Ever wonder about the origins of these things: like antiperspirant, artificial limbs, bikinis, Botox, cotton swabs, mascara,mirrors,nail polish, nylons, pantyhose, rubber bands, shampoo, suntan lotion, umbrellas and wonder bras. This list reflects only a few of the many inventions that have improved the lives of women, and yes, no doubt, men and children have also benefited, but not as much as the females of our species.
I must admit, I am a bit of a history buff with an ultra curious mind about the origins of things and how everthing works. I view an object and I immediately want to know, who or what was behind its ultimate creation. I am fascinated by the ingenuity of people and the determination of those who decide to create without a model version, conjuring up something that never existed without a prototype to work from. They intrigue me with the way they can take something make it viable working out of nothing and turn it into an object that becomes a household name but, that is only part of the story. What I am really amazed by is what they went through along the way to bring their vision to market. It seems to me that without this sheer determination; we might not have these items that make our lives so much the better for it.
In fact, just yesterday, while browsing the shelves of my favorite establishment, my local library, I came across a book that caught my eye, the name of which certainly spoke to me when I saw its title. It is a small publication, a brainchild of three very inventive people: Johnny Acton, Tania Adams and Matt Packer. The name of the book (this little treasure trove as I refer to it) is “Origin of Everyday Things.”
What I found so wonderful about its contents is that within a few minutes of flipping through its pages, I felt forever changed by the information it presented. The publication lists not just the handy dandy articles I chose to focus on, but, altogether 400 highly intriguing inventions; in short, it’s a phenomenal masterpiece for bookish people like me, because it is an instrumental guide to aid in the understanding of the most common things of our world and the formation of these marvelous creations that are so much a part of it. As I leisurely glance over the content, my mind wanders, I see the long hours, days, weeks, months and even the years of the author’s research and writing. I imagine what it must have felt like to be the one who discovered some tasty tidbit that they could include in their joint effort to produce this book. In looking over the data, I can only imagine the pride it must have given this person to introduce to the others what they stumbled upon. I can almost hear their rings of laughter, and the joys the three of them must have shared during this project and the process of their manuscript’s inception.
I know that it may not matter to everyone but I am delighted to note that the person who invented something that most of us could not live without daily, antiperspirant, was a nurse, and that the earliest generation of users of her body odor preventative were exclusively female. And, equally as interesting to note, is the original patent awarded to the inventor of the first artificial limb back in 1920, just glancing at the title of the book is not something I would not have anticipated seeing when I first encountered this publication.
Every time I step inside a building of architectural significance, mainly, because of its grandeur, I feel privileged but rarely, even though so many of these structures are old banks, do I think of these commercial spaces as the temples they once were and how they housed the valuables of the multimillionaires who were responsible for building of America into the great nation it eventually became. Learning the basis of the word “bank” and how it is derived from a word (an Italian word) that comes from the declaration banca “bench” because when a lender went bust he would literally break his bench to advice people of the demise of his financial venture. The term bankrupt is an extension of banca in that the Italian expression “banca rotta” means broken bench.
The book also reveals so interesting facts such as the original name for a cotton swap, “Baby Gays” and how they were the brainstorm idea of a Polish-American back in the 1920’s. I cannot dream of what my infancy, let alone my childhood would have been like if the next invention I read about had not come to pass. I can still hear my mother repeatedly saying to me “get the hair off of your face” and of course she expected me to pull it back into a ponytail with a rubber band, a highly versatile tool for young ladies of the day, and even today. But, it was the bookkeepers in 1823 that it was invented for when it was thought up by a Brit who created elastic bands for the purpose of holding together stacked papers and envelopes.
According to authors Acton, Adams and Packer there are surprises to be had everywhere and in everything, not excluding the most elementary of objects such as safety pins (which have held together more than a billion baby diapers since they first were thought up by innovative minds.
As previously mentioned, what makes the creations in this tiny book so enthralling to read about is their arduous beginnings and the opportunity to learn more about those who would not give up until they brought them into the consumer market. Case in point, if it was not for a Scottish engineer who responded with his ingenuity after hearing a plea from the War Production Board hoping to circumvent a shortage in order to produce a synthetic alternative to rubber we would not have had the luxury of playing with Silly Putty as kids, nor would have our children and their children. It was quite by accident, that inventor James Wright who was working on the problem in General Electric’s laboratory came up with a gooey concoction by combining silicon oil with boric acid in a test tube (visco elastic). When Wright threw it on the floor, he immediately discovered its bounce when it came right back at him. A good number of chemists over the next seven years paid no attention until a woman who owned a toy store; Ruth Fallgetter had the bright idea to reach out to the marketing community and called in consultant Peter Hodgson to help her to generate sales for this novelty item. Sometimes another’s invention needs some additional development and refinement in order to get it off the ground and running, Hodgson, eventually acquired visco elastic putty. He had the cleverness to repackage it in brightly colored plastic eggs that specifically appealed to children and renamed it, “Silly Putty.” After some assistance from “The New Yorker Magazine” in the late summer of the 1950’s who brought it to the attention of the public by focusing on this putty as a unique plaything, Hodgson knew he was right all along when he received orders to fill for no less than a quarter of a million units.
I invite you to partake in a marvelous experience offered by the Acton, Adams and Packer, to venture into the past and to learn more about the things that have been the brainchild of so many artistically inspired minds or wander over to the web page www.think-books.com and become inspired by the by-products of human genius.