Working for Michigan’s 3M Co., Richard Drew invented masking tape in 1925 and cellophane adhesive tape in 1930. These tapes got their "Scotch" brand name when an auto painter told Drew his "Scotch" (frugal) bosses needed to add more adhesive.
Pennsylvania lawyer Joshua Pusey invented book matches in 1889 after deciding that the wooden kitchen matches he used to light his cigars were too bulky to fit into the vest pocket of his best clothes.
In 1853, David M. Smith of Springfield, Vt., created the common spring clothespin. By lever action, when the two prongs are pinched at the top of the peg, the lower prongs open, and when released, the spring draws the two lower prongs shut, creating the action necessary for gripping.
Earle Dickson, an employee of Johnson & Johnson in New Brunswick, N.J., invented a bandage strip to provide a convenient dressing for his accident-prone wife. He showed it to his employers and, after it was produced commercially in 1921, Dickson became a company vice president. Johnson & Johnson estimates more than 100 billion Band-Aids have been used around the world.
The first patented can opener was the 1858 invention of Ezra J. Warner of Waterbury, Ct.. A forbidding device that was part bayonet, part sickle, the opener was adopted by the Union Army during the Civil War. Before that, cans had to be hammered open.
In 1905, Frank Rose of Weir, Kan., a Boy Scoutmaster, nailed squares of screen wire to wooden yardsticks and called them “fly bats.” His troop presented two to each household, a deed applauded by Dr. Samuel Crumbine, head of the Kansas State Board of Health, who re-named them “flyswatters.”
Tired of having a wrinkled coat because of a shortage of coat hooks at work, Albert Parkhouse of Jackson, Mich. twisted two wires into ovals for his coat shoulders, added a hook, and invented the wire coat hanger in 1903.
In the early 1900s, Wilbur Chapman, 10, of White Cloud, Kan., inspired the creation of the American piggy bank after selling his pig, Pete, to raise money for a boy with leprosy. When the generous gift captured the world’s attention, the American Leprosy Mission began making cast-iron pigs named Pete with slots in their back to be fed—not corn—but coins.
San Antonio, Texas, native Spencer Silver worked as a chemist for 3M, headquartered in St. Paul, Minn., when he invented a glue in 1968 that was strong enough to hold papers together, yet weak enough to allow the papers to be pulled apart again. The invention sat on the shelf until Silver’s colleague, Art Fry, needed a bookmark that wouldn’t fall out. The resulting Post-it Notes product was introduced nationwide in 1980 and soon became an office standard.
Generations of Americans have grown up learning about inventions that shaped our nation, but history books, however, don’t always tell the whole story. Paul Niemann, author of Invention Mysteries, spent years uncovering the little-known facts behind the world’s greatest inventions. Learn about his 10 favorite inventions that shaped America
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