11 Inventors Who Became Nouns

IN THE NAME OF: Jules Léotard (left) and a modern adaption of his namesake suit (right). (Photo: Wikimedia Commons; mkd/Flickr).

When I grow up, I want to be ... a noun? Clearly that wasn’t the exact ambition of the inventors listed here, but whether by intentional designation or through the twisty quirks of language, their names have become nouns. And although the inventors have faded away, their names are here to stay.

1. Jules Léotard: Leotard

Born in France in 1842, Jules Léotard was a trapeze artist who performed as the main aerialist with the Cirque Franconi in Paris — and he was immensely popular. And aside from being the inspiration behind the song, "The Man on the Flying Trapeze," he will also long be remembered for lending his name to the signature costume in which he performed. The original leotard was a one-piece knitted suit that allowed freedom of movement, was basically aerodynamic and had no extra fabric to get snagged in the ropes. Ballerinas and gymnasts say, "merci."

2. Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin: Zeppelin

After German military man Ferdinand von Zeppelin had his first ride in a hot air balloon, he became obsessed with inventing an airship. In 1874, Zeppelin made entries in his diary describing a rigid-framed, aerodynamically flying ship constructed of rings and longitudinal girders and containing individual gas cells. By 1890, he had built his first airship, the Luftschiff Zeppelin. Given the eventual great success of the Zeppelin design, the term zeppelin became a common term for all rigid airships.

In related news: Fast forward to the 20th century when Keith Moon told Jimmy Page that his new band was going to “go down like a lead balloon.” Someone mentioned a “lead zeppelin,” Page loved the sound of it, changed the spelling of lead to led to avoid mispronunciation, and the rest is rock 'n' roll history.

3. The Jacuzzi Brothers: Jacuzzi

Motivated by a family member’s arthritis woes, a band of seven innovative brothers — all immigrants to the United States from Italy — invented a hydrotherapy pump for the bath. It worked, and the portable pump, called the J-300, was manufactured and sold to hospitals and schools. In 1968, a third-generation member of the family furthered the business when he manufactured and marketed the first self-contained, fully integrated whirlpool bath in 1968. By incorporating jets into the sides of the tub, the Jacuzzi as we know it was born. Swank bathrooms and tacky honeymoon suites alike haven't been the same since.

4. Dr. Joseph-Ignace Guillotin: Guillotine


Ironically, the machine associated with brutality, the dastardly decapitating guillotine, was designed as a more humane alternative to then-current means of execution: burning, hanging, and being drawn and quartered. During discussions in France in the late 1780s about the possibility of ending capital punishment, Guillotin offered a number of alternatives, one being an end to more-barbaric methods via a well-designed machine. The new idea was adopted, machines were created and delivered across the country, and by the close of the French Revolution 10 years later, the guillotine had been used to execute more than 15,000 people.

Not sure how the good doctor would feel about being forever associated with a killing machine, but at least his heart was in the right place.

5. John Montagu, Fourth Earl of Sandwich: Sandwich

John Montagu, the fourth earl of Sandwich, was a notable political and military figure in 18th-century Britain. His fame lives on for not one, but two instances of eponymous fame. His interest in naval affairs and his avocation for exploration led Captain James Cook to name the Sandwich Islands in Hawaii after him in 1778. But it’s the meal made of two slices of bread that the man is best known for. A profligate gambler, he created the sandwich as a handy, handheld meal to fuel himself during extended forays at the gaming table.

6. Leonhart Fuchs: Fuchsia

Brilliant 16th-century German physician Leonhart Fuchs was one of the founding fathers of the discipline of botany. He started medical gardens and was an extremely avid plant collector. The flowering shrub, fuchsia, was named after him a century after his death — and the corresponding bright magenta color of the flower bears his pretty pinkish name as well.

7. Rudolf Diesel: Diesel

Rudolf Diesel

More than just inventing the internal-combustion engine that bears his name, Rudolf Diesel was also a distinguished connoisseur of the arts, a linguist and a social theorist. He originally conceived of the diesel engine as a readily adaptable engine that would allow independent builders to compete with the powerful engine and fuel industries.

The high efficiency and relative simplicity of Diesel’s design made it a tremendous commercial success and brought great financial rewards to the inventor. But all of his genius and fortune weren’t enough to keep him from disappearing from the deck of the steamer Dresden en route to London; it is assumed that he drowned.

8. André Marie Ampère: Amp (Ampere)

An amp (ampere), also known as "the current that one volt can send through one ohm," was named for the French mathematician, physicist, and overall smarty-pants who is generally regarded as one of the main discoverers of electromagnetism: André Marie Ampère. Ampère was the first person to show that a magnetic field is created when two parallel wires are charged with electricity. On the basis of these discoveries, Ampère formulated his famous law of electromagnetism known as Ampère’s law. The SI unit of measurement of electric current, the ampere, is named after him.

His other great invention, the solenoid, has no such grand eponym, and was simply named after the Greek word for pipe.

9. Lechmere Guppy: Guppy

Lechmere Guppy sounds more like a cartoon character than a multi-talented 19th-century renaissance man — but that he was. After growing up in an ancient Norman castle in the U.K. and then spending two years with the Maori people after being shipwrecked on the coast of New Zealand — the civil engineer went to Trinidad where he settled into a pastime of writing about paleontology.

Guppy discovered, you got it, the guppy fish in 1866. The fish was named Girardinus guppii in his honor by Albert C.L.G. Günther later that year. Pet stores have been repeating his name like a mantra ever since.

10. Charles Macintosh: Mackintosh (Mack)

Can you imagine life without waterproof apparel? Thanks to Charles Macintosh, we can play in the rain and remain relatively dry. The Scottish chemist and inventor of waterproof fabrics patented his idea for cloth immune to water in 1823 and the first Mackintosh coats were made in the family's textile factory, Charles Macintosh and Co. of Glasgow. Early coats had problems with a strong smell, were stiff, and possessed a tendency to melt in hot weather, but Macintosh ironed those kinks out and the company thrives to this day.

11. James H. Salisbury: Salisbury Steak

Part meat loaf, part mystery meat, the Salisbury steak made famous by cafeterias across the land was the invention of American physician James Salisbury (1823–1905) who was an early proponent of the high-protein, low-carb diet.

According to the book, "Near a Thousand Tables: A History of Food," Salisbury urged patients to: "Eat the muscle pulp of lean beef made into cakes and broiled. This pulp should be as free as possible from connective or glue tissue, fat and cartilage ....When cooked, put it on a hot plate and season to taste with butter, pepper, salt; also use either Worcestershire or Halford sauce, mustard, horseradish or lemon juice on the meat if desired."

The doc believed that vegetables and starches were responsible for a wide array of health problems (including heart disease, mental illness and tuberculosis) and recommended that his Salisbury steak be eaten three times a day to cleanse the digestive system. Despite a diet heavy in Salisbury steak, the doctor lived to the age of 82.

Related innovation stories on Treehugger:

(Photos: Wikimedia Commons)