Imagination to Invention

Imagination to Invention

Would you expect to see a patent held by Michael Jackson for anti-gravity shoes at the National Archives in Washington, DC?

An exhibit, “Making the Mark: Stories through Signatures,” features selected signatures complemented  by documents and artifacts to illustrate the intersection of politics and popular culture through history.  The marks of John Hancock and Thomas Jefferson with accompanying anecdotes are expected ingredients of a National Archives exhibition. What is unexpected is the signature of pop legend Michael Jackson.  His signature story is not about the sparkling white glove or famous moonwalk.  Rather, it is a story of bold imagination that resulted in a US patent.

Jackson, always the showman, wanted to invent a dance step in which he would lean 45 degrees forward and back again, defying the laws of gravity, much like the Tin Man in The Wizard of Oz.  He managed to pull off this feat in his short film, Smooth Criminal, with the help of clever camera work. But he wanted to replicate this smooth move when he performed live in front of audiences around the globe.  The fact that people told him it would not work did not deter Jackson. He challenged his design team and they  invented “The Lean Shoes,” a pair of boots that magically altered gravity. Michael Bush, Jackson’s designer and stylist, describes how they created the illusion in his book, The King of Style. “The boots were designed to lace up mid-shin, supporting and immobilizing the ankle.  The outside shell was a facade that looked like a regular Florsheim shoe; underneath were all the mechanics. On the bottom of the shoes, steel plates locked onto bolts in the floor.”

Limitations, I learned through him, are either self-imposed or predicated by the limited vision of others.                                                                                                                                                       — Michael Bush on Michael Jackson

michael-jackson-shoes-patent2The famous lean was embedded in live performances of “Smooth Criminal,” delighting and fascinating audiences.  Jackson and his team applied for and received a patent for their invention, entitled “Method and means for creating anti-gravity illusion; Inventors: Michael J. Jackson, Michael L. Bush, Dennis Tompkins.”   The patent application is featured at the National Archives exhibit as an example of American imagination and ingenuity.




Karen Collias

My name is Karen Collias and I founded Knowledge Without Borders™ to infuse creativity and innovation into the most salient educational issues affecting global contemporary society. I attribute my enthusiasm to cross the borders of traditional knowledge domains to the multi-disciplinary nature of my education and professional experience. The first in my family to go to college, I have a Ph.D. from Columbia University. My professional experience focuses on interdisciplinary research, teaching, and strategic thinking at a variety of institutions, including Princeton University, the Smithsonian Institution, and the U.S. Department of State. I currently am crossing borders to write about creativity and innovation in education and philanthropy.



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