern Ohio and graduated from Oberlin College. He was interested in chemistry at an early age, and even set up his own laboratory while still in high school. Hall was interested in finding an inexpensive way to turn aluminum ore into metal. In 1886, he discovered that by passing an electrical current through the ore at high levels, it would change into metal. This process helped make aluminum more affordable, and today more aluminum is produced than all other non-ferrous metals combined.

Of course, many of us are more familiar with Ohio’s most famous inventors – namely the Wright brothers and their development of the first airplane, and Thomas Edison, the prolific inventor who was born in northwestern Ohio but lived much of his life outside the state. Their inventions revolutionized the aeronautics and electricity industries, forever changing the way we travel and power our homes and businesses.

The many contributions of Edison and the Wright brothers led to them being nominated to represent Ohio in the National Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capitol. This collection of statues from each state commemorates persons “illustrious for historic renown or for distinguished civic or military services.” Ohio is currently seeking to replace its statue of former Governor William Allen with an individual that better represents the values and traditions of Ohio. The National Statuary Collection Study Committee, a bipartisan panel of lawmakers from both the Ohio Senate and House, has spent the last several months seeking input from residents about whom they think should be selected, eventually narrowing a list of more than 90 nominees to 10 finalists.

These finalists included both the Wright brothers and Edison, as well as another inventor: Dr. Albert Sabin. Dr. Sabin worked for many years at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital and helped develop an oral polio vaccine that has virtually eradicated the disease across the world. Given that there are few inventors represented among the statues in Statuary Hall, any one of these individuals would make a fine choice to represent our state in the nation’s capital.

Following a public voting period that ended in June, the committee recently released the results. Thomas Edison was the top vote-getter, with the Wright brothers coming in second. The Statuary Committee will be meeting in the coming months to choose who will replace Governor Allen in Statuary Hall, and although the results of the public vote are not binding, they will be given significant weight by the committee.

From the wheel to the car to the computer, invention has made it possible for us to be more productive and expand our horizons, not to mention making life easier. While not every invention has the capacity to alter the course of human history, one need only recall those in the field of energy or technology to realize how much of our lives is the result of inventive thinking. So the next time you surf the Web or get on a plane, take a minute to think about the people whose ideas made these achievements possible, and what our world would be like if not for curious individuals like Charles Kettering, Granville Woods and the Wright brothers.

Please do not hesitate to contact my office if you have questions or concerns about any state-related matter. You can reach my office by phone at (614) 466-9737, by e-mail at or by writing State Senator Shannon Jones, Ohio Statehouse, 1 Capitol Square, Columbus, OH 43215. I look forward to hearing from you.

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