50 years ago—and thousands of technologies ago—the R&D 100 Awards honored the first recipients.
The Beatles, Woodstock, Vietnam War protests, and the race to the moon may have been quintessential events of the 1960s. However, early in the decade, the editors of Industrial Research, the predecessor to R&D Magazine, recognized technology trends by identifying the most significant products of 1963, launching what would be called the “Oscars of innovation”—the R&D 100 Awards.
The editors and editorial advisory board reviewed more than 10,000 products that were developed, announced, or marketed during 1963. Selections were based on importance, uniqueness, and usefulness to research scientists and engineers.
” … very few products of this (or any) one year constitute breakthroughs to be ranked with the first color film, the first transistor, or the first laser,” the editors wrote. “New product development today is evolutionary, rather than revolutionary, and writers or product publicity who shout ‘breakthrough’ every time the paint is changed on Old Model X are finding a disinterested audience in the research community.”
On that note, some things never change. In each ensuing year, the R&D 100 judging committee has sorted through thousands of new products, and selected the 100 most significant of each year. Some were game-changers. However, most illustrate the evolutionary progress of science and technology.
A searchable list of all winning technologies, from 1963 to 2011 can be found at www.rdmag.com/rd100awards.
The first decade, by the numbers
From 1963 through 1969, almost 340 different companies, universities, government research laboratories, and nonprofit research organizations were awarded IR/R&D 100 Awards, as primary developers or co-developers. Industry dominated the awards (Figure 1) in the 1960s.
|Table 1. IR/R&D 100 Award Winners by Organization (1963 to 1969)|
|Organization||Wins (All divisions or business units)|
|General Telephone & Electronics Laboratories||7|
|IIT Research Institute||6|
|Lockheed Missiles & Space||6|
|Sylvania Electric Products||6|
|Argonne National Laboratory||5|
|Bausch & Lomb||5|
|Bell Telephone Laboratories||5|
|Pittsburgh Plate Glass||5|
|Companies with five or more wins. Source: R&D 100 Archive|
General Electric topped the list of winners; its various divisions tallied 54 wins. Westinghouse Electric and RCA received 31 and 30 awards respectively. Union Carbide (22) and Varian Associates (21) rounded out the top five spots. Table 1 lists all companies tallying five or more wins in the time period.
The types of winning technologies illustrated the trends of the times. Analytical instruments and materials were leading categories in the first decade. Consumer, communication, and environmental technologies had yet to make a mark.