The Scientist Who Got $10 For A World-Changing Invention

In A Nutshell

H. Tracy Hall is probably not a name you’re familiar with, but he came up with one of the most important scientific advancements of the 20th century when he conceived of a way to actually create diamonds. A chemist who worked for General Electric, he and his colleagues somehow created a method that resulted in synthetic diamonds that were, by all accounts, exact duplicates of the real thing. The results led to billions for GE as they found numerous uses for his man made diamonds, so GE naturally rewarded him with a whopping $10 savings bond. Being a very intelligent man, he recognized this as a terrible insult, so he left the company and found another way to create synthetic diamonds for which he would hold the copyright.

The Whole Bushel

If you’ve ever heard of H. Tracy Hall, you’re either a chemistry major or simply an aficionado of General Electric’s 1950s employee roster. But while you have likely never heard of Dr. Hall, he’s responsible for the low cost of many of your everyday devices.

That’s because in 1955, Hall and his colleagues came up with a way to create synthetic diamonds that were virtually identical in every conceivable way to the real thing. This technology has been used to supply the very diamonds that, for example are so frequently used in things like DVD players and computers and various other things that we take for granted in this day and age, including high-tech and life-saving medical equipment. The man-made diamonds that he helped pioneer in the 1950s led to billions upon billions of dollars not just for General Electric, but also for every other company that copied his life’s work for their own financial gain.

Surely, he must have made out like a bandit for this incredible discovery, right? After all, we’re talking about a chemist who made one of the greatest, albeit little known, discoveries of the 20th century. There’s no way he wasn’t rewarded handsomely and given every scientific prize on the planet, right? Unfortunately for Hall, that was not the case. Instead, his bosses at GE gave him a shiny $10 savings bond for this staggering scientific breakthrough that would literally change the course of technological advancement.

So why was he shortchanged? The folks at GE had just spent more than $125,000 on a fancy new machine that was put to use in its labs, and they gave virtually all of the credit to that machine and, by extension, the company itself over Hall, who had been working toward this discovery for years. They naturally ignored the fact that Hall had been able to duplicate his process without the use of their expensive equipment, because sometimes you apparently just have to justify spending that much money to your shareholders who might otherwise wonder why on Earth you needed to buy the machine in the first place when your lead chemist was able to duplicate the process on his own equipment.

Because getting a $10 savings bond and a little pat on the back wasn’t nearly the credit that Hall deserved, he left General Electric almost immediately after the whole fiasco and took a research job at Brigham Young University. However, his previous work had been patented by GE, so he actually came up with yet another way to create synthetic diamonds. Of course, that method was almost immediately deemed classified by the government, at least for a few months when they presumably realized he had been screwed over enough already and let him finish his research.

Ultimately, Hall helped found his own company that to this day remains one of the leading manufacturers of synthetic diamonds. He died in 2008, though we like to imagine it was in a giant, Scrooge McDuck-like vault filled with mounds upon mounds of synthetic, happily non-GE diamonds.

Show Me The Proof

LA Times: General Electric chemist invented process for making diamonds in lab
The Washington Post: H. Tracy Hall, 88; Scientist Created Artificial Diamonds

  • The Ou7law

    Life is a bitch isn’t it Dr. Hall

    • Lisa 39

      I would’ve left to and kudo’s to brigham young u for letting him do his thing.

      • The Ou7law

        Hell yeah mother eff GE

        • Lisa 39

          Right? Look, we’re the only one’s here to, so far anyway. You would think that ge would’ve found some way to treat him better since he made them a frickin fortune.

          • The Ou7law

            They are a shady company

          • Lisa 39

            Most big corp’s are, the world would be a very different place if i was in charge lol

          • The Ou7law

            Lol i feel you 100% on that

          • Lisa 39

            Maybe i should rethink my plan for world domination lol it’s been on the back burner for a while

          • The Ou7law

            Ok but when you decide to take action dont be mean no one likes mean people

          • Lisa 39

            Me? Mean? Never, i’m going to be nice and polite!

          • The Ou7law

            Do i get to rule beside you 🙂

          • Lisa 39

            Of course you do! You can bring the bro fist club also, hadeskabir’s input could be helpful but you might want to watch out for kevin, you and i were commenting one day and he jumped in and told you to stay away cause i’m his but he posted it to me lol but we could use the entertainment anyway lol

          • The Ou7law

            Kevin better not have done that i was gonna let him join me and hedeskabir, do you remember what list it was on

          • Lisa 39

            No but it was like a week ago and it was a list i liked, i’ll go see if i can find it in my emails lol. What happened to bro’s before ho’s?

          • The Ou7law

            Kevin hasnt been initiated in yet were still waiting on him to pass a test

          • Lisa 39

            I saw that yesterday. Eww and i don’t know what those thing’s are but i don’t want to lol

          • The Ou7law

            lol they are pretty grody

          • Lisa 39

            I’ll take your word on that, i still regret asking cha cha what a cleveland steamroller is, yuck.

          • The Ou7law

            Look up a turkish snowcone or alabama hot pocket

          • Lisa 39

            I’m afraid to do that, maybe after my frickin liquid lunch settle’s so i don’t vomit lol

          • The Ou7law

            Lol

          • Lisa 39

            Somebody else commented!

          • The Ou7law

            lol i seen that yay were not losers anymore

          • Lisa 39

            Not here anyway lol, there’s a kn article about art and errkism and i just chatted it up all by ourselve’s, it was fun!

          • Lisa 39

            Eeeweww to the hot pocket

          • The Ou7law

            Lol i told you it was grody

          • Lisa 39

            You were right and there were a couple different variation’s but they were all nasty. Have you heard from kevin yet aboit his initiation?

          • Lisa 39

            I found it, 10 real easter egg’s from jan 8th

    • thomaswood

      He would have never said that. He had the satisfaction of being his own boss, and also the satisfaction of discovering a means of diamond synthesis completely independent of the process he discovered while at GE.

  • keyserSOZE

    Full confession: this KN was fully inspired by an early episode of Breaking Bad, in which Walter White tells his class about Dr. Hall. #themoreyouknow

  • Dave Gibson

    Let me see if I understand. An employee of a corporation felt jilted that he didn’t get a bigger slice of pie, so he quits and begins working for a non-profit institution who also don’t pay their employees for discoveries? There must have been a reason for this bizarre transition. Ah, I see, he needed huge resources so he could create another method which he could patent. He couldn’t afford the resources himself, so used the deep pockets of BYU.

    I’m wondering if he paid BYU or GE for the time he used their resources in formulating his method. The moral of the story here is: Be a cry-baby, bilk an eduction system, then setup your own company to rake in millions.

    For those out there who do not work in development or engineering jobs: employees do not own the ideas they come up with, their employers do. This has been standard practice since time immemorial. It is part of nearly all employment agreements in these fields.

    • Nancy Hall Mecham

      Hey there Dave, I’m the daughter of H. Tracy Hall. It Kinda sounds to me like you might be carrying a grudge of your own around. I’m sorry if that’s the case. But In my Father’s defense (he’s deceased) I have to say you’re dead wrong about the man. If you knew my Father, H. Tracy Hall personally, you would not be calling him a “cry baby”. He was a quiet, humble man, He was a man with a greater purpose in life than, wait, how did you put it? Oh yes, …”rake in millions”! No. He was a man with great faith in god and mankind. He didn’t care much about riches and fame. GE’s reward for his invention (a $10 savings bond) was an insult, yes, but c’mon! …how would you feel? Would you continue to play with a scorpion if you’d just been stung? He was a very smart guy! …he packed up and moved on. The reason for his “bizarre transition” Dave, is summed up in these three words; “He’s a Mormon”. He was offered a professorship at Brigham Young University (BYU) which is a private university located in Provo, Utah — near his parents who lived in Ogden. The University is owned and operated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (The Mormons), and is now the largest religious university and third largest private university in the U.S. He never sucked a cent from BYU, quite the contrary. He gave any ‘excess’ money he made during his lifetime to BYU and the LDS church, and lived his life in this humble home (see pictures). BYU did not contribute money for, nor did they make any investments or have connections with my dad’s company, MegaDiamond. It’s been interesting to see the many people that have prospered from his invention. Even my father/s good friend and partner in Mega Diamond, Bill Pope, left the company and started a business of his own (U.S. Synthetic)…and HE did “rake in millions”. It seemed that a lot of people did well with my father’s invention. And you would think that my dad had every right to feel sorry for himself… but he didn’t. He was a forgiving man, and more than once, took us aside to reminded us that he still loved his best friend (Bill) despite what happened, and that we should never think or say bad things about him. He provided sufficiently for himself & our family of nine (we never went hungry). We were taught to appreciate the things we had and not to covet others. He taught us to work hard for the things we wanted and to be imaginative, resourceful & industrious. My sisters and I sewed most of our own clothes, we helped with daily chores, planted and cared for gardens & canned our own foods, we refinished furniture, we shared bicycles and toys, and we were all expected to learn a musical instrument or develop our talents & do well in school. He was a good father and example not only to us, but also our friends, neighbors and community. We’re all the better because of him. Dave, you are in the wrong development or engineering job if you are not allowed to own or get credit or compensation for the ideas you come up with. At Novatek inc, in Provo Utah, employees are allowed to ‘share the wealth’. My Brother David Hall who owns the company, encourages and helps his employees patent the inventions they create in the workplace. That would explain why he’s received the Utah “Genius Award” for the company having the most patents, every single year since the award was introduced. My warmest wishes go out to you Dave, for giving me the opportunity to talk about the real H Tracy Hall, who was nothing like the person you tried to make him out to be.

      • thomaswood

        Awesome response.

    • thomaswood

      You don’t understand. He didn’t ask for a “big slice of the pie,” but to award him a crummy $10??? Please. How would you feel if you had just made the biggest discovery in GE history since the light bulb, and the company more or less ignores you? After he invented diamond synthesis (both the chemical aspect and the machine to make it happen), he was still paid LESS than any of the other scientists working on the project. In addition, for many years GE maintained (falsely) that Dr. Strong had been the first man to synthesize diamond. The press release named four scientists as responsible. Only the patent application told the truth — that it was Dr. Hall’s invention alone. (That was thanks to the GE patent attorneys, who were concerned that any false statement on the patent application could invalidate the patent.) Notwithstanding all of that, Dr. Hall did not actively look for a position outside GE. Ernest Wilkinson, President of BYU, approached Dr. Hall and recruited him to join BYU as Director of Research. BYU did not demand, and did not receive, the right to patent any subsequent inventions that Dr. Hall might make.

  • Errkism

    Thus is the world today. Greed and Power are apparently all that matter once you make a certain amount of money.

  • OC

    The spoils goes to the consciousless.

  • Brian

    Heard of him from Breaking Bad

  • Roland Brooks

    Unfortunately those who took Halls work are legally theiv’s. Since the work did not belong to them nor had the work belong to the machine they spent money on but Hall ALL right’s belonged to him for the invention since you can not re-create an orignal thought. Since the orignal thought Hall anything that was taken from hall not willingly sold by Hall as for right’s property and invention still belong to him with monetary gains owed to him and any of his biological or otherwise of his will, heirs. So since it appears Hall had been coerced everything still belongs to him and the company who copied or taken his work all owe him and or to any members of his boilogical or from his will bracket.

  • Lucas

    “Of course, that method was almost immediately deemed classified by the government, at least for a few months when they presumably realized he had been screwed over enough already and let him finish his research.”

    What tripe