American Inventors: The Stories of Men and Women Who Devise Answers to Vexing Problems
Inventions are the ultimate result of successful problem-solving.
But how on earth did people come up with the first ideas for luxuries (and now necessities) as disposable diapers, the dishwasher, the cell phone, and blue jeans?
Recently I have been asked to speak on this topic to various audiences, including the Larchmont (NY) Historical Society. The Society was kind enough to arrange to have the presentation recorded so I can share it with readers.
In the speech, entitled “From the Can Opener to Blue Jeans: Stories of Ingenious American Inventions,” I outline how certain items came to be. For example, competition to invent the first cell phone was high between two different laboratories, both inching toward the final product. In my remarks I tell a very good story about how Motorola notified Bell Labs that they had beaten them to the final step. The story is also explained here.
In contrast, an item like the disposable diaper was created by one mom working at home on the project. Marion Donovan was a young mother in Connecticut who became convinced that when it came to diapers, there had to be a better way that the constant series of laundry she was currently doing for her babies. First, she invented the diaper cover, which sold very well, so next she went on to create a fully disposable diaper. Parenting was forever changed.
Another subject I cover is how the “Mae West” life preserver was invented. A sporting goods store owner by the name of Peter Markus was creating a safety vest for fisherman who were frequent victims of drowning because they refused to wear safety gear. Markus determined that if the vest were flat until it was needed—at which point it could be inflated (making someone look like Mae West)–then user acceptance might be higher.
His theory proved true for fishermen. Then when he was demonstrating the item at a sporting goods show, a naval officer saw the demonstration. The officer returned to Washington and impressed upon the Navy the need to invite Peter Markus to Washington to demonstrate his invention. Markus soon found himself making them for both the Navy and the Air Force. During World War II, the Mae West vest saved countless lives, and by this time, Markus had given over his rights to the government because he recognized that his product was important for the greater good.
For these stories, you can read about them by taking a look at my page “Who Thought of That?” or take a few minutes and watch me explain these stories to the audience who gathered to hear me in Larchmont, New York. Speech for Larchmont Historical Society: