Have you ever heard of Philo T. Farnsworth? What about Lester Wire or Thomas Stockham?
Each of these Mormons have shaped history by inventing devices we now take for granted, including television, the traffic light, and digital sound. And while Mormons by no means have a corner on the invention market, you probably still use many of their inventions today.
Editor’s Note: This is not a comprehensive list. There have been dozens of important inventions by Latter-day Saints throughout the years, but this is merely a sampling of some of the most significant ones.
The concept of an odometer was not new when the Latter-day Saint pioneers began heading west. In fact, different people, including Benjamin Franklin, had been developing their own versions of the odometer for centuries. However, the one invented by Mormon pioneers William Clayton and Appleton Milo Harmon was the first designed for use with wagon trains and is often referred to as the predecessor of the modern odometer.
Clayton, who had been charged with recording data about the journey west, wanted more specific measurements of the distance the wagon trains were going each day, instead of the estimates that had been more commonly used. He started by measuring a wagon wheel and discovered that 360 revolutions were the equivalent of one mile. After counting 4,070 rotations in one day, he consulted with Brother Harmon, who was a carpenter, to develop a machine to do the counting instead. It was more complex than most existing designs, with a series of moving spokes and gears that attached to the wagon wheel.
Thanks to this design, Clayton was able to provide fairly accurate distance measurements of the path the pioneers took. When this data was published as The Latter-day Saints’ Emigrants’ Guide, it was widely used by future pioneers, California-bound 49ers, and others traveling the same path west.
2. DIGITAL SOUND
An Emmy Award winner in 1988 and Grammy winner in 1994 for his work with recording, Thomas Stockham was a pioneer in the digital sound field along with his mentee, Robert B. Ingebretsen, and colleague, Richard B. Warnock. All three were members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Stockham and Ingebretsen received a joint Oscar Award in 1999 for their work in digital audio editing.
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