Minnesota is home to many inventors and companies that depend on innovation and research / development. The following is a listing of individuals who were born (or raised) in Minnesota and left their mark in the world of innovation.
Keep in mind that although many of these individuals went on to become successful business people, they are listed here because their initial pursuit was the invention of something notable.
- Earl E. Bakken (Columbia Heights, MN)
Co-Founder of Medtronic. Developed the first wearable artificial pacemaker in 1957. Studied electrical engineering at the University of Minnesota. Medtronic is the world’s leader in medical technology for Cardiac Rhythm Disease Management, Spinal and Biologics, CardioVascular, Neuromodulation, Diabetes, and Surgical Technologies.
- Walter H. Deubner (St. Paul, MN)
Businessman/Inventor; Deubner was the inventor and patent holder of the shopping bag 1912. He ran a grocery store in St. Paul and created the shopping bag as a way to help his customers buy and carry more purchases at one time. It consisted of a paper bag with handles and cord running through it for strength and was called the “Deubner Shopping Bag”. By 1915 he was selling over a million shopping bags a year.
- Richard Drew (St. Paul, MN)
Scientist/Inventor; As an employee of 3M, Drew was the inventor of adhesive tape. His invention eventually became products such as; Masking Tape (1923), Scotch Tape (1930), and Duct Tape (1942).
- Arthur (Art) Fry (Owatonna, MN)
Inventor/Chemist. Co-Inventor of 3M Post-it Notes® in 1968. Post-it Notes use a unique adhesive created by another 3M Chemist, Spencer Silver. Art Fry’s net worth is unknown, but you can be assured that 3M (patent holder of the Post-it Notes® brand) has rewarded both Art and Spencer very well throughout the years.
- Reyn Guyer (St. Paul, MN)
Inventor of the Nerf ball. The Nerf ball was originally part of a volleyball game that Guyer created which was safe for indoor play. Parker Brothers decided to eliminate everything but the foam ball and in 1970 the Nerf ball was introduced as the “world’s first official indoor ball”.
- Edgar and Alan Hetteen and David Johnson (Roseau, MN)
Inventors of the first recreational snowmobile in 1955. Founders of Polaris Industries of Roseau, MN – the world’s largest manufacturer of snowmobiles.
- Bruce Johnson (St. Paul, MN)
Inventor – Breathe Right Nasal Strips. While unemployed, developed Breathe Right solution to make it easier to breath due to a deviated septum. Before Breathe Right he would modify paper clips to open his nasal passages.
- Dave Kapell (Minneapolis, MN)
Inventor of Magnetic Poetry®, those little magnetic word tiles that have covered refrigerator doors since the early 1990’s. Magnetic Poetry® has sold over three million word kits, including the Original Kit, a kid’s line of kits, foreign language kits, and Voice/theme kits.
- Ed Lowe (St. Paul, MN)
Inventor/Entrepreneur; Creator and marketer of one of the first commercially available cat litters, “Kitty Litter”, which was introduced in 1948.
- Alexander Miles (Duluth, MN)
Inventor; awarded a patent for an automatic opening and closing elevator door design in 1887, although it was later discovered that he was not was not the original inventor of this device. He was considered the “wealthiest colored man in the Northwest” in 1900. He was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2007.
- Scott and Brennan Olson (Bloomington, MN)
Inventors (brothers), created the first Rollerblade skates in the basement of their parents’ Minneapolis home. The company they founded would be sold to a California company and bec0me known as Rollerblade®.
- Herbert Sellner (Fairbault, MN)
Inventor; invented the Tilt-A-Whirl in 1926. The Tilt-A-Whirl made it’s debut in 1927 at the Minnesota State Fair. Over the past 75 years, more than 850 rides have been made and sold worldwide.
- Edward C. (E.C.) Streater (Minnesota)
Inventor/Businessman; Designer of steel toy trucks in mid-1940’s. His designs and tooling equipment were sold to Mound Metalcraft in 1947, and were marketed as “Tonka Toys”. Mound Metalcraft eventually became known as Tonka Toys, Inc. which was later sold to Hasbro in 1991.
- Charles Strite (Minneapolis, MN)
Inventor. Strite is the inventor and first patent-holder (in 1921) of the automatic pop-up toaster. He was master mechanic in a plant in Stillwater, Minnesota. He formed the Waters Genter Company to manufacture these toasters. The Waters Genter Company was acquired by Edison electric, and in 1926 Strite’s toaster was redesigned and became the “Toastmaster”. It heralded the modern age of kitchen appliances.
- Ambrose Weeres (birthplace unknown)
Inventor/farmer; Invented the pontoon boat. In 1952 he founded Weeres Industries and took orders for 40 more boats and an industry was formed. In 1990, the Minnesota State Legislature recognized Ambrose Weeres as “Mr. Pontoon”. He was inducted into the Minnesota Marine Hall of Fame in 1991.
Individuals who were NOT born in Minnesota, but who have lived, studied or spent a significant part of their lives in Minnesota.
- Albert Butz (born Switzerland about 1849, moved to St. Paul, MN)
Inventor/Businessman; Founded the Butz Thermo-electric Regulator Company which was renamed Consolidated Temperature Controlling Company and eventually sold to W.R. Sweatt to become Honeywell, Inc.
- Seymour Cray (Chippewa Falls, WI)
Researcher/Entrepreneur; Founder of Cray Research, home of the Cray-1 computer, the world’s fastest super computer. Received his Bachelors and Masters degrees from the University of Minnesota.
- Charles Foley (Lafayette, Indiana)
Inventor of the iconic game Twister, “The Game That Ties You Up in Knots.” Foley also owned the patents to 97 other inventions. His adhesive product “Un-Du” was named New Product of the Year at the 1993 School Home Office Products show in Chicago. He moved his family to Minnesota in 1962 to go to work for Lakeside Toys in Minneapolis.
- Robert (Bob) W. Gore (Salt Lake City, Utah)
Inventor and Businessman. Inventor of GORE-TEX®, a highly porous but strong material valued by outdoor enthusiasts because of it’s durable, wind-resistant, waterproof and breathable qualities. Gore completed his graduate studies at the University of Minnesota, earning an M.S. and a Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering.
- J. O. Johnson (“John”) (born in Norway, moved to Minnesota at age 18)
Inventor/Designer. Designed the first inland racing scow used for sailboat racing on inland lakes in the mid- 1890’s. He quickly became recognized as one of the top designers of inland lake sailboats. Founded Johnson Boat Works in White Bear Lake, MN in 1896.
- Camille Poirier (Born Montreal, Quebec. arrived St. Paul, MN at age 27)
Inventor of the Duluth Pack, originally called the Poirier Pack. Poirier moved to Duluth in 1870 and later patented his design (on Dec 12, 1882). This bag was designed to carry large loads up and down the vast hills of Duluth, MN without putting total strain on the back. He sold the pack business to the Duluth Tent and Awning Company in 1911.
- James J. Ryan (LeClaire, Iowa)
Professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Minnesota (1931-1963). He was best known for his inventions of the flight data recorder (the “black box”) and the retractable seat belt.
- Robert A. (Bob) Walker (born Wahpeton, ND – arrived in Minneapolis before 1966)
Inventor/Entrepreneur. Inventor of the sleep number mattress and founder of the Select Comfort Corporation, a company with more than $691 million in sales annually by 2007