CLEVELAND, Ohio -- Anyone who has ever used a pair of jumper cables is familiar with the alligator clip.
What many people don't know is that the copper clips at each end of the cable were invented by a Cleveland electrical engineer more than a century ago.
Ralph S. Mueller, known as the "Skipper of the Clipper," founded Mueller Electric Co. at 1583 Payne Ave. in 1908 as a result of his invention
Alligator clips, which Mueller initially called electrical test clips, are a temporary electrical connector that functions like a clothespin. 'A spring forces the clip's two tapered and serrated jaws together to make them grip a metal object.
Today, the alligator clip is also used in dental offices to attach a protective bib over a patient's clothes, in school physics laboratories to assemble circuits connecting components to wires, and as a miniature clamp to hold parts together for gluing and wires for soldering.
'The original two markets for his invention in 1908 were voltmeter leads and telephone linemen's clips for test sets, Mueller said in a interview with the Cleveland Press in 1947.
"Our first big market came in 1912 when Charles F. Kettering developed the electric starter for automobiles," Mueller said. "Then in 1921 we found a new big market when the radio broadcasting industry came into existence.
"Today, there's scarcely a branch of the electrical industry which doesn't use our clips . . . and our clips have gone to the Antarctic with Adm. [Richard E.] Byrd and all other expeditions."
At one time, Mueller was so well known that he was featured in 1959 in a comic strip by cartoonist Jimmy Hatlo, who wrote and drew "They'll Do It Every Time." Hatlo said the creative Mueller submitted 35 suggestions over the years and drew him up as person running a "clip joint" in Cleveland.
How popular and necessary were alligator clips? Mueller told another reporter in 1962 that his company since its inception had made 500 million clips and insulators. It produced 100,000 clips and 33,000 insulators daily.
Mueller Electric was only one of three companies in the country in 1950 making the steel and copper battery-charging and test clips.
Mueller was born in Council Bluffs, Iowa, in 1888, was valedictorian of his high school class and graduated from the University of Nebraska with a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering.
He came to Cleveland in 1904 after being transferred by the Kellogg Switchboard Co. in Chicago. He lived most of his life in Shaker and became a noted philanthropist and community benefactor besides being an industrial giant.
Mueller's life ended tragically at 88 when he committed suicide by leaping five stories off a fire escape from the apartment building he lived in.
His business moved to 1208 Massillon Road in Akron in 2009. A spokesman for Mueller Electric said the company, which was headed by Mueller's great-grandson, Scott Emerson, then went bankrupt and was purchased by a new owner.
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