It takes the right stuff to be an inventor. Take, for instance, Howard Wright, a St. Louis dentist and author of a high-powered plastic whistle, whose monster scream can be heard a mile away. During its 51/2-year life span, the patented Storm whistle has sold so successfully that Wright re-cently came up with a second-generation model, the Thunder-storm, which sports a sleeker body and sells for less.
``It looks like a Lexus. It's got curves all the way around it. It's easy to use. It's beautiful,'' Wright gushed, betraying an inventor's enthusiasm.
Family-run Koller Craft in Fenton, Mo., has been injection molding the 21/2-inch ABS whistles for roughly three years, said project engineer Al Koller - who is known simply as ``Three'' around the plant, since his father, the company president, and grandfather, its chairman, are Als, too.
Koller makes the whistle halves on a four-cavity mold; workers insert balls and split rings, then weld the halves together.
Buckert Mold and Machine Inc. of St. Louis made the dies.
The whistle has found its niche among campers, hunters, divers, the police and military. As personal safety aids, the whistles are sold to women's groups and college campuses, Wright said.
Its sheer power is a key selling point. It is so loud that users need to protect their ears or suffer deafening consequences. But it also is constructed to work under water - which was Wright's main motive for coming up with the design 25 years ago, he said.
To the 14-year-old California kid who spent his free time skin diving off Ormondo Beach, making an underwater whistle was an obsession. He fiddled with balloons and boxes, finally using a gutted plastic flashcube to create a watertight chamber. It worked.
``Then I met girls and forgot the whole thing,'' he said, until years later, a woman put the thought back in his head.
Necessity may be the mother of invention, but Wright's wife, Vicki, is its marketer. It was Vicki who convinced him that his waterproof whistle had a market other than Jacques Cousteau.
Last year he sold 360,000 of them, in 26 countries, many through distributors to customers that include the U.S. Coast Guard and L.L. Bean Inc. Koller markets them, along with its own proprietary lines, to Wal-Mart.
Storm and Thunderstorm come in four colors and retail for about $5.95 and $4.75, respectively.