Article written

  • on 03.02.2010
  • at 03:33 PM
  • by The Q

Quincy’s History of Successful Inventors 0


Quincy has long been known as the “Gem City” and an “All-American City,” but it could also be known as a city of great inventors.

Old, established companies such as Gardner-Denver, Quincy Compressor, Harris Broadcast, Motorola and Learjet, were each started by Quincy inventors. Quincy’s long history of producing successful inventors began in 1859, when Robert Gardner invented a “fly-ball” governor for use in steam engines.

Back then, there were only thirty-three states and the country was only two years away from the Civil War. The company that started 144 years ago with the Gardner governor has survived five wars and the Great Depression and now does more than $400 million in annual sales with its line of compressors, blowers and pumps.

In 1887, Captain Tom Baldwin was competing against the Wright Brothers to build the first manned airplane. Even though the 27-year-old Baldwin lost that race to the Brothers Orville and Wilbur, he did invent the world’s first folding parachute.

On Independence Day in 1887, he used that parachute to jump from a hot air balloon which he named “City of Quincy.” He landed at 30th and Maine, the present site of Baldwin School. Known as the “father of the modern parachute,” Baldwin later designed the Navy’s first dirigible as well as his own airplane, the Red Devil.

A few other interesting facts about “Captain” Tom Baldwin …

  • He was orphaned at the age of ten.
  • He wasn’t really a captain but received that title from … himself. He was actually a major in the army.
  • He was assigned pilot’s license #7(Glenn Curtiss was assigned #1).
  • He and his brother never patented their parachute because “they didn’t think it would catch on with others.”

Quincy Compressor was founded in 1920 at 2nd and Maine by George Gille, John Kathe and George Wall after they had designed a new vacuum pump for their current employer. When their employer rejected it, they started their own company and named it the Wall Pump and Compressor Company. It became known as Quincy Compressor in 1924. Today the company sells its air compressors, pumps and climate control systems all over the world and continues to grow, 83 years after its inception. What happened to the company that rejected the three founders’ first product? That was Gardner-Denver!

Parker Gates, William Lear and Elmer Wavering were all pioneers in the electronics industry. Gates’s father quit his secure job at the above-mentioned Wall Pump and Compressor Company (before it became known as Quincy Compressor) in 1922 to go into business full-time with him when Parker was just fourteen. Parker’s early inventions included a sound machine that was used in movie houses all over the country, along with the first transcription turntable in 1929. He later invented a remote amplifier which enabled radio stations to broadcast events live from outside the station, and in 1933 he invented a smaller version of the microphone as well as the first radio station master console and the first radio broadcasting transmitter.

The Gates Radio Company began producing television broadcasting equipment and transmission towers in the 1950’s. Gates Radio was later bought out by what is now Harris Broadcast in 1957 and Parker Gates stayed on to serve as president. Today nearly half of all radio stations and two thirds of all TV stations use equipment made by Harris.

One of Gates’ friends was William Lear. Lear was born in Hannibal in 1902; he lived in Chicago until the eighth grade and moved to Quincy when he was twenty. He and his friend Elmer Wavering co-invented the first practical car radio in 1922. To promote their car radio, the two inventors attended a major automotive trade show in Chicago and, unable to afford a booth, they parked their car near the entrance of the trade show and cranked up the volume on their radio.

Nearly everyone who attended the trade show heard the car radio, and Lear and Wavering wrote up more orders that day than either of them could have imagined. They sold the rights of their car radio to Motorola two years later, and it became Motorola’s first major product. Motorola, which once employed as many as 3,500 people, left Quincy in 1976.

Lear formed Learjet in 1962, and it has since become the world’s premier supplier of corporate jets. He also designed the eight-track tape player in the 1960’s. Altogether, he earned more than 100 patents in the audio, automotive and aircraft industries from 1930 to the 1960’s.

Each of these inventors accomplished what only 2% of all inventors do – they profited from their inventions. That’s right – 98% of all new inventions fail to produce a profit, yet these Quincy inventors succeeded to the point that the companies they started with a single invention are now known all over the world.

Our journey into Quincy’s long history of successful inventors began in 1859, but the subject of invention doesn’t end here.

# # #

Paul Niemann writes a syndicated newspaper column and runs, building web sites for inventors. He can be reached at or at 224-8194.

© 2010 Paul Niemann

subscribe to comments RSS

There are no comments for this post

Please, feel free to post your own comment

* these are required fields

Quincy IL Magazine – The Q is powered by WordPress and FREEmium Theme.
developed by Dariusz Siedlecki and brought to you by