The National Business League

Founded by Dr. Booker T. Washington – August 23, 1900


Lanny Smoot

Lanny Smoot

Lifelong inventor, Disney Research Fellow, and Imagineer with over 100 patents in multiple fields, including electronics, optics, motors, and machinery

Lanny Smoot’s earliest memory is of watching his father get a bell to ring with just a battery and some wire. From that point on, Smoot was determined to make inventing a permanent part of his life. Growing up in Brooklyn, New York, and with support from his parents and guidance counselors along the way, Smoot learned all he could about science and engineering. In high school, he was singled out by Columbia University for a full scholarship and a job at Bell Labs—a famous information technology and communications research company—as an engineer upon graduation. 

He received his first patent, U.S. patent no. 4,361,731, for a “coin telephone control circuit” in 1982. While working at Bell Labs, he also developed the first optical fiber receivers used to convert the telephone system from wires to optical fiber, advanced the world of video conferencing, and collaborated with others to create video-on-demand.

As a child, Smoot never met an engineer. His role models were the scientists portrayed on the television shows “Star Trek” and “Mission: Impossible.” “We are what we can see,” Smoot says. “If we can see someone else do something, it can light a fire in us to do it.” Putting this into practice, Smoot invests in mentoring the younger generations and encouraging them to become interested in engineering and science. “Lots of African American youth are certainly smart, but are often not aware of the opportunities that are available to them in terms of going to school and scholarships,” continues Lanny. “One of the things I try to do as an African American engineer is to make sure that young kids that were like me, that were smart and capable, [are aware of] the things that they could be doing and the folks that can help them.”

Now a Disney Research Fellow and Imagineer with over 100 patents to his name, Smoot continues to inspire others and turn the imaginary into reality. Because of his passion for inventing, Madame Leota’s head floats in the Haunted Mansion, Disney guests can train with a realistic lightsaber to battle against Star Wars droids, and the holodecks he saw as a child on “Star Trek” are no longer just fiction.