Someday, the South Bay may be known as the birthplace of screenless windows, perfume-dispensing jewelry or the self-cleaning house.
Whether frivolous gadgets or useful amenities, these products are the work of independent South Bay inventors who hope to strike it rich by finding their niches.
About 90 inventors--members of the South Bay chapter of a support group called the Inventors Workshop International--meet twice a month in Redondo Beach to share encouragement, advice and stories of successful inventors whose ideas made them wealthy overnight.
Well, almost overnight.
As most any independent inventor will quickly explain, developing an idea from concept to finished product can take many years and a significant financial investment--as much as $15,000 in research, development and patent fees.
But once you're bitten by the inventor's bug, you're hooked, says Russ Beach, chairman of the South Bay chapter.
Beach, 54, has several patents under his inventor's hat to prove it, including one for a screenless window. (The screen retracts out of sight when the window is closed.) He works on his inventive ideas in his garage when not working at his full-time job for Garrett AiResearch in Torrance.
Beach said his love for inventing does put a strain on his family life--"The wife gets tired of all this"--but he said he is convinced that his efforts will one day pay off.
His prototype window has caught the interest of several manufacturers, Beach said, but he said he won't let it go for mass production until he gets the right price.
Another inventor, Will Battles of Redondo Beach, has chosen a direct-marketing strategy for his "Astrozoomer," a toy airplane that uses a kite string for a track. Once the kite is in the air, the wind carries the Astrozoomer to the top of the string and then rockets it back to earth.
Battles, a retired chemist for Atlantic Richfield Co., has patented the toy and sells it by mail for $6 in the United States and several other countries.
Most members of the international group, like Beach and Battles, invent in their spare time, but it boasts some successful full-time inventors. Dr. Terri Pall, a member of the San Fernando Valley chapter, began inventing at age 11. She claims credit for the "Etch-a-Sketch" drawing device.
Beach said that most inventors are motivated by the adage, "Necessity is the mother of invention." And every inventor, he said, harbors the hope that the next idea will bring instant wealth.
"Most people with us are tired of working. They're looking for that big break, that pot at the end of the rainbow."
Members come from all age groups and occupations--doctors, chemists and veterinarians, to name a few--but they are drawn together by their love of gadgets and labor-saving devices, Beach said.
They share a reputation for being loners, often working late hours on secretive projects. Not usually joiners, they might not have formed the inventors foundation, Beach said, if they had not seen a need to protect themselves from "front-money phonies" who promise inventors large profits but fail to deliver.
"This was founded by people who felt they had to take matters into their own hands," said Charles Brailey, founder of the South Bay chapter, which followed on the heels of the formation in 1972 of the original Beverly Hills group.
Today the group has 30 chapters worldwide, including one formed recently in Australia, and almost 1,300 members. The organization guides inventors from the idea stage through patent application, and, if the product is good enough, even into production and marketing.
Only one of the South Bay chapter's two monthly meetings is open to the public. That meeting is on the second Tuesday of each month at 7:30 p.m. in the Home Federal Savings & Loan building at 1670 S. Pacific Coast Highway.
But Beach warns prospective members on the the chances of making it big.
"I think they're about the worst odds in the world," he said. "A guy's a fool to be an inventor."