Today in Technology History

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October 23

Today is the fifth anniversary of the death of an obscure but prolific inventor with more than 200 patents to his name.

Luther George Simjian was born in 1905 in Turkey, although he was of Armenian descent. He was educated in the Middle East and France, then moved to the U.S. when he was 16. He took a job at Yale University, where he hoped to study medicine, but his technical skill in the photo lab of Yale's medical school led him to a life of invention. While at Yale, Simjian patented a self-focusing camera and a color X-ray machine.

In the 1930s, he founded Reflectone, the first of three companies intended to develop his inventions. During the Second World War, Simjian invented the Optical Range Estimation Trainer -- an early flight simulator. Reflectone sold thousands of these simulators to the U.S. military during the war. (Reflectone has been bought and sold several times over the years; it is now called CAE USA and continues to concentrate on "simulation and control technologies.")

Simjian was granted more than 20 patents on technologies used in automated teller machines (ATMs). It isn't clear whether he deserves to be considered the inventor of the ATM, since there are several other claimants to that title, but he certainly solved many of the design problems and built some of the first working models.

Simjian's other inventions varied widely. He improved the ultrasound technology used in hospitals. He invented a postage meter that could be remotely controlled. He came up with a new method for tenderizing meat. In the 1960s, he invented an indoor simulated golfing range that used analogue computers.

His last patent -- for a method of improving the sound of wood used in musical instruments -- was awarded just seven months before his death on October 23, 1997 at the age of 92.

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