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TIA: Tennessee Inventors Association in Knoxville Tenn and Oak Ridge TN
Oak Ridge and Knoxville, TN  

History of the TIA


By:  Martin J. Skinner, Sr.,   August 9, 2008

Recently several members of TIA have shown interest in when TIA was organized.  Since all of the known records of TIA are in a filing cabinet in the basement of my house, I began a search for history-type information.  The following is what was found.  It is possible that someone may have additional information; if they do, please correspond with me.

Initially the earliest document seemed to be a letter, dated April 1983,  that was circulated inviting interested persons to come to a meeting on May 21, 1983 at the Quality Inn (now Marriott).  That organizational meeting was subsequently held.  Was that the beginning?  Consider what follows and make up your mind.

First, that letter was written on stationary with a heading “Tennessee Inventors Association”.  Further, the letter says “The purpose of TIA (formerly Appalachian Inventors Group) ….”  Also, the letter refers to the formation of the National Council of Inventor Organizations (NCIO).  I think it was “Congress” rather than “Council”, but that is beside the point.  That organization came into being February 5, 1982.  Bob Pitts attended the meeting in Washington, DC at which that occurred.  TIA is listed as a Charter Member of NCIO, so, in name, did TIA exist back in 1982?  It surely did in name, at least.

Before exploring what transpired after the “organizational” meeting of TIA on May 21, 1983, let’s look back at the reference to the Appalachian Inventors Group (see above).  This group was really known at Scientists and Engineers for Appalachia (SEA).  It was founded in Berea, KY by students most of whom came to work at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory.  In fact, the SEA held an annual meeting (I think their second) in Oak Ridge at the Civic Center in 1972.  At that meeting there was an inventor’s exhibition.  SEA was a nonprofit association whose principal objective was to provide a medium whereby advances in science and technology may be utilized toward the enrichment of life in Appalachia.  Does this sound familiar to the goal of TIA?

As a result of the success of that exhibition, a group of SEA members formed the core of a committee to continue the practice.  I was on that committee since I was the head of the ORNL Patent Section.  The committee also included members familiar with technology transfer, etc.  They chose the name “Appalachian Inventors Fair”.  They used information about other inventor’s exhibitions – like the Minnesota Inventors Congress.  I had attended the MIC to get ideas.  Considerable assistance was given by Isaac Fleischmann at the U. S. Patent & Trademark Office.

The first Fair was held April 18-19, 1975 in the Museum of Science and Engineering (then American Museum of Atomic Energy.  The principal speaker was Prof. Harold E. Edgerton, inventor of the stroboscope.  The inventor exhibits were judged in several classes, including “Best of Show”, and plaques were given to the winners.  Appalachian Inventors Fair No. 2 was held on April 22-24, 1976 using the same format at the Museum.  The guest speaker was Dr. Rudolph Schrils, Director of undergraduate studies for the Department of Physics and Astronomy at UK.

With growth indicating that the Museum did not have enough space, Fair No. 3 (1977) was held at the Oak Ridge Civic Center in June.  Little is recorded about that Fair except that the four top winners of the District Science Fair in Knoxville were our guests with their exhibits.  Apparently there were too many conflicting activities that reduced participation by inventors.  Thus, Fair No. 4 was again held back in the Museum on April 28-30, 1978.  There is no record of a principal speaker.  Fair No. 5 was again held at the Museum on April 27-29, 1979.  At all of these Fairs there were seminars for inventors on several topics. They concluded with an Awards Breakfast.

Almost the exact people were involved in planning and running these Appalachian Inventors Fairs.  Several years I was Chairman.  When it came to considering a Fair for 1980, there was not enough enthusiasm to do the planning.  Thus, these events came to an end.

I retired from Union Carbide at the end of 1980.  I then went to work for Pitts & Kesterson (now Pitts & Brittian) in February or March 1981.  I took with me the idea of an inventor’s exhibition and presented it to Bob Pitts.  Somehow and some time thereafter we chose the name Tennessee Inventors Association for the organization and investigated the formation of the National Congress of Inventor Organizations.  The circle in the history is now complete.

TIA has met in several locations.  As mentioned above, several early meetings were held at the Quality Inn across from the TVA towers.  There is one reference to a meeting at Weaver’s Cafeteria.  We then moved to the TVA West Tower where we met for several years.  That facility proved difficult as security increased.  Also, we could be pre-empted if TVA planned a meeting.  From there, we moved to the Tennessee Innovation Center on Scarboro Road in Oak Ridge. Mel Koons was instrumental in inviting us there.  We even had our own coffee pots and served coffee and donuts at each meeting.  We were given space for a filing cabinet so we were “in clover”.  Gradually the situation worsened – the coffee pots were stolen and we were squeezed for the filing space.  So, we moved to a building in Commerce Park.  There was no space for the filing cabinet so it was moved to my house.  The dates when we met in these various facilities is not documented.  I cannot remember the reason, but about 2003 we were given use of the space we now utilize – Building Tech2020 in Commerce Park.

Over the years TIA has held several “seminars”.  The documents show that there we helped host a “National Innovation Workshop at the Knoxville Hilton, Aug. 17-18, 1984.  Next was a “Second Annual Inventors Exhibit and Workshop” held in the TVA West Tower on Oct. 17, 1987 (so there must have been a 1st).  In 1988 (Oct. 22) we held an Inventors Workshop and Exhibition at the Innovation Center.  Then October 22, 1994, we held a “Inventing and Entrepreneurial Workshop” at the Holiday Inn West, Knoxville.  A year or two later a similar seminar was held at the Comfort Inn in Oak Ridge.

There was no seminar activity for a few years, but on March 15, 2003, we had a seminar entitled “All you need to know about the U. S. Patent and Trademark Office”.  This was held in the Pollard Auditorium, and the speaker was John Calvert, Director of the Office of Independent Inventor Programs of the Patent Office.  Next came the seminar “Marketing Techniques for Inventions” on October 16, 2004.  This was held in Building Tech2020.  The speakers were Gordon Bell, Robert Wilson, Bill Felknor, and Laurel Bowen.  Last, but not least, we have the seminar “Opportunities for Innovation in East Tennessee” on August 16, 2008.  The principal speakers are Ralph Gonzales, Joe Martin, Richard Jenkins, and Jacob Horton, with a welcome by Igor Alexeff, the second longest member of TIA.

Miscellaneous TIA activities include selecting a student at the Science Fair at UT for being the most novel.  We supplied a small financial contribution to that Science Fair.  At least one year we provided the judges for a Science Fair in the Oak Ridge schools.

Officially, TIA became a 501c3 organization via a letter from the U. S. Internal Revenue Service dated July 1987.  It had taken several months of back-and-forth letters and the sending of documents as the application was filed March 31, 1986.  Our application for being chartered in Tennessee was filed Feb. 21, 1984.  At one time our Charter was cancelled by the state due to a mix-up of names:  the State thought we were the Tennessee Investor’s Club.  After paying some past annual fees and sending several letters, the Charter was restored.  On May 17, 2004 we filed for Sales Tax Exemption:  that was granted May 25, 2004.

So, now that you have read this history, when do you think TIA began?  You are probably correct.

No matter when it began, TIA has a long life, probably the second longest of any inventor organization in the country behind the Minnesota group.  We have had our ups and downs, but always survive.  Let’s be sure our progress is such that we can have another 25 (or more) years.