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Jersey inventors join Hall of Fame

Friday, February 22, 2002


Star-Ledger Staff
Move over, Albert Einstein.

The father of relativity has been joined in the New Jersey Inventors Hall of Fame by the guys who gave the world Uncle Floyd.

Isaac "Ike" Blonder and Ben Tongue, who were among 13 inductees honored yesterday at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, are better known in electronics circles for antenna amplifiers and UHF converters from television's early days.

But for a brief spell in the late 1970s, they also dabbled as media moguls. As owners of WBTV-68 in West Orange, Blonder and Tongue were pioneers of pay TV. Viewers used a set-top box to unscramble the picture, which sometimes revealed a young comic, Floyd "Uncle Floyd" Vivino.

Vivino's Jersey-flavored nightclub act, replete with puppets and highway anthems, continues to this day.

"There also was a lady, a belly dancer, but I don't recall her name," Tongue, 77, said with a laugh from his West Orange home.

The Hall of Fame honors inventors with ties to New Jersey. Initial inductees in 1989 included Einstein, Thomas Edison and telegraph wizard Alfred Vail.

Blonder and Tongue, founders of Blonder Tongue Laboratories in Old Bridge, shared the spotlight last night with an eclectic mix whose creations range from toothpaste to the Brooklyn Bridge.

Posthumous honors went to Trenton's John Roebling, the father of twisted cable, who died in a construction accident at the famous bridge in 1883.

Anthony Winston of East Brunswick holds 95 patents for toothpastes, detergents and fungicides as a chemist for Arm & Hammer's parent company, Church & Dwight. Baking soda is his life. "It's an amazing material," he said, one that has helped him "make lives a little bit better."

Another inductee, Dave Hammond, forged a company from his experiences as a medic during the Vietnam War. DHL Inc. of Tinton Falls sells easy-to-use first aid kits to the Postal Service and Disney, among others. Color-coded picture cards guide users through emergency procedures.

Hammond, 52, said he was inspired by travails of his fellow Navy medics, who were thrown into hazardous duty young and green.

"I thought, how in God's name are people supposed to do this?" Hammond recounted.

The Biotechnology Council of New Jersey was cited for its promotion of the state's biopharmaceutical industry.

Herwig Kogelnik of Rumson helped create optical telecommunications at Bell Labs. At AT&T, Irwin Gerszberg of Kendall Park contributed to digital subscriber line technology. DSL allows high- speed Internet service over phone lines.

Hossein Eslambolchi, president of AT&T Labs, was recognized for systems that reroute phone traffic around glitches. Valerie Bell of Iselin's Engelhard Corp. devised cheap ways to purify natural gas that otherwise would be unusable.

Cheap, rechargeable batteries of lithium ion, now standard in cell phones and laptops, came from a trio of researchers at the former Bellcore. Jean-Marie Tarascon, Antoni Gozdz and Paul Warren now work for Telecordia Technologies Inc. of Red Bank.

Tongue said discarded radio batteries -- dry cells also used in Model T cars -- sparked his interest in electrical engineering at the age of 8.

"I played around with them," said Tongue, who powered a tiny motor he built from a 10-cent kit.

The hall of famers are commemorated by a permanent exhibit at NJIT in Newark. Biographies of prior inductees are online at

Kevin Coughlin covers technology. He can be reached at

Copyright 2002 The Star-Ledger.

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