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Miles Vincent Sullivan

Miles Vincent Sullivan

Inventor of drinking bird
Miles Vincent Sullivan
The basics

Quick Facts

Intro Inventor of drinking bird
A.K.A. Miles Sullivan, Miles V. Sullivan
Was Chemist Inventor
From United States of America
Type Business Science
Gender male
Birth 19 August 1917, Winona, Winona County, Minnesota, USA; Fargo, Cass County, North Dakota, USA
Death 27 February 2016, Kalamazoo, Kalamazoo County, Michigan, USA (aged 98 years)
Star sign Leo
Residence Fargo, Cass County, North Dakota, USA; Winona, Winona County, Minnesota, USA
Mother: Cora Selck Sullivan
Father: Thomas Henry Sullivan
Siblings: Thomas Selck Sullivan
Spouse: Evelyn (née Burns) Sullivan
Children: Doug SullivanJane KehlenbeckAnne Sullivan
Purdue University
The details


Miles Sullivan (19 August 1917 — 27 February 2016) was an American chemist/scientist best known as the creator of the drinking bird—a toy bird that sits on the edge of a glass, perpetually bobbing in water without any internal or external energy source. 

Early life and education

Miles Sullivan was born as Miles Vincent Sullivan on August 19, 1917, in Fargo, North Dakota. He was raised in Winona, Minnesota.

His father, Thomas Henry Sullivan, died when he was young and his mother, Cora Selck Sullivan, ran a small store to support him and his brother, Thomas Selck Sullivan.

Sullivan is a graduate of Wabash College, Crawfordsville, Indiana. He then served in the United States Navy during World War II before earning his Ph.D. in physical chemistry at Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana.


After finishing his education, Sullivan began his professional career in technology projects at Bell Telephone Laboratories, Murray Hill, New Jersey. He remained with Bell for 35 years, during which time, he earned many patents, including a link that provided energy to the Mars Rover. 

Of the more than 90 patents, he is perhaps best recognized for the patent (US2402463A) for the drinking bird toy that sits on the edge of a glass, perpetually bobbing in water without any internal or external energy source. He was granted the patent on June 18, 1946.

Drinking bird patent #US2402463A

The then United States President Herbert Hoover had one on his desk in the Oval Office. The drinking bird even reached Albert Einstein, who once stayed up all night, puzzled about how it worked. When asked in the morning if he had figured it out, he shook his head then proceeded to disassemble the bird for his answer.

After retirement from Bell in 1982, Sullivan and his wife, Evelyn, lived in Hendersonville, North Carolina. In 2000, the family relocated to Friendship Village in Kalamazoo, Michigan, where Sullivan was a member of Calvary Bible Church.

Personal life

While studying at Purdue University, Sullivan met his wife, Evelyn (née Burns) Sullivan. After getting married, they settled in Summit, New Jersey, where he worked at Bell Telephone Laboratories in Murray Hill, New Jersey. After his retirement from Bell, they relocated to Hendersonville, North Carolina, eventually retiring in Kalamazoo, Michigan in 2000.

They had three children: Doug Sullivan, Jane Kehlenbeck, and Anne Sullivan.


Sullivan died on February 27, 2016, at the age of 98, in Kalamazoo, Michigan.

To cite the article
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Article Title: Miles Vincent Sullivan: Inventor of drinking bird - Biography and Life
Author(s): PeoplePill.com Editorial Staff
Website Title: PeoplePill
Publisher: PeoplePill
Article URL: https://peoplepill.com/people/miles-vincent-sullivan/
Publish Date: 21 Oct 2019
Date Accessed: 30 Nov 2020
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