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14 Things You Didn't Know a Mormon Invented


5. ARTIFICIAL HEART TRANSPLANT SURGERY

Heart transplants have been performed by surgeons as early as the 1960s, but it wasn’t until 1982 that the idea of using an artificial heart to save lives became a reality.

Latter-day Saint Dr. William DeVries was born in Ogden, Utah, and attended medical school at the University of Utah. He was a researcher for Dr. Willem Kolff and performed his first artificial heart surgeries on animals while in this role. After a painstaking process, he became the first and only surgeon authorized by the federal Food and Drug Administration to implant an artificial heart into a human. On December 2, 1982, DeVries implanted a Jarvik-7 artificial heart into fellow Mormon Barney Clark.

Clark, a dentist with heart failure, knew the procedure was risky and did not expect to live long. However, he hoped that his surgery would help save future lives. Clark lived a surprising 112 days after the surgery, and DeVries went on to continue his work toward making artificial hearts a sustainable solution for those suffering with incurable heart disease.

Over 1,000 people attended Clark’s funeral, including DeVries and a representative for President Reagan. Elder Neal A. Maxell spoke at the funeral, calling Clark a hero: “To a world increasingly filled with hopelessness and despair, he stood quietly and resolutely for an entirely different view of life.” He went on to say that Clark was “a selfless pioneer adding a new dimension to the Mormon pioneer tradition in which those who lost their loved ones crossing the plains nevertheless picked up their handcarts and headed west.”

6. ELECTRIC TRAFFIC LIGHT

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Picture from Getty Images

As early as 1868, attempts were being made to use traffic control devices. However, these early attempts were gas powered and proved too dangerous for use. It wasn’t until Mormon policeman Lester Wire developed a “flashing bird house” traffic control device several decades later that the first major step toward modern traffic control was made. The device, featuring painted green and red light bulbs connected to the trolley wires and manually controlled by a policeman on the ground, made its debut appearance at the intersection of 200 South and Main Street in Salt Lake City in 1912.

Salt Lake citizens originally disapproved of the device, looking upon it as a novelty item or just blatantly ignoring it. Police occasionally found that the device had been vandalized overnight and required time for repairs. Wire patiently continued to improve on his idea, though, and eventually developed a more durable, metal model of the traffic light using a locomotive smokestack. Unfortunately, by the time he thought about having the invention patented, several other cities already had their own versions of the system, patented by other men. Wire’s first electric light box was used as an actual birdhouse in Salt Lake’s Tracy Aviary for several years until it disappeared shortly after his death.