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New Jersey - Celebrating 350 Years of Innovation

New Jersey Chamber of Commerce / NJBIZ List
New Jersey's All-Time Greatest Innovators

As part of New Jersey's 350th anniversary celebration, we counted down the state's most outstanding innovators. Read all about them below.

The Top 5

No. 1: Albert Einstein, The Genius (1879-1955)

“Imagination is more important than knowledge.” - Einstein

His name is synonymous with genius. His insights into and theories on the workings of the universe took the human mind where it had never been before, and his conclusions so revolutionary, physicists today still marvel at his accomplishments. A modern physicist recently commented that he “still cannot see how Einstein thought of it all.” A contemporary said of Einstein’s work: “A staggering leap forward in human intelligence.” In Time magazine’s review of the 20th Century, Einstein was named the Person of the Century and the greatest mind of the century.

Before Einstein, scientists saw the universe as relatively staid with the precision and predictability of a Swiss watch. After Einstein, scientists recognized the universe for the colorful, chaotic and unpredictable place it is. Much of science’s understanding of the universe is built on the pillars of Einstein’s Theories of Relativity and his Nobel Prize winning work on the photoelectric effect, which in essence discovered the photon.

Einstein carved his reputation while working in Switzerland and he came to the United States to escape the growing Nazi threat in the 1930s. He settled in Princeton and worked at the Advanced Studies Institute for over 20 years. His reputation attracted the greatest minds of the century to New Jersey and cemented Princeton’s place as one of the most vital educational institutions on the planet and an incubator for innovation.


No. 2: Thomas Edison, Celebrity Inventor (1847-1931)

“I start where the last man left off.” – Edison

“There are no rules here. We are trying to accomplish something.” That was Edison’s famous reply when a reporter asked him how he and his associates had achieved over 1,000 patents. He is most known for the inventing the practical electric light bulb, the phonograph and the motion picture camera - three innovations which created new industries, companies and literally millions of new jobs.

Edison also is credited with inventing the fluoroscope (X-rays); kinescope (television recorder); the electronic stock ticker; and a series of enhancements to the first generation of telephones. Because of these successes, Edison became the first “celebrity” businessman much the way Steve Jobs or Bill Gates is recognized today. Edison also is credited with building the first-ever industrial labs in Menlo Park, a slice of Middlesex County now named in his honor. Shortly thereafter, he built labs in West Orange.

We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention that Edison was a founding member of the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce in 1911. In perhaps the greatest homage, hundreds of towns, companies and products today bear Edison’s name.


No. 3: Selman Waksman, The Rutgers Life Saver (1888-1973)

 It’s impossible to estimate how many lives Waksman and his Rutgers students saved. For two decades, they turned their laboratory at Rutgers into an antibiotic creating machine and their work helped conquer once-rampant diseases including tuberculosis, cholera, typhoid fever and bubonic plague. Most notable among these new drugs was streptomycin - the discovery of which earned Waksman a Nobel Prize in 1952. The patent for streptomycin was awarded to Merck and when the drug was still in demand, Merck reassigned the patent back to Rutgers so it could share in the financial rewards. Using proceeds from his Nobel Prize and the profits from streptomycin, Waksman created the Waksman Foundation for Microbiology on Rutgers’ Piscataway campus.


No. 4: John Bardeen (1908-1991),  Walter Brattain (1902-1987), and William Shockley (1910-1989)

Physicist John Bardeen drove home from a day at Bell Labs in 1947, and was asked by his wife what he did at work that day. Bardeen replied, “We invented something.” That was an understatement. What he and colleagues Brattain and Shockley invented was the transistor, a device the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers called “the most important invention of the 20th century.” It made possible the modern electronics we take for granted today. Before the transistor, electronics were powered by vacuum tubes, large glass tubes which were becoming more impractical as the demand for electronic equipment exploded after World War II. The tubes were too large and they were prone to overheat. The transistor made it easier and more efficient to transmit electricity. Bardeen, Brattain and Shockley were awarded a Nobel Prize in physics for their work in 1956.


No. 5  Lyman Spitzer, The Visionary Physicist (1914-1997)

Spitzer, the Director of Princeton University’s Observatory, led a dramatic expansion of its astronomical research. In the 1950’s he conceived of a project that could generate fusion power, the process by which stars generate energy. The work led to the creation of the Princeton Plasma Physics Lab, which  today is one of the world’s most prominent research labs. Spitzer also blazed a pioneering path in astronomy by conceiving of space-based telescopes that allow astronomers to see farther and clearer into the universe than ever before.  His work resulted in NASA’s Hubble Telescope, launched in 1990. In 2003, NASA launched another space-based telescope named in Spitzer’s honor. It was the first telescope to spot light reflected by a planet outside of our solar system.

6 - David Sarnoff (1891-1971)

Profession Businessman
Born Uzlyany, Belarus
Innovation The "Father of Broadcasting"
NJ Connection The Sarnoff/RCA Labs in Princeton was one of the world's preeminent R&D facilities.

7 - Dr. Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin (1930-  )

Profession Astronaut
Born Montclair, NJ
Innovation Pioneered working in space and second man to walk on the moon
NJ Connection Born in Montclair, NJ

8 - John von Neumann (1903-1957)

Profession Physicist, Mathematician
Born Budapest, Hungary
Innovation Nobel Laureate math whiz built computers in the 1940s
NJ Connection Lived and worked in Princeton for over two decades

9 - Robert Wood "General" Johnson (1893-1968)

Profession Businessman
Born New Brunswick, NJ
Innovation Made Johnson & Johnson a global powerhouse.
NJ Connection Born, lived and worked in the New Brunswick area most of his life.

10 - Beatrice Alice Hicks (1919-1979)

Profession Engineer
Born Orange, New Jersey
Innovation Pioneered many firsts for women in engineering
NJ Connection Born in Orange, earned degree from Newark College of Engineering (now NJIT)

11 - Vladimir Zworykin (1888-1982)

Profession Inventor
Born Murom, Russia
Innovation Turned the dream of transmitting images over a wire into television
NJ Connection Zworykin worked at RCA Labs in New Jersey for over two decades

12 - Allen DuMont (1901-1965)

Profession Engineer and Inventor
Born Brooklyn, NY
Innovation A one-man television enterprise
NJ Connection Raised in Cedar Grove, built TV stations and research facilities in NJ

13 - John Stevens (1749-1838)

Profession Lawyer and Entrepreneur
Born Perth Amboy, NJ
Innovation Used steam to create new frontiers of innovation and education.
NJ Connection Born in Perth Amboy, lived and worked in Hoboken

14 - John Thompson Dorrance (1873-1930)

Profession Chemist and Businessman
Born Bristol, PA
Innovation Parlayed an innovation in canned goods into a soup empire.
NJ Connection Worked as chemist and later President of Campbell Soup Company in Camden for over 30 years.

15 - Alice Paul (1885-1977)

Profession Activist
Born Mt. Laurel Township, NJ
Innovation Unique activism won women the right to vote.
NJ Connection Born in Mt. Laurel, lived most of her life in New Jersey, died in Moorestown.

16 - Lloyd Conover (1923-    )

Profession Chemist
Born Orange, NJ
Innovation Invented chemical process leading to many new antibiotics.
NJ Connection Born in Orange, worked at Pfizer.

17 - John J. Mooney (1929-    )

Profession Chemical Engineer
Born Paterson, New Jersey
Innovation Devised 3-way catalytic converter to forever end the "toxic tailpipe"
NJ Connection Born in Paterson, graduated Seton Hall; MBAs from NJIT and Farleigh Dickenson; worked for Engelhard Corp. (now BASF) in Iselin.

18 - Seth Boyden (1788-1870)

Profession Inventor
Born Foxboro, Massachusetts
Innovation Most prolific U.S. inventor before Thomas Edison.
NJ Connection Newark resident.

19 - Ida Cohen Rosenthal (1886-1973)

Profession Businesswoman
Born Rakov, Russia
Innovation Changed women's fashions igniting a multi-billion dollar industry.
NJ Connection Founded Maiden Form Company in Bayonne where it thrived for almost a century before moving to Iselin.

20 - Alice H. Parker

Profession Inventor
Born Morristown, NJ
Innovation Patented the home heating system - while working from her home.
NJ Connection Born and raised in Morristown.

21 - Claude Shannon (1916-2001)

Profession Mathematician and Engineer
Born Petoskey, Michigan
Innovation Devised the "Rosetta Stone" of computer language leading to the Information Age.
NJ Connection Worked at Bell Labs in New Jersey from 1941-1956.

22 - Wally Schirra (1923-2005)

Profession Astronaut
Born Hackensack, NJ
Innovation Trailblazing astronaut logged many firsts in space flight.
NJ Connection Born in Hackensack, lived in Oradel, graduated Englewood High.

23 - John Roebling (1806-1869)

Profession Civil Engineer and Builder
Born Muhlhausen, Germany
Innovation Improved bridge building techniques making longer spans possible.
NJ Connection Moved his family to Trenton and built huge manufacturing complex there to support his civil engineering business.

24 - Elizabeth Coleman White (1871-1954)

Profession Businesswoman and Farmer
Born New Lisbon, NJ
Innovation Cultivated the blueberry into a $40 million industry.
NJ Connection New Jersey native who lived and worked on family farm in Whitesbog Village.

25 - Donald Fletcher Holmes (1910-1980)

Profession Chemist and Inventor
Born Woodbury, NJ
Innovation Invented "do-it-all" polyurethane.
NJ Connection A native of New Jersey, born in Woodbury.