Otis Boykin

Otis Boykin invented an improved electrical resistor

Otis Boykin invented an improved electrical resistor
Illustration by Mary Bellis from source photo

Otis Boykin is best known for inventing an improved electrical resistor used in computers, radios, television sets and a variety of electronic devices. Boykin invented a variable resistor used in guided missile parts and a control unit for heart stimulators; the unit was used in the artificial heart pacemaker, a device created to produce electrical shocks to the heart to maintain a healthy heart rate. He patented more than 25 electronic devices, and his inventions greatly assisted him in overcoming the obstacles that society placed in front of him during that era of segregation. Boykin's inventions also helped the world achieve the technology so prevalent today.

Biography of Otis Boykin

Otis Boykin was born on Aug. 29, 1920, in Dallas, Texas. After graduating from Fisk University in 1941 in Nashville, Tennessee, he was employed as a laboratory assistant for the Majestic Radio and TV Corporation of Chicago, testing automatic controls for airplanes. He later became a research engineer with the P.J. Nilsen Research Laboratories, and he eventually founded his own company, Boykin-Fruth Inc. Hal Fruth was his mentor at the time and business partner.

Boykin continued his education at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago from 1946 to 1947, but he had to drop out when he could no longer pay tuition. Undeterred, he began to work harder on his own inventions in electronics — including resistors, which slow the flow of electricity and allow a safe amount of electricity to move through a device.

Boykin's Patents

He earned his first patent in 1959 for a wire precision resistor, which — according to MIT — "allowed for the designation of a precise amount of resistance for a specific purpose." He patented an electrical resistor in 1961 that was easy to produce and inexpensive. This patent — a huge breakthrough in science — had the ability to “withstand extreme accelerations and shocks and great temperature changes without danger of breakage of the fine resistance wire or other detrimental effects.” Due to the significant cost reduction of electrical components and the fact that the electrical resistor was more reliable than others on the market, the U.S. military utilized this device for guided missiles; IBM used it for computers.

The Life of Boykin

Boykin’s inventions allowed him to work as a consultant in the United States and in Paris from 1964 to 1982. According to MIT, he "created an electrical capacitor in 1965 and an electrical resistance capacitor in 1967, as well as a number of electrical resistance elements." Boykin also created consumer innovations, including a "burglar-proof cash register and a chemical air filter." 

The electrical engineer and inventor will forever be known as one of the most talented scientists of the 20th century. He earned the Cultural Science Achievement Award for his progressive work in the medical field. Boykin continued to work on resistors until he died of a heart failure in 1982 in Chicago.