Yale Innovation Timeline

  • Bushnell graduated from Yale in 1775, at the outbreak of the American Revolution, and went on to build the “Turtle,” a turtle-shaped submarine which was propelled underwater by an operator who turned its propeller by hand. The “Turtle” was armed with a torpedo and several attempts were made using the Turtle against British warships. Bushnell is known as the “father of submarine warfare.”
    David Bushnell, 1775:
  • Having graduated from Yale College, Whitney went on to design a cotton gin for cleaning green-seed cotton and secured a patent for his invention in 1794. He later developed the concept for mass production of interchangeable parts displayed in assembling muskets.
    Eli Whitney, 1792:
  • The son of Yale professor who would later become a Yale professor himself, Josiah W. Gibbs was a theoretical physicist and chemist who was one of the greatest scientists of his time—although largely unrecognized. He applied thermodynamics to physical processes, leading to the development of statistical mechanics.
    Josiah W. Gibbs, 1858:
  • Lee DeForest was a prolific inventor who received his PhD from Yale in 1896, with over 300 patents to his name. Most prominently, he is remembered for inventing the audion, a vacuum tube that can amplify weak electrical signals and allowed AT&T to have nationwide phone service and for sound transmission for radios, TVs and even early computers. DeForest is known as “the father of radio.”
    Lee DeForest, 1896:
  • As a student at Yale College, Morse was interested in both art and electricity. He would go on to become a well-known portrait artist. Between 1832 and 1837, he developed a working electric telegraph, using materials at hand, including a battery and gears. His device was capable of transmitting dots and dashes that could be “sound read” by operators—the famed Morse code.
    Samuel F. B. Morse, 1810:
  • John F. Enders left his studies at Yale to become an air force pilot, but would return to receive his degree in 1919. He would go on to receive his PhD from Harvard and do transformative research related to infectious diseases. His in vitro culture of the poliovirus led to a Nobel Prize in 1954, and Enders’ work would be responsible for the development of both the polio and measles vaccines. He is known as the “father of modern vaccines.”
    John F. Enders, 1919:
  • Marie Curie was the first woman to receive an honorary science degree from Yale. She attended an illegal, clandestine university in Poland and later married Pierre Curie, with whom she shared her first Nobel Prize for her contributions to the study of radiation in 1903. She received her second Nobel, in chemistry, for the discovery of radium and polonium, in 1911.
    Marie Curie, 1921:
  • Edwards Deming invented the “total quality management” concept, used to improve design, service, testing and sales using statistical methods that significantly improved Japan’s manufacturing and economic success. Not until his death in 1993 was he recognized in the U.S. and he was honored by President Reagan in 1987 with the National Medal of Technology. The following year he received the Distinguished Career in Science award from the National Academy of Sciences.
    Edwards Deming, 1928:
  • Grace Hopper was a pioneering computer scientist who received both her MA (1930) and PhD (1934) from Yale. She left a teaching position at Vassar to join the Navy WAVES (Women Accepted for Voluntary Emergency Service) and was asked to program an electromechanical computing machine. Hopper turned out a 500-page manual of operations. Later, she became one of the first software engineers, inventing the compiler, which translates commands for computers, and developing the COBOL computer language.
    Grace M. Hopper, 1934:
  • John Fenn was a former Yale professor who earned his PhD from Yale in 1940 and was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2002 for developing Electrospray Mass Spectrometry, a technique that greatly advanced drug discovery and molecular study.
    John Fenn, 1940:
  • The Chair of the Yale Dept. of Surgery, Gustaf Lindskog administered the first intravenous treatment of chemotherapy after witnessing the ability of nitrogen mustard to kill cancer cells in mice, launching a protocol that would save the lives of millions suffering from cancer.
    Gustaf Lindskog, 1942:
  • Frank Ruddle joined the Yale faculty in 1961 and was a pioneer in the field of genetics—one of the first scientists to map genes on human chromosomes. His research led to the first transgenic animals, allowing scientists to study the way genes function in living organisms, and created the Human Gene Map at Yale in 1989, which paved the way for the Human Genome Project (launched in 1989).
    Frank Ruddle, 1961:
  • Marian Wright Edelman received her law degree from Yale Law School in 1963, and a decade later she founded the Children’s Defense Fund, the nation’s strongest voice for children and families. Edelman has received over 100 honorary degrees and awards including the Albert Schweitzer Humanitarian Prize and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Edelman was also the first woman elected by alumni as a member of the Yale University Corporation on which she served from 1971 to 1977.
    Marian Wright Edelman, 1963:
  • Fred Smith hatched the idea for an overnight delivery service that would become Federal Express in an economics paper he wrote while at Yale (famously, he professed to probably receiving a “C” on that paper). Smith’s idea was for a central clearing house where materials were exchanged. FedEx is now a $45-billion global transportation, business services and logistics company.
    Fred Smith, 1966:
  • Bing Gordon, who received his B.A. from Yale and his M.B.A. from Stanford, was a longtime Chief Creative Director of video game maker Electronic Arts where he drove branding strategy for EA Sports and contributed to the design and marketing of many EA franchises, including John Madden Football and The Sims. He was a founding director at Audible (acquired by Amazon in 2008) and is currently a General Partner and Chief Product Officer for Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.
    Bing Gordon, 1972:
  • After 10 years at Apple, Donna Dubinsky joined Jeff Hawkins, founder of Palm Pilot, becoming its president and CEO and carving out a new industry segment for personal digital assistants. The two left Palm to cofound Handspring in 1998, another leader in the early smartphones with the Treo. Dubinsky serves on Yale’s board and cofounded Numenta, Inc. in 2005.
    Donna Dubinsky, 1977:
  • Robert Shulman joined the Yale faculty in 1979 and has played a leading role in the use of nuclear magnetic resonance imaging (NMR) technology for biological studies. Shulman is the Sterling Professor emeritus of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry and he founded the Magnetic Resonance Research Center at Yale. His group has used high field NMR spectroscopy to follow chemical reactions and brain activity and NMR imaging techniques.
    Robert Shulman, 1979:
  • Tarek Sherif is the founder of Medidata Solutions, the leading global provider of cloud-based solutions to the life science industry—a business that supports clinical trials in over 115 countries and defines the vertical cloud company business model. Sherif led Medidata’s successful IPO in June 2009, positioning Medidata as one of the best performing companies to go public since 2009 and New York City’s most successful public technology company.
    Tarek Sherif, 1984:
  • Tze-Chiang Chen, a pioneer in the development of silicon chip technologies, received his PhD in Engineering and Applied Science from Yale in 1985. He is currently Vice President of Science and Technology Research & Development at IBM, where he led the development of technology that formed the basis of semiconductor devices in IBM computers. He also led a team of international collaborators to build the fastest and smallest DRAM technology and is an IEEE Fellow.
    Tze-Chiang Chen, 1985:
  • After joining the Dept. of Computer Science at Yale in 1985, Vladimir Rokhlin went on to co-invent the Fast Multipole Method, one of the top 10 algorithms of the 20th century. It is used to solve a classic problem in mathematical physics called the n-body problem, which determines how the gravitational attraction between two or more bodies affects their motion and has a wide number of applications in physics, from studying planetary motion to describing electromagnetic phenomena.
    Vladimir Rokhlin, 1985:
  • Kevin Ryan is a leading internet entrepreneur who founded the online retailer Gilt Groupe as well as Business Insider and MongoDB. Under his leadership, the online ad service and Google subsidiary DoubleClick grew from a 20-person startup to a multibillion dollar global leader. Ryan was named one of the “50 Most Influential Business People” by Crain’s New York Business and he currently serves on the board of Yale University and is a member of the Yale International Council.
    Kevin Ryan, 1985:
  • Richard Flavell was the founding chairman of the Department of Immunobiology at Yale. He won the Vilcek Prize for Biomedical Sciences with Ruslan Medzhitov for having posed a unifying theory to describe how inflammation can impact the body’s control mechanisms to trigger the onset of disease. Flavell continues to chair Yale’s Department of Immunobiology and is the Sterling Professor of Immunobiology and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator.
    Richard A. Flavell, 1988:
  • Barry Nalebuff is the Milton Steinbach Professor at Yale University who joined the faculty in 1990 as well as an expert on game theory and how it applies to business strategy and co-author of six books. In 1998, he and former student Seth Goldman cofounded Honest Tea to compete with the over-sweetened beverage market, bringing it to $70 million in sales before selling the company to Coca Cola in 2011.
    Barry Nalebuff, 1990:
  • Jonathan M. Rothberg is a pioneer in DNA sequencing, who received an MS, MPhil and PhD in biology from Yale. His thesis work centered on decoding the slit gene which is responsible for the wiring of the nervous system. Rothberg founded CuraGen while at Yale, one of the first genomics companies to develop therapies for treating metastatic skin and breast cancer (sold to CellDex Therapeutics).  He later founded 454 Life Sciences (acquired by Roche) and Ion Torrent (acquired by Life Technologies).
    Jonathan M. Rothberg, 1991:
  • Gualberto Ruaño received a PhD in human genetics from Yale in 1993 and is the inventor of Coupled Amplification and Sequencing (CAS), a method of gene discovery that formed the basis of Ruano’s first startup, Gennaissance. Ruaño is currently the President and Founder of Genomas, a company dedicated to DNA-guided management and prescription of drugs.
    Gualberto Ruaño, 1993:
  • Anne Wojcicki graduated from Yale in 1996 with a biology degree and went on to cofound 23andMe, a personal genetic testing startup. The company provides DNA analysis to individuals via a saliva test and then posts the results online with regular updates allowing people to see the genetic probabilities of inheriting particular diseases. The startup has had its share of controversies, including an ongoing regulation battle with the FDA.
    Anne Wojcicki, 1996:
  • These three Yale alums cofounded Higher One in 2000, a startup that provides educational institutions with an efficient method for handling financial disbursements including student refunds, purchases, payroll and collection of payments and offers students flexible options and financial literacy programs. The company supports more than 1,600 schools and approximately 13 million enrolled students.
    Mark Volchek (2000) Miles Lasater (2001) & Sean Glass (2003):
  • These three Yalies cofounded Pinterest, a virtual pinboard that lets users post images of things they covet, recipes they want to try, fitness inspirations and more. Pinterest is one of the fastest-growing websites in the world, with a reported 70 million users worldwide in July 2013.
    Ben Silbermann, Evan Sharp and Paul Sciarra (2003):

Yale innovators have changed the course of history, and Yale inventions and discoveries have transformed nearly every discipline, including medicine, education, electronics, physics, business, geology and chemistry. And that tradition of Yale greatness continues today. From renowned Yale inventors like Eli Whitney to the university’s recent Nobel Prize-winning scientists, Yale faculty and students continue to find new solutions to the world’s most pressing problems.