26: Inventors I've Known

Starting with Inventor #23

I was Ralph Lauren’s in-house photographer from 2000 to 2007. There was a lot to love about that job, but it wasn’t really the kind of photography I dreamed of doing when I moved to New York. So after seven years, I quit to pursue work that tells stories and doesn’t just sell products.

The problem was, I had a nice portfolio of work from my Ralph Lauren years that didn’t quite represent the work I was now seeking.

This is a smattering of the kind of work I did at Ralph Lauren. I was mostly shooting interiors and products for various uses, not shooting the national ads. Those were shot by photographers much more famous than me.

I needed a refresh. And to do that, I followed a bit of advice that I think all creative professionals heard early in their careers: self-assign the kind of work you want to get assigned. For me, that meant interesting portraits of interesting people.

But that’s a very broad category. I needed a focus. I loved stories of invention, and so I picked “inventors” as my new photo project.

I started small, visiting a local inventors club on Long Island and asking for volunteers.

After I had done a handful of shoots, I showed some of the photos to a photo editor along with a bit of accompanying text from each inventor. He asked me, “Where is this text from?” I told him they’re quotes from short interviews I did. He said, “If you’re interviewing these people anyway, you should really be filming your interviews.”

And a lightbulb went off. Digital cameras were just starting to shoot good video, and this seemed like a perfect opportunity to get my feet wet with video production, which had long been on my radar.

Over the next several years, I did photo and video shoots with garage tinkerers, Nobel Prize winners, National Medal of Technology recipients, entrepreneurs, and members of the Inventors Hall of Fame. Several of the videos I made went viral, and eventually I packaged 20 episodes together as one of the first YouTube series for PBS Digital Studios.

I never formally stopped the project, but as life and other work intervened, I paused it after shooting the 47th inventor in the series in 2014.

The Instagram Posts

About a year and a half ago, I decided to post every single one of the inventors on Instagram under the hashtag #47inventors. I would go in order, posting one a week, usually with a story about the shoot or person and additional photos of their invention. But I lost steam partway through, only making it to Inventor 22 out of 47.

Some highlights of the 22 inventor portraits I shared on Instagram include Art Fry, co-inventor of Post-It Notes:

…and Douglas Engelbart, inventor of the computer mouse:

…plus some people you’ve never heard of, like Jerry Ford, a horse farmer who invented an improvement for wheelchairs:

…and Tony Pagoto, a software engineer who worked on the lunar module software for the Apollo 11 moon landing, then in retirement invented a computer cable management system:

…and Pam Turner, who invented an easy-to-thread sewing needle:

…and Todd Basche, who at Apple came up with the idea of bundling iTunes, iMovie, GarageBand and a few other apps as the iLife Suite, and then later invented those padlocks that use letters instead of numbers:

…and John Falko, a farrier who invented products that can help horseshoers work longer without hurting their backs:

…and so on. You can visit my Instagram account if you want to see more of the first 22 inventors.

I kept meaning to finish posting the series on Instagram, and it’s been hanging over my head for a year now. In fact, I haven’t posted anything else to Instagram since then because of the guilt over leaving it unfinished.

But I barely have time to write this newsletter. How can I find time to go back and continue posting to Instagram? Then I realized: maybe I can kill two birds with one stone.

So during weeks when I don’t have quite as much to say in the newsletter, I’ll use the bottom of the newsletter space to write about the next inventor, and then I can post the same content on Instagram!

Don’t worry, though. I don’t want this newsletter to just be rehashing my old inventor series, so I probably won’t do it every week. But let’s try it now and see how it goes:

Inventor #23: Tami Galt And Her Collapsible Wagon

The history of the foldable wagon can perhaps be traced back to foldable strollers, which emerged around the early 20th century. But apparently it wasn’t until the end of the 20th century that wagons were developed with similar collapsible mechanisms.

Like many inventions, there were a few people who developed similar ideas around the same time. Tami Galt was one of those people. She hated those wire carts that people used to haul their groceries home (people in cities know what I’m talking about) and wanted another option.

She had this in her notebook of ideas and it sat there for a while until one day she’d had enough of her day job and decided to pursue a patent for her invention.

Here’s a cheesy photo of Tami and her kids, Cameron and Powell:

But this is the photo that was my favorite from the shoot:

I guess when you’re in the wagon business, you accumulate wagon tchotchkes. Tami had these vintage “on the wagon” coasters in her home:

Here’s a cute little video I made with Tami telling her story. This was 11 years ago, and I cringe a little at some of my old videos, but it’s a sweet little story and it shows nicely how the wagon works:

That’s it for this week. Thanks for reading, and as always if you like what you see please tell a friend. See you next week!

David