22 fascinating stories behind everyday inventions

Posted by: corina Friday 9th March 2012
Categories: Latest News, Marketing

If you organise or attend events often, you’re likely to come across most of these everyday items at some point. You may not know much about their origins, though. See how many of these crazy stories you’ve already heard.

1. Computer mouse

The trackball used in a computer mouse was developed as a secret government project more than ten years before the mouse was invented. The inventor, Douglas Englebart, also created a prototype that tracked head movements before deciding the mouse was more convenient to use.

2. Torch/Flashlight

Before inventing the torch in 1902, inventor Conrad Hubert experimented with other novelty electronics. Some of his first inventions included lighted stick pins and an illuminated flowerpot.

3. Escalator

Several escalator patents were filed, but the first working model was based on a patent filed in 1892 by Jesse W. Reno. It was first installed as a novelty ride at Coney Island in New York in 1896. Reno’s design initially transported people on a conveyor belt, rather than stairs.

first escalator

Image credit: Brooklyn Museum

4. Parking meters

The parking meter was patented in 1932 by Oklahoma City newspaperman Carl C. Magee. Although the basic operation has changed very little since then, the original design was shaped like a loaf of bread on a pole.

5. Revolving door

The inventor of the revolving door, Theophilus van Kannel, was awarded the John Scott Medal for the usefulness of his invention to society. This medal for “ingenius inventions” has been awarded to famous recipients such as Madame Curie, Thomas Edison and the Wright brothers.

6. Camera

The inventor of the camera and creator of the Eastman Kodak Company, George Eastman, gave away half his fortune in 1924 to beneficiaries including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Rochester.

7. Potato chips

After a customer repeatedly refused chef George Crum’s French-fried potatoes for being too thick, Crum’s spiteful attempt to make the potatoes too thin and crisp to eat with a fork backfired. The customer was delighted, and the new dish became a regular menu item.

8. Coca-Cola

Prohibition laws in Atlanta led physician and chemist Dr. John Stith Pemberton to adjust the formula of his nerve tonic, stimulant and headache remedy. The new formula used sugar as a sweetener instead of wine and was marketed as a “temperance drink”.

9. Cash register

First cash register

Image credit: National Museum of American History

The first mechanical cash register was created by a barkeeper named James Ritty. The idea came from a problem with the bar’s dishonest employees pocketing cash from customers. When he patented the design in 1879, Ritty named the invention “Ritty’s Incorruptible Cashier”.

10. Blue jeans

Although the first blue jeans were patented by Levi Strauss, the original design was created by a tailor named Jacob Davis. Lacking the funds to patent his idea, Davis took on Strauss as a business partner and the two filed the patent together for what became known as Levis.

11. Duct tape

Duct tape was originally created during World War II and produced in Army green. The waterproof nature of the tape earned it the name “duck tape”. When the war ended and the tape became a household staple item, it was often used on air conditioning ducts. The standard colour was changed to silver to match the ducts and thus it became known as duct tape.

12. iPod

The original idea for the iPod came from an independent inventor, Tony Fadell. Fadell was hired by Apple to bring his idea to life.

13. Post-it Notes

In 2010 the Post-it brand celebrated its 30th anniversary with this cute Father’s Day video about the inventor of Post-it notes, Art Fry.

14. The World Wide Web

Invented in 1991 by Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the World Wide Web is as much a part of our lives today as take-out food or television. In an interview with the Daily Mail, Berners-Lee admitted that in hindsight, the double slash at the beginning of every URL is essentially useless, and could have been omitted. Lucky for us, most browsers add the http:// automatically these days.

15. Ballpoint pen

papermate ad

Image credit: eBay

The ballpoint pen was developed and improved by many different inventors, including Patrick J. Frawley Jr. who created the original Papermate pen. The fierce competition to develop a high-quality, low-cost pen gave rise to some interesting marketing tactics. To market the Papermate, Frawley instructed his salesmen to barge into retail store buyers’ offices and scribble on their shirts with his pen. The salesmen then offered to replace the shirts if the ink didn’t wash out. When the ink did wash out, the buyers were impressed and sales shot up.

16. Ice-cream cones

Although the credit for inventing the ice-cream cone is controversial, it is generally accepted that the first idea of a cone-shaped edible ice-cream container came from Ernest Hamwi who was selling a waffle-like pastry at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis, Missouri. When the ice-cream seller next to Hamwi ran out of paper cups, Hamwi rolled his pastries into cone-shapes and the idea took off.

17. Sunglasses

In the 1300s and early 1400s, Chinese judges wore smoke-tinted quartz lenses to conceal their expressions in court. When vision-correcting glasses were introduced into China, they were also smoke-tinted, though mostly for the same reasons. It wasn’t until the 1930s that tinted glasses were developed specifically to protect the eyes. The brand name Ray Ban came from the product’s efforts to ban the sun’s rays.

18. Can opener

Opening cans was not a simple process until long after canned food was introduced in 1810. Originally, cans had to be opened with a hammer and chisel until the first can opener was created by Ezra Warner in 1858. The contraption used a bayonet to hold the can still while a sickle cut around the edge. The process was so intimidating for shoppers that grocers had to open the cans in-store.

19. Sliced bread

Introduced in 1928, sliced bread was created by a baker, Otto Frederick Rohwedder. After unsuccessfully attempting to hold the sliced loaf together with hatpins, Rohwedder developed a slicing machine that wrapped the bread.

Sliced bread ad

Image credit: Lovely Old Tree

20. Chocolate-chip cookies

Toll House Inn

Image credit: Chocolate Chip Cookies Online

In 1930, the owner of an inn converted from a toll-house, Ruth Wakefield, created the first chocolate-chip cookie when she broke a Nestle chocolate bar into chunks for a cookie recipe in lieu of melted chocolate. As the recipe gained popularity at Wakefield’s inn, Nestle noticed sales of its chocolate bars increasing. The company went on to sell Nestle Toll House Real Semi-Sweet Chocolate Morsels with the Wakefield recipe printed on the packet. In return, Ruth Wakefield received free chocolate for life.

21. Liquid Paper/White-out

The creator of liquid paper was a typist, Nesmith Graham. Graham developed the product in her kitchen blender from water-based paint and dye and originally called it ‘Mistake Out’. She spent so much time distributing the product to other typists that she was fired from her job, which gave her time to tweak the product and have it patented in 1958.

22. Elevator

The first passenger elevator was built for King Louis XV in 1743. Known as “The Flying Chair,” it connected the first and second floors of the king’s palace at Versailles. When the king entered from his balcony, men stationed inside a chimney would raise or lower the elevator using a rope and pulley system.

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