James L. Fergason

From Ohio History Central

James L. Fergason was born on January 12, 1934, in Wakenda, Missouri. He graduated from the University of Missouri and accepted a position with Westinghouse Research Laboratories in Pennsylvania, where he worked on liquid crystals and their possible uses. He left this position during the mid 1960s and became the associate director of the Liquid Crystal Institute of Kent State University, in Kent, Ohio. While working in this position, Fergason developed an improved liquid crystal display (LCD). Liquid crystal displays are commonly found in digital watches, calculators, and numerous other types of electronic devices.

An Austrian botanist, Frederich Reinitzer discovered liquid crystals in 1888, but it was not until 1968 that an inventor found use for these crystals. George Heilmeier created a liquid crystal display screen in 1968. Unfortunately, Heilmeier's invention required too much power to operate and failed to be durable enough for practical use. In 1969, Fergason developed his own liquid crystal display, using, what he termed, a "twisted nematic field effect." Fergason received a patent for his invention on December 14, 1971. In 1970 Fergason left Kent State University and formed the International Liquid Crystal Company. Fergason's company used his invention to create the first liquid crystal display watch in history.

Fergason eventually left the International Liquid Crystal Company and began to work as an independent inventor. In the late 1990s, he rejoined the International Liquid Crystal Company, now known as Ilixco, Inc, as the firm's chief scientist. Fergason has received over one hundred patents for his various inventions, however the practical LCD has been his most famous and important one. Because of the LCD, the National Inventors Hall of Fame, located in Akron, Ohio, inducted Fergason in 1998. In 2006, Fergason also received a 500,000 dollar award from the MIT-Lemelson Program for his LCD research.

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