Special Feature: Forgotten Inventors
Can Opener, 1858
British merchant Peter Durand
made a huge stride in food
preservation with his 1810 invention of the can. Canned rations provided to
soldiers and explorers saved legions from sure starvation. So grateful for its
inner contents were the hungry recipients that no one really complained about
the sweat and toil often required to simply open the can.
In 1858 Ezra J. Warner
of Waterbury, Connecticut, patented the first can
opener. An intimidating combination of bayonet and sickle, Warner's invention
was nonetheless eagerly adopted by the U.S. military during the Civil War.
Household use of the can opener increased when William W. Lyman's
user-friendly model was introduced in 1870. No longer did opening a can of
peaches mean risking one's fingers.
Blue Jeans, 1850s
Working as a canvas salesman in San Francisco during the
California Gold rush of the 1850s, Levi Strauss
made a keen observation.
He noticed that pants of prospectors and miners could not withstand the wear
and tear of their profession. Strauss decided to stitch some canvas together
and sell them as pants. What they lacked in comfort, Strauss's pants made up
in durability. When he discovered that using denim -- canvas dyed blue to better
conceal stains -- produced even more popular and comfortable apparel, an American
fashion mainstay had been established. Once the workwear of cowboys, miners,
and ranchers, blue jeans are today worn by people of all walks of life, at work
Combine a pie maker from Bridgeport, Connecticut, and an UFO
aficionado from Southern California and you come with the Frisbie.
pies, nestled in circular tin pans bearing the family
name, were all the rage in 1870's Bridgeport, Connecticut. As years went by,
students at nearby Yale University came to consider them a two-fer: not only
did they enjoy eating the tasty pies, but they seemed to gain equal pleasure
from tossing around the empty pie pan.
Meanwhile, Californian Walter Frederick's
interest in the UFO craze of
the 1950's propelled him into designing his own toy flying saucer. The Wham-O
company of San Gabriel, California, bought Frederick's idea and in 1957 set out
to turn the rest of country on to the "Flyin' Saucers" craze. When Wham-O
president Richard Knerr
ventured east he discovered college students
tossing Frisbie pie pans for fun. Knerr had a new name for his toy -- the
Frisbee -- and America had a new pastime.
Feather Duster, 1876
patent of the feather duster in 1876 was hard
fought. In fact, it came down to her squaring off against her own husband,
George Hibbard, in patent court before she was justly awarded ownership of the
patent. It was not the first time a man had claimed a woman's invention for his
own. Often times a woman, ignorant of patent law and schooled in subservience,
willingly handed over their creation to a man. In other cases, ideas and
inventions were stolen outright.
Susan Hibbard's notion of turning discarded turkey feathers into a duster may
not rival the invention of the locomotive engine or the light bulb, but her
fight for recognition went a long way in bolstering the spirits of other women
Gas Mask, 1912
On July 25, 1916, an explosion occurred in Tunnel No. 5 of the
Cleveland Waterworks. Some 250 feet beneath Lake Erie, more than 30 workmen
were trapped. As smoke and dust threatened to consume the men, a call was put
out to find Garrett A. Morgan
. Someone had remembered that Morgan, a
Cleveland inventor and entrepreneur, had designed a device called the Morgan
safety hood and smoke protector back in 1912. Equipped with the gas mask,
Morgan, his brother, and a team of volunteers were able to rescue 32 of the
In the aftermath, the African American inventor was awarded a medal from the
city of Cleveland and was inundated with orders for his gas mask from fire
departments all over the country.
Oil Burner, 1880
Well before 1880, Amanda Theodosia Jones,
established herself as an author and an inventor. Her early work in attempting
to devise a method of preserving food resulted in her being awarded two
patents. Having failed to establish a successful canning company, Jones set her
sights upon perfecting a method of heating furnaces. It was in the oil fields
of northern Pennsylvania that Jones completed her trial and error efforts and
came away with a patent for the oil burner in 1880.
Blood Bank, 1941
A car crash on April 1, 1950, brought an abrupt end to the
brilliant career of Dr. Charles Drew
. Drew, an African American
physician and surgeon, gained notoriety for his techniques for processing and
storing blood plasma for use in transfusions. Because of the existence of
"blood banks," accident victims were far less likely to bleed to death.
In 1941 Drew became director of an American Red Cross program for the U.S.
armed forces, developing methods for using dried instead of liquid plasma.
Disheartened by the military's decision to store the blood of Caucasians and
non-Caucasians separately, Drew resigned his post after only three months. He
went on to become a professor of medicine at Howard University.