A Hundred Tales of Invention

September 7, 2012 | Paula

Comments (0)

Have you ever finished an absorbing novel - I mean something that really spoke to you - and felt like you needed a holiday from reading fiction just so you could fully digest the story and characters? 

That happens to me all the time. But the problem is, that without something to read I start to become as jittery as a coffee addict deprived of her morning cup. 

So what could be better in this situation than a quirky book like The Greatest Science Stories Never Told by Rick Beyer, a book chock full of fascinating stories of inventions and how they came to be. 

For example, what do you think a murderer fed up with parking congestion and a housewife with chipped dishes have in common?

Greatest ScienceYou've probably guessed from the theme of this post that they're both inventors. Carl Magee, a man who killed someone in self-defense, went on to invent the parking meter because he was fed up with repeatedly not finding a parking spot when he went into the city.

Josephine Garis Cochrane, a housewife, invented a dish-washing machine in the shed behind her house because she hated having her best dishes chipped by careless servants. She patented her machine in 1886. Forty years after her death, her company, which became Kitchen Aid, went on to make the dishwasher a common household appliance.

CatOr, take the story of Edward Lowe...

Lowe was inspired to create kitty litter when his neighbour asked him for sand for her cat box. He didn't have sand so he gave her the absorbent material he sold to factories to clean up industrial spills. When she came back a few days later raving about how the product not only absorbed waste but also eliminated odours, a light bulb went off in his head. Lowe put five-pounds of the absorbent material into bags, labelled them Kitty Litter and began selling them for 65 cents.

The year was 1947. By the 1990s his company was worth 200 million dollars.

Wonder woman - free for commercial useAnother entry tells us about William Marston, a psychology student who had the idea of plotting a person's blood pressure on a graph while asking them questions. He went on to create the lie detector which he insisted was infallible when used correctly.

But strangely enough that's not what Marston is most famous for. Marston believed that society would be doomed unless women played a bigger role and so he created the first female super hero, Wonder Woman, a crime fighter with "the strength of Superman plus the allure of a good and beautiful woman," to encourage young women to become more involved in the world around them.

Other sections I enjoyed reading included the story of a socialite who didn't want to wear a corset and so pinned two handkerchiefs together and tied them around her breasts with some ribbon. Mary Phelps Jacobs, later sold her patent to Warner Brothers Corset Company for $1500, a company which continues to make bras to this day.

I was also fascinated by the story of Elisha Otis who invented the elevator brake in 1854. He didn't invent the elevator itself, but his braking system made elevators safe and reliable, which in turn allowed for the widespread construction of modern skyscrapers thereby changing cities forever.

Dimple inventionThis book had tons of Eureka! moments, but one of the strangest was about a not suprisingly failed invention for a metal instrument used to produce dimples. Ouch!

For other books on invention look for these at your local library:

Canadian inventions  Time great inventions Scientific magazineChinese inventions