Having been granted more than 550 patents, Jerome Lemelson (1923 - 1997) was one of the most prolific inventors ever. His patents cover everything from toy caps to building alarms. Lemelson was able to make a living as an independent inventor. Despite the fact that he was involved in 20 patent infringement actions during his life he acquired a considerable fortune. He devoted a large part of it to a charitable foundation bearing his name ("the Lemelson Foundation") which inspires, encourages and recognizes inventors, innovators and entrepreneurs. According to its website, the Lemelson Foundation has donated or committed over US$90 million in support of that mission.
One of the beneficiaries of the foundation is the Smithsonian National Museum of American History in Washington DC. Using funds contributed from the Foundation, the Smithsonian has established the Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation. This is a wonderful resource even on the internet. The current centre pieces include "Invention at Play" for children (particularly appropriate to honour the memory of a man who began his career in invention as a small boy), "Inventing Ourselves" (an exhibition on performance enhancement through invention and innovation) and a focus on the Novel Prize. Online resources include thousands of articles on invention.
It is rare to find a serious independent inventor of any kind nowadays, rarer still to find a successful one. Altogether a great inspiration.