“When people ask, ‘Do you enjoy your job?’ Are you kidding? I get to create the things that I'd love to see myself,” Smoot said upon accepting the honor
Lanny Smoot has found a lot of success in his career as a Disney Imagineer, and he just met a milestone many only dream of achieving.
On Wednesday, Smoot was announced as one of the 2024 inductees into the National Inventors Hall of Fame. In an exclusive ceremony at the Walt Disney Imagineering building in Glendale, California, the engineer accepted the honor with a full heart.
“When people ask, ‘Do you enjoy your job?’ Are you kidding? I get to create the things that I'd love to see myself,” he told the audience. “And it is always in service of making people happy and enjoying themselves. So thank you National Inventors Hall of Fame. This is a great honor.”
The National Inventors Hall of Fame was founded in 1973 in partnership with the United States Patent and Trademark Office. It has since inducted more than 600 individuals. But aside from Walt Disney himself, Smoot is the first inventor from Disney to be inducted into the organization that recognizes engineers and inventors who have made significant contributions to technology.
Following the ceremony was a tour of the Imagineering studios for guests — a group that included kids who attend Camp Invention, participants of one of the local FIRST Robotics teams, employees of the Walt Disney Company and past inductees.
In a later conversation with PEOPLE, Smoot shared how he became an inventor, revealing he adopted the hobby from his father, and shared his advice for those looking to follow in his footsteps.
“My dad was an inventor himself — not a professional but he made certain things and he brought a few things home: a battery, a bulb, a valve, a bell ring,” he recalls. “And specifically, this is probably one of my earliest memories. I heard the bell ring and saw the light and that lit my entire career because I was fascinated by electricity, by electronics, by things I could use in my own world.”
Smoot grew up in Brooklyn and didn’t have a lot of money, he says. He also never had a true “role model” in the engineering world, so he began to create inventions from his imagination. “I became a person who built all kinds of things,” he shares. “When we talk about role models, those type of things, I never saw a Black engineer until almost the time I was one. In my neighborhood that wasn't a major thing.”
Smoot also credits his parents for encouraging him to enter uncharted territory: “I didn't have the role models that some people may have had, but I did have parents who, well, had not gone to college, so they couldn't help me in some ways, but they were absolutely supportive of anything I wanted to do and helping in any way they could,” he says now.
With this honor, Smoot says he hopes to be the image of a successful Black inventor to kids — just like he wishes he had when he was younger. He is also planning to participate in Career STEAMposium, a program run by Clark Rucker that teaches Black children about the sciences.
“The world is changing,” Smoot explains. “I think it's giving people opportunities, but we have to keep that up. We have to keep people — especially people of color interested in sciences — interested in technology, et cetera. And the pure the fun of it. I enjoy what I do, and I try to teach that.”
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His advice for those hoping to enter the field of creation: never let go of curiosity.
“I was curious about all things in life, all things science,” he says of his experiences. “I wanted to learn more about those things. I also wanted to do things with what I learned. So we have to stay curious. And all of us, we are curiosity driven. That's the key to success. Imagination is the solution to curiosity.”
With over 100 patents and with 25 years at Disney under his belt, Smoot has helped create the iconic Madame Leota float inside the Haunted Mansion and the Star Wars lightsabers.
According to Disney, he is currently in the process of creating the HoloTile floor, which is “the world’s first, and only, multi-person, omni-directional, modular, expandable, treadmill floor, where any number of people can have a shared virtual reality experience, walk an unlimited distance in any direction, but never collide or walk off its surface.”
He will be officially inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in May.
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