Could one person have been responsible for inventing the nickel metal hydride battery, which is the power source for hybrid cars, laptop computers, tablets and cell-phones?
Could that same man have overseen the creation of paper thin solar panels to convert the sun’s rays into energy even on cloudy days?
And could that man have also created what the dictionary now calls “ovonics,” which have led to such modern day conveniences as the flat-screen television?
The answer is yes, and that man is Stan Ovshinsky.
Born on November 24th, 1922 in Akron, Ohio, to Bertha and Benjamin Ovshinsky, his father was a Lithuanian immigrant, an actor in Yiddish theater before focusing on the scrap metal business. As a child, Stan would join his father in visiting machine shops and foundries and became fascinated by the mechanical possibilities he saw.
But Stan was a lousy student and he was glad just to graduate from high school in 1941.
He began working as a lathe operator while still in high school and his real education came from an Akron public library, where with his seemingly endless curiosity, he absorbed a wide array of subjects, reading book after book, as he educated himself.
Stan later worked as a toolmaker, and he married his childhood sweetheart, Norma Rifkin. Over the years, he and Norma had three sons, but their marriage ended in divorce.
In 1959, Stan married Iris Miroy and they were married for 47 years until her death in 2006. Subsequently he married Dr. Rosa Young.
In 1960, Stan and Iris founded Energy Conversion Devices, where he was an avid inventor until retiring at the age of 85 in 2007. The firm’s investors included Canon, Chevron, General Motors, Intel, Texaco and 3M as collectively these companies invested many millions of dollars.
But for 35 years in a row Stan’s and Iris’s company lost money, as Stan was impractical in his creative process. Yet many of Stan’s inventions were so remarkable, that the firm stayed afloat not only from investors but by selling rights to patents and from collecting royalties.
“A real inventor,” Stan told the Detroit Free Press in 2008, “Is not motivated by money. It’s about the idea and the creation.”
Even in retirement, Stan kept inventing. Late in life Stan was working on an environmental project to make electricity from sunlight cheaper than making it from coal. But at age 89, on October 17th, 2012 Stan passed away from prostate cancer in his Bloomfield Hills, Mich. home.
He is survived by his three sons, four step-children, six grandchildren and step-grandchildren and by a brother, as well as by his wife, Dr. Rosa Young. But Stan is also survived by literally billions of people all over the world using products that his inventions helped to create.
Stan Ovshinsky was never a household name yet the importance of his work is often compared to that of Albert Einstein and Thomas Edison. Still, throughout his career there were always skeptics who claimed his inventions would fail, that is until many of those inventions succeeded and began to change the world.
But it was not fame Stan was seeking. Instead it was to use his talents to benefit mankind and in living each day doing what he loved. By that measurement he succeeded grandly.