Robert H. Studebaker

As co-owner of a metal-forming company after World War II, Robert H. Studebaker often served as a trouble-shooter and problem-solver for his customers. But in 1965, he hit the jackpot with an invention that quite literally revolutionized the construction industry.

A large earthmoving contractor in Ohio asked Studebaker about the feasibility of designing an elevation-control system for a road grader that would eliminate the need for staking and string lines and thus increase productivity. Studebaker experimented with light waves, sound waves and even a gyroscope, but finally turned to the laser beam, which had been invented about two years earlier. In order to keep the signal on track, he knew the beam had to be rotated, so he projected it to a motorized spinning prism, leading to the first 360-degree laser transmitter.

Studebaker founded Laserplane in 1967 and developed it into a half-billion dollar operation. It merged in 1975 with Spectra Physics and is known today as Spectra Precision, the world's largest manufacturer of laser-based surveying equipment.