Kopp Shop

Buffalo native, 77, brought us the surge protector

When it comes to successful inventions, a recorded lineage of hits and misses exists in consumer electronics.

Practicality is the name of the game; and safety can often be the genesis of that requirement. Harold P. Kopp, who passed away last month at age 77, put a charge in one and hit it out of Invention Park when he conceived one of the first surge protectors in 1970.

The Buffalo native, born in 1941, was a lifelong electronics tinkerer and problem-solver. Not to mention he was downright famous in the world of radio. In 1950, he became the youngest person ever to receive an amateur radio license at the age of 9 with the call designation K2YZ0. Following his move to Arizona in 2008, he changed this title to K7YZ0.

Kopp’s initial invention, the Zap Trap, was designed as a medium between televisions and outlets, to guard against shocks and television blowouts (the term “surge suppressor” is technically more accurate, as most devices do not fully “protect” against electric shock). Zap Traps, first produced by Polytronics, are still made today by Hammond Manufacturing, the Cheektowaga, N.Y.-based electronics company. The following video from Edison Tech Center explains the technology, including the GE iteration made for mass production in 1973:

The initial invention would not be Mr. Kopp’s last, by a long shot. At Sarron, he helped developed a speech compressor to improve citizen’s band (CB) radio transmissions. He later invented SureTest, a portable device for testing power circuits; and the Motor Miser, which reduced the use of energy in industrial electric motors. In his latter years—despite a bout with cancer that cost him his vision in 1997—he worked on developing Tuff Block, an unbreakable LED lighting system inside glass blocks for driveways and landscaping.

Mr. Kopp was a graduate of Seneca Vocational High School in 1959, then enlisting in the U.S. Navy as a radio repair technician, for which he attained the rank of petty officer second class, wrote Dale Anderson of the Buffalo News in a profound obituary this week. Kopp met his first wife, Sarah Boland, while stationed in Newfoundland maintaining radar equipment. They two were married in 1961.

His resume of workplaces and companies would need radar to track. Numbering 86 in all, the short list, according the Buffalo News, includes Sharpe Instruments, Sarron, Magtrol, Delevan Electronics, Gaymar Industries, Taber Instruments, and of course H.P. Kopp Electronics, which became one of the earliest factory-authorized warranty repair shops when he opened it in 1970 after purchasing a television repair shop in Cheektowaga. He then founded Industrial Commercial Electronics Inc. in 1979, serving as president until 1993 and continuing as executive vice president for engineering until its closure in 2000. Not to mention the specific praise garnered by some of his inventions.

Writing about the company, Buffalo News reporter Brian Meyer noted: “The SureTest analyzer is to wiring what smoke detectors are to homes. Plug the bright yellow analyzer into an electrical outlet and it will detect deficiencies that could cause fires, equipment malfunctions or other problems.”

“Every electrical inspector in New York City has one of those SureTests,” David Quagliana, a high school friend, told Anderson. “It will verify if a line can carry 15 amperes or 20 amperes.”

His contributions to the world of electronics seemingly innumerable, Kopp’s “amateur” radio world is equally important today.

In addition to being one of the earliest forms of public radio, HAM radio is often used in emergency management situations where power outages occur, such as Hurricane Florence’s aftermath:

“Harold enjoyed a full life filled with the joy of having friends and family and reveled in his uncanny ability to problem-solve,” an obituary on QCWA.org reads. “Through his career, [he] was a mentor to many startup business owners and shared his stories of success with others.”

Next time you use a power strip, think of this good Kopp.

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