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Obituary

Noted Nevada inventor dies
With Lexus advertising its “revolutionary” headlights that turn in the direction of the wheels—invented six decades ago by Preston Tucker and revived 20 years after that by Citroën—it’s not a bad time for an appreciation of inventors. Nevada lost one last week.

Carl Parise passed away on Jan. 17 at Washoe Medical Center (South Meadows). He was 83. His individualism and determination saw him rise from a door-to-door vacuum cleaner salesman with an eighth-grade education to founder of a multimillion-dollar company that manufactured the combination vacuum-steam cleaner he patented.

Born May 16, 1921, in Denver to Michael Parise, a ditch digger, and Rose Ruvo, Parise quit school at 14 to support his working-class, first-generation Italian-American family working menial jobs.

Barrel-chested, hard-charging and always pushing to better himself, Parise was selected for aircraft mechanics school in the Navy. He served as an engineer on a B-24 in the Pacific Theater during World War II. Years later, after selling insurance and vacuum cleaners, he put that engineering training to work.

Heeding a personal motto to “believe in God, believe in your country, believe in yourself, and never stop dreaming,” he began his rise to fortune at age 50, divorced and bankrupt, supporting three sons on unemployment checks. He envisioned a “Super-Duper Pooper Scooper” that would deep-clean carpets with steam injection and vacuum suction stronger than the Kirby vacuums he’d sold in Reno from 1956-65. Tinkering relentlessly on the floor of his Reno house in his pajamas for a month, he pieced together the prototype for a dry vacuum, wet vacuum and steam cleaner using $125 worth of plywood, PVC pipe, stainless steel water tanks and hardware parts.

The prototype became the basis for Parise & Sons, based in Stead. Renamed Thermax Inc., the company enjoyed worldwide sales of models of Parise’s electric-powered cleaner. A man of resurgent optimism in the face of adversity, he explained his meteoric rise from seeming failure with a favorite saying, “You never know when a knock is a boost!”

Having been an underdog, Parise reached out to people who were struggling with financial assistance and words of encouragement. In 1978, he launched another adventure: creating an executive airplane with a rear engine that he called the OMAC, for “Old Man’s Aircraft Company.” He flew the plane in ’81 and later sold the company.

Parise was inducted into the Nevada Inventor’s Hall of Fame in 1992. The proclamation cited his “profound impact in birthing several new industries,” specifically the more than $200 million-a-year rental industry for his cleaners.

Parise’s accomplishments included the first Underwriter Laboratories-approved steam cleaner in the world, the patented water-filtration system for the steam cleaner, the patented electrified vacuum hose that was the only electrified vacuum house approved by Underwriter Laboratories for use with a water system, the clear-view recovery steam head, and the Stage Two double-bypass vacuum motor, which he designed with the engineers of Ametek Lamb.

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Posted inDennis Myers Memorial

Obituary

Fallout prophet dead
A Montana scientist who was labeled as unpatriotic for his warnings of the dangers of fallout from Nevada atomic tests has died at age 88.

Bert Pfeiffer, a biologist and a zoology professor at the University of Montana, also played a role in warning of the dangers to soldiers of Agent Orange and argued that the Vietnam War was an environmental-degradation issue.

In the 1950s and ’60s, Pfeiffer and other scientists produced research questioning the contention of federally paid scientists that atomic fallout was not a public health threat. For their trouble, the research was ignored, and journalists not only did not cover it on its merits but also raised questions about the authors’ patriotism. The Los Angeles Examiner once ran a headline labeling those who questioned the safety of the tests as “Reds.” Pfeiffer’s mail was opened by federal agents (years later he received $1,000 compenation for the violation.)

“People didn’t want to believe the danger … but we knew,” Pfeiffer told the Montana Missoulian in 1995. “We were moved by a philosophy of the social responsibility of scientists. I still believe very strongly that it is the duty of scientists to inform the public about matters of science that affect people’s lives. That’s something I hope young scientists continue.”

Atomic testing in Nevada began on Jan. 27, 1951, and was welcomed by Nevada officials as economic development, an attitude toward all things nuclear that continued until the late 1970s. Nevada journalists followed their lead and produced boosterish coverage of the tests. In addition, they ran news reports supportive of federal claims of harmless fallout: “Fallout on Las Vegas and vicinity following this morning’s detonation was very low and without any effects on health,” reported the Las Vegas Review Journal in March 1955.

The tide began to turn in the 1970s as statistical evidence of the incidence of leukemias and cancers downwind of the Nevada Test Site in Utah and Nevada shocked the nation. In 1980, a congressional report said, “All evidence suggesting that radiation was having harmful effects … was not only disregarded but actually suppressed.” In the 1990s, additional research reported that the human cost of the tests was far more widespread than previously thought, sweeping far to the east and up into Canada.

Pfeiffer’s social activism continued after his vindication on the fallout issue. On Jan. 31, 1971, he testified at hearings of the Winter Soldier Investigation, a project of the Vietnam veterans’ movement, on U.S. chemical warfare and defoliation in Vietnam. Drawing on three research trips to Indochina, he said, “The chemical war that the Americans have been carrying out in Vietnam and other areas in Indochina … is of two components … anti-plant warfare … and anti-personnel gases.” He suggested a link between the U.S. use of the herbicide Agent Orange and birth deformities in the Vietnamese that were starting to appear, a conjecture later demonstrated statistically.

Pfeiffer subsequently convinced the American Association for the Advancement of Science to treat the Vietnam War as an environmental issue.

In both the atomic testing and Agent Orange disputes, Pfeiffer ended up aiding soldiers, since service members were ordered to expose themselves to the Nevada tests.

Pfeiffer’s activism cost him a merit raise at UM at the height of the Vietnam War. Last week his Montana colleague, Jesse Bier, told the Missoulian, “He was often in the distinct minority, politically, and he was fearless.”

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Dennis Myers

Dennis Myers was the news editor of the Reno News & Review. He was a journalist for more than four decades. In 1987-88 he was chief deputy secretary of state of Nevada. He was coauthor of Uniquely...