We all know about Thomas Edison, Benjamin Franklin and Alexander Graham Bell, but what about those inventors who don’t often get the limelight?
From common-place items that you use and enjoy often to obscure items and items that were invented quite by accident, National Inventors’ Month celebrates them all and invites us to look back at the origins of the interesting, useful things that were created right here in the United States by lesser known inventors.
Everyone has heard the saying, “It’s the greatest thing since sliced bread,” but have you ever wondered when and where the ever-illustrious bread slicer was invented? Davenport, Iowa is the birthplace of the first single-loaf bread-slicing machine. It was designed by Otto Frederick Rohwedder who envisioned and developed his bread-slicing device, which also wrapped the loaves, between 1912 and 1927. In the course of the following year, his machine was employed by the Chillicothe Baking Company of Chillicothe, Missouri, which sold the first machine-sliced, packaged bread. The machine was improved upon during that same year and was given some tweaks by a St. Louis, Missouri baker named Gustav Papendick. Sliced bread enjoyed a huge rise in popularity in the early 1930s due largely to the widespread marketing efforts of none other than the Wonder Bread brand.
Did you know that the favorite frozen summertime treat on a stick commonly known by the brand name Popsicle was first invented in San Francisco? The cool treat’s creation is attributed to a happy accident. A young boy named Frank Epperson awoke one morning in 1905 to discover that the soda pop he had been enjoying the evening before on the family’s porch had frozen solid with a stirring stick in it when the temperature plummeted overnight. Epperson, then age 11, named his creation the “Epsicle” after himself. Nearly two decades and an untold number of intentionally frozen treats later, Frank Epperson, then called “Pop” by his kids, patented his tasty invention and changed its name to Popsicle. In 1925, he sold the rights to his popular Popsicle to the New York-based Joe Lowe Company.
What do three-position traffic signals and gas masks have in common? Besides being ingenious items that provide safety in otherwise dangerous situations, they were both invented, improved upon and first patented by one inventor—Garrett Augustus Morgan. Morgan is credited with several inventions, among them the invention of early safety hoods for firefighting and the creation of a three-position version of a traffic signal. Though there were other traffic signals on the market, Morgan’s traffic signal, which was shaped like a “T” and featured three arms, including an “all directional stop” signal, was the first to receive a U.S. patent and to be widely employed.
The contents of desk drawers everywhere have been changed in many ways by American-made inventions such as the push pin, adhesive tape, the fountain pen and, for those who frequently make mistakes in permanent ink, correction fluid.
The first properly functioning fountain pen was patented by Lewis Waterman, who also added a handy pocket clip to his perfected creation. Correction fluid was invented by Texas secretary Bette Nesmith Graham who founded the company that would become the “Liquid Paper” brand. The clear tape that is so common in the households and offices of today was pioneered under the “Scotch” brand and was created by an inventor who was employed by the 3M Company; another 3M employee invented the handy dispenser. The push pin was invented by Edwin Moore in Pennsylvania at the turn of the 20th century; in fact, the corporation he founded, Moore Push Pin Company, still operates today.
Spend some time this month exploring other results of American ingenuity! What you find may surprise you.