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The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture

ODOR, RALPH KEELY (1895–1987).

Born in Arcadia, Oklahoma, on April 5, 1895, into the farm family of William H. and Myra E. Odor, Ralph Keely Odor was a World War I veteran and an engineer. His service in the war introduced him to aviation, and afterward his job required him to take airplane trips. In the 1920s he began experimenting with ways to build a better aircraft engine. He returned to the Arcadia area in the 1920s (where in 1898 his father had constructed the now-famous Arcadia Round Barn) and set about creating models of his idea, finally building a working model in a laundry in Edmond. The concept that Odor developed was called a "vortex tornado" because it channeled air through a tube, past spinning vanes, creating a vacuum that made the propeller spin faster. He built and flew his "vornado plane" in 1929. Odor soon moved to Stillwater where Oklahoma A&M University (now Oklahoma State University) provided him a laboratory. Students at the university filmed a flight of his model in 1931, and that film is still accessible for viewing on the Internet. A patent for the air-moving device that powered the plane was filed in 1934 and approved in 1938. In December 1934 he exhibited his airplane, which he called the "Vornado plane," at the Industrial Arts and Home Work Shop Exhibition in Oklahoma City. His was the earliest use of the term "vornado."

In 1938 Odor filed a patent for an indoor air circulator based on the same principle (Patent No. 2330907, reg. U.S. Patent Office, approved October 5, 1938. A similar patent was filed by Odor in Canada and approved in 1940). Plans for manufacturing Odor's fan were placed with Propellair Company of Ohio, and a few were produced and marketed. The beginning of U.S. involvement in World War II preempted future development of both the airplane project and the fan.

After the war Odor went to work as an engineer for O. A. Sutton's Aircraft Welders Company in Kansas. Sutton manufactured the fans but neglected to credit Ralph Odor for his inventions. However, Odor's revolutionary idea and his engineering work is documented in patents and drawings and in the media of the day. In the late twentieth century the Vornado whole-room air circulator was revived and manufactured by Vornado Air LLC. After research and verification of the origin of the vortex tornado air circulator concept, the company gave Ralph K. Odor credit for his invention. Odor died on February 10, 1987, in Portage, Ohio. He was survived by his wife, Rosalie, two daughters, and three sons.

Dianna Everett

Learn More

"Edmond Mechanic Invents Vacuum Tube Plane, Claims Innovation in Aviation," Daily Oklahoman (Oklahoma City), 21 August 1932.

"Inventor to Demonstrate New Airplane Designs," Daily Oklahoman (Oklahoma City), 11 December 1934.

Ralph K. Odor, "A New Type of Propeller Assembly for Aircraft," Oklahoma Agricultural and Mechanical College Division of Engineering Publications 6 (June 1935).

"Oklahoma Inventor Hopes to Fly by Aid of Pair of Man-made Tornadoes," Daily Capital News (Jefferson City, Mo.), 4 December 1936.

"Vornado Plane to be Built," Taxi-Strip Magazine 4 (February 1935).


The following (as per The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th edition) is the preferred citation for articles:
Dianna Everett, “Odor, Ralph Keely,” The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, https://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry?entry=OD002.

Published June 8, 2015

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