Gates. Jobs. Zuckerberg. Love them or hate them, these names instantly conjure up memories of your first time using Windows, the first time you held an iPhone or the joy of that first friend request. Their contributions to technology and the way we communicate, both at work and in our personal lives, can be seen, used and touched every single day. But the name Walter L. Shaw probably doesn’t ring any bells, even though a great deal of the communications technologies we use every day — and indeed, some of those more famous tech names — are all in some way indebted to Mr. Shaw’s inventions.
Walter L. Shaw holds 39 patents, including some of the most ubiquitous technology imaginable: hands-free speaker phones, call forwarding and conference calling. Businesses around the world, including PGi, produce and utilize these technologies every day, and yet Walter L. Shaw was not a wealthy or even well-known man. A victim of shady business practices and patent laws, never receiving recognition or compensation for inventing technologies that revolutionized telecommunications, Shaw died of cancer in 1996, nearly penniless and living off the charity of his son. Shaw received posthumous recognition for his accomplishments from the Florida House of Representatives in 2000.
The recently released documentary Genius On Hold explores the life and times of Walter L. Shaw, his one-time jewel thief son Walter T. Shaw, his inventions, his family’s ties to the mafia and his descent into poverty. I first learned about Walter L. Shaw in this fantastic article on VentureBeat. In it, author John Koetsier spoke with Shaw’s son about why he created this documentary:
“It’s about closure for my father,” Shaw told me. “When you ask people who invented the conference call, what do they say? But if you ask who made Apple, they answer Steve Jobs.”
You can view the trailer for Genius on Hold, which is currently in limited release, below:
For more information on Walter L. Shaw and the documentary, visit http://whoiswaltershaw.com.
Photo Credit: whoiswaltershaw.com