Born in New York City in 1923, Jerome Lemelson graduated from New York University in 1951 with a master's degree in aeronautical and administrative engineering . He spent the following several years working for various companies asan industrial engineer, but in 1957 Lemelson quit his job and decided to setout on his own as a full-time inventor. Out of his workshop in Metuchen, NewJersey, Lemelson began developing ideas for toys. Lemelson's first invention--a wheeled toy--was bought by the Ideal Toy Company.
Although his toy and game inventions sold well, Lemelson was far more interested in his high-tech inventions. After seeing a demonstration of a punched card-controlled lathe , he decided to begin research into the field of automation , particularly the pursuit to automate production machinery. In the next few years Lemelson developed a large number of very successful devices. Theseinventions included a system for machine vision , a universal robot capable of inspecting and measuring products, and an automatic warehousing system involving a computer or punched card-controlled stacker crane to pick up and deliver palletized products.
Lemelson's most important invention dates back to the early 1950s. Initiallyreferred to as a flexible manufacturing system, it is now the backbone of robotics . A flexible manufacturing system consists of a series of computer-controlled machine tools with adaptable operations, based upon functions programmed into the computer . They can perform many different operations on the sameunit, or several machines can be used together and connected by conveyors tomove work from place to place. This flexible manufacturing system is used inautomobile factories and has had a major impact in the automotive industry,particularly in the 1980s and 1990s.
The scope of Lemelson's creativity is enormous. He received his first patentin 1955 and continued to invent and develop new patents at the rate of one amonth for the next twenty years. Only Thomas Edison and Edwin H. Land held more patents than the five hundred that Lemelson retains today. Unlike other inventors who create prototypes and establish companies to build and market their inventions, Lemelson is a "professional inventor," living off the royalties he earns from licensing the ideas themselves. Lemelson constantly looks fornew problems to solve, either from outside sources, or from magazine and newspaper articles. A lawyer who worked for Lemelson states that even while vacationing in Hawaii, Lemelson remained on the balcony of his hotel room jottingeighty or ninety pages of notes while his wife enjoyed the beach.
In 1992, Lemelson received a 100 million dollar settlement from a group of Japanese auto makers who had failed to pay him fees for his patents over the years. He is currently seeking about 300 million dollars from American automobile companies General Motors, Ford and Chrysler for infringement of the same patents. Lemelson recently moved from the east coast to a home in the mountains outside Reno, Nevada.