There are lots of things we just take for granted. Things that have been part of our lives from day one. But, somewhere along the way, somebody dreamed them up—maybe by design, sometimes by accident, or sometimes when working on something else entirely. For the inner trivia in us, here are a few invention stories you might not know about.
Potato Chips: The staple of many a lunch bag or after school snack—did you ever wonder how they came to be? They’ve been around far longer than you probably imagined. In 1853, a New York chef, George Crum, had a diner who kept complaining about how soggy his fried potatoes were. In frustration, Chef Crum retreated to his kitchen and sliced potatoes very thin, fried them until they were crispy and then salted them down. Instead of getting even with the complainer, the diner actually liked them. How about that? The birth of potato chips!
Popsicles: This is a humbling tale . . . . In 1905, eleven-year-old Frank Epperson got an idea that he wanted to make his own soda. He was mixing various concoctions but left them outside on the porch overnight. The temperature dropped, and the next morning, the mixtures were frozen with their stir sticks in them. Voilà! Popsicles!
Ice Cream Cones: In 1904 at the World’s Fair, ice cream was selling fast, but the vendor was running out of plates. The booth next to his was selling waffles—and not doing too well. They combined forces, rolled up the waffles into cones and there you have it. On-the-spot invention . . . from lack of plates.
Mauve: A young chemist (18 years old), William Perkin, was working on a cure for malaria in 1856. Somehow, he ended up inventing the first synthetic dye, making the fashion world quite happy.
Post It Notes: in 1968, a 3M chemist, Spencer Silver, developed an adhesive strong enough for paper to stick, but weak enough not to tear the paper when removed. That’s quite a balancing act and a blessing to every secretary/admin. since.
Slinky: A World War II engineer was working to develop something to stabilize delicate instruments on board ships. When the wire apparatus flipped over, it flipped right back. What a fun toy and stress reliever!
Play-Doh: The original project was supposed to be a wallpaper cleaner; however, the inventor’s son found a different use—modeling clay.
Velcro: A Swiss engineer was hunting with his dog who ended up with burrs all in his fur. The engineer was inspired to replicate the concept in his lab. NASA was instrumental in seeing the many uses of Velcro.
Corn Flakes: Will Keith Kellogg was helping out in the kitchen of his health sanitarium, preparing a meal for patients. Somehow, the bread dough was left sitting out for a few hours and became flaky. Kellogg decided to bake it to see what it would be like. Can you imagine how many bowls of Corn Flakes we’re had over the years because somebody left the bread dough out too long?
Monopoly: The board game that most of us grew up playing was invented in 1904 by Lizzie Magie, and was then called “The Landlord’s Game.” Charles Darrow took the concept 30 years later to Parker Brothers. At some point, Lizzie got credit for her game and was paid $500. Wonder if they got a “get-out-of-jail-free” pass?
Liquid Paper: Bette Nesmith Graham invented Liquid Paper and was also mother to Michael Nesmith of “The Monkees.” Liquid Paper—loved by the secretarial world.
Kevlar: Stephanie Kwolek, a chemist, invented the Kevlar fiber used in bulletproof vests in 1971. The fiber is five times stronger than steel and is used in 200+ products.
Software: Dr. Grace M. Hopper, a rear admiral in the US Navy and a computer scientist, invented COBOL. She also was the first to refer to a computer glitch as a “bug,” due to the moth in her computer.
This just goes to show, you never know what might be the next great idea. Maybe you’ve got an invention just waiting for the right time to appear! Who knows? What’s the number to the patent office???