Samuel Alderson, inventor of crash test dummies, dead at 90


Samuel W. Alderson. Before creating crash test dummies, the inventor developed dummies for use in testing jet ejection seats and parachutes.
(Note: During the almost 27 years that I plied the nation's highways behind the wheel of an 18- or 22-wheeler, I came to love these crash test dummies -- both for their help in making highway transportation safer and for the lasting impression, always good, that they had on children and their parents alike. I was fascinated by them and got my photo taken with them in Louisville, Kentucky, at the Mid-America Truck Show in the mid-1990s. The grin says it all!)
February 18, 2005
The Associated Press

To submit a Letter to the Editor:

Samuel W. Alderson, the inventor of crash test dummies such as those used to test auto safety, has died. He was 90.

Alderson died February 11 at home of complications from myelofibrosis, his son Jeremy said.

He grew up tinkering in his father's custom sheet-metal shop, worked on various military technology and by 1952 had formed Alderson Research Labs, making anthropomorphic dummies for use by the military and NASA in testing ejection seats and parachutes.

The dummies, built to approximate the weight and density of humans, hold data-gathering instruments.

There was little interest in his first automobile test dummy, he once said, until publication of Ralph Nader's consumer protection book "Unsafe at Any Speed" in 1965.

The National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act was passed a year later.

Born in Cleveland and raised in Southern California, Alderson studied at various times at colleges including California Institute of Technology, Columbia University and University of California, Berkeley.

One type of dummy he developed measured radiation doses. Before creating dummies, he worked on missile guidance systems and helped develop a coating to enhance vision on submarine periscopes during World War II.

He left his original company in 1973 to form a competing crash test dummy maker, and the two firms were dominant in the market until eventually merging in 1990 to form First Technology Safety Systems.

Alderson was widowed once and divorced three times. In addition to his son Jeremy, he is survived by a sister, another son, and four grandchildren.