1998 Lemelson-MIT Lifetime Achievement Award Winner
|Photo courtesy of Jack Rabinow
Entering the engineering field as a Jewish man during the Great
Depression, Jacob Rabinow was advised to seek another career—but
his tenacity and love for inventing drove him to pursue his dreams.
Rabinow was recognized as the 1998 Lemelson-MIT Lifetime Achievement
Award honoree for rising above his obstacles and succeeding in a
life-long career of inventing that benefited a range of industries
Totaling 230 U.S. patents—Rabinow's inventions span many
fields. Among them are the automatic letter-sorting machine for
the U.S. Postal Service; automatic regulation of clocks and watches;
the magnetic particle clutch used in cars and airplanes; straight-line
phonograph; a new type of Venetian blind; optical character recognition
machine; pick-proof lock; and a magnetic memory device (precursor
to the modern hard disk drive).
Rabinow, who was inspired both by the science fiction of Jules
Vernon and the mechanical automation of his father's shoe factory,
began his career with the National Bureau of Standards (today known
as the National Institute of Standards and Technology) in 1938.
During World War II, Rabinow contributed to the development of the
mechanical and safety aspects of the proximity fuse used in bombs,
and improved guided missiles, which proved advantageous for the
United States' front.
In 1954, Rabinow created Rabinow Engineering Company to provide
consulting services. He returned to the National Bureau of Standards
(NIST) in 1972, and officially retired in 1989. Today, his life's
work is on display in the special dedicated Rabinow Room at the
The Russian-born Rabinow emigrated with his family first to China
and, finally, to Brooklyn, NY in 1921. He earned his B.S. in Engineering
(1933) and M.S. in Electrical Engineering (1934) from City College
of New York. Rabinow has received numerous awards, including The
President's Certificate of Merit (1948). In 1990, he published Inventing
for Fun and Profit. Rabinow died in 1999 at the age of 89.
"People are so carried away with their own brilliance that
it is hard for them to believe that the world is filled with equally
brilliant people. One gains tremendous respect for the human race
when one sits in the Patent Office Search Room for a day and looks
through the tremendous variety of ideas on any subject one can possibly
Jacob Rabinow, 1910-1999