On June 24, 82-year-old Paul Winchell died at his home
in Moorpark, California. Older readers will remember
Winchell as the TV ventriloquist whose dummies included
Jerry Mahoney and Knucklehead Smiff; younger readers
will remember him as the voice of Gargamel the Wizard
in the Smurfs cartoon; and just about everybody
will remember him as the voice of Tigger in the Winnie
the Pooh cartoons.
But until now, very few knew that Winchell was also
the first person to receive a patent for an artificial
heart. He built the prototype with the advice and input
of Henry J. Heimlich, the doctor who invented the most
famous method of saving choking victims, and received
his patent in 1963.
Winchell donated the patent to the University of Utah,
where a researcher named Robert K. Jarvik took the design
further and developed the artificial heart that was
successfully implanted in a human in 1982. Winchells
artificial heart was powered by batteries and Jarviks
by compressed air, but according to Heimlich, I
saw the heart, I saw the patent and I saw the letters.
The basic principle used in Winchell's heart and Jarvik's
heart is exactly the same.
In all, Winchell received 30 patents for inventions
as disparate (and as dated) as a disposable razor, a
retractable fountain pen, an invisible garter belt,
and a flameless cigarette lighter. Winchell also owned
a shirt factory, ran a fish farm, and tried with
the help of celebrities such as Ed Asner and Richard
Dreyfuss, but ultimately unsuccessfully to get
funding for what he called The Tilapia Project,
which would have provided tilapia fish to starving African
In his later years, Winchell wrote an autobiography
about his widely varied career, and at the time of his
death was working on a streaming video project that
would showcase full 30-minute childrens shows
from the 50's and 60's not only his own shows,
but those of others.
Despite his success in so many other areas of life,
Winchell regretted his own lack of success with his
patent (even though it served as the basis for a successful
artificial heart). And thats a moral in and of
itself: Many inventors patent their inventions but fail
to commercialize them, and when the patents are exploited
by others the inventor often fails to enforce them.
Patents, after all, are valuable market monopolies and
need to be commercialized, licensed or enforced instead
of just hung on the wall...even if their inventor is