"The Grandfather of Possibilities" Ron Klein talks about inventing credit card technology

10:58 PM, Mar 8, 2010   |    comments
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SARASOTA, Florida - Forty-four years later, Ron Klein is still adored for his invention.

"The women in the room, they absolutely love me," said the 74-year-old retiree from his Sarasota home.  "I take a credit card out of my wallet and say, 'I invented this!'"

You wouldn't recognize him walking down the street, but you'll recognize his contribution to society.  In 1966, Klein invented the magnetic strip on the back of the credit card.

"It's gotten some people into trouble and it's helped a lot of other people," he said.

Prior to the discovery, merchants used to have to sort through long lists of thousands of numbers to see if a customer had bad credit.

"That could take minutes," Klein continued, "after the invention came out, it took seconds."

He didn't get rich off the credit card strip, since he was working for GT&E at the time and creating the technology for Macy's.  But, he did get his name on the patent.  Other inventions proved more lucrative once he started his own company.

"To him, it's never a problem," said Klein's wife, Arlene.  "Everything is a challenge. He seems to come up with an answer to everything."

Other "answers" he invented include the widely-used MLS system for real estate agents, voice-response technology for banks, and a bond quotation system for Wall Street.

It earned him the nickname "The Grandfather of Possibilities."

But, the hurdles he's had to clear also include personal hardship. He says he's now nearly died a half-dozen times from various car, work, and bike accidents, as well as a bullet in Korea that earned him a Purple Heart. 

He also currently suffers from a degenerative hip condition and inoperable spinal stenosis that limits him from standing, walking, or lying down for more than a few minutes at a time.  He has to sleep in a chair.

"If I think about it, it will totally immobilize me," he said.

But, just like all his other challenges in life, Klein found a solution.  He can ride a bike because his back is arched in a position where his spine is relieved.

"I'm in heaven when I'm on this bike," he said while riding atop his Trek road bike.  "Pain-free, wind on my face, and I just love it."

Klein rides 30 miles a day every day.  Sometimes he'll go for longer rides of 80 or 90 miles.  He says he logs 11,000 miles a year.

And he wins medals too.  He's competed at the Florida Senior Games in cycling and was named the Sarasota Athlete of the Year in 2003.  But, he isn't in it for the awards.

"I don't feel like I need any notoriety," Klein said.  "I just want to get my message across to others to consider the possibilities. There's a gift behind every challenge."

Follow 10 Connects reporter Noah Pransky on Twitter at www.twitter.com/noahpransky, Facebook at www.facebook.com/noahpransky, or on his Sports vs. News blog, Shadow of the Stadium.

Noah Pransky, 10 Connects

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