Dr. Nakamatsu, the Most Famous Inventor You’ve Never Heard of - Whose Greatest Invention May Be Himself
Here is the story of one man’s fame, fortune and genius.
When those things are not as important as curiosity and innovation there is no telling what will emerge. Yoshiro Nakamatsu made the world a better and more productive place. And he’s managed a healthy ego to boot.
Who is he? What makes him tick? What can we learn from him? Will others follow in his footsteps?
One of the oldest chestnuts about inventions involves a 19th-century patent official who resigned because he thought nothing was left to invent. The yarn, which periodically pops up in print, is patently preposterous. “The story was an invention,” says Yoshiro Nakamatsu. “An invention built to last.”
He should know. Nakamatsu—Dr. NakaMats, if you prefer, or, as he prefers, Sir Dr. NakaMats—is an inveterate and inexorable inventor whose biggest claim to fame is the floppy disk. “I became father of the apparatus in 1950,” says Dr. NakaMats, who conceived it at the University of Tokyo while listening to Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5. “There was no mother.”
Though Dr. NakaMats received a Japanese patent in 1952, this virgin birth is disputed by IBM, which insists its own team of engineers developed the device in 1969. Still, to avoid conflicts, Big Blue struck a series of licensing agreements with him in 1979. “My method of digitizing analog technology was the start of Silicon Valley and the information revolution,” Dr. NakaMats says. His voice is low, slow and patronizing, solicitously deliberate. “I am a cross between Steve Jobs and Leonardo da Vinci.”
The floppy is only a short subject in the nonstop invention film that’s running in Dr. NakaMats’ brain. Among his other creations (he will earnestly tell you) are the CD, the DVD, the fax machine, the taxi meter, the digital watch, the karaoke machine, CinemaScope, spring-loaded shoes, fuel-cell-powered boots, an invisible “B-bust bra,” a water-powered engine, the world’s tiniest air conditioner, a self-defense wig that can be swung at an attacker, a pillow that prevents drivers from nodding off behind the wheel, an automated version of the popular Japanese game pachinko, a musical golf putter that pings when the ball is struck properly, a perpetual motion machine that runs on heat and cosmic energy and…much, much more, much of which has never made it out of the multiplex of his mind.
Dr. NakaMats is the progenitor of one other novelty related to floppies: Love Jet, a libido-boosting potion that can be sprayed on the genitalia. The computer component and the mail-order aphrodisiac—and the cash they generate—have taken the inventor of NakaMusic, NakaPaper and NakaVision out of the ranks of the faintly bonkers basement crackpot. The two great financial successes in his perpetual printout of ideas, they give him credibility. Nobody dares to completely kiss off his wilder inventions.