Every product you use in your day-to-day life was invented by someone. Think about that. From the tires on your car to the glasses on your face to the sliced bread you make your sandwiches with, all of the innovations you consider commonplace today started with a spark of inspiration in one person’s mind.
Who are these great inventors who made our lives possible? Oftentimes, we have no idea. Their breakthroughs are all around us, but their names and lives are obscure notes in some history book. At least they were, until now. Here are a few inventors you probably haven’t heard of whose inventions you use every day.
Inventor: Ernie Fraze
Invention: The pop-top soda can
Ernie Fraze was already an engineer before he invented the pop-top, so he was a man used to solving problems.
The particular problem he encountered that caused this invention was forgetfulness. Fraze went on a picnic and forgot a can-opener for his beverages. That inconvenience fueled the creation of the pull-tab in 1959, and by the 1980’s, Fraze’s idea was worth about $500 million a year.
Inventor: Joseph Friedman
Invention: The bendable straw
Friedman came up with the idea for the bendable straw in 1937, while watching his young daughter struggling to drink a milkshake. He simply inserted a screw into a straight straw and wrapped floss around where the screw was to create a ribbed, flexible section. Today, bendable straws sell in the hundreds of millions every year.
Inventor: Charlie Brannock
Invention: The Brannock Device, a foot-measuring mechanism used to determine shoe size
Brannock had good reason to create the measuring device we see in shoe stores all over the country today. His father was a shoemaker, and Brannock spent his youth watching his Dad try to figure out people’s shoe size by using a wooden block.
Brannock built the device in 1925 using a children’s toy set, and what’s surprising is that 92 years after the initial model was created, there have been very few changes made to the design.
Inventor: James Goodfellow
Invention: ATM PINs
Goodfellow was a Scottish engineer who was presented with a problem back in 1966: How can people take money out of their bank accounts after hours or on weekends?
Some credit Goodfellow with inventing the ATM machine itself, but there’s some disagreement on that. What he did invent for sure was the ATM PIN. He did so because there had to be some way to identify a specific customer, and fingerprint scans and voice recognition software, both ideas that were considered at the time, were too difficult to create.
Inventor: Robert Kearns
Invention: Adjustable-speed windshield wipers
Kearns might be a little more well-known now because of the 2008 film Flash Of Genius, starring Greg Kinnear, but what he created is undoubtedly better known than he is.
Kearns was an engineer who grew up near a Ford plant, and was a big believer in the automobile industry. He invented his historic contribution to that industry in 1967 after becoming frustrated that windshield wipers only had two speeds: High and low. He created a way of adjusting the speeds on windshield wipers to fit the weather conditions.
Kearns actually patented the technology and tried to sell it to several auto manufacturers, who started using what he’d created without crediting him.
It took years of litigation before Kearns eventually won $30 million and credit for what he invented.
Inventors: Scott Jones & Greg Carr
In 1986, Scott Jones, an MIT researcher, and Greg Carr, a Harvard graduate student, formed a telecommunications company in 1986 and quickly hit upon the idea of a call-in system to received recorded messages that would work from anywhere.
Believe it or not, it took legal action in 1988 to allow telephone companies to use Jones and Carr’s invention, and today they’re both multi-millionaires.
Got an idea you think can match one of these invaluable inventions? Pivot can help you develop and manufacture it. And for more unsung inventors, read “A Tribute to Inventors: 5 Great Women Inventors.”