Paul Winchell (1922-2005) may be best known as the voice of Tigger in Winnie the Pooh, Gargamel in The Smurfs, the characters in Green Eggs and Ham and many other animated characters, and for earning a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for his work in television. He holds another distinction, however, that frequently gets overlooked: he was the first person to build and receive a patent for an artificial heart.
Winchell, who did not possess a medical degree, was inspired to invent the heart after a conversation with Dr. Henry Heimlich, the inventor of the Heimlich Maneuver. Winchell said his work as a ventriliquist and with ventriloquist dummies made him think of mechanical replacements for the human body. Winchell put his ideas on paper, went to a patent attorney, and soon received a patent for his work.
Winchell noted that years later he met Robert Jarvik, who was able to reduce the size of Winchell’s device — which had thus far been used exclusively in animal studies — and was able to design a variation thereof that ended up being implanted in Barney Clark in 1982 in the first human application of an artificial heart.
In addition to the artificial heart, Winchell obtained patents for over 30 inventions, including a disposable razor, flameless cigarette lighter, and battery-heated gloves.