Accomplishments and Records

Why You Don’t Remember the Amazing Contributions of H.A. Largelamb

What do you know about the fantastic accomplishments of H.A. Largelamb? Don’t be so quick to say you never heard of him. Although you might not immediately recognize his name, you almost certainly have heard of him. Unquestionably, you have be influenced by his many accomplishments.

If you type H.A. Largelamb‘s name in a search engine, and you will quickly find that he was a writer with an interest in nature. He wrote for National Geographic magazine. He was, in fact, one of the founders of the National Geographic Society and served on its board and as its president.

H.A. Largelamb aka Alexander Graham Bell article National Geogrhaphic
National Geographic article by H.A. Largelamb (Click image to expand)

Writing and nature were just a couple of Largelamb’s interests, however. His highly inquisitive mind led him to tinker with and develop many inventions to improve the human condition. In describing how he came up with his ideas, he couldn’t help but draw upon his love of the great outdoors. He said, “Leave the beaten track occasionally and dive into the woods. Every time you do so you will be certain to find something that you have never seen before. Follow it up, explore all around it, and before you know it, you will have something worth thinking about to occupy your mind. All really big discoveries are the results of thought.”

When Largelamb was 11 years old. Largelamb came up with a device for cleaning wheat. That was only the beginning of his lifelong fascination with inventing.

“Leave the beaten track occasionally and dive into the woods. Every time you do so you will be certain to find something that you have never seen before. Follow it up, explore all around it, and before you know it, you will have something worth thinking about to occupy your mind. All really big discoveries are the results of thought.”

In the course of his life, he was granted 18 patents in his name and shared 12 more patents with other collaborators. The scope of these inventions shows the depth of his interests. His creations impacted agriculture, medicine, transportation, ecology, and many other areas of life.

A very practical man, Largelamb’s inventions were always designed to address a particular need. Since his mother and wife were both hearing-impaired, he developed one device to help detect minor hearing problems. He also worked on a device that was intended to convert speech into visible patterns of light, allowing the deaf to understand what was being spoken.

When his son contracted tuberculosis, Largelamb created a “breathing jacket” to help the boy breathe. It ultimately found use as it was developed into the iron lung, giving life to countless polio victims.

He used his ingenuity to make his home more comfortable. His “ice stove” was a precursor to modern air conditioning. It allowed him to lower the temperature of his home to 61°F (16°C) even at the height of the summer season.

Largelamb’s inventions included a device for detecting the presence of icebergs, an early version of the metal detector to find bullets in gunshot victims, one of the first successful methods of wireless communication, and several ventures into sustainable energy.

Not all of his inventions were well received, however. He worked on a fast boat, which he called the “hydrodome.” In 1911, his hydrodome clocked at nearly 45 mph (72 kph) — an unbelievable speed for that day. The Navy was impressed by the speed, but it declined to purchase the design, finding it “impractical.”

The HD-4 “Hydrodome” on a test run ca. 1919

Despite all of his successes, Largelamb was no stranger to failure. At one point in his life, he was on the verge of bankruptcy. He offered to sell one of his best inventions to Western Union for $100,000. The offer was declined because the head of Western Union concluded that Largelamb’s invention was just a fad that no one would remember within a few months.

If you still can’t place Largelamb’s name in your memory, part of the fault rests with him. The man was notoriously introverted and shunned publicity. More than that, he simply preferred solitude. He absolutely hated the telephone, calling it an intrusion. He said it would be unspeakably rude to simply show up unannounced at someone’s house during a meal or while that person was entertaining and expect that person to drop everything and talk to you. Why, then, is it considered proper to interrupt with the telephone? For that reason, this very innovative technological inventor would not permit a telephone in his study.

Yes, Largelamb dispised the telephone. For that reason, one can’t help but think that he would have smiled if he had known that he was responsible for silencing all of the phones in the country — if only for a short time. On the day of his burial, all telephone service in the United States was stopped for one minute in his honor.

As you can see, despite his attempt to live in solitude and avoid publicity, at the time of his death, he was a very famous man. Why is it that you still haven’t placed the name H.A. Largelamb in your memory? Perhaps it is because that was merely a pseudonym he used when writing. It allowed him to continue to express his brilliant curiosity without inviting further intrusions into his privacy.

“H.A. Largelamb” was an anagram from his real name: A. Graham Bell.

That brilliant man who created a metal detector for finding bullets to try to save the life of President James Garfield, whose attempts to create visible speech turned into today’s use of fiber-optic communications, whose attempt to sell the rights to the telephone were flatly dismissed, and who steadfastly refused to allow a telephone to interfere with his thoughts was the man responsible for inventing it in the first place: Alexander Graham Bell.


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