If you ever stood in a corner fiddling for hours with the rabbit ears on the TV, you can thank—or curse—Marvin P. Middlemark, born today in 1919. His invention of a set-based, dipole antenna made television reception stronger, and opened the door to our modern TV culture. Before those distinctive rabbit ears, the picture you received on your screen was it, and there was no changing it unless you moved to a house closer to the transmitter. Once the TV-hungry masses had antennas, though, the world was their grainy oyster, especially if they discovered standing on one foot and holding the tip of the rabbit ears in aluminum foil while stretching toward the window.
Middlemark also helped NASA develop communication technology for the Apollo missions, but some of his inventions, like the water-powered potato peeler, didn’t find a market. No worries, though, because the eccentric inventor made his millions and shared the wealth often with those less fortunate. When he died in 1989, his estate distributed 15,000 pairs of gloves to homeless shelters per his last request. At least they received something useful; his estate also consisted of a stained glass collection, including colorful tributes to Einstein and Marilyn Monroe, several Chinese tractors, lots of statues of Greek deities, plus miniature horses, donkeys and reportedly a chimp who had a drinking problem. No word on if the chimp could tune a TV or use the potato peeler.