Back to the Future for Long Island Innovation

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Known as “Mr. Long Island”, Arthur Roth played a key role in the development of Long Island banking from 1926 through the 1970s. (He) started as a messenger at the Manufacturers Hanover Trust Company at age 17 and during his tenure Franklin National Bank became the 18th largest bank in the United States. Under Roth’s leadership, Franklin National Bank was the first bank to issue credit cards, as well as the first to offer drive-in teller services.

We often speak about Long Island’s future being tied to entrepreneurialism and innovation, but the fact is both are a vital part of the region’s past.

Several great innovators did some of their best work while living on Long Island. What follows is a comprehensive list of such people, and the research begs the question: If you had a Mount Rushmore for Long Island, what four Long Islanders would be included? The most obvious answers are: Leroy Grumman, Teddy Roosevelt (he WAS president while living here) and Robert Moses (he spent most of his adult life living in Babylon Village). After that it gets a little tricky. William Levitt, for instance, was from Brooklyn – which is technically a part of Long Island. And what about Arthur Roth, the original “Mr. Long Island?”

Great Long Islanders Worth Celebrating for their Innovations and Entrepreneurialism

• Teddy Roosevelt – His Oyster Bay Cove home was used as the Summer White House during his Presidency
• Leroy Grumman – Grumman convinced co-workers Jake Swirbul and William Schwendler to form their own company. Grumman mortgaged his house for $16,950 and Swirbul’s mother borrowed $6,000 from her employers to help set up Grumman Aeronautical Engineering Co. The co-founders were soon joined by Ed Poor, Grover Loening’s business manager, and E. Clinton Towl, who had recently come from Wall Street. These five men would form the company’s inner circle of management for the next 50 years.
• Robert Moses – Jones Beach, State Park System
• Arthur Roth – Known as “Mr. Long Island”, Arthur Roth played a key role in the development of Long Island banking from 1926 through the 1970s. Roth started as a messenger at the Manufacturers Hanover Trust Company at age 17 and rose quickly through the ranks. He began his career at Franklin National Bank in 1934 as a cashier and worked his way up to become the chief executive in 1946. During his tenure, Franklin National Bank became the 18th largest bank in the United States. Under Roth’s leadership, Franklin National Bank was the first bank to issue credit cards, as well as the first to offer drive-in teller services.

Dr. Raymond Damadian – a physician and inventor, designed, self-tested and patented the world’s first magnetic resonance imaging device, an MRI.
• Fred Waller – The first patent for water skis was issued to Fred Waller, of Huntington, NY, on 27 October 1925, for skis he developed and marketed as “Dolphin Akwa-Skees.” Waller’s skis were constructed of kiln-dried mahogany, as were some boats at that time. In 1948 he also developed the wide-screen movie format known as Cinerama.
• Nicolai Tesla – By 2012, Wardenclyffe, Tesla’s historic lab site in Shoreham, was at risk of being sold to developers. A successful crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo, in collaboration with the popular comic website The Oatmeal, helped the Tesla Science Center raise more than a million dollars to finally save the lab. On Tesla’s 158th birthday, the organization announced that billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk, who named his electric car company after Tesla, has pledged $1 million to the creation of the museum. A Tesla statue, dedicated last year by the president of Serbia, faces the street, and there is a row of shiny new flagpoles. Enough vegetation and debris has been cleared that the red brick lab is finally visible from the fence.
o Tesla’s pioneering work on alternating current made possible the electrical systems that power everything from laptops to streetlights today, but the inventor died without wealth and wide recognition. Today, however, Tesla’s popularity has surged. More than 70 years after his death, the genius inventor gets name-checked by Elon Musk and Kanye West alike.
o The Tesla Science Center would like to restore it to its original condition, with two large rooms with soaring ceilings and a gallery space at the top. They’ll eventually tear down a white, windowless warehouse attached to the lab, and other buildings that were added later. The group also intends to build replicas and models of Tesla’s inventions, and perhaps even a scaled-down version of the tower, as well as some kind of workshop in the spirit of Tesla.
• Charles Dolan – In the early 1960s, Dolan established Teleguide Inc., which provided information services via cable to New York City hotels. That same decade, he founded Sterling Manhattan Cable, the first urban cable television company in the nation. In its early years, Sterling forged first-of-its-kind agreements to bring New York professional sports teams, cultural programming and movies into the homes of New York City cable viewers. In the early 1970s, Dolan founded Home Box Office, the first premium programming service in the cable television industry, which he sold to Time Life. Later he organized Cablevision Systems Corporation on Long Island and has spearheaded many of the company’s advancements.
• Isidor Leviton – Leviton Manufacturing Company, Inc., is the largest privately held manufacturer of electrical wiring equipment in North America. It produces electrical light sockets, receptacles (switches & outlets), dimmers and other lighting control systems, wire, power cables, power cords, wall and ceiling occupancy sensors, wall plates, datacom, and other electrical products. Leviton is most famous for its Decora wall switch, the flat low profile form factor which replaced the standard toggle switch in many homes and office. The company was founded in 1906 by Isidor Leviton. He began by manufacturing brass mantle tips for the natural gas lighting infrastructure in Manhattan, selling mantle tips on a pushcart on the Bowery on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. He also designed a screw-in lampholder for Thomas Edison’s electric lamp in 1910, and within ten years the lampholders were being used in nearly every apartment in New York.
• Gerson Strassberg – A competing claim for the invention of the pocket protector came from Long Island plastics magnate Gerson Strassberg around 1952. Strassberg was working on plastic sleeves for bankbooks. One day he placed one that he was working on into his shirt pocket while he took a phone call. When he noticed it there, he realized it would make a great product
• Oliver Perry Robinson – In 1866 he was working in his Bellport woodshop when he discovered the principle of ball bearings.
• Jerome Swartz – founder of Symbol Technologies in Holtsville, developed and introduced the first hand-held laser bar-code scanner in 1980.
• Guglielmo Marconi – established a branch of his wireless telegraph company in Babylon in 1901 and sent the first wireless message from there to Fire Island.
• David Pall – founder of the Glen Cove corporation that bears his name, developed specialized filtration products and holds more than 110 patents. Pall developed porous stainless steel while working on the Manhattan Project. After the war he took these durable metal filters to the aerospace industry in 1946.
• Melvin Arnold of Wyandanch – received a patent in 1997 for a device that pops bubble-wrap shipping cushions.
• Dean Kamen – This Rockville Centre native unveiled the Segway Human Transporter, a scooter for the disabled in 2001. His other inventions include a wearable infusion pump for precision-dosing of medication.
• Brian Glover – Port Jefferson native created an electronic bubble machine used at rock concerts, Universal Studios and Disney World. He also developed Drink Safe Technology drink coasters, unveiled in 2002. The coasters detect the presence of common date-rape drugs from droplets left on the coaster.