Born in Staten Island, NY, on July 18, 1923, Jerome Lemelson was the oldest of three brothers. Their father, a physician trained at Columbia University School of Medicine, was a second-generation American of Austrian Jewish descent.
Jerome—known as Jerry to his family and friends—showed an early fascination with technology, particularly with airplanes. It was the age of aviation, and he and his brother Howard, two years younger, were avid hobbyists.
After high school, he enrolled at New York University, but his college years were interrupted by World War II and service in the Army Air Corps engineering department. Lemelson subsequently returned to New York University and completed his studies, graduating in 1951 with a bachelor's degree in aeronautical engineering and two master's degrees: one in aeronautical and the other in industrial engineering
While still in graduate school, Jerry Lemelson worked for the Office of Naval Research on Project Squid, a postwar effort to develop pulse jet and rocket engines. After graduation, he took a job designing guided missiles at Republic Aviation in New York.
In 1951, Jerry Lemelson observed a demonstration of an automatic, punch-card-controlled metal lathe at the Arma factory in Brooklyn. Struck by the possibilities of automated industrial machines, he set to work developing plans for a universal robot that could measure, weld, rivet, transport, and even inspect for quality control.
In 1961, Texas Instruments bought rights to his system for manufacturing integrated circuits; in 1964, he negotiated an exclusive license for his automated warehousing system with the Triax Company of Cleveland, OH; and in 1967, he licensed his flexible manufacturing system to Molins, a British firm.
In 1974, he licensed his audio cassette drive mechanism to Sony Corporation, who in turn sublicensed it to more than a hundred other firms in Japan and other parts of Asia. It was the basis for the Sony Walkman, one of the best-selling electronic products of its time. In 1981, he licensed about 20 patents for word-processing and data-processing technologies to IBM Corporation.
In 1993, he established the Lemelson Foundation and launched the Lemelson National Program in Invention, Innovation, and Creativity with his wife and sons.
the Lemelsons gave more than $10 million to the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History in 1995. The diverse activities of the Jerome and Dorothy Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation at the Smithsonian include public programs, conferences and symposia on themes of invention and innovation, exhibitions and publications, oral and video histories, archival resources for inventors and scholars, and a national database of inventors' records held by historical repositories.more » « less