Magic of Innovation: 40 Surprising Stories Behind Everyday Inventions

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1The Unpatented Chicken Nugget

The Unpatented Chicken Nugget

Surprisingly, there is no patent for the chicken nugget. Robert C. Baker, a professor of food sciences at Cornell University, created the process for producing this processed poultry product. He published papers on various poultry recipes in the 1950s.

2. Sequoyah, a single man, invented the Cherokee writing system. It's one of the rare instances in history where someone from a non-literate group invented an official script from scratch. Within 25 years, nearly 100% of the Cherokee population became literate, and this achievement inspired the development of dozens of indigenous scripts worldwide.

3. Salisbury steak was invented by a doctor named James Salisbury, who aimed to combat diseases like diarrhea, which claimed more Civil War soldiers' lives than combat itself. Dr. Salisbury advised eating steak three times a day with water to cleanse the digestive system because he believed that vegetables produced toxins.

4. Before the invention and introduction of toilet paper in the US, dried corn cobs were one of the preferred methods for personal hygiene after using the bathroom.

5. Macadam roads were state-of-the-art for the 19th century. These roads were convex, raised a few inches, and made of layered crushed rock. The rise of automobiles led to dust issues, which were solved by binding the roads with tar, ultimately leading to the invention of tarmac.

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6Nobel Prize for LEDs

Nobel Prize for LEDs

The common LED light earned a Nobel Prize. In 2014, Isamu Akasaki, Hiroshi Amano, and Shuji Nakamura were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for inventing efficient blue light-emitting diodes, which enabled bright and energy-saving white light sources.

7. The first computer mouse was made of wood. Invented by Douglas Engelbart in 1963, it was called an "X-Y Position Indicator for a Display System."

8. The bidet, believed to have been invented by French furniture makers in the 1600s, has no exact date or known inventor. Historical antecedents and early functions of the bidet are thought to include devices used for contraception. However, it wasn't widely adopted outside of France until after WWII.

9. It may come as a surprise, but traditionally, the Japanese did not eat salmon sushi. In the 1980s, Norwegians invented salmon sushi as a way to sell more of their abundant salmon.

10. Sandwiches were invented by John Montagu in the town of Sandwich, England. Montagu, who was obsessed with gambling, often didn't have time for a sit-down meal. As a result, he ordered his valet to bring him a piece of meat tucked between two pieces of bread, giving birth to the concept of sandwiches.

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11George Jennings' Toilets

George Jennings' Toilets

The public toilet was invented by George Jennings and debuted at the Great Exhibition in 1851. It cost one penny to use the toilet, and the phrase "to spend a penny" became a euphemism for going to the toilet in the United Kingdom.

12. If jazz was invented in New Orleans, its ground zero was Congo Square. This gathering spot allowed enslaved Africans to enjoy their mandated day off each week as early as 1803. They would drum, dance, sing, and trade, laying the foundation for Mardi Gras Indian traditions, the Second Line, jazz, and rhythm and blues.

13. The invention of the modern American football helmet is credited to Joseph M. Reeves, a football player at the US Naval Academy (later Admiral). Concerned about potential head injuries, he had a shoemaker create a helmet after a Navy doctor warned him that another blow to his head could result in instant insanity or death.

14. Aluminum foil was invented in Switzerland, and its first industrial use was to wrap Toblerone chocolate bars.

15. Prior to the invention of refrigeration in 1851, ice had to be imported to Australia from Boston, Massachusetts. Ice blocks traveled through the tropics inside ships that were insulated with timber, straw, peat, and sawdust.

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16Piano's Evolution and Triumph

Piano's Evolution and Triumph

The piano initially failed to gain popularity when it was invented in 1700. It was only after Johann Zumpe made improvements and J.S. Bach promoted the piano socially in 1768 that it eventually displaced the harpsichord as the preferred keyboard instrument.

17. Andromachi Papanicolaou, the wife of the man who invented the Pap smear, volunteered to have her cervix sampled every day for 21 years to assist in his research. Their findings went on to save the lives of millions of women by enabling the early detection and prevention of cervical cancer.

18. French physicist Denis Papin invented the pressure cooker in 1679 for extracting gelatin from bones and reducing the cooking time of food.

19. Crucible steel (Wootz) was invented in the southern part of India around 200 B.C. and was eventually exported to the Middle East and even Viking Europe over thousands of years. Today, it is more commonly known as Damascus steel.

20. Candido Jacuzzi invented the Jacuzzi to help his son's juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. His son developed arthritis after contracting strep throat, which caused continuous joint pain. Candido created the J-300 portable water pump for a bath at their house, as the boy benefited from hydrotherapy.

21Air Conditioning's Unexpected Journey

Air Conditioning's Unexpected Journey

Air conditioning was invented in 1902 primarily for drying ink, but it gained popularity after being installed in a movie theater in New York 20 years later.

22. Bubble wrap was accidentally invented in 1957 by two inventors named Alfred Fielding and Marc Chavannes. They were attempting to create a three-dimensional plastic wallpaper, but when the idea failed, they discovered that it worked well as packing material.

23. Hiram Maxim, the inventor of the automatic machine gun, spent so much time test-firing his guns that he became completely deaf. His son, Hiram Percy Maxim, eventually invented the silencer, but it was too late to save his father's hearing.

24. William Stewart Halsted is considered one of the fathers of the modern "residency" program for doctors. He devised a system where doctors would work unending hours per shift, believing that immersion in patient care would lead to better outcomes. He also used cocaine and routinely worked over 100 hours per week.

25. Basic oxygen steelmaking was invented by one man, the Swiss engineer Robert Durrer, in 1948. Durrer's technique accounts for 60% of all steel production as of 2000. Additionally, since 1920, the labor requirements to produce steel have decreased by a factor of 1,000.

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