Jack Goeken: An Inventor Early in the Morning

The name might not ring a bell. But his ideas touched most all of us.

Jack Goeken, inventor, who died at 80 this week in Joliet IL after a battle with cancer, had the idea, “What if anybody could talk to anybody else on the phone no matter where they were?”

Today, in 2010, that idea might sit along side ideas like, “What if everybody could sit in a car? Use indoor plumbing? Watch television? Go on-line? Grab a cold drink from the refrigerator?”

But none of those ideas would have shape, color, texture weight or smell without an inventor. Somewhere there was an inventor. There were artists, like the brilliant Ray Bradbury, who fueled our collective onward march of creation by envisioning sparkling diamond jewels of wonder like intergalactic space travel. And then there were inventors. People who took an idea and made something important happen.

Jack Goeken was an inventor. I never had the honor of meeting him, but I worked for a company he started, MCI Telecommunications. And even long after he left the company in 1974, the energy of the inventor, fueled and made huge by William McGowan, could still be felt in the day to day business of growing the idea of how anybody could talk to anybody else on a phone no matter where they were.

Oh, that and also not pay AT&T, the nations only phone company until MCI, for the privilege of doing so.

Jack Goeken learned microwave electronics in the US Army. He started an aircraft radio repair business. And then he had this idea.

What if we used microwaves for two-way communications for truckers on a 236-mile stretch of the old Route 66 that ran from Chicago to St. Louis? He and a couple of friends scrapped together $600. They called their company “Microwave Communications Services.” Later that name was shortened to MCI. The company became, at that time, the fastest growing company in the history of American business. Sometimes, when I worked for the company during the time now called its “Classic” period, someone would ask, “What does MCI stand for?” And we’d answer with the proud and crazy wings of youth, “Money Coming In.”

But in being the guy who was there first at MCI, Jack Goeken was just getting started.

Reflecting back on his remarkable legacy from afar, I wonder if he had a connection to the early mornings? Perhaps not literally. But I wonder if early in the morning brought him ideas. Early in the morning, that time when the streets, and the airwaves are most empty, the promise and the coming of a new day, a new chance, a new way to start a question no one had ever asked before with “What if. . .”

Perhaps early in the morning is when his ideas percolated up to the surface. Ideas like, “What if there was a way for florists, those stewards of fragile beauty, to process orders that could span the world?” And then Jack Goeken went and started the FTD Mercury Network that did just that.

Then some other early morning, he thought, “What if people could talk to each other from airplanes?” And started Airfone. Then a few years later started Airfone’s rival, In Flight Phone Corp, adding digital technology, e-mail, stock quotes and games.

Jack Goeken was once quoted as saying, “Everybody comes in and says you can’t do something, so I do it just to prove it.”

Jack Goeken. Inventor.

“Everybody comes in and says you can’t do something, so I do it just to prove it.”

There’s a thought to greet the sunrise and the early morning.

What if more people thought like that?

One Response to “Jack Goeken: An Inventor Early in the Morning”

  1. Ted Schneider Says:

    If more people thought like that we would see real progress in the world. I recall as a young child always trying to prove teachers wrong, friends and neighbors about what I couldn’t do. Perhaps we need to reach back to our youth with a positive chip on our shoulders to make things happen.

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