Akron native Stanford R. Ovshinsky began his quest through life performing odd jobs and working as a machinist to support his family during The Great Depression. “I don’t know what was so great about it,” Ovshinsky, now 84 years old, jokes as he reflects on the period in the early 20th century.
Building and fixing machines soon became Ovshinsky’s passion. He wanted to learn the chemistry and physics that made them run. Although he never attended college, Ovshinsky felt he could learn more studying in Akron’s libraries. “I felt my own self-education was more than I could get from any school,” Ovshinsky says.
He relocated to Detroit in the 1940s to sell his first invention, an automated lathe. In 1960, he and his wife, Iris, who had a doctorate in biochemistry from Boston University, started Energy Conversion Devices Inc. Ovshinsky says they started the Michigan-based alternative energy company to help “save the planet” and “solve serious societal problems.”
During his formative years at ECD, Ovshinsky created the rechargeable nickel-metal hydride battery, often called the NiMH battery. The battery helped lay the groundwork for today’s hybrid gasoline-and-electric vehicles, and now is used in computers, cell phones, digital cameras and other portable electronics.
The invention of the NiMH battery and other achievements, including the acquisition of more than 350 patents, came to fruition when Time magazine named Ovshinsky “A Hero for the Planet” in 1999. He has written hundreds of articles published in scholarly journals, and The Economist called him “the Edison of our age.”
But all Ovshinsky’s achievements have not yet landed him a spot in the National Inventors Hall of Fame, located in his hometown. “I think they pay little attention to someone from Akron,” Ovshinsky explains. “I hold no sore feelings about it. I didn’t do the work to become a rich man or famous. I did it because I believed in science.”