Howard Rohrlick became a successful inventor because he was a good salesman. In 1975, Rohrlick was selling audiovisual equipment to industrial and institutional users. His sales philosophy, he says, is that "a good salesman doesn't sell a product -- he solves people's problems." So when he began to notice that a lot of customers had the same complaint about their slide projectors, he decided to find a solution.

The problem was that each time a projector advanced to the next slide, the light flashed abruptly off and on, quickly becoming a distraction for the viewer. Customers who wanted a "dissolver" system -- which lets one picture fade onto the screen as the previous one disappears -- had to use two projectors and a linking device, adding $500 to the cost. That was more than many small businesses, schools, and other users were willing to pay. It also meant the operator had to cart around twice as much paraphernalia and arrange the slides in two trays instead of one.

Rohrlick came up with an adapter that would give a single projector a more professional-looking presentation. After unsuccessfully trying to sell the idea to Eastman Kodak Co. and other photographic equipment makers, he found -- after four years -- a small electronics company willing to take his idea seriously. In 1979, Kimchuk Inc. of Brookfield, Conn., agreed to develop and produce the product, promising Rohrlick royalties if it succeeded. The company also hired Rohrlick as national sales manager for its audiovisual-products division, while allowing him to promote his own invention.

The device, which he called Autofade, came on the market in 1980. It eliminates the abrupt flashes of light and dark by turning each slide on and off gradually, the way a light-switch dimmer works. One slide fades to black, then the next fades to full brightness.Rohrlick says he has sold "several thousand" Autofades at $99.50 each and has received scores of fan letters from satisfied users around the country. The Inventors Club of America presented him with an award declaring Autofade the outstanding audiovisual device of 1981. A patent is pending.