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November 20th, 2013 MARTY SMITH | Dr. Know
 

Dr. Know: Glaring Omissions

Overlooked Oregonian Inventors

drknowILLUSTRATION: Hawk Krall
The most inventive Oregonian? Probably Douglas Engelbart, who invented the computer mouse. Frances Gabe patented the self-cleaning house in 1984. And Henry Phillips invented—wait for it—the Phillips screw in the 1930s.

—Brett Stern, author of Inventors at Work

Sadly, the Phillips screwdriver wasn’t invented until 1967, forcing a generation of tinkerers to tighten the new screws with butter knives or an especially pointy key.

But seriously, folks: In last week’s column, I said famous inventions from Oregon were a bit thin on the ground. Mistake! Within minutes, the readers were revolting (a lot of ’em were ugly, too), massing with pitchforks and torches to tell me just how wrong I was. I haven’t been called out this hard since an unfortunate rounding error led me to assert that Abraham Lincoln was a member of New Kids on the Block.

There’s a saying in politics that also applies to journalism: When you have to eat shit, don’t nibble. I could nickel-and-dime you about how, technically, Henry Phillips bought the patent for his self-centering screw from the forgotten real inventor, John P. Thompson. But then, Thompson was a Portlander, too. The truth is, I forgot about the Phillips screw. Yum, delicious poo.

Engelbart’s contributions to computing history are legion; however, I elected to skip them because they’re too complex for a 300-word column. I also omitted Frances Gabe’s remarkable invention—it never caught on, and in any case, if you look at the videos available online you’ll see there’s a very, very fine line between “self-cleaning house” and “live-in dishwasher.”

However, I certainly should have included Tim Leatherman’s eponymous multitool. Most glaringly, it was inexcusable not to mention the locally invented View-Master stereoscopic viewer, which for decades offered Portlanders their only opportunity to see a 3-D representation of what direct sunlight might look like.


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