James Martial Lapeyre (1926-1989)
J.M. Lapeyre - Inventor of the "Alternating Tread" Stair
To many people, J.M. Lapeyre was known as "...the man who invented the shrimp peeling machine." This is true, but he did so much more. J.M. was a mere lad of seventeen at the time he co-invented the shrimp peeler. This pioneer invention revolutionized the shrimp processing industry in developed countries around the world and created what is now The Laitram Corporation to manufacture the needed machinery.

Spurred by the need to efficiently load shrimp into the peeling machinery, J.M. invented the first all-plastic, modular construction conveyor belt. Recently pronounced by a federal court as another "pioneer" invention, these belts have become the standard means of conveyance in countless industrial applications worldwide. His far-sightedness led to the creation of Intralox, now Laitram's largest division.

J.M.'s inventions were not limited to low-tech mechanical devices. In the mid-1960's, he conceived the first digital magnetic compass. This electronic invention lead to the creation of Digicourse. In the early 70's, J.M. invented a high-speed, electronic computer-driven printer, now manufactured under license by some of the world's largest computer companies. Other high-tech inventions include: an automatic method for processing frozen tuna fish, a novel opposed-piston diesel engine, several energy recovery devices, a unique jet engine and a computer keyboard.

As the story goes, J.M. observed a workman having trouble carrying a piece of equipment down a stair on an offshore oil rig. He went home and sprinkled talcum powder on his feet and walked downstairs leaving footprints on the steps of the stair. He noticed that he only used about half of each tread, alternating from left to right. With this in mind, he decided he could make a safer, more compact stair design. By removing the unused half of each tread, the foot could reach the next tread in a straight, direct line, allowing for more usable tread depth. The Lapeyre stair was born.

Today, there are over 40,000 Lapeyre stairs in use. The stairs are custom-built to fit specific height requirements and are available in mobile versions with a cantilevered design to work safely over heavy equipment and conveyors. Applications include crossovers, catwalks, loading docks, machine accesses and other places where space does not allow for a conventional staircase.

He was an architect by training, but to many of his "fellow engineers" he was the most complete engineer with whom they had ever been associated. J.M.'s knowledge, acquired by continual study and observations, spanned every major technical discipline: mechanics, electronics, physics, structures, chemistry and computers.

At the time of his death, J.M. had been issued over 130 U.S. patents and over 100 foreign patents. J.M.'s inventions have given employment to thousands of people and generally improved productivity and, consequently, the standard of living in the world today. For these accomplishments, he deserves to be ranked among the great.

To many, J.M. was a genius and this alone was the explanation for his success. This explanation is incomplete; it takes genius, courage and motivation to pioneer new industries.

J.M.'s genius was developed through hard work and objective analysis. When dealing in technology, J.M. was relentlessly objective, recognizing that the laws of reality, "God's laws", could not be evaded by his or anyone else's whim.

J.M.'s courage was the result of living by his own convictions. He relied exclusively on his own analysis of a problem. From the time he was a young boy, he was told he was "unrealistic" and "a dreamer." He literally spent his life fighting for the ideas in which he believed.

His motivation came from the simple joy in admiring greatness in his own and in other human achievements. J.M. admired the best in his fellow man. He envied no one.

J.M. passed away in 1989, the Lapeyre stair lives on. Who would have thought that walking down a staircase with powdered feet could lead to such a unique invention!

More Information on Laitram Corporation.