– PEOPLE WORTH REMEMBERING –
• George Crowley was born in New Jersey in 1921 and demonstrated his talent for creating electrical inventions early. As a child, he wired a warning buzzer that alerted him to the approach of his parents nearing his bedroom door. At the age of 12 he rigged a dining room door to swing open automatically when his mother, with an armload of dishes, triggered an electric eye. He then installed a switch that would close the living room curtains when the light switch was flipped on. He often asked his siblings and other relatives for ideas of things that needed to be invented.
• Crowley graduated from the University of Notre Dame in 1942 with a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering. He then joined the Navy as a young man during World War II. His superiors recognized his talent, pulling him off his ship and sending him to General Electric, where he was charged with the duty of creating inventions to help with the war effort.
• One problem during the war was that pilots needed to fly really high to avoid being shot down. The temperatures at high altitudes were so cold that the pilots, navigators, bombers, and other crew members had difficulty functioning, because the planes were hard to heat. George Crowley invented a heated flight suit using electrical wiring, which solved this problem.
• Later he read about doctors having trouble keeping tuberculosis patients warm when they were placed in outdoor beds for the sake of fresh air. A doctor named Sidney Russell invented the first crude heating pad in 1921, but it was bulky, cumbersome, and dangerous. Crowley wondered if he couldn’t revamp his electrically heated flight suit into an electrically heated blanket.
• The result of Crowley’s tinkering was very successful. The first electrically heated blanket went on sale in the U.S. in 1946, sold by General Electric. The price tag was $39.50, which would be over $500 in today’s economy. Although the patent belonged to his employer General Electric, Crowley received honors for his invention, as well as a comfortable salary.
• Crowley vouched for the safety of electric blankets, and used one all his life. He was occasionally called to testify as an expert witness for insurance companies when it was claimed that house fires had been started due to faulty wiring in electric blankets. However, it always turned out to be smoking in bed, while an electric blanket was turned on.
• He continued to work for General Electric when the war ended, staying with them until 1962, when he accepted a position with Sunbeam, where he worked until retiring in 1993.
• Crowley registered more than 80 patents during his career, most of which belonged to his employers. His inventions included a device for painting golf balls by suspending them in a jet of air while they were sprayed and dried; a hand-held electric hair dryer; a method of heating a can of shaving cream prior to shaving; and a device to keep squirrels away from bird feeders by giving them a shock. He later scrapped this invention because he felt bad for the squirrels.
• Crowley died in January of 2000, at the age of 80. At the time of his death, he was working on a patent to automatically turn electric blankets off when no movement was sensed. This invention has since been implemented on most modern-made electric blankets and heating pads. His wife reported there was an electric blanket on his king-size bed at the time of his death.