Today, we go from organs to airplanes to diving
suits. The University of Houston's College of
Engineering presents this series about the machines
that make our civilization run, and the people
whose ingenuity created them.
Edwin Link was born in 1904.
He was six when his father formed the Link Piano
and Organ Company. They produced the new hi-tech
music makers of 1910 -- player pianos and theater
organs. Edwin joined the firm when he was 18. First
he did repairs. Then he competed with Wurlitzer,
installing theater organs.
But the new airplanes had caught his fancy. Link
wanted to learn to fly. That was expensive
business. Lessons cost $25 to $50 an hour, back
when the dollar was worth more. He helped
barnstormers as a mechanic in exchange for lessons.
Sometimes the fliers let him taxi airplanes on the
ground for practice. Link found he could sharpen
his responses to the controls without actually
flying. With that, he gave birth to a great idea.
He put his knowledge of organs and pianos to
developing an airplane flight simulator. In 1929 he
filed a patent.
You may remember his Link Trainer. It was a stubby
little powder-blue box. It's tiny fake wings and
tail were bright yellow. If you read
Life magazine during WW-II you saw a
lot of it. It played a big part in training Air
Of course it took the Link Trainer time to reach
that point. Link made his first sales to amusement
parks. That's where people learned how good the
machine really was.
Two things made his Trainer very effective. First,
he'd made full use of organ and player-piano
technology -- complex pneumatic systems and
controllers that respond to manual input.
Second, he'd worked back and forth between real
airplanes and his Trainer. He'd adjusted the
response 'til it mimicked real flight very
In 1934, the Air Corps realized they had to give
pilots a safer way to practice flying on
instruments. They ordered Link Trainers. But so did
the Germans and Japanese. By 1941, all our fliers
had studied in Link Trainers. But so had the pilots
who bombed London and Pearl Harbor.
Our jet pilots today still learn in advanced Link
Trainers. But Edwin Link retired from that business
in 1954. He turned his creative genius on the
ocean. He went on to 20 years of inventing advanced
undersea technology -- diving chambers, submarines,
and more. When he died in 1981, he was as famous
for that work as he was for the Link Trainer.
So the omnivorous nature of inventive minds plays
out in the wondrous course of Link's fascinations
-- from organs to airplanes and finally to means
for living in the ocean deeps.
I'm John Lienhard, at the University of Houston,
where we're interested in the way inventive minds