Surprising Stories Behind Mundane Inventions: 50 Facts That Will Amaze You

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1 Women’s Liberation on Wheels

Women's Liberation on Wheels

The invention of bicycles was fundamental to the early women’s liberation movement. Bicycles promised freedom to women, who had long relied on men for transportation. They also played a significant role in the decline of corsets and long skirts in the early 20th century.


2. Windshield wipers were originally invented by Mary Anderson in 1903. They were initially intended for use on trolley cars, but she couldn’t persuade any companies to adopt them. Cadillac eventually started using the invention on cars in 1922, but Anderson did not profit from it as the patent had expired.


3. There’s a remarkable insulator called Starlite, invented by a hairdresser. It was said to withstand a laser beam of 10,000°C and be 90% organic and edible. Despite NASA’s interest in it, its creator took the formula to his grave.


4. In 1915, a farmer witnessed his sister making mascara using coal and petroleum jelly. He believed he could improve the product and create something safer to apply that wouldn’t cause eye irritation. He named his new company Maybelline after his sister Maybel and the base material, Vaseline.


5. Josephine Cochrane invented the dishwasher because she was fed up with china breaking while being hand washed.


6 Ostehøvel: Controversial Cheese Slicer

Ostehøvel: Controversial Cheese Slicer

In 1925, a Norwegian inventor introduced a unique cheese slicer called Ostehøvel. It was so controversial that many people created bins labeled, “Throw your cheese slicer here!”


7. 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.


8. 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.


9. 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.


10. 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.


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11 Macadam: Paving Revolution

Macadam: Paving Revolution

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.


12. 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.


13. 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.”


14. 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.


15. 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.


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16 The Birth of Sandwiches

The Birth of Sandwiches

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.


17. 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.


18. 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.


19. 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.


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


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21 Icy Imports Down Under

Icy Imports Down Under

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.


22. 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.


23. 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.


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


25. 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.


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