Harry Raupp's House Plants Ingeniously Light Up His Life

updated 07/16/1979 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/16/1979 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Plant lovers lavish affection on their greenery in unusual ways. Some play soft music to their potted pets, others sing arias or carry on one-way conversations. Not Harry Raupp. He touches his plants' leaves, and they turn on.

Raupp has patented a device which he calls the Touch-a-Leaf Magic Lamp. With it, even the most mundane philodendron can serve miraculously as a light switch.

Here's how it works: The circuitry is contained in a small plastic box which plugs into any outlet. In turn, a lamp is plugged into the box, and an insulated wire leading from it is buried in the soil of a nearby plant. When one of its leaves is touched, low-level electrical energy from the body is transmitted through the plant to the hidden wire and then to the control box. Bingo: The light bulb goes on or off.

Raupp, a 31-year-old electronics engineer, has been tinkering since his childhood in New Jersey. "I was the kid," he recalls with a chuckle, "who scavenged through garbage and lugged home old TV sets and burnt-out radios. I would work for hours in my cellar," he adds, "connecting wires and hoping something would happen."

He studied at the Academy of Aeronautics and Fairleigh Dickinson University. After several years as a computer designer for various firms, Harry formed his own corporation, which manufactures the lamp units. He sells them privately for $13.95, and will build a customized lamp with a planter for upwards of $20. At the moment he is looking for retail outlets to handle his product.

Raupp continues to experiment in his West Milford, N.J. home. One of his more recent inventions can tune out television commercials and substitute "easy-listening music" from the radio. When Harry points a flashlight at the set (which has a photoelectric switch mounted in it) the offensive picture disappears. "I don't like to be intimidated by commercials," says Harry. "It's a nice feeling to be able to zap them out."

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