By Marianne Shaneen
As a kid, Eric Mingrino fantasized about being an inventor, and when his father was alive, they dreamed of someday opening a company together to develop inventions.
Mingrino remembers his first “Eureka” moment as a ten-year-old boy watching his mother making pancakes in their Greenpoint kitchen. As she struggled to balance a spoon underneath the pan to tilt it while cooking, so that the grease would drain off to the side, he told her that one day he was going to invent a pan tilted on an angle with a little hole in it to drain the grease, and he went and drew the plans for it. “And years later, who came up with it? George Foreman. Same exact thing I drew when I was ten. He sold millions of these things! Every time I see that I say, oh man.”
Mingrino still lives in that Greenpoint house, and today he is an inventor. He’s also a tool and die maker, a machine builder, a designer, and a creator of high-end ornamental work for architects (including the hinges—costing $15,000 apiece—for the teak and ebony doors in Madonna’s apartment).
He also owns Rino Industries, in Greenpoint. His ad reads: “INVENTORS, have a product to patent?” If you do, Mingrino is your man. He’ll design it and build the prototype—and the machines to produce it. And his attorneys will assist you in securing the patent and getting it to market.
He’s designed and built a mind-boggling array of devices for clients who came to him with the spark of an idea; some may have even touched your life in some way. He developed an alarm that alerts parents inside the house if their child has fallen into the pool. He engineered and built a machine that produces a million pens per day, for a client who could have had it done a bit cheaper in China, but wanted it to be made in the USA. He’s also built a pen, in the shape of a bullet, for a company that sells pens costing $200 to $200,000. Last week, he built a machine to produce 20,000 small computer outlet covers. Several months ago, he created a dental tool with a high frequency illuminated mirror at the end, for his friend’s Madison Avenue dentist.
A few years ago, a very wealthy guy who was worried that his girlfriend might get a flat tire approached Mingrino to create a hydraulic jack for her.
When the Williamsburg Bridge was closed about ten years ago for renovations, the metal grinding was releasing lead paint into the air, causing an uproar. Mingrino got a contract to build vacuums for the grinders that would suck up contaminants. “Yes, that ended up helping a lot of people. I’m proud of that,” he says. Somebody copied his idea and has been making and selling it. That wasn’t the only time an idea of his was stolen.
“I lost a million bucks on an idea that I held for fifteen years,” says Mingrino. It was a barbell locking chuck that tightens the weight on the end of the bar and is guaranteed to hold 1,000 pounds. He built the prototype and gave it to his friend to look at. “Six months later my brother saw it in a weight lifting magazine. My friend stole the idea, and he’s still selling it today. I heard he made millions of dollars from it. I was just starting out in business and trusted people. How do you sue a guy who has so much money? Someday if I get a little lucky, I’ll talk to some lawyers, but just to find out if I can go after him will cost a lot of money. You know what they say: your first loss is your best loss. I’ll never do that again.”
Mingrino’s father was also an inventor. I remember vividly seeing the footage of the 1986 Challenger Shuttle disaster. In the 1930s, the elder Mingrino helped create the high speed Nova camera that tracked the shuttle and captured that iconic footage.
Mingrino started working with his father (James Paul, known as “JP”), when he was 13. At his family’s urging, he went to school to be an accountant, but hated it. “After two years, I said, I’m not pushing this pencil, get me out of here. I went to Queens and took a vocational course in machine shop and theory. I had to lose a year, which I wasn’t happy about, but having to make up that year ended up being the best thing that ever happened to me.” He graduated on a Friday and was working on the following Monday morning in a four-year government apprenticeship program. Then he got a letter telling him he had to report for duty in Vietnam in ten days. But his boss said, “You’re not going.” He was in a government program, and therefore exempt. “If I hadn’t lost that year, I would have had to go to Vietnam. I was lucky…a lot of my friends died in that war.”
“Inventing is just what I like to do. I’m not ashamed to say, I’d also like to make millions…who wouldn’t? But I could do this and not make any money at all; it’s about the fun of it. My father always said, find a job that you love and you’ll never have to go to work.”
“I still have dozens of ideas for inventions in my head from when I was a kid that nobody came out with yet, that I still want to make. I try not to think about them too much now because I get depressed about not being able to do them. It costs a lot to patent an idea; it can be ten- to thirty thousand dollars, and more. But they’re still in my head after all these years. I’m more interested in small, simple inventions. My father always said simple is genius.” He’s currently tweaking the prototype for his own invention that he thinks might be the big one, and he has some major players interested. But he can’t talk about it publicly quite yet.
“My father took me to Menlo Park as a kid. I loved Edison, of course. They failed over and over to make the light bulb, but then they finally got it…that’s the whole point. Who cares how many times you try and fail, as long as you get it?”
Get in touch with Eric Mingrino @ 646-643-1221, or firstname.lastname@example.org