The scientist who invented the Taser stun gun in the 1960s, died earlier this month. This post is a tad long, but it is a neat history lesson.
John “Jack” Higson Cover, Jr. passed away on February 7, 2009 at the age of 88.
Trained as a nuclear physicist, most of Cover’s professional career was spent in the aerospace and defense business.
Cover was born on April 6, 1920 in New York City, but grew up in the Chicago area. He earned a bachelor’s degree and a Ph.D. in physics at the University of Chicago, where he was instructed by renowned atomic scientists Enrico Fermi and Edward Teller.
He was always tinkering with gadgets and created cooked-food testers, voice activated switches and electric toothbrushes in the 1940s.
Cover was an Army Air Forces test pilot during World War II. After the war, he spent several years at the Inyokern Naval Ordnance Test Station at China Lake, Calif. He was a scientist at North American Aviation from 1952 until 1964 and later worked for IBM and Hughes.
In response to a rash of airplane hijackings in the 1960s, Cover started development on what would later be known as a Taser. He realized the risk involved as sky marshals started to arm themselves with handguns on commercial airliners to discourage hijackers.
“Let me figure out something better than shooting people that might crash the plane,” said Cover knowing if a stray bullet missed a hijacker and pierced the plane’s fuselage instead, it may go down.
Going off what he heard about a man who was temporarily immobilized by a fallen power line, he began development of a device resembling a flashlight in his garage in the late 1960s. Except this flashlight shot darts up to 15 feet and delivered an electric charge.
“Tom Swift and His Electric Rifle” by Victor Appleton was one of Cover’s favorite childhood books. In the story, the young Tom Swift invented a rifle that shot bolts of electricity. Cover adapted the acronym TASER and derived his weapon’s name from “Thomas A. Swift Electric Rifle”, using the formal first name of Tom, and including the middle initial “A”, that did not appear in the book, but fit well in the acronym. (Cover once joked that answering the phone TSER was awkward so he added the middle initial.)
Quite pleased with his invention, Cover assumed that this weapon capable of stunning but not killing a man would have wide appeal. In 1970, Taser Systems Inc. was created.
Unfortunately, due to the gunpowder propulsion in the darts, the Taser was classified as a firearm by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. This discouraged sales to police and military forces and prevented any possibility of a civilian market.
Jack Cover with a TASER Prototype, 1975
Cover continued to attempt to market his 7-watt Taser during the 1970s but was ultimately failing. At the expense of a tragic event in 1979, Cover got a break. A woman in Los Angeles, Eula Love, was shot to death in an altercation between herself and the Los Angeles Police Department over an unpaid gas bill. As a result of this controversy, the LAPD finally agreed to field test the Taser in 1980.
The LAPD eventually approved use of a more effective 11-watt Taser model. Even with LAPD and several other agencies buying in, overall sales still did not take off as expected and the business eventually collapsed after some success in the 1980s.
In 1993, Tom and Rick Smith from Arizona contacted the 73-year-old Cover, and expressed interest in revamping the Taser into a non-lethal self-defense device that could be legally sold to the general public.
“Jack was very dedicated to the mission,” said Tom Smith, co-founder and chairman of TASER International. “He had a true belief in where this technology was going to go.”
In 1994, TASER International launched the Air Taser with a breakthrough compressed air propulsion system, instead of gunpowder.
The TASER is now the most widely sold projectile stun guns in the world and has been adopted by more than 13,000 military and law enforcement agencies in over 45 countries around the world. In addition, more than 180,000 civilian model Tasers have been sold to private citizens.
“Jack is an unsung hero. He did something great for the world, saved a lot of lives and prevented a lot of injuries,” said Greg Meyer, a retired police captain who was in charge of LADP’s non-lethal weapons research who has known Cover for 30 years.
The Taser product line has its fair share of critics. The American Civil Liberties Union has been pushing to have Tasers classified as lethal weapons, but medical experts disagree on whether the Tasers directly caused the deaths. Many still can not dispute the effectiveness of the Taser in the prevention of deadly police encounters and an improvement in the tactics needed to place violent and unruly offenders into custody.
One of TASER International’s latest products is the Taser C2, aimed at civilians.
The new Taser C2 comes in eight attractive and stylish colors: black pearl, titanium silver, metallic pink, electric blue, red hot, forest camouflage, desert camouflage and leopard print.
In police studies, the new Taser C2 has a higher instant incapacitation rate than a 9mm hand gun. The Taser C2 shoots out 2 darts attached to 15 feet of wire. 50,000 volts travels over the wires and over-rides the central nervous system providing incredible takedown power.
Not everyone wants to carry a firearm with the potential for taking a life in self-defense. Normal stun guns require you to be dangerously close to your attacker (although your Taser C2 can be used as a contact stun gun in a pinch). The personal TASER C2 eliminates these problems and provides a less-than-lethal way to stop aggression and allow you quickly escape to contact the police.
Cover was suffering Alzheimer’s disease and died of pneumonia at the Golden West Retirement Home in Mission Viejo. Cover was cremated, and there were no immediate plans to conduct a memorial service. In addition to his wife Ginny, of San Clemente, four children, two stepchildren, ten grandchildren and five great-grandchildren survive him.
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