Hassan Kamal Al-Sabbah: The Arab American Inventor You May Not Know
By: Freddie Tubbs/Arab America Contributing Writer
As far as great inventors go, Hassan Kamal Al-Sabbah is one of the most under-appreciated. That his origin is Lebanon may, sadly, account for some of the reasons why this is the case.
He was a Lebanese electrical and electronics research engineer, mathematician and inventor and was born in Nabatieh, Lebanon in 1895 where he studied at the American University of Beirut. He taught mathematics at Imperial College of Damascus, Syria, and at the American University of Beirut.
He conducted large amounts of research at MIT and the University of Illinois in the US. He was an incredibly influential figure in his research and has over 70 US and International patents for his work. Despite all that he achieved, many people haven’t heard all that much about him. So, with that said, here are a few areas that you might not have known that he influenced.
In 1921, he traveled to the United States and for a short time studied at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology before joining the University of Illinois in 1923. He entered the vacuum tube section of the Engineering Laboratory of the General Electric Company at Schenectady, New York. in 1923 where he was engaged in mathematical and experimental research, principally on rectifiers and inverters and he received 43 patents covering his work. Among the patents were reported innovations in television transmission
The Space Industry is where most of Al-Sabbah’s work seems to have been channeled. This is quite an extraordinary fact given that, with his death coming in a tragic car accident in 1935, it was just shy of 40 years later that man landed on the moon. However, with 27 patents in space industries, this was a big field for him, particularly relating to solar power. Solar power has become extremely important in recent years, with the acknowledgment of global warming. Solar cells, that Al-Sabbah tested were the prototypes for the ones used today in space exploration. This is an example of his extraordinary impact on invention even all these years later.
To continue his work from solar energy and its uses in space, Al-Sabbah has patents in transforming car circuitry to make early designs for electric cars. Again, his early designs have become extremely prescient for the modern age, where electric cars are being turned to as a replacement for fueling cars with petrol. Al-Sabbah experimented on his own car to try and crack practically powering a car with solar energy which is an incredibly early attempt at something which is today the focus of huge companies like Tesla.
In heavy industries such as the development of wind farms, ships, tanks, turbos, and other heavy-duty building, arc-welding is crucial. Al-Sabbah developed a rectifying system which was absolutely vital to the development of the arc welding machine. This is a really important development where-by welding for huge pieces of metal that are required for heavy industries is facilitated by, what turns out to be something of an obsession of Al-Sabbah, the use of electricity to heat up the metal to the required temperature to weld it effectively to the other parts of the heavy items. This proved to be really important during the Second World War, where industrial developers used Al-Sabbah’s techniques to develop the requisite welding techniques for the extreme mass development of vehicles and turbos that powered the respective war efforts.
To make a departure from the heavy, industry-oriented worlds of space travel and heavy instrument arc-welding, Al-Sabbah’s developments and patents, 5 of them to be specific, made a huge impact on the world of televisions and screens in general. In fact, so impactful were his patents that when the, now ubiquitous, LCD (liquid crystal display) screens were introduced they were created directly out of patents that belonged to Al-Sabbah. His impact on televisual transmission directly led to the creation of military LCDs which are in aircraft, designed to display information in super high detail. It all comes back to his developments on the cathode ray tube, a field in which two of the patents sat specifically. His screens have huge numbers of pixels which allowed for a far greater color detail than the normal black and green filters. It is proposed that without Al-Sabbah, modern television wouldn’t exist.
Statue of Hassan Kamel Al Sabbah in Nabatieh district, Lebanon
It is deeply sad that Al-Sabbah was taken from his inventions so early through his tragic accident in 1935. He died in an automobile accident at Lewis near Elizabeth Town, New York. However, with so much of his work proving so incredibly crucial to such a variety of industries across the past century, his impact and legacy live on. Hopefully, other inventors can draw from his unique passions and try to emulate his work rate and his commitment to creation. So many of the things which we take for granted these days are due directly to him, so it is very much worth honoring his legacy.