Photo of John T. Parsons

John T. Parsons

  • National Medal of Technology and Innovation
  • Manufacturing
For their development and successful demonstration of the numerically-controlled machine tool for the production of three-dimensional shapes, which has been essential for the production of commercial airliners and which is seminal for the growth of the robotics, CAD-CAM, and automated manufacturing industries.

John Parson’s first memory was filing a piece of iron at the age of 3. He learned to tell metals by their smell– the way some people can distinguish flowers. Parsons’ career spanned 60 years of creative problem solving, and he sought to affect and improve all phases of manufacturing, from new materials to new ways to settle labor negotiations.

Parsons, along with his friend Frank Stulen, envisioned a new concept of manufacturing — metalworking using numerical control– the precursor of today’s computer aided manufacturing. Together, they were the first to use computer methods to solve machining problems, specifically, the curves of helicopter rotor blades. For 40 years, he worked at Parsons Corporation, which became a world leader in production of helicopter blades, and produced fuel tanks for the Saturn rockets that took astronauts to the moon.

Parsons’s breakthroughs in computerized manufacturing led to the development of Computer Numerical Control (CNC), which controls the automation of machine tools and tool processes. CNC continues to be used for any processes that can be carried on machine tool motion platforms.

By Jen Santisi