Let us now praise paper clips. Sure, 20th century manufacturing produced heaps of junk, but let's not overlook all those elegantly simple, everlastingly ingenious, often humble products that made life better. Ten standouts:
PAPER CLIPS -- The century wasn't even a year old when Johan Vaaler, a Norwegian then living in Germany, solved the age-old problem of corralling fly-away papers by squeezing them between the concentric loops of a couple of inches of bent wire.
ICE-CREAM CONE -- At the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair, food venders Arnold Fornachou (ice cream) and Ernest Hamwi (sweet, rolled wafers) collaborated in a way that seems inevitable now. There are other versions of the ice-cream cone's origin. Italo Marconi received a 1903 patent for pastry cornets to hold ice cream he sold.
NEON LIGHT -- Two English chemists had discovered neon 11 years earlier, but in 1909 French physicist Georges Claude captured the gas in a glass tube that glowed orange. Within a year, his ''liquid fire'' was used to illuminate a Paris building and soon after to advertise everything from car dealerships to hairdressers.
CELLOPHANE -- When comedian Mel Brooks' character, The 2000-Year-Old Man, had to pick the greatest invention in history, he didn't hesitate. ''Saran Wrap,'' he said. Well, before Saran Wrap there was cellophane, developed in 1912 by Jacques Brandenberger, who wanted a film to shed the wine and coffee stains on Paris cafe tablecloths.
ZIPPER -- ''The Judson C-curity Fastener'' was a forerunner, but in 1913 Gideon Sundback patented an easy-to-use design. ''Z-z-zip,'' it went, fastening rubber galoshes for B.F. Goodrich Co., which coined the name zipper. (Note: Velcro was developed in 1957 after a Madame de Mistral's zipper jammed. The creator: George de Mistral.)
BAND-AID -- Earle Dickson was a cotton buyer for the Johnson gauze bandage company. Marriage made him an inventor: His bride kept hurting herself in minor ways, and so he devised a small, ready-made sterile bandage strip. Since 1921, Johnson & Johnson estimates 100 billion Band-Aids have covered skinned knees and other cuts and scrapes.
PHOTOCOPIER -- Think about what once was involved in making a copy. Monks toiling over medieval manuscripts. Smudgy carbon paper. Enter Chester F. Carlson. In a neighborhood in Queens, N.Y., he used powdered ink and an electrical charge to create a photocopy. ''10-28-38 Astoria,'' the reproduced page said, identifying the date and place.
BALLPOINT PEN -- World War II could not stop Laszlo Biro's invention; indeed it hastened production. Biro was working on a ballpoint when he fled his native Hungary, and he patented it in 1943 in Argentina. Some 30,000 pens were soon manufactured in England so RAF navigators could write in unpressurized cockpits where fountain pens failed.
FRISBEE -- Working independently at mid-century, Bill Robes in New Hampshire and Frederick Morrison in Los Angeles created the ''Space Saucer'' and the ''Pluto Platter,'' respectively. Whether the name Frisbee derives from a pie company whose tins Yale students tossed is a matter of debate. (Honorable mention toys: Slinky, 1946; skateboard, 1958.)
STICKY NOTES -- First came Spencer Silver's 1973 invention of an indifferently sticky stuff. But what to do with it? His 3M colleague, Arthur Fry, had the application: He first used paper gummed with the stuff to mark songs in his choir book. Today, these scraps of square pastel are our universal reminders.
(Sources: ''Panati's Extraordinary Origins of Everyday Things''; ''David Wallechinsky's Twentieth Century''; Utne Reader, The Economist)
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