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James Russell's mother told him that his first invention was the "automated battleship" he built when he was 6. By the time he was 13, he was fixing toasters, irons and fans at a local appliance store in his hometown outside Seattle. The summer before he left for college, he was hired to set up a radio station -- transmitter and all -- something he'd never done before. He'd never even seen an antenna that big.

"That's why I am an inventor," says Russell, now 83. "I can envision how it should be."

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Chris Kornelis