His name may not be recognizable to most people, but practically every American looks at his inventions every single day. His Liquid Crystal Displays, or LCDs, are the lights we see in digital alarm clocks, medical imaging devices, computer
displays, and many other consumer electronics.
THE EARLY YEARS
James Fergason was born on a farm about four miles from the small town of Wakenda in 1934, near the Missouri River in north-central Missouri. He attended classes in a one-room schoolhouse with other students ranging from first through eighth grade, where he stayed until the seventh grade when his family moved to Carrollton. The “big city” of Carrollton allowed him more opportunities in a school where he graduated in 1952 with 1,957 other students.
His teenage home was only a short drive from the University of Missouri, where he enrolled in 1952 to study physics. He graduated from Mizzou four years later, accepting a commission as second lieutenant in the U.S. Army. The following Sunday, he took another big step and got married.
RISE TO FAME
His first stop after the army was the Westinghouse Research Laboratories in Pennsylvania. At Westinghouse, he perfected his understanding of liquid crystals, which were still relatively new and practically unknown by most Americans. Once he realized the vast uses of this new technology, his interest grew. It was then he made the move to Kent State University, where he joined the Liquid Crystal Institute in the 1960s.
He took over as the associate director of the program where he uncovered the scientific basis that would be the springboard for all modern LCDs. Prior to his discovery, Liquid Crystal Displays were not practical because they used a significant amount of power for hand-held displays, had a short life span, and were hard to see (somewhat like looking at soap on a mirror). But his discovery of the “twisted nematic field effect” changed the way we view technology.
The LCD was the tool that put Fergason on the inventor’s map, but it was only a springboard for more of his vast discoveries. His LCD technology was the basis for a billion-dollar industry, which has been growing with leaps and bounds since the early 1970s.
He founded the International Crystal Company, which provided the scientific basis for digital watch technology through the efforts of the Bulova Watch Company. After proving to be an effective medium for displays in watches and clocks, LCDs were then more widely used in calculators and computer display screens.
His inventions and fame continued to grow in the 1980s and 1990s. As president of Optical Shields Limited, he took a large number of products to market with the use of his LCD technology. In 2001, Dr. James Fergason founded Fergason Patent Properties to develop more patents, and he continues his efforts to this day, looking for new ways to make life easier for all of us.
*Fergason was inducted into the National Inventor’s Hall of Fame in 1998.
*Fergason has been honored by the Intellectual Property Owners Association, Smithsonian Institute, National Inventors Hall of Fame, and the U.S. Department of Commerce.
*He served on the civilian advisory panel for the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
*The University of Missouri honored him as a Distinguished Alumni and awarded him the honorary degree of doctor of science in 2001.