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George Ballas - Famous Inventor

: George Ballas
: 28-June-1925
: 25-June-2011
: United States
: Self Educated
: Inventor

About Inventor

George Charles Ballas, Sr. (1925 – 2011) was an American entrepreneur. He invented the first string trimmer, known as the Weed Eater in 1971.He is the father of ballroom dancer, Corky Ballas, and grandfather of professional dancer Mark Ballas of Dancing with the Stars.

George Ballas got his big idea after a poisonous snake bit a worker who was trimming his lawn with shears. The idea turned an old popcorn can, some wires and an edger into the Weed Eater.Mr. Ballas, who died Saturday at age 85, was a dance instructor, developer, inventor and marketer who built hotels, patented an adjustable table and marketed an early portable phone.But it was the Weed Eater—of which he invented both the concept and the name—that made him a fortune while sparking a revolution in lawn care. Mr. Ballas introduced the device in the early 1970s and by 1976 was selling $40 million worth of them annually.The son of Greek immigrants who ran a restaurant in northern Louisiana, Mr. Ballas served in the Air Force during World War II and the Korean War.

After getting out of the service, he married Maria Louisa Marulanda, a dance instructor whom he met when she taught him the tango. She had appeared in films, including the 1949 western "Rio Grande," and the couple went on to give performances together.Mr. Ballas went into the dance business, managing several Arthur Murray and Fred Astaire studios.

His son, Corky Ballas, became a professional dancer, and his grandson, Mark Ballas, has appeared on seven seasons of "Dancing With the Stars," including partnering with Bristol Palin in season 11.

In the late 1960s, Mr. Ballas opened Dance City USA in a disused cinema in Houston, boasting that the 43,000-square-foot dance studio was the largest in the world. He called it "a supermarket of dancing with babes and booze and big bands all under one roof."With his business thriving, Mr. Ballas wanted his lawn—all three acres of it—to look good. His search for an alternative to time- and labor-intensive shears gained urgency when a worker he had hired was hospitalized after being bitten by a copperhead.

Mr. Ballas said the idea for the Weed Eater came to him while he was in a car wash, contemplating the big rotating bristles that cleaned hard-to-reach corners yet somehow didn't scratch the finish.Drawing from that inspiration, he rigged up an old popcorn can with some wires and hooked it to a rotating edger, and the first string trimmer was born."It made a helluva noise, but it ripped up the turf and tore away the grass," Mr. Ballas told the Los Angeles Times in 1977.

He hired an engineer to design new models that substituted monofilament fishing line for wire and ran on electricity and gas. He dubbed it "Weed Eater" and held several patents on it.When Mr. Ballas failed to find a company interested in distributing the device, he decided to sell it himself. He gave each new model a pet name—the first was a "Weedie" and the second a "Clippie"—and designed logos for each based on portraits of his children with unruly, grass-like hair.He used a high-visibility ad campaign, including spots on the Super Bowl and a sponsorship role in the 1977 David Frost interviews of former President Richard Nixon.Despite his patents on the Weed Eater, imitators soon flooded the market under names such as Weed Whip and Weed Crasher.

In 1977, Mr. Ballas sold Weed Eater Inc. to Emerson Electric Co. for an undisclosed sum that his daughter, Winkie Jamail, called "a small fortune."Mr. Ballas also taught entrepreneurship at Rice University in Houston. He continued to tinker with new inventions, and at one point marketed a football-helmet-sized portable phone that found few takers.

"A Weed Eater," Mr. Ballas told the Houston Chronicle in 1993, "comes along once in a lifetime."