We use them or consume them on a regular basis. Without them our lives would never be as convenient as we know them. Here is a list of 10 fascinating American inventions and how they came into being:
1. Stop Sign
One of the most important traffic signs, the stop sign has not always been red! It was first conceived in 1890 by William Phelps Eno of Saugatuck, Connecticut. First used in Detroit, Michigan in 1915, the original stop sign had black letters printed on a white background. In 1922 the octagon shape was selected and in 1924 the background was set to yellow. With fade resistant coating available, the stop sign letters were changed to white on red background.
2. Ice Cream Scoop
If you’ve ever grabbed ice cream from your fridge on a hot summer day, you’d appreciate Alfred L. Cralle’s invention. While working as a porter in Pittsburgh, Cralle noticed that ice cream was difficult to dispense, often requiring two hands and two or more implements to serve. On February 2, 1897 he filed a patent for an “Ice Cream Mold and Disher”. His design was strong, durable and could be constructed in almost any shape. Cralle’s design is still in use today.
3. Teddy Bear
The beloved children’s toy was named after — believe it or not — former US President Theodore Roosevelt. During a hunting day in Mississippi in 1902, one of Roosevelt’s aides had caught an injured bear, tying it to a tree. The former US president ordered to end the bear’s suffering by shooting it (or, according to some versions, by setting it free). A political cartoon depicting the incident by Clifford Berryman inspired Brooklyn toy store owner Morris Mitchom to put together a joined bear cub, calling it (after getting Roosevelt’s approval) Teddy’s Bear.
4. Windshield Wipers
When Alabama-based Mary Anderson visited New York City in winter 1903, she noticed that drivers had difficulty to see through the sleet and the snow. Back home, she developed the first windshield wipers model. The driver would use a lever to wipe the snow off the windshield. Attached to a spring loaded arm with a rubber blade, the lever could be operated from the comfort of one’s warm vehicle. Automakers rejected Anderson’s idea but it was copied once her patent had expired.
5. Tea Bag
The popular tea bag was not invented. It was actually born by accident! Around 1908 New York tea merchant Thomas Sullivan started sending tea samples to his costumers in small silken bags. Some costumers were using them instead of metal infusers, putting the entire bag into the pot rather than emptying out the contents. Growing in popularity, commercial bags were first made from gauze and later from paper.
6. Pop-up Toaster
We like to talk about “the next best thing since sliced bread”. But sliced bread would never be so praiseworthy if it weren’t for the pop-up toaster! Tired of being served burnt toast in his company cafeteria, Minnesota mechanic Charles Strite patented a toaster that incorporated springs and a variable timer, thus eliminating the need for continual human attention. First intended for the restaurant market, the pop-up toaster has evolved and quickly became a mainstay in most American homes.
7. BAND-AID® Brand Adhesive Bandages
Back in 1920, newlywed Earle and Josephine Dickson were living together in New Jersey. Being a housekeeper, Josephine kept having cooking accidents resulting in cuts and bruises. Being a cotton buyer at Johnson & Johnson, Earle hit upon an idea one day: By placing cotton gauze squares along an adhesive strip he could prepare ready-made bandages. As a reward for the commercial success of BAND-AID®, Earle was promoted for vice-president in the company.
The usage of sunglasses can be traced back to the 12th century China. These darkened lenses did not provide UV protection but eased out the sun glare in the user’s eyes. Chinese judges were wearing these lenses in order to hide their emotions from the accused. In 1929, Sam Foster first put sunglasses in mass production and sold them on the Atlantic City Broadwalk. By 1930 sunglasses were all the rage.
9. Shopping Cart
Owner of the Piggly Wiggly supermarket chain in Oklahoma City, Sylvan Goldman had a problem: As the baskets became heavy with items, his costumers, particularly women, tended to stop buying. Inspired by a pair of folding chairs, Goldman developed the first shopping cart in the late 1930s. At it’s core, the cart consisted of two attached folding chairs on wheels, carrying two wired baskets. Goldman employed male and female models to push his invention around the store and eventually became a multimillionaire.
10. Post-it Note
One of the five top selling office supply products worldwide, Post-it notes were actually invented by accident. Two accidents, to be exact. In 1968, while trying to create super strong adhesives for the aerospace industry, 3M chemist Spencer Silver accidentally put together a super weak, pressure sensitive adhesive. Fast forward to 1974. Art Fry, a 3M colleague, approached Silver with an idea of how his adhesive could be used. As part of his after-work choir practice in church, Fry had been looking for bookmarks for his hymnbook that would stick to paper without damaging it. In 1980, when released to the market, the Post-it was unstoppable.