Louis August Scholz, inventor and attorney, dies

Patent attorney was a photographer with the Manhattan Project and built a polka-dot house in Sykesville

April 28, 2011|By Jacques Kelly, The Baltimore Sun | Baltimore Sun reporter

Louis August Scholz, a self-employed patent attorney and inventor who had worked in photography on the Manhattan Project during World War II, died April 20 of complications from a fall at his Sykesville home. He was 92 and died at the University of Maryland Medical Center.

Born in Baltimore and raised in Rockdale near Randallstown, he was a 1935 Catonsville High School graduate and earned a degree in mathematics and physics at what is now Loyola University Maryland. As a young man, he exhibited an invention, a fluorometer, at the Central Enoch Pratt Free Library.

Mr. Scholz worked at the Social Security Administration and the old Monitor Controller Co. on South Gay Street. He joined the Army in late 1941 and became a captain in the Army Air Forces. Family members said he helped modify aerial cameras used for surveillance in bombers.

"Some of these cameras were critical in finding the German V-2 missile bull wagons, which were bombing the heck out of England," said his son, Dr. Joseph Scholz of Biddeford, Maine. "The missiles couldn't be found because our photography did not have enough resolution to detect them at night."

He explained that his father's work improved night photography so that Allied bombers could detect the missile launch pads, which had been hidden on rail flatcars and kept in tunnels during the day.

As a photographer, he also worked on the development of the atomic bomb withthe Manhattan Project in Los Alamos, N.M., in a unit with Dr. Harold Edgerton that concentrated on strobe and night photography. He graduated with specialized training from Lowery Field, Colo.

In 1947, he set up a business, Manufacturer's Research Corp., in a Mulberry Street basement in downtown Baltimore. He initially sought to help veterans market what they had learned in the war and gain patents for them. He soon turned to medical technology and assisted Johns Hopkins physicians Alfred Blalock and Helen Taussig and their assistant, Vivien Thomas, to make a trachea tube used in their research. He also invented heart vessel clamps and an early mechanical heart valve.

"My father was very good in a machine shop," his son said.

A 1947 Baltimore Sun article said he slept on a cot at his shop. When a Northeast Baltimore man chopped down a backyard tree and found that its stump glowed at night, Mr. Scholz proved it was "bacterial phosphorescence," a phenomenon known as foxfire.

Mr. Scholz later earned a law degree at the University of Baltimore and became a patent attorney with offices on St. Paul Street and in Sykesville. He held several medical patents and had one for a whipped cream that would not sour. He sold it for $2,000 to the owners of Cool Whip dessert topping.

"An inventor is not a businessman," he said in a 1975 Sun article. "An inventor goes upstream. He's an oddball. The odds of him getting hooked up with a company are very remote."

In 1954, he bought a tract of land in Sykesville and built a place for his workshop. He soon sectioned off a place for his family. A 1960 Evening Sun article described it as a "one-story box building with a flat roof and large, garage doors." He said that when his wife moved in, "she took one look at the place and said it needed something, that it had no personality." They gave it a look by having large, multicolored polka dots painted on it.

"[Mr. Scholz] says that people never have any trouble finding his home. They just take one look and say, 'This must be the place,'" the 1960 article said.

He was a member of the American Civil Liberties Union in Baltimore and the League of Women Voters.

"As a lawyer, though he focused on patent law, he defended anyone who knocked on his door, as long as he believed in his or her honesty, their innocence or their right to be heard," his son said.

In later years, he limited his design work to making unconventional prosthetics for amputees.

"With all of this, he was a man who took on projects to help the less fortunate," his son said.

A Mass was offered Tuesday at St. Joseph Roman Catholic Church in Sykesville, where he was a member.

In addition to his son, survivors include two other sons, Christopher Jude Scholz of Havre de Grace and Louis Edward Scholz of Lexington, Ky.; and four grandchildren. Mr. Scholz survived his two wives, Anna Marie Hough, who died in the 1950s, and Theresa Gloria St. John, who died in 1989.

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

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