Inventors Deserve Their Day in the Sunshine

April may be the cruelest month, at least according to T.S. Eliot, but February is a holiday wasteland. With Valentine’s Day, the Super Bowl and President’s Day dominating the calendar, there is another important celebration that gets far less attention.

National Inventors’ Day, celebrated on the birthday of arguably the most famous American inventor, Thomas Edison, comes around every Feb. 11 to little fanfare and even less notice. But it is a day we should be paying more attention to since its honorees have done more to shape the way we live, work and play more than just about any other group.

When President Ronald Reagan proclaimed National Inventors’ Day on Jan. 12, 1983, he quoted his predecessor George Washington who urged Congress to enact a patent statute with the admonition “(T)here is nothing which can better serve your patronage than the promotion of science.”

The promotion of science and technology has led to an array of inventions from the mundane to the sublime and more than a few of them have roots in the Sunshine State.

Some of the inventions that came from Florida are well-known, such as the development of a sports energy drink to replenish electrolytes – Gatorade – or Benjamin Green’s concoction to protect bare skin from the ultraviolet rays, which became Coppertone sunscreen. And of course, there is the work of John Gorrie to develop mechanical refrigeration, making Gorrie the “Father of Air Conditioning.”

But some of the most important inventions that have contributed to the advancement of society also had a home in the peninsula. While most people think the information technology revolution was confined to California’s Silicon Valley, the first personal computer – the IBM PC – was actually created by a team led by Don Estridge in Boca Raton. And lest we forget, entrepreneur Sara Blakely, a Tampa native and Florida State University alum, is the genius who makes the world look a little slimmer with her invention of Spanx.

Reagan’s words 40 years ago in proclaiming National Inventors’ Day ring true today when he proclaimed that the spirit of invention that has been an integral part of the American experience “is especially appropriate at a time when our country is striving to maintain its global position as a leader in innovation and technology. Key to our future success will be the dedication and creativity of inventors.”

The intellectual curiosity that led Gorrie, Estridge and others to push the envelope of discovery and bring new ideas to fruition is alive today in Florida, as evidenced by the recent development of a new strawberry variety by researchers at the University of Florida.

The new fruit, also known as a pineberry, with a distinct pale color, has become a favorite of shoppers around the nation since it hit the U.S. and European markets, and contributes to the more than $300 million generated annually by strawberry production in Florida.

That’s something to remember next time you’re enjoying a day in the sun at the beach, safely slathered in sunscreen, enjoying fresh strawberries and quenching your thirst with a sports drink while scrolling through social media on your phone.