Stanley A. Dashew's latest invention is the Dashaway, a rehabilitation… (Irfan Khan, Los Angeles…)
The gig: A 95-year-old sailor, inventor and entrepreneur, Stanley A. Dashew is probably best known for his invention of credit card embossing and imprinting machines in the 1950s that helped give birth to the plastic credit card industry. He has also invented other devices in such fields as shipping, mining and marine recreation. He personally holds 14 U.S. patents.
Dashew and his late wife, Rita, were world travelers who supported efforts to strengthen international ties and promote peace. He helped fund and build the Dashew Center for International Students and Scholars at UCLA.
Early start: Dashew was born in 1916 in Harlem and at age 15 started a business bottling and selling root beer. His parents owned a farm and resort cottages in rural New York, where he learned to operate and repair machines.
Perseverance counts: Dashew hit his stride financially as a business machine salesman during the Depression. Surviving those lean years gave him a sense of calm. "For those who fear the economy will be unable to right itself fiscally, I say fear not, everything goes in cycles," he said. "The country is resilient."
Enjoying risk: Dashew sold enough Addessograph label makers and other business machines to buy a 76-foot schooner for his family to sail on a 15,000-mile sea journey from Michigan to California in 1949. His 7-year-old son was raring to go, and the arrival of a baby daughter barely slowed the Dashews' departure.
Unable to wash diapers at sea, Dashew wrapped the infant's bottom in surgical dressing. When word of the new "diapers" got out through a newspaper story, a surgical dressing company gave Dashew a huge supply.
Taking small children on a long boat cruise was considered nervy then and might draw outrage in 2011. Some children are too coddled nowadays, Dashew said. "Children should be raised to be independent, to figure things out on their own and to make things happen," he said. "My own education came both from life's experiences and from the schoolroom."
Taking off: The Dashews decided to stay in burgeoning Los Angeles after completing their sea voyage in 1950. In L.A. Stanley founded numerous businesses and created business machines, including a high-speed embosser that led to the first plastic credit cards. When trying to land American Express as an account, he mocked up credit cards with the phrase "Member Since," words that still appear on the company's credit cards today.
Setbacks happen: Dashew said his worst business experience came in the mid-1960s in a deal involving tycoon Howard Hughes. Dashew sold control of his company, Dashew Business Machines, to a subsidiary of the billionaire's Hughes Tool Co., hoping to raise cash to expand operations. Hughes executives took over and mismanaged the company, Dashew said, while also failing to come through with the promised financing. Dashew Business went bankrupt in 1965.
Life lesson: "The chances of successful partnership are lessened when the principal partner is inaccessible, " Dashew said, wryly recalling that the reclusive Hughes was never available to intervene.
Other ventures: Dashew has prospered buying commercial real estate, including industrial property, shopping centers and mobile home parks.
"I have always been careful not to overextend myself and have built flexibility into my plans to allow for future expansion," he said.
Still working: A few years ago, Dashew invented the Dashaway, a rehabilitation and fitness device that looks like a jazzed-up walker with wheels and hand brakes. It helped him stand up again after hip surgery and also cope with Parkinson's disease. It is now sold commercially.
"I enjoy taking on new risks," he said, "and launching into unknown territory."
Personal: Dashew is a widower who lives in Westwood and enjoys sailing his cutter Deerfoot II on weekends. He has three children, three grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.