10 Famous Inventions by Ohioans

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A Brief History

Earlier today, we showcased an article on the first Automatic Street Light, but did you know that this invention was just one of many invented by brilliant Ohioans?  So, let us list 10 famous inventions by Ohioans.

Digging Deeper

10. Safety Hood type Gas Mask (1912)

Garett Morgan was born in Kentucky of former slaves, but lived in Ohio after age 14.  His device saved many lives of firefighters and miners, and was the basis for the gas masks of World War I.  He also invented hair care products and a successful traffic control signal.  Because of racial prejudice he dressed up as an American Indian, pretending to be Native American.  Morgan is one of the most famous African American inventors.

9. Freon refrigerant (1928)

Charles Kettering’s freon replaced dangerous gases with a relatively safe and effective one for air conditioners and refrigerators.  Kettering also invented leaded gasoline and the system that made diesel locomotives possible.  In fact, Kettering holds more patents than any other American except Thomas Edison, another Ohioan!

8. Practical Arc Lights (1877)

Charles Brush was born and lived in Euclid, Ohio.  He perfected the arc light to where it could actually be practical as well as Dynamo generators to supply the electricity for them.  Downtown Cleveland was the first city to be lit by electric streetlamps, the Brush Arc Light.

7. Timken Roller Bearing/Tapered Roller Bearing (1898)

Henry Timken, although born in Germany, moved his company to Canton, Ohio in 1901.  His invention makes all modern rolling vehicles possible.  Canton was chosen for the company to be close to Cleveland, Detroit and Pittsburgh, the heart of steel and automobile production at the time.

6. Floating Soap (1879)

Proctor and Gamble of St. Bernard, Ohio merit credit for this invention.  Contrary to popular mythology, Ivory was not invented by accident, but was intentionally made to be a floating soap.  Despite being pure and killing germs better than anti-bacterial soaps, Ivory cleans a little too well, stripping the skin of oils and drying the skin out. New Ivory formulations developed in the 1990’s contain glycerin and other ingredients to make it kinder to skin, but does not float well!

5. Commercially Produced Baking Yeast (1868)

Charles Fleischmann,also born in Germany, started his yeast business in Cincinnati.  Fleischmann is responsible for inventing many yeast producing machines and modern commercial baking would be impossible without his contributions.  Fleischmann’s is not only the largest producer of yeast, but is the second largest producer of vinegar and the first producer Gin in the US!

4. Cash Register (1879)

James Ritty hails from Dayton, Ohio.  His invention was called “Ritty’s Incorruptible Cashier” and became the foundation for the National Cash Register Company (NCR), which today manufactures a wide range of electronic products as well as cash registers.  Ritty sold his stake in the business before it became fabulously successful, and Charles Kettering invented the first electric powered cash register for the company in 1906!  NCR was the first company to have “THINK” signs posted around work spaces.  Obviously, the signs worked!

3. Automobile Electric Starter (1911)

Charles Kettering, born in Ashland County, lived his adult life in Dayton.  Kettering was head of research at General Motors for 27 years and was the founder of Delco.  He also invented colored car paint and had 186 patents.  He invented the 1st powered aerial missile, the Kettering Bug.  His invention of the electric self starter was first introduced by Cadillac in 1912, the first car that did not have to be hand cranked to start the motor.  Oddly enough, those first electric starters doubled their duty as the generator for the car once it was started.

2. The Airplane (1903)

The Wright Brothers (Orville was born in Dayton, Ohio, while Wilbur was born in Indiana) both lived and worked in Dayton.  Orville was piloting the airplane when Thomas Selfridge became the first airplane crash fatality in 1908.  As many other inventors were working on producing a viable airplane at the same time as the Wright Brothers, you may sometimes hear of claims made by other inventors to have been the “first” in flight, but most historians are confident that the Wrights were the first to make a manned, powered, controlled flight, not launched by a catapult or by launching the device off a cliff.  Other pretenders to the aviation throne were not properly documented or did not meet all the criteria for a manned, controllable heavier than air, powered airplane.

1. The 1st Practical Light Bulb (1879)

Thomas Edison, born in Milan, Ohio,with 1093 patents is the King of Inventors, and the light bulb is his masterpiece!  Edison was also deaf all his adult life.  With nifty devices such as the phonograph and records and the moving picture projector, Edison has touched all of our lives.  Other inventors were also working on creating a practical light bulb at the same time Edison and his crew were working on the project, and though you may read or hear of claims by other people (such as Hiram Maxim, inventor of the machine gun), it is Edison’s version that became the practical device that revolutionized lighting.  Now, in the 21st Century, a gigantic tide of change is replacing many of the incandescent electric light bulbs with fluorescent and LED varieties.

Question for students (and subscribers): So what new development awaits us in the future that writers will include in lists of great inventions?  Please let us know in the comments section below this article.  If History and Headlines is any indication, we know it will be something and it will not be that far away!

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Historical Evidence

For more information, please see…

Dalton, Curt.  How Ohio Helped Invent the World: From the Airplane to the Yo-Yo.  CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2013.

The featured image in this article, a photograph by Jerry Dougherty of Bank and Main Streets in New Milford, Connecticut, is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Generic license.

You can also watch a video version of this article on YouTube:


About Author

Dr. Zar

Dr. Zar graduated with a B.A. in French and history, a Master’s in History, and a Ph.D. in History. He currently teaches history in Ohio.