"My Million Dollar Invention" Examines the Real Stories behind Visionary Innovators

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08 June 2015
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My Million Dollar Invention
Photo: Courtesy of Smithsonian Channel
"My Million Dollar Invention"
8-part Series Premieres Sunday, June 14 at 8:00 PM ET/PT
on Smithsonian ChannelTM

          A sketch on a napkin…a flash of inspiration while driving… a sudden glimpse into the future… these sudden insights have led to world-changing inventions, and turned ordinary people into millionaires. A captivating, new Smithsonian Channel original eight-part series recounts the incredible stories of luck, grit, determination and genius behind dozens of the inventions and inventors that have shaped our world.  MY MILLION DOLLAR INVENTION premieres Sunday, June 14 at 8:00 p.m. ET/PT.
 
          MY MILLION DOLLAR INVENTION uses a compelling drama documentary format to showcase ideas with impact — from dynamite to electric chairs, television to the first toothbrush, running shoes to roller coasters. Each week the series focuses on a new theme: vision, danger, speed, crime and more.  Every episode then tells the stories behind four major innovations and the inventors who imagined them, the painstaking efforts to bring the ideas to life, and what kind of legacy these inventions have left behind.
 
          Many stories involve some of the biggest names in science and industry – including Thomas Edison, George Westinghouse, Alfred Nobel, David Sarnoff, Sam Colt, Charles Goodyear, and more. Others show viewers how a single idea by a single obscure individual, borne out of necessity, can become the seed that grows into global corporations, like Xerox. Each episode interviews the living inventors and experts, delves into the archives, and explores the intrigue, pitfalls and triumphs of a single inspiration that led to a business empire.
 
MY MILLION DOLLAR INVENTION: SHOCK AND AWE
Premieres Sunday, June 14 at 8 p.m. ET/PT

The series kicks off with the stories of four men whose inventions shocked the world: the Ouija Board, dynamite, the electric chair and roller coasters. “Talking Boards” were an uncanny pastime that gripped a mourning nation after the Civil War, until a Baltimore fertilizer salesman named Charles Kennard devised a way to mass market the idea of communicating with the “other side.”  Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel, spurred by the death of his brother to find a safer, less volatile explosive, ushered in the industrial age of mining and railroads with the invention of dynamite.  The electric chair is borne out of a hanging gone wrong and the need for a humane execution method, and involves a much larger story of two great rivals and innovation giants--Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse – and their competition over whose electrical system would power America, AC or DC. The thrill of rollercoasters was brought to us in the 1880s by a religious underwear manufacturer, LaMarcus Thompson, who was looking to give people wholesome entertainment.

MY MILLION DOLLAR INVENTION: THE VISION THING
Premieres Sunday, June 21 at 8 p.m. ET/PT

Four visionary inventors who have re-imagined our world with these incredible inventions: television, the space telescope, the photocopier and speed cameras. Philo Farnsworth, a 14-year-old farm boy, created the prototype technology that is the foundation for today’s televisions, but found himself in a battle with entertainment giant RCA and David Sarnoff after his idea was stolen. The inventor of photocopying was turned down by IBM and over 20 major companies before one tiny firm believed in its possibilities, a company that later became Xerox. The first space telescope is an endeavor that spanned decades and became the life’s work of scientist Lyman Spitzer. And the legendary Dutch race car driver Maurice Gatsonides, who developed one of the most profitable and hated devices in the world, the speed camera.

MY MILLION DOLLAR INVENTION: CRIMINAL RICHES
Premieres Sunday, June 28 at 8 p.m. ET/PT

The toothbrush was invented inside a prison by a convict in 18th Century London and ended up making his family wealthy for generations. The Tommy Gun was invented by an American general to solve the stalemate of trench warfare in World War I, but to his horror it became the iconic weapon of gangsters.  A Boston entrepreneur wired his city for burglar alarms, inadvertently laying the groundwork for the first telephone system.  Finally, a bar owner who didn't trust his barkeeps came up with an idea for the "Incorruptible Cashier," which earned billions for a businessman when he re-named it the “Cash Register.”

MY MILLION DOLLAR INVENTION: DANGER MAGNETS
Premieres Sunday July 5 at 8 p.m. ET/PT

“Get rich or die trying” is the mantra of these brave inventors who risked everything. Richard Davis invented concealable bulletproof vests after being shot in a street robbery. To prove it would work, he filmed himself firing a Magnum revolver into his chest at point blank range. An African-American businessman created a fireman’s breathing hood after the 1911 New York Triangle factory fire. Racial discrimination meant his invention was only taken seriously when he used the hood to personally save trapped workmen in a tunnel fire. In the 1990s, a French daredevil fulfills mankind’s dream to fly like a bird when he launches into the air in the first successful wingsuit.  Finally, medical pioneer Dr. James Young Simpson invents the first successful anesthetic, by repeatedly testing a series of deadly chemical cocktails… on himself.

MY MILLION DOLLAR INVENTION: NEED FOR SPEED
Premieres Sunday July 12 at 8 p.m. ET/PT

Four inspirational innovators transformed transportation ushering in the modern age. Charles Goodyear was a religious obsessive who saw it as a mission from God to turn rubber into a usable commodity.  Glenn Curtiss took on the Wright Brothers to create one of the first practical planes that could carry cargo. Aircraft engineer Owen Maclaren used his experience with WWII fighter planes to invent the first collapsible baby stroller.  And Bill Bowerman and Phil Knight reinvented the running shoe, with inspiration from a waffle iron.

MY MILLION DOLLAR INVENTION: LIFE AND DEATH
Premieres Sunday, July 19 at 8 p.m. ET/PT

These four inventions are literally life-and-death discoveries. Alexander Graham Bell attempted to save the life of wounded U.S President Garfield with his new invention called “the Induction Balance Machine,” which we now know as the metal detector. In 1960, a former radio technician creates a battery that leads directly to the first practical implantable pacemaker, which still saves millions of lives today. A worker in a factory that laminates table tops sees a way to create the first 3-D printer, paving the way to machine-printed prosthetics.  And finally, a farmer turned inventor hopes to end all wars with a peace-loving creation he calls the Gatling Gun.
 
MY MILLION DOLLAR INVENTION: GUNS AND GOLDMINES
Premieres Sunday, JULY 26 AT 8 P.M. ET/PT

The stories of four inventors who found their fortunes in guns, gold, games. Samuel Colt was just a 16 year-old when he was inspired to design his first five-shot revolver after watching the way a ship's wheel works. Avedis Zildjian was a 16th Century alchemist whose unsuccessful formula for gold turned out to be the perfect bronze alloy for cymbals – and this 400-year-old secret formula is still used in the family’s multi-million dollar drum kit empire. During the Great Depression, an unemployed salesman took an anti-capitalist teaching game and turned it into history’s best-selling board game, Monopoly. And immigrant A.P. Giannini helps San Francisco recover from the 1904 Earthquake by lending to the middle class… and in the process founds the Bank of America.
 
MY MILLION DOLLAR INVENTION: THE LITTLE GUY
Premieres Sunday, August 2 at 8 p.m. ET/PT

A British child psychologist called Hilary Fisher Page invents a plastic toy brick that he hopes will make his fortune, but a Danish Company is are able to copy his design, and go on to become the largest toy manufacturer in the world. Robert Kearns spends a decade and his life savings proving that Ford and Chrysler stole his idea for intermittent windshield wipers. The Smiley Face is created by a small town graphic designer for $45, but two brothers wind up with the rights… and $50 million.  Finally, the episode focuses on a hair growth product that allowed its inventor to become the first African-American woman self-made millionaire.
MY MILLION DOLLAR INVENTION is a production of Nutopia in association with Smithsonian Channel. Series Producer is Hereward Pelling. Executive Producers for Nutopia are Ben Goold and Jane Root. Executive Producers for Smithsonian Channel are Tim Evans, David Royle and Charles Poe.
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