Flash of Fresh Air

© litton51@hotmail.com

Currently playing is “Flash of Genius,” the story Robert Kearns, who invented the car intermittent windshield wiper. Kearns’ invention was stolen by Ford Motor Company, which launched a long fight by Kearns to not only be paid for his invention, but to be given credit for it as well.

There is a similar story, that of my dad, Robert Sherman. My dad invented and patented the portable, in-room climate control device – one that cooled or heated, humidified or dehumidified, and filtered the air. He filed for a patent on February 13, 1945, and on January 6, 1948, was granted US patent # 2,433,960 (last listed in “Key U.S. Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Patents,” January, 2004).

My dad had graduated from Tufts with a degree in mechanical engineering in 1935. It took him five years because my grandfather required that my dad work a full eight hours, five days a week, at the family grocery store. When Dad graduated he was soon hired by one of the country’s largest engineering and manufacturing companies whose initials rhyme with “DT.” Dad worked for DT through the 30s and through World War II. One of his many projects was the development of the first U.S. jet engine at DT. When WW II broke out, he tried to join the Navy. Three times. Each time he was told, “We need you at DT a lot more than on a ship.” DT thought so highly of Dad that they sent him to MIT to complete a course in naval architecture. Once he graduated, DT assigned him to projects relating to the design and construction of Navy ships.

During the 40s Dad was also spending all his free time on his invention – one he felt sure would be a commercial success. As noted, he filed for his patent early in 1945.

In 1948 my Dad’s patent was granted. DT immediately took an interest despite my Dad having worked on it solely on his own time. Dad had not signed an agreement upon being hired that any work he did on his own would become the property of DT. My Dad said “no” to DT. Soon thereafter, as my mother related to me years later, he was called into his boss’ office and told, “The war’s over. We don’t need Jews anymore” and was fired. DT then started using Dad’s patent in its growing line of air conditioning products, which had entered the market in 1947. My Dad hired a lawyer and sued DT, to which DT replied, “Sue us and we’ll break you.” My mom and dad talked it over and reluctantly dropped the suit against the background of having one three-year-old and another on the way and no job. My dad went back to work at his father’s grocery store. For good measure (again, as related to me by both my mom and aunt), DT poisoned the well for my dad and was never again able to work as an engineer. Yet he was never bitter or angry. He was a wonderful father to me and my kid brother, and a great husband to my mom. Every night when he came home from the store, tired from a long day of work, he’d first pick-up my brother and me and give us big hugs. Then he and my mom would kiss tenderly.

My dad died in 1962, when I was just 15. He never received any credit for an invention that helped change the world. His useless patent had expired in 1960. To say that his invention is key in the comfortable contemporary life we enjoy is an understatement. I take-away several lessons. When you’re dealt a great blow, pick yourself up and go on. Self-pity is one of the worst wastes of energy and time. Do the right thing. See to your family.

I miss you, Dad. Thanks for being a great father and role model.

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