March 3, 2005 by

Samuel Alderson


Categories: Business, Scientists

Samuel W. Alderson was no dummy. But he designed one that saved countless lives.
Born in Cleveland and raised in Southern California, Alderson graduated from high school at 15 and attended four colleges: Reed College, the California Institute of Technology, the University of California Berkeley, and Columbia University. His education was interrupted several times during the Depression when he would return home to help out in his father’s sheet metal shop.
During World War II, Alderson improved missile guidance systems for the U.S. military and developed a special coating that helped enhance vision on submarine periscopes. He then formed Alderson Research Labs, a company that designed an anthropomorphic test device later known as the crash test dummy. Weighing approximately the same as humans, these mechanical surrogates were used by the military and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration to test ejection seats, parachutes and exposure to radiation.
The first crash test dummies for the automobile industry were cadavers. Since the bodies deteriorated quickly during repeat trials and had no uniformity in size or shape, automakers began seeking a new way to test its safety features. Alderson built the first automobile test dummy in 1960, but few took notice until five years later when former presidential candidate and consumer advocate Ralph Nader published the book, “Unsafe at Any Speed: The Designed-In Dangers of the American Automobile.” In 1966, the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act passed, which authorized the government to set and regulate safety standards for motor vehicles and highways.
Alderson’s dummy, which was built specifically for automotive testing, resembled an average-sized adult man. It had a nearly featureless face, a steel rib cage, articulated joints and a flexible neck and lumbar spine. Instruments designed to collect data during crashes were implanted inside the dummy’s head, chest and thighs.
In 1973, Alderson formed Humanoid Systems, another company that designed and produced test dummies. Humanoid Systems and Alderson Research Labs competed against each other until 1990, when they merged to form First Technology Safety Systems. Today, Alderson’s original dummy has been improved and expanded into a high-tech family that includes women, children and infants.
Alderson died on Feb. 11 from complications of myelofibrosis and pneumonia. He was 90.
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3 Responses to Samuel Alderson

  1. Bao zhenwei

    Dear Mr.Samuel W. Alderson,
    I am a safety engineer at the crash test in Shanghai,China. My major job is Dummy Working.
    I hope to show my best respect and appreciation to you, because you had made a great effort to provide the world the best thing — Dummy.
    With it, many and many people survivaled from accident, and the world come to much more safety.
    God bless you, and we will try our best to follow you will to cut down the injure and save more people.
    Have a nice day in heaven.
    Best regards
    Bao zhenwei

  2. Michael Alderson

    I wish to thank all of you for your best wishes and support. Samuel was my grandfather, and it has been wonderful to stuble across this message board. Thanks again.

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