Luther SimjianThursday, February 18, 2021
Luther George Simjian (January 28, 1905 in Ottoman Empire – October 23, 1997) was an Armenian-American inventor of numerous devices and owner of over 200 patents.
Inventions include Medical photography systems, Autofocus camera, Automatic Developing machine, Automatic Teller Machine (ATM), Military flight simulator, Postage Meter and many other things.
Born to Armenian parents, Luther Simjian grew up in Antep, Turkey, but he left his family, he went first to Beirut, later Marseille. In 1920 he emigrated to the USA, where he found shelter with relatives in New Haven, Connecticut. Beginning at the age of 15, he worked there as a photographer. He gave up his initial plans of studying medicine when he was engaged as a laboratory photographer by the Yale School of Medicine. Later, in 1928, he became director of their photography department, and invented several machines such as a projector for microscope images.
In 1934 Simjian moved to New York City, where he invented a self-posing portrait camera, with which the photographed person could see and optimize their own image in a mirror before the photo was actually taken. In order to manufacture and distribute the camera, which became a success for use in department stores, he founded the company Photoreflex. Years later, after selling the invention and the trade name, the company was renamed Reflectone, a name drawn from another of Simjian's inventions, a kind of cosmetic chair with movable mirrors, where one could see their own body from all perspectives.
In 1939 Simjian had the idea to build the Bankmatic Automated Teller Machine, probably his most famous invention. Despite the scepticism of the banks, he registered 20 patents for it and developed a number of features and principles that can still be found in today's ATMs, including their name. He finally persuaded the City Bank of New York, today Citibank, to run a 6-month trial. The trial was however not continued — surprisingly not due to technical insufficiencies, but to lack of demand. It seems the only people using the machines were a small number of prostitutes and gamblers who didn't want to deal with tellers face to face, Simjian wrote. Hence Simjian missed out on not only the commercial success, but also the fame associated with inventing the ATM. This credit is often attributed to John Shepherd-Barron (who invented the first true electronic ATM) and Donald Wetzel (who directed a 5 million US-$ project to build upon Shepherd-Barron's invention in the late 1960s).
Simjian gained commercial success during World War II with another invention, his Optical Range Estimation Trainer, a kind of simple flight simulator, made from mirrors, light sources and miniature airplanes, used to train US military pilots in estimating the speed and distance of airplanes. Simjian sold over 2000 of these devices. Today's successor of Reflectone (after a number of mergers and acquisitions), CAE, is still making its money with flight simulation and control technology.
Simjian founded several other companies in the following years and invented a number of very different devices and technologies, e. g. a teleprompter, medical ultrasound devices, a remote-controlled postage meter, a golf simulator and a meat tenderizer. He never ceased inventing in his laboratories in Fort Lauderdale. At the age of 92, he got his last patent on a process for improving the sound of wood for musical instruments, seven months before his death in 1997.