Tag Archives: Inventions

Who invented bubble wrap? And what is the story behind it?

All of you must have come across that bubbly sheet at one point of time. Fragile things often come packed in it, and children and adults like to blow those bubbles with same enthusiasm. The bubble wraps, as they are called, provide safety for the things by cushioning them from impacts. These kinds of things are those we take for granted, seemingly irrelevant but play significant roles in our daily lives.
Like with a fair number of inventions, bubble wrap was supposed to serve an entirely different purpose. It was invented by two engineers named Alfred Fielding and Marc Chavannes in 1958. They were actually attempting to create three-dimensional wallpaper while they made the bubble wrap.
What they did was a simple thing. They sealed two shower curtains together in such a way that air bubbles were captured. It gave the wallpaper a textured appearance. But contrary to the inventors’ hopes this idea of wallpapers failed to make an interest in the market. However, the two inventors found another use for their product, and decided to market it as greenhouse insulation. Though the material provided some kind of an insulating effect, this idea didn’t connect with the customers either.
It took a couple of years for the product to find itself a relevant use. And, it was the idea of Frederick W. Bowers, a marketer at Sealed Air, a company co-founded by Fielding. It was then the IT giant IBM introduced their new 1401 variable word length computer. Bowers was consumed by the idea that Bubble Wrap could be used as a good packaging material to protect the computer during the shipment. He presented his idea to IBM and demonstrated the advantages of using Bubble Wrap to cover the computers. Satisfied with Bower’s presentation, IBM began purchasing Bubble Wrap to cover their 1401 and other fragile products they manufactured. The new use of bubble wrap became extremely popular and many companies came forward to use the product to protect their products.
Bubble Wrap is now a generic trademark owned by Sealed Air Corporation. The bubbles on the sheet come in various shapes, even that of heart. There is even an International Bubble Wrap Appreciation Day, observed on the last Monday of January. Believe it or not, the annual sale of bubble wrap is worth $400 million.
You might also like:

What keeps fire hydrants from freezing in winter?

The fire hydrants are a common sight in cities, especially in shopping areas. They are a blessing to the firefighters. The hydrants help the firefighters to access the underground water through hoses.
The hydrants, as we see them today, have been around for about two centuries. Frederick Graff Sr., chief engineer of the Philadelphia Water Works, is credited with the invention of the current fire hydrants at the turn of 19th century. This design is known as pillar or post type. He is said to have obtained the first patent for a hydrant, but it is unconfirmed because the United States patent office itself was decimated in a fire in 1836.
Hydrants are of two types: wet barrel hydrants and dry barrel hydrants. The one that was developed by Graff was wet barrel kind which had the main valve on top of it. It had a constant flow of water into the hydrant. The problem with wet barrel hydrants is that they can be useful only in warmer climates. It is the dry barrel hydrant that is used in areas very much affected by cold.
In dry barrel hydrants, the water doesn’t always flow into the hydrant. Only a small part will be above the ground. This is used to connect the hose to the hydrant when necessary. These hydrants would have two valves: the main valve and the drain valve. Only one valve will be open at a time. The main valve allows water flow into the hydrant while the other helps to drain out the water into ground after the use. Unlike the wet barrel design, in which the main valve is above the hydrant, the valve connecting the hydrant to the water main is very much deep under the ground in dry barrel hydrants. The design doesn’t allow the water to remain in the hydrant. Since there is no water in the hydrant, there is nothing to freeze.
The water pipe and valve in dry barrel hydrants will be under the frost line, the maximum depth to which the ground freezes in winter. The part above the ground is a simple metallic pipe. Another advantage with the design is that even if an accident takes place, it doesn’t result in a leakage of water. However, dry barrel hydrants are not completely free from hazards. In unusually cold weathers the frost line can move much deeper and cause damage to the water pipes.
You might also like:

Who invented chocolate chip cookies? What is the story behind it?

Chocolate chip cookies are one of the most loved sweets in the world. Even though most of the people who enjoy this crunchy sweet know that it was invented, barely a few seem to know the inventor of it. The chocolate chip cookie was born in the USA during the days of great depression. It was invented by Ruth Graves Wakefield, an accomplished chef and the owner of Toll House Inn, a popular restaurant in Massachusetts.
There are various versions of the story behind the invention of chocolate chip cookie. Many of the stories say that the invention was accidental while people who knew Wakefield refute those claims. According to the popular version, she was making chocolate cookies when she ran out of baker’s chocolate. In a state of panic, she substituted it with the semi-sweet chocolate she had got from Andrew Nestle of Nestle Company. She thought that the chocolate would melt and mix into the batter but it didn’t, leading to the birth of chocolate chip cookie. However, a major shortcoming of this story is the history of the protagonist herself. Ruth Wakefield was an accomplished chef and author of a cookbook. She was aware of the mechanics of chocolate or cookie dough and should have known the Nestle chocolate would not melt. It points to a deliberate invention and Wakefield herself admitted so. In an interview given in 1974, she said that the chocolate chip cookie was the result of an attempt to give something different to her customers who all enjoyed her butterscotch nut cookie.
In a version contrary to those above, George Boucher, once head chef of Toll House Inn, claimed that the chocolate chip cookie was born when the bars of the semi-sweet chocolate fell into the chocolate dough from shelf due to the vibrations of an electric mixer located nearby.
In any way, the sweet dessert became instantly popular and Nestle bought the rights to the recipe. The recipe was first published in the 1938 edition of Wakefield’s cookbook, Toll House Tried and True Recipes under the name Toll House Chocolate Crunch Cookie. She became almost a celebrity in those days. Nestle still prints a variation of her recipe on their every packs of chocolate chip cookie sold in North America, as a tribute to her. However, the restaurant Toll House Inn no longer exists. After the death of Wakefield in 1977, its popularity began to dwindle, and it was eventually demolished on the New Year day of 1985.

You might also like:

When and where was fork invented?

It may look a little bit weird in its appearance, but the use of fork is natural habit if you are from Europe or America. People don’t know when this peculiar thing became a part of their eating utensils but it feels like it has been there forever. Famous poet Charles Simic thought it “must have crept out of hell itself”. It would be interesting if we start to trace the history of things we use daily but don’t give a thought about. And fork is one such thing.
Even though it is a permanent part of Western cutlery, fork can be considered a late arrival to the group. Knives and spoons were the most common utensils in ancient days. Although fork had arrived in a much rudimentary forms with the aforementioned utensils, it didn’t begin to be featured prominently on the dining table until much later.
Some of the earliest known specimens of table forks were in use in the Ancient Egypt. They are also found to have been used in the Qijia culture that flourished in parts of China in second millennium before Christ. The Persians in 9th century and Byzantines in 11th century are reported to have used forks.
By 15th century, forks had been used in the dining culture of several countries, albeit occasionally. It was further popularized by Catherine de Medici, who went on to marry Henry II of France and became queen of the country. She conducted many public functions and the fork was part of the dining utensils. However, those types only had two prongs, and were used primarily to pick sweets.
It took several centuries again for fork to establish itself as a permanent part of cutlery. Still, its presence was limited to upper class families in those periods. Even though forks became a part of cutlery, people were still reluctant to use it. However, as the societies developed new eating etiquette and neater eating habits were demanded in public gatherings, fork began to cement its presence. Around 18th century, the number of spikes became three and four as well.
Types of Forks (click to enlarge)
By 19th century, it had become so common and been used by commoners. With the invention of silver-plating techniques, different types of forks also began to appear, used to eat different delicacies. Now they are as popular, if not more popular, as knives.

You might also like:

Who invented the original selfie stick? What is the story behind it?

It seems that you can’t walk a mile without seeing someone taking a ‘selfie’, nowadays. It has become as common as a nuisance, for many places and events even witnessed a ban. It didn’t take much time for the autograph to be replaced by selfies. Despite its narcissistic traits and self-absorbing implications, the selfies are quite popular in the modern world, especially among youngsters. With the rise in popularity of selfies, the demand for another contraption rose as well – the selfie stick. A selfie stick is a monopod on which a smartphone or camera can be positioned beyond the normal range of the arm. Usually made of metals, these long sticks would have a handle on one end and an adjustable clamp on the other end to hold the phone in place. The device has become as popular as the selfies themselves, and more of nuisance to some people. It has found itself banned in many events, even a conference of Apple.

Hiroshi Ueda with selfie stick
The selfie stick has an interesting history. It is not actually new as we think it to be. Like any other contraptions, this was also invented and re-invented by people from different places in different time periods. The selfie stick was there before the mobile phone gained popularity and even the word selfie was invented. The earliest known model of the selfie sticks owes its origin to a Japanese engineer named Hiroshi Ueda (photo above). He made the device in the 1980s, while he was working for the Minolta camera company. Ueda was a keen photographer and had a habit of taking numerous photos on tours. The idea got into his head when he wanted to take a photo of himself and his wife but couldn’t trust anyone else due to his bitter experiences with passers-by in past. He designed and extendable stick with a tripod screw to hold a small camera in place. He added a mirror to the front of the camera so that photographers could see themselves and make sure they were alright.
The product was introduced in market by the Minolta Company with the camera Minolta Disc-7. However, the device was not all that successful. It was listed in the 1995 book ‘101 Un-Useless Japanese Inventions: the Art of Chindogu’.
The patent of Ueda run out in 2003, and that was when the modern selfie stick was invented. Unaware of Ueda’s device, Canadian inventor Wayne Fromm patented his version of the selfie stick, named ‘Quik Pod’, in 2005. Both inventors see themselves as the real inventors of the device, as it continues to both attract and annoy the people.

You might also like:

Who invented French fries? What is its history?

People call them different names such as frites, chips, fries, finger chips and French-fried potatoes. But everyone agrees about its taste in the same voice. The crunchy French fries are among the most favorite snacks of the people around the world, despite the local varieties in shapes and flavors. The long cut pieces of deep-fried potato is a common presence of the western fast food culture.
In spite of the fact that people agree on its yummy nature, many debates are going over its history. Although it is known as French fries, Belgians and French claim themselves as its inventors in the same voice.
The phrase ‘French Fried Potatoes’ first appeared in print in 1856 in the article ‘Cookery for Maids of All Work’ by E Warren. He used the term to indicate the product made by boiling sliced potatoes in fat till they sported a brown color. But long before that, the fries had been popular in Europe.
The potato didn’t arrive in Europe until late 16th century, when Spanish conquistadors brought back numerous products from their campaigns in South America. It took many years for the Europeans to accept the potato and make it a part of their daily staple. And after a few years, the Belgians and the French were fighting for the ownership of those potato chips!
In Belgium, the French fries have a status of the national food. According to them, Pommes frites, as they call that crispy food, had their birth in Namur, a region in southern part of the country. The people of the region used to catch fish from the River Meuse and fry them. However, during winters, when the river freezes and fishing becomes impossible, they would cut up potatoes into the forms of small fish and fry them instead. Even though there is no evidence to support this story, many people believe it.
As far as the French are concerned, the fries were born there in the preceding years of French revolution. Born as fast food, the first to offer the taste of fires were the street vendors at Pont Neuf, the oldest bridge in Paris.
There is also a hypothesis, that the term French fries was made popular by the British and American soldiers stationed in Belgian places. Since the language of a better part of Belgium was French then, the soldiers might have thought they were in France and called the delicacies French fries.
Whatever its history, there is no doubt that the French fries have become widely popular. Americans, Belgians, French, Australians and all consume them with equal fervor and local culinary varieties.

You might also like:

Who invented the Periodic Table? What is its history?

There are more than a hundred chemical elements in the world. A Periodic Table is an arrangement of those elements, according to their scientific properties.
Standard form of the periodic table (Courtesy: Wikipedia)
Scientists had begun efforts to arrange the known elements in some order years ago, since many elements showed some kind of relations among them. The great scientist who first designed something resembles the modern periodic table was the Russian chemist Dmitri Mendeleev.
Mendeleev began to think about the indiscipline in chemistry during the writing of his book titled Basic Principles of Chemistry which was eventually published in 1870. There were already a lot of elements known to the scientific world then and some of the scientists had attempted to classify and arrange them. They included Johann Dobereiner, Antoine Lavoisier, John Newlands and Lothar Meyer.
Mendeleev came across the studies of Dobereiner and Newlands. They had concluded in their research that the properties of elements were closely related to their atomic weights. Taking this as a reference Mendeleev arranged the 63 known elements in the ascending order of atomic weight, classified into 7 groups. The table was published in 1869. He revised it two years later.
Mendeleev received flak from many scientists in the initial days for discrepancies in the table. One of the reasons for the criticism was that he had assigned some elements in places not corresponding to their atomic weights. He had also left some spaces blank. He argued that they were for the elements yet to be discovered. He even went as far as to predict the properties of some of them.
However, not much later, much of his predictions were proved to be right. In the following 20 years the elements belonging to the blank squares of the periodic table were discovered and their properties were not very different from what he had predicted. The noble gases discovered by William Ramsay also found a place in the table as a special column.
The discovery of atomic structure and atomic particles further discrepancies in Mendeleev’s table. Henry Mosley later discovered that rather than Atomic Mass, Atomic Numbers were the basis of the properties of elements. He rearranged Mendeleev’s table. A major change since then was brought by Glenn Seaborg when he proposed the induction of the newly discovered super heavy elements. Known as Lanthanides and Actinides, these elements found place in the table, creating the modern Periodic Table. According to the discovery of new elements, it is still undergoing changes.

Related posts:

Who Invented peanut butter? What is its history?

Peanut butter, the sweet, tasty delicacy has been a part of the daily staple in Western countries for a long time. Its popularity is huge, such that a National Peanut Butter Day is observed in the United States on January 24. Even though it cemented its presence in the world in late 19th century, peanut butter is actually older than we think.
The peanuts have been cultivated for almost ten thousand years. It is believed to have its origin in Latin America. And, the history of peanut butter can be traced all way back to the time of Aztecs and Incas, around 1000 BC, who used to ground roasted peanuts into a paste. Since then there have been many people who invented their own versions of peanut butter with different processes.
The first known patent for peanut butter was acquired by a Canadian chemist named Marcellus Gilmore Edson from Montreal in 1884. His product was obtained from milling roasted peanuts until it reached a fluid form. In 1890, an anonymous doctor from St. Louis developed peanut butter. He sold his product in packages to people with chewing problems, with the aid of businessman George Bayle. The peanut butter was priced 6 cents per pound.
Then the American doctor John Harvey Kellogg was issued a patent for the process of making peanut butter in 1895. Kellogg’s process included boiling the peanuts rather than roasting them, rendering it less tasty. He used to serve it to the patients of his sanitarium, Western Health Reform Institute.
The person to popularize the use of peanut butter in the modern world was none other than George Washington Carver, the American agricultural chemist who is famous for his numerous inventions. He discovered three hundred uses for peanuts in the beginning of 20th century and is considered to be the father of peanut industry, and often termed as the inventor of peanut butter. In 1904, peanut butter was first introduced at the St. Louis World’s Fair by C.H. Sumner, grabbing the world attention.
In 1908, Krema Products Company from Ohio started the sale of peanut butter. It is the oldest peanut butter company still in operation. In 1922, Joseph L. Rosenfield from California developed smoother peanut butter, made with a churning process. His product was adopted by Swift & Company in 1928, which later sold the product under the brand Peter Pan. In 1932, Rosenfield founded the Skippy brand, which sold crunchy peanut butter. Later Procter & Gamble also entered the arena, with their brand Jif. They own the largest peanut butter plant in the world. Peter Pan, Skippy and Jif remain the big three of the peanut butter business today.

You might also like:

What is the history behind the invention of hypodermic syringe?

Even the most mentally strong people can be found wary when the words syringe and injection are mentioned before them. Most people have developed an uncharacteristic fear for injection. There is even a word for it: trypanophobia. They like to take bitter medicine than suffer the pain of injection. In fact, syringe is a great help. The medicine we swallow take some time to reach the stomach and then enter the blood and then to reach the intended organ. But often, the medicine must be applied urgently and that is where the need of syringe comes. The syringes have a hollow needle at the tip of medicine tube, which can pierce the skin. Through this needle, fluids can be injected into the body and bodily fluids can be extracted as well.
The practice of injecting medicines into body has a long history. The concept of injection had taken root in as early as second century AD. The controversial doctor Galen used to inject medicine directly into brain of the patients. From 17th century, various scientists had indulged in experiments of syringes. During his experiments on the circulatory system, William Harvey used to inject various colors into blood vessels. All these injection systems had a major drawback. These could be applied only through a natural opening or a wound on the body. The doctors used to make small cuts on the body for injections which was a dangerous practice.
In 1844, Irish doctor Francis Rynd made a hollow needle, which changed the history of syringes. He claimed to have injected drugs into a woman using his invention. A few years later, a French doctor named Charles Gabriel Pravaz entered with his own hypodermic syringe. Hypodermic means anything beneath the skin. Actually it was coined in 1858 only, by Dr. Charles Hunter. Pravaz’s hollow needle, made of silver, was 3 cm long and of 5 mm in diameter. The doctor had only to push the piston to inject the medicine into body once the needle was inside the body. If the piston was drawn back, the blood could be collected in the syringe. Pravaz’s achievement was in 1853. Around the same time, a Scottish doctor named Alexander Wood also invented an identical syringe. It was Wood who made the syringe popular over the world. He used it to inject drugs into patients and himself and eventually became an addict of morphine along with his wife.
The syringe underwent various innovations in later years and in 1949, an Australian inventor named Charles Rothauser developed the world’s first disposable hypodermic syringe. In 1956, Colin Murdoch from New Zealand made the first fully disposable plastic syringe as well. Today there are billions of users of the contraption.

Related posts:

Who invented the Polaroid Camera and Glare-free Car light?

Edwin H. Land
Some people find possibilities where no one would think they exist. Such a man was also behind the inventions of glare-free car light and also the instant camera; the American scientist and entrepreneur named Edwin H. Land.
His both inventions came from the quest to solve some everyday problems. One evening, Land was walking down a street when a car came from the opposite end with its headlights on. His vision was dimmed due to the intensity of the lights and he was left virtually blind for a few moments. It was the moment of inspiration for him. Land set out to find a solution for the problem for he knew such lights could cause road accidents and take several lives. He wanted to mellow this glare of the lights and the idea consumed his thoughts for the next few years. In 1932, he developed a film-like plastic sheet that could filter the light. They were called polaroids. Following the discovery, Land established a company with his physics instructor George Wheelwright to manufacture items that polarise light, such as non-glare car lights and non-glare sunglasses. The company, later named Polaroid Corporation, took only a brief time to find success and Land’s inventions spread across the world.
One of his other inventions, more famous than the first one, also came as a result of finding a solution to a problem. That was the Polaroid camera. Once, Land was taking pictures of his three year old daughter. He had just snapped one when his daughter said she wanted to see the photo right away. Land got his hands full for a while since the child wouldn’t take no for answer. Even though he succeeded in placating his daughter then, the idea was firmly planted in his head and his next mission was to invent a camera that could print photos instantaneously.
Those days, in ordinary cameras, the film had to be taken out, developed and printed. It was both time-consuming and tedious. Land made a new kind of film and devised a system that performed all these functions within the camera itself. The photos could be printed in less than a minute with it. It was marketed as Land Camera. It was the birth of Polaroid camera and Land is known as the father of instant photography.
With the commercialization of his inventions, Land became one of the richest persons in the world. Marketed in 1948, the Polaroid camera was so successful. The photos printed by the camera were of a reddish brown color. Land continued to do experiments on his inventions and made black and white films in 1948 and color films in 1969. Even though he was an industrialist, he always saw himself as a scientist first. In 1991, he passed away. He influenced many people, most notably Steve Jobs, the former CEO of Apple.

Additional reading:
Edwin H. Land (Wikipedia)

Related post: