Apple’s CEO says he’s been dreaming of unveiling a gizmo like the one in the comic strip since he was a kid. This is the true story of the unknown inventor who created Dick’s watch.
“I have been wanting to do this since I was 5 years old, ” Cook exclaimed. “The day is finally here.”
The 54-year-old Cook was harking back to 1965, when any American youngster could tell you that the coolest gizmo around was Dick Tracy’s two-way wrist radio.
The comic strip detective’s creator, Chester Gould, had introduced the futuristic device in 1946, after he scripted Tracy into a jam from which there seemed no credible escape.
Gould decided that he would go high-concept and have Tracy appeal directly to his inky-fingered creator. Gould figured he could then just extricate Tracy from the predicament Manus Dei.
But Gould’s employer, the Chicago Tribune, rejected the idea as a cheat.
Gould then recalled visiting the workshop of an inventor extraordinaire named Al Gross several weeks before. Gross had developed the walkie-talkie when he was barely out of high school. Gross’s more recent projects when Gould stopped by included a two-way radio that could be worn on the wrist like a watch.
Gould now got on the phone to Gross.
“He called and asked if he could use that idea on the wristwatch, ” Gross would say in an interview years later. “I told him sure. And he gave Dick Tracy that wristwatch.”
As a token of his gratitude, Gould presented Gross with the first four panels in which Tracy begins using the soon-to-be-famous gizmo. The device proved to be just the thing for Tracy to extricate himself along with his creator from the predicament.
In the comic strip, the two-way wrist radio is created by a young inventor named Brilliant. He develops another seemingly impossible gadget for Tracy conceived by the real-life Gross: a compact, battery-powered video surveillance camera. This is too much for one of the comic-strip mobsters, and Brilliant meets a bloody end in a 1948 installment.
The real-life inventor, Gross, lived on to develop gizmo after gizmo, including the phone pager, which he patented in 1949. The pager soon after made its debut at a New York hospital, though it did not catch on until years later.
‘‘The doctors hated it, ’’ he once said. ‘‘They complained that it would interrupt their golf games.’’