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Luther George Simjian (January 28, 1905 in Turkey – October 23, 1997) was an Armenian-American inventor of numerous devices and owner of over 200 patents.



Son of Armenian parents, he grew up in Antep in Turkey, but was separated from his family[1] after the Armenian Genocide, when he had to flee first to Beirut, later Marseille. In 1920 he emigrated to the USA, where he found shelter with relatives in New Haven, Connecticut. Aged 15, he used to work there as a photographer. He gave up his initial plans of studying medicine when he was engaged as a laboratory photographer by Yale's Medical School, where later in 1928 he became director of the photography department and invented several machines such as a projector for microscope images.

In 1934 Simjian moved to New York City, where he invented a self-posing portrait camera, with which the photographed person could see and optimise their own image in a mirror before the photo was actually taken. In order to manufacture and distribute the camera, which became a success for use in department stores, he founded the company Photoreflex, which years later, after selling the invention and the trade name, renamed to Reflectone; a name that originated in another invention of the same name, a kind of cosmetic chair with movable mirrors, where one could see their own body from all perspectives.

In 1939 Simjian had the idea to build the Bankmatic Automated Teller Machine, probably his most famous invention. Despite the scepticism of the banks, he registered 20 patents for it and developed a number of features and principles that can still be found in today's ATMs, including their name. He finally persuaded the City Bank of New York, today Citibank, to run a 6-month trial, which was however not continued—surprisingly not due to technical insufficiencies, but to lack of demand. It seems the only people using the machines were a small number of prostitutes and gamblers who didn't want to deal with tellers face to face, Simjian wrote. Hence Simjian did not only miss the commercial success, but also the fame of the inventor of the ATM, which is attributed to John Shepherd-Barron (who invented the first true electronic ATM) and Donald Wetzel (who directed a 5 million US-$ project to build upon Shepherd-Barron's invention in the late 1960s).

However, he gained commercial success during World War II with his Optical Range Estimation Trainer, a kind of simple flight simulator, made from mirrors, light sources and miniature airplanes, used to train US military pilots in estimating the speed and distance of airplanes. Simjian sold over 2000 of these devices. Today's successor of Reflectone (after a number of mergers and acquisitions), CAE, is still making its money with flight simulation and control technology.

Simjian founded several other companies in the following years and invented a number of very different devices and technologies, e. g. a teleprompter, medical ultrasound devices, a remote-controlled postage meter, a golf simulator and a meat tenderizer.

He never ceased inventing in his laboratories in Fort Lauderdale. Aged 92, he got his last patent on a process for improving the sound of wood for musical instruments, seven months before his death in 1997.



  • [1] Listing of patents with Inventor attributed to Luther G Simjian.
    • [2] March 29, 1960 - Apparatus For Collecting An Article For Deposit
    • [3] June 14, 1960 - Apparatus And Method For Determining The Character Of A Document

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