In the world of technology, Steve Jobs is rightfully famous. So is Thomas Edison, Bill Gates, Alexander Graham Bell, Elon Musk, Philo T. Farnsworth, Ray Dolby and Nikola Tesla.
Last night at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York, I attended a small 90th birthday party for someone not-so famous, a man named Jack Wayman. There is no reason why you should know who Jack is. Since I'm writing this, apparently I think you should.
Jack didn't invent a gadget or run a company - but in many ways he invented the way the consumer electronics industry operates. With his distinctive shock of silver hair, Jack has been compared as a cross between Ted Baxter and Monty Hall. He's an inwardly Illustrated Man, a walking history of the people, places and products that comprise the entire post-war consumer technology revolution. He actually coined the term "consumer electronics."
Jack's headline achievement is he invented the Consumer Electronics Show - despite strenuous opposition from his bosses and member companies - back in June 25-28, 1967.
What started with 100 exhibitors and 17,000 attendees at the Americana and Hilton Hotels in midtown Manhattan has morphed into 3,100 exhibitors and 153,000 attendees filling the Las Vegas Convention Center and several hotel showrooms - a growth Jack is primarily responsible for.
How important is CES? It's the largest trade show of any kind in North America. At the last CES in January, an estimated 20,000 new gadgets were introduced.
And CES is produced by the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), an influential trade and lobbying organization Jack is responsible for creating.
Jack's gregarious salesmanship, encyclopedic industry knowledge, persistence, and seemingly inexhaustible energy helped make what I write about and all the gadgets you get to play with possible.
So you can see why I think Jack is someone you ought to know.
First, a war hero
Inventing and growing CES is quite an achievement, but Jack was first is a highly-decorated member of the Greatest Generation.
Rising from corporal to first lieutenant in the U.S. Army, Jack was at Normandy and the Battle of the Bulge, and was with General Eisenhower at Auschwitz. In between, he earned the Silver Star, Bronze Star, Purple Heart with Cluster, two Presidential unit citations, five battle stars, an Air Medal and the Combat Infantry Badge - achievements that Jack, like many veterans of World War II, is hesitant to discuss.
He entered what we would later call the consumer electronics industry in 1947, working in a variety of sales and managerial capacities for a variety of companies, including the largest in the world, RCA.
Thanks to the burgeoning popularity of TV and hi-fi stereo gear, it was clear the so-called "home entertainment" business was growing way beyond its origins as simply the radio business in the early 1960s. At that time, the growing number of home entertainment companies were represented by the enormous Electronics Industries Association (EIA), which represented all electronics companies - consumer, commercial and industrial.
In 1962, EIA hired its first full-time director for its small Consumer Products Division. In October 1963, Jack was hired as the second director.
Over the next 20-plus years, Jack would be smack in the middle of or leading behind the scenes every major technology and trade issue as home electronics evolved into consumer electronics. Jack encouraged the entrance of Japanese companies into what was a fierce jingoistic "Made in America" electronics market environment, made sure TVs had to have both VHF and UHF tuners, championed and helped numerous TV universal technical standards get adopted, procured home recording rights in the wake of Hollywood lawsuits against the VCR in the late 1970s, succeeded in overturning several state and city bans on stereo headphones after the introduction of the Walkman in 1979, and much much more.
Jack made consumer electronics so important that what started out as an unstaffed division of EIA evolved into a separate, independent and influential lobbying organization - EIA closed its doors in February 2011 - with more than 2,000 member companies.
After leaving active leadership of CEA (now led by Gary Shapiro, who was hired and mentored by Jack) in the 1980s, Jack has been a presence on the road, representing the industry in radio and TV appearances.
Even at 90, Jack still conducts entertaining and informative phone interviews with radio stations around the country. Often clad in his bright yellow sports coat, Jack is a familiar and revered figure at industry events - to those who know who he is and what he has accomplished.
Happy birthday, Jack!