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Electrical Resistor and Variable Resistor

Boykin African-American inventor Otis F. Boykin's work on improved electrical resistors made possible the steady workings of a variety of now-ubiquitous electronic devices. Variations of his resistor models are used around the world today in televisions, computers and radios. Most notably, however, his work enabled control functions for the first successful, implantable pacemaker.

Boykin was born in Dallas, Texas, on August 29, 1920 to parents of modest means. His mother was a homemaker and his father was a carpenter. He graduated from Fisk University in 1941 and got a job as a laboratory assistant, testing automatic aircraft controls. In 1944 he moved on to work for the P.J. Nilsen Research Labs in Illinois. Shortly thereafter, he started his own company, Boykin-Fruth Inc.

For two years, from 1946 to 1947, Boykin pursued graduate studies at the Illinois Institute of Technology, but unfortunately, he had to drop out when his family could no longer afford to pay tuition. Undeterred, Boykin began working hard on inventions of his own, with a special interest in the emerging field of electronics.

Boykin, while working as a consultant in Chicago, came up with several variations on the resistors that were commercially successful. A resistor is a crucial electronics component that impedes the flow of electrical current. Normally a resistor is designed to have a specific amount of resistance, depending on the type of task or device it is designated for. Typically, a resistor's value is denoted by tiny, colored bands for identification.

Boykin earned his first patent in 1959 for a wire precision resistor, which allowed for the designation of a precise amount of resistance for a specific purpose. This was followed by his 1961 patent for an electrical resistor that was inexpensive and easy to produce. Additionally, according to U.S. patent No. 2,972,726, this resistor had the ability to ìwithstand extreme accelerations and shocks and great temperature changes without danger of breakage of the fine resistance wire or other detrimental effects.î

The advances incorporated into Boykin's resistor meant many electronic devices could be made more cheaply, including consumer goods and military equipment, and with greater reliability than provided by earlier options. His resistor was quickly incorporated into a number of products, including guided missiles and IBM computers, in the United States and overseas. In addition, a version of his resistor made possible the precise regulation necessary for the success of the pacemaker, which has helped to save and lengthen the lives of thousands of men and women around the world.

Boykin's achievements lead him to work as a consultant in the United States and in Paris from 1964 to 1982. Meanwhile, he continued working on resistors until the end of his life. He created an electrical capacitor in 1965, and an electrical resistance capacitor in 1967, as well as a number of electrical resistance elements. He is also known to have created a range of consumer innovations including a burglar-proof cash register and a chemical air filter.

Boykin died of heart failure in Chicago in 1982. Over the course of his career he earned 11 patents total, his first issued in 1959, his last in 1985.

[September 2005]

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