Jerome L. Murray, an inventor who touched people’s lives by conceiving such items as the electric carving knife, the audible pressure cooker, the airplane boarding ramp and a pump that made open-heart surgery possible, died Jan. 7. He was 85.
Murray, who was born in New York City and lived most of his life there until he moved to New Jersey in 1985, died in the Northwest Medical Center in Dover, N.J., after a short illness.
He held 75 domestic and foreign patents. The invention that he believed was his most important was the medical pump, because it saved lives.
He donated the device to Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore after the money for developing it had been depleted.
It is called a peristaltic pump, moving fluids in a wavelike motion of contractions and expansions similar to the way that peristalsis moves the contents of the digestive tract. The pump was the first device capable of pumping blood without damaging cells, which was a breakthrough for open-heart surgery.
The pump’s uses now range from kidney dialysis to food processing, such as assembly-line injection of vegetable soup into cans without crushing the peas and carrots.
Inventors work by inspiration, Murray once said, a skill that cannot be taught.
“I’ve never seen courses in the art of inventing,” he said. “Science and marketing can be learned, but inspiration comes from within.”
Most of his ideas, he said, came from observation and trying to find a better way.
His idea for airplane boarding ramps came from watching people at Miami International Airport in 1951 descend stairs into rain and walk to the terminal. Those requiring wheelchairs were removed by forklift.
His invention, a covered walkway between the plane and terminal, is now in airports all over the world.
He also saw no sense in inventing something that could not be sold.
One of his first ideas that sold came when he was 15 years old. He was paid for inventing a windmill that powered a generator for Crosby Radio, a radio manufacturer. The device was sold to farmers in remote areas who had no electricity, so they could power their radios.
After earning a degree in aeronautical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, he worked for an aircraft hydraulics company in Cleveland, where he received a dollar bill for each of the 16 inventions he devised.
Murray served as a test pilot during World War II. After the war he established his own company, Murwood Laboratories, with an office in New York City.
There he invented the television antenna rotator, the power automotive seat, a high-speed dental drill, a device that automatically closes the top of a convertible, and the audible pressure cooker, which whistles when the food is ready.
Murray said he always looked for a gimmick and a short cut that would do the job cheaply.
The television antenna rotator came to him when he discovered that when he went to the roof and turned the antenna he got a better picture.
Instead of climbing the roof each time he changed channels he attached two strings to the antenna and pulled them from his window. From that came the rotator, which generated nearly $40 million in sales over several decades.
In the mid-1980s he moved to Mount Olive, N.J., a western suburb of New York; there he tinkered on a fuel-efficient four-cylinder internal combustion engine called the Rotorcam. He spent $250,000 of his own money. He formed Murray United Development Corp., which he took public to get the money to complete the project. The engine has not been put to commercial use.
Even in recent years he went every day to his office, where he continued to work on new ideas.
When asked whether inventors should be well educated, Murray said some of the greatest inventors, such as Thomas A. Edison and Henry Ford, came from “a one-room schoolhouse.”
“The Wright brothers had the same education,” he said in a 1991 interview. “They were considered a couple of nuts with a bicycle factory in Dayton, Ohio. Yet they invented all the aerodynamics of basic flight.”
Murray joined their ranks when he was inducted in the New Jersey Inventors Hall of Fame in 1991 at the New Jersey Institute of Technology in Newark.
He is survived by his wife, Frances Gardiner.
Nick Anderson/Houston Chronicle
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