Paul Bigsby died on June 7, 1968. While most guitarists know him because of his wildly popular Bigsby vibrato, most are not aware that Bigsby is widely considered to have crafted the first true solidbody electric guitar. Bigsby was a motorcycle mechanic during the 1940s in Southern California. He became friends with noted country star Merle Travis when the two met at a motorcycle racetrack. Travis discovered that Bigsby was a notorious tinkerer, and asked Paul if he could fix a vibrato tailpiece on a Gibson L-10. Bigsby ended up replacing the vibrato with a better one of his own design. Travis then asked Bigsby in 1946 if he could build an entire electric guitar, complete with pickups that wouldn’t feed back. Using a design from Travis, Paul created what may have been the first solidbody electric guitar. The guitar had a single cutaway and a headstock that featured all the tuning pegs on one side instead of the standard three per side arrangement. This was similar to a design used a centrury before by German luthier Johann Stauffer. It would later show up in a very similar form on the Fender Stratocaster. Taken from National Guitar Museum
Merle Travis guitar built by Paul Bigsby in 1946, the first guitar that Bigsby built
If you want to read more about Paul Bigsby there is plenty of info at Premier Guitar, or you can by the book.
Update: December 18th 2014, I just found this pretty cool video about Paul Bigsby’s third guitar he built in 1949 for “Butterball” Paige