Armenian-American Inventor Oscar Banker – Asatour Sarafian

Armenian-American inventor Oscar H. Banker (born Asatour Sarafian; 1895 – January 1979) developed and patented many devices, including an automatic transmission for automobiles, the needleless inoculation gun, the primary controls of the first Sikorsky helicopter, and power steering. He is considered by some people as the “father of automatic transmission.”

Asatour Sarafian was born in 1895 in the Ottoman Empire which represented some complications for his family. Fortunately, Banker’s family managed to go through slaughters and mass killings of Armenians throughout the Ottoman Empire, though during that period Banker fell sick and no one even believed he would live through the illness as his mother was unable to take care of him. He was saved by his father who fed him juice grape from a goat’s udder used as a bottle, bringing him back to full health.

As a teenager Asatour managed to leave the Ottoman Empire and move to Chigaco. On the arrival in Ellis Island, the largest gateway for immigrants of the first half of 20th century, Asatour took up the name Oscar Banker and began working in an engineering workshop. It was there he invented his first device, a saw-filing machine.

He liked it so much that he decided to devote his whole life to inventing.
One of Banker’s devices was automatic transmission which he offered to General Motors to replace the ineffective semi-automatic gearbox installed on company’s vehicles. He has been battling with automobile manufacturer companies for eight years when his proposition was eventually accepted by General Motors.

After this case Banker became known as the man who created consumer advocate Ralph Nader. Nader became famous for his involvement into consumer protection, environmentalism, and government reform causes. In 1965 he published the bestselling book Unsafe at Any Speed, a critique of the safety record of American automobile manufacturers that became known as one of the most important journalistic pieces of the 20th century. Banker was mentioned in the book as well.

Banker made significant contribution to aviation mechanics. He worked with Russian-American aircraft designer Igor Ivanovich Sikorsky on the primary controls of an experimental helicopter which rose into air in 1939. Their cooperative work lead to mass production of helicopters during World War II.

Banker also invented pneumatic inoculation gun. Banker patented the gun in 1968 after his wife heard about similar mechanism from military surgeon Robert Hingson on television. Later the gun, which was able to administer 2000 shots an hour, was accepted by Med-E-Jet in Cleveland, Ohio.

Med-E-Jet sent supply of Banker’s guns to island country Grenada when it suffered an epidemic. On August 2, 1979, Grenada issued a postage stamp to commemorate Banker’s achievement. Having simple and reliable design, the gun soon started to be used in the whole world.

Banker’s memoirs titled Dreams and Wars of an American Inventor: An Immigrant’s Romance were published in 1983 by Bob Hull. Banker writes: “America is yet the greatest county existing for opportunity, for achievement and if a person can endure the hardships, ridicule, rebuffs, whatever and keep on going! That is what counts. And absolutely nothing else.”

Oscar H. Banker died in Cleveland, Ohio in 1979 at the age of 83.


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