James Dyson was born to middle class parents on May 2nd 1947 in Norfolk, England. His ability to create inventions based on his own vivid imagination would take him from these beginnings to considerable wealth and fame. His net worth currently stands at approximately $5 Billion.
Dyson’s childhood was tainted by tragedy at age nine when his father passed away from cancer. He was at boarding school at the time and there he developed a fondness for running long distance. He would later credit the experience with helping him stay determined and develop the resolve he would require later on as an inventor. He studied art at a tertiary level briefly before switching majors twice and settling on engineering at the Royal College of Art. While there he assisted in the design of the award winning SeaTruck in 1970. Soon after graduating he was employed by an engineering firm.
Dyson’s most famous invention came about because of his dissatisfaction with an existing product. His state of the art Hoover vacuum cleaner would clog as it pulled in dirt and thus lose the ability to suction surfaces clean. This caused him to search for a solution and he found one in cyclonic separation which he witnessed at work in a sawmill factory. He applied the concept to vacuum cleaning and after a whopping 5126 failed prototypes finally landed on the one he would bring into production.
Unfortunately, the manufacturers he tried to sell it to were not interested. The existing vacuum technology at the time may have been flawed but having been the only option for quite some time they lacked motivation to try anything new. It did not help that Dyson was proposing an invention that no longer required expensive replacement bags. Finding no success within his own shores, Dyson released his first model, the G8, in Japan.
He prudently acquired the patents for his work, a fact which would come in handy a decade later when his company, Dyson Ltd, launched in the UK. His bagless model was an instant hit and before long, companies that had spurned him in the past were rushing to get their own cyclonic vacuums into the hands of consumers. Among these, ironically enough, was Hoover. Dyson took them to court for infringing his rights as patent holder and won millions of dollars.
Dyson continued to innovate and add features to his vacuum cleaners to keep them at the forefront of the industry. These include the introduction of a single ball rather than wheels to enable sharper turns for greater usability. Dyson came under fire in 2003 for shifting his base of manufacturing operations from the UK to Malaysia. Some saw this as the outsourcing of much needed jobs in that community however research and development continue to take place in the company’s UK base. Dyson cited unavailability of land and cost inefficiency as reasons behind the move. Dyson added other appliances to his range and also works on unrelated inventions including water sculptures.
Dyson has been a vocal supporter of several causes including education in engineering which he sees as crucial to the UK remaining a competitive society. He started the James Dyson Foundation to help fund the education of aspiring inventors and to encourage them to think creatively. The single currency adopted by the European Union was also openly supported by Dyson who expressed public disappointment at the failure of his country to accept that part of the agreement. He has received several honors over the course of his career including a Knighthood in 2006 in recognition of his outstanding contributions to the field of business.