USC Credit Union Blog

USC Credit Union Blog

10 Things You Didn't Know Were Created By USC Alumni

OK, If there’s one thing that USC is known for, outside of football of course, it’s producing a bevy of noteworthy and talented alumni across a wide range of industries.

There’s famous actors, critically acclaimed directors, decorated heads of state, historic astronauts, renowned architects, innovative engineers and GRAMMY Award winners.

With all of that have come creations by USC alumni that have made impacts in the film industry, medical field, and much more.

Some of the Trojan brainchilds are big enough to be paraded on campus, like that of George Lucas and his famed Star Wars. Some are more lesser known. Let’s look at 10 things that you might not have known were created by USC alumni.

1. Adobe Photoshop

One of, if not the most powerful creative computer program in the world was helped to get off the ground by a Trojan.

Photoshop started as the brainchild of Thomas Knoll, a computer engineer from Michigan. He had a vision of creating an image viewing program on Macintosh computers, but it wasn’t until his brother got involved that Photoshop started coming to life.

That brother was John Knoll –a grad of the USC School of Cinematic Arts– who had bigger plans for the project. Together, the Knoll brothers developed what would come to be known as Photoshop.

Nearly three decades later and after a major acquisition from Adobe in 1989, Photoshop is a juggernaut and used for everything from basic photo editing to the graphic driving force in pop culture.

As for Knoll, he’s had plenty of success outside of Photoshop as one of Hollywood’s most successful visual effects supervisors. He’s worked on films such as the Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy, Harry Potter and Star Wars alongside fellow Trojan George Lucas.


2. The Recycling Symbol

You know it quite well. It’s the green trio of arrows that guilts you into tossing your empty Coke can into the right bin.

It all came to be in 1970 when the Container Corporation of America initiated a contest for art students to design a uniformed symbol for recycling. The winner? None other than USC student Gary Anderson.

Anderson was in USC’s School of Architecture working on a Master’s Degree in Urban Design when he won with a logo he modeled after a Mobius strip.

Since its inception, the symbol has been made a part of public domain and has seven different Unicode registrations.

In 1998, Anderson told Resource Recycling that he was gratified and proud to have made such a recognizable contribution to society.


3. LASIK Eye Surgery

Rangaswamy Srinivasan used a Thanksgiving turkey to help develop laser eye surgery in 1981.

No, really.

Srinivasan, who earned a Ph.D in Physical Chemistry from USC in 1956, was working at IBM’s T.J. Watson Research Center when he began experimenting with the newly invented Excimer laser. He and co-workers discovered that the laser could be used to etch plastics and they wondered if precision cuts would be effective on tissue.

Enter the leftover turkey, which Srinivasan brought to the lab following Thanksgiving dinner.

As it turned out, the laser worked perfectly. Most importantly it left no damage on the surrounding tissue.

Thanks to more fine-tuning from Srinivasan, use of the laser for surgical purposes became a possibility. An ophthalmologist got involved and LASIK surgery became a reality.

For his contributions, Srinivasan was honored with the National Medal of Technology and Innovation in 2012, which is one of the highest honors the government can bestow upon a scientist or inventor.

He was also inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.


4. ‘One Giant Leap for Mankind’

Neil Armstrong coined the phrase ‘one giant leap for mankind’ on July 20, 1969 when became the first human to ever set foot on the moon. He did so while being a graduate student at USC.

After serving as a navy pilot and then receiving his bachelors degree from Purdue, Armstrong became a decorated astronaut. He participated in both of NASA’s marquee flight programs of the time, Gemini and Apollo.

With Apollo, the goal was simple: beat the Russians to the moon.

Armstrong did just that on Apollo 11, less than a calendar year after finishing his masters in aerospace engineering at USC.

Today, he’s forever a part of USC’s campus with a statue around the grounds of the Viterbi School of Engineering.


5. MySpace

It’s OK to admit that you had a MySpace. Though it might make USC alums a little easier to open up about their past profiles given that it was founded by a Trojan.

MySpace was started in 2003 by eUniverse developers that had big ideas for the early boom of social networking sites. Though ‘MySpace Tom’ Anderson was often seen as the face of the hip network during the 2000s, it was co-founder and CEO Chris DeWolfe that both led the startup are carried it through its peak.

DeWolfe headed up the business side of MySpace as a graduate of the USC Marshall School of Business with an MBA, seeing the company’s value peak as high as $12 billion after a $580 million purchase from News Corp in 2005.

MySpace eventually lost the social networking war with Facebook, leading to DeWolfe’s departure from News Corp and MySpace in 2009.


6. California Pizza Kitchen

Larry Flax, USC Law Class of 1967, helped launch one of the most popular restaurant establishments in the west.

While working in the U.S. District Attorney’s Office in the 1980s, Flax met Rick Rosenfeld who would become his pizza-making business partner.

Unsatisfied with their legal practice, the two decided to branch out into the restaurant business. They took advantage of the growing popularity of California-style pizza, which means sized for one and often involves unconventional toppings.

In 1985, the first California Pizza Kitchen opened in Beverly Hills, with the widely popular BBQ Chicken Pizza propelling the restaurant to stardom. Within a few years, Flax and Rosenfeld had expanded the business to 26 locations.

Now, CPK boasts more than 300 locations across more than a dozen counties where Trojans and non-Trojans alike can enjoy pizzas ranging from Chipotle Chicken to Pear Gorgonzola.


7. Hula Hoop, Frisbee and Superball

If you’ve ever played with a Hula Hoop, Frisbee or Superball, you have USC grads and Wham-O! founders Richard Knerr and Arthur Melin to thank.

Knerr and Melin were childhood friends who attended USC together in the 1940s. Shortly after their graduations in 1947 and 1948 respectively, the duo created Wham-O out of a garage in Pasadena.

The toy company’s first product was also responsible for its name — a slingshot. “Wham-o” was the sound it made when it hit a target.

That’s not what caused the company to take off, however. Though the slingshots and other novelty hunting toys made them money, Knerr and Melin hit it big when they unlocked the key to fad toys.

In 1958, they introduced the Hula Hoop, which became a national hit, selling twenty-five million units over the course of four months. That same year, they released the Frisbee, which they had bought the rights to in 1955.

Knerr and Melin followed that up by introducing the Slip ‘N Slide in 1961 and then the Superball.

They even brought the Hacky Sack to the forefront in the 1980s.


8. Mad Men

AMC’s smash hit show featuring the enigmatic Don Draper and a cast of other complicated men working in the advertising industry in the late 1950s is brought to you by a Trojan.

Matthew Weiner, who holds a Masters Degree from the USC School of Cinematic Arts, served as showrunner, executive producer and head writer through all six seasons of Mad Men, in addition to directing all six season finales.

Though he previously worked as a script supervisor on The Sopranos, Weiner originally came up with the idea for Mad Men back in 1999.

However, it wasn’t until 2007 that he was able to successfully shop it to AMC, which had yet to produce its own original series at that time. And together, they struck gold.

A cultural phenomenon in its own right as a social commentary on the 1960s, the show won the Emmy for Most Outstanding Drama Series four years in a row, from 2008-2011. Weiner has also won an Emmy for Outstanding Writing in a Drama Series, for his work on the pilot episode of Mad Men.


9. ‘The Man’ Song from Colin Kaepernick’s Beats Commercial

If you owned a television in the last year or so, you’ve probably seen a Beats headphones commercial with 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick. And if you have, you’ve probably gotten the song –Aloe Blacc’s ‘The Man’– stuck in your head.

It’s catchy, gives you a good feeling the first 83 times you hear it. It’s also the work of a Trojan. Blacc graduated from USC in 2001.

The song really gave the soul and R&B singer a break through in the United States, as before the commercial took over, his stardom was predominantly limited to the UK.

That is if you haven’t stumbled upon his USC-themed song on YouTube entitled ‘I Hate UCLA’, a parody of Biz Markie’s ‘Just a Friend’.

Interestingly enough, Beats now has an even deeper connection to USC after Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine’s $70 million endowment in 2013.


10. The Minions

Though USC grad Cinco Paul cannot claim the entire credit for creating the adorable yellow stars of the Despicable Me films, he was one part of the duo which first put Gru’s little helpers on the page.

Paul, who was awarded a fellowship at USC after graduating from Yale undergrad, was the screenwriter for Despicable Me and Despicable Me 2, alongside writing partner Ken Daurio.

During development the script included the presence of little minions aiding the protagonist in his schemes. The writers did yet have an idea exactly how they would look or sound, but the characters were there.

Paul and Daurio have given most of the credit to the designs and voices of directors Chris Renaud and Pierre Coffin, who brought the minions to life with their twinkie-eque physiques and distinct language. Still, their script birthed the minions.

Those minions have become a worldwide phenomenon, even spawning their own feature film, Minions, which premiered last week.

As for Paul, the man named after the Cinco De Mayo holiday also brought Dr. Seuss classics Horton Hears a Who! and The Lorax to the big screen.

Just as these individuals and their creations are deeply rooted in USC history, you can be too! Take the step to own your financial future by joining the USC Credit Union. Learn more here.

Source: Reign of Troy

Welcome to our Blog!

We provide the tools to build a smart financial future.

At USC Credit Union we put financial success in your hands. It's your future. Own it.


Recent Posts


see all

Follow Us