Welcome to America Comes Alive!, a site I created to share little-known stories of America’s past. These stories are about Americans—people just like you—who have made a difference and changed the course of history. Look around the site and find what inspires you.

The things we take for granted today had to start out as someone’s good idea. From blue jeans to the weather service and the Brownie camera to traffic controls, read about how these items and more came to be.


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Abraham Lincoln applied for and received a patent for a device to keep riverboat and steamships from getting stuck in shallow water or on sandbars. His patent was granted in 1849 while he was in Congress.


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The polygraph--or lie detector machine--was invented by John Larson, an employee of the Berkeley Police Department. However, the device wasn't patented for about 10 years. Holder of the patent was Leonarde Keeler, also from Berkeley.


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The Pledge of Allegiance was the brainchild of the men behind a very popular 19th century family magazine, Youth's Companion.


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The wire coat hanger was invented in 1903


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The searchlight was invented in 1915


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The first American to create a sunscreen product was Florida pharmacist and former military airman Benjamin Green who developed a product to protect World War II soldiers stationed in the South Pacific. He later sold to Coppretone


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Anna Connelly received a patent for a fire escape bridge in 1887 (she did not invent the fire escape). Her contribution saved many lives.


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Ann Moore received her first patent on the baby carrier known as the Snugli in 1969


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Tabitha Babbitt invented the circular saw by building a larger version of an addition she had made to her spinning wheel. The Shaker people believed in working "smarter not harder" so patenting the invention was not important to her.


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A time-saving device for curling hair (or straightening very curly hair) was invented in 1928 by Marjorie Stewart Joyner.


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Esther Howland (1828-1904) was the young entrepreneur who invented a method to mass produce valentines


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Blue jeans were invented by Jacob Davis


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Glen Holland was the first person to ever franchise an amusement park, and he did so with Santa's Village:


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Crayola crayons are remarkable for their market staying power. Here's the story of the two men who created the company that makes them


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The first Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center was set up by construction workers, grateful for a paycheck in 1931.


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Aaron Montgomery began the world’s first mail-order business in 1872.


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Once the can was invented, Americans Ezra Warren, J. Osterhoudt and William Lyman each made improvements on the can opener...


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Wonder Bread was first baked in Indianapolis in 1921


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The bread-slicing machine was created by Otto Rohwedder (1880-1960)


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The first American to patent a seat belt was Edward J. Claghorn of New York, N.Y. who was issued a patent in 1885 for a "safety-belt for tourists, painters, or firemen who are being raised or lowered." Claghorn's belt was not tested in cars until the 1920s.


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In 1936 Pappy Hoel was the fellow who came up with the concept of the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally


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Carl Fisher, the fellow who built the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, was behind the creation of the Lincoln Highway, the first coast-to-coast planned road


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A pill that could easily be dissolved in the stomach (known as a "friable" pill) was invented by William Upjohn (1858-1932)


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The Yale lock (tumbler lock) was first created for banks in 1847 by Linus Yale, Sr. (1797-1858). It was adapted for use on other doors by Linus Yale, Jr. (1821-1868)


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The first commercially produced chewing gum was created by John Curtis (1827-1897)


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The first longlasting lipstick was invented by Hazel Bishop in the late 1940s.


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The invention that contributed the most to advances in weather prediction and the creation of the national weather service was the telegraph in 1835.


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The bullet-resistant textile known as Kevlar was invented by Stephanie L. Kwolek for Dupont.


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In 1871 Margaret Knight devised a machine for creating the square-bottomed paper bag that is still in use today


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Hattie Carnegie pioneered the idea of head-to-hem shops in the 1920s.

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The disposable diaper was invented by Marion Donovan who also invented a pin-less diaper cover and several other practical, convenient inventions.

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Groundhog Day came about in 1887 and was created by a group of Groundhog Hunters in Punxsutawney.

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The concept of the presidential debates originated with Fred Kahn who was a Holocaust survivor. Kahn came to the U.S. and joined the Army. In 1956 while attending the University of Maryland on the G.I. Bill he began pushing for debates between the candidates to help educate voters.

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The drunkometer was invented by Dr. Rolla N. Harger followed by the Breathalyzer by Robert Borkenstein

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Gus Arriola and his Gordo comic strip introduced Mexican culture to the American public.


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The Doberman was a "dreamed up" breed:

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Safety razors were invented by King C. Gillette (1855-1932)

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The remote control was invented by Eugene Polley in 1955

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Willis Haviland Carrier invented air conditioning in 1921.

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In May 1886, Coca Cola was invented by Dr. John Pemberton.

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The popsicle was invented by Frank Epperson when he was 11.

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Newborn evaluation system (Apgar Score) was invented by Virginia Apgar in 1952

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Patricia Bath pioneered cataract surgery.

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Scotchguard was invented by Patsy Sherman.

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The Fold-a-way bed was created by Sarah E. Goode who was the first AFrican-American woman to ever receive a patent (1885)


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The first Brownie camera was created in 1901 by Kodak.

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Garrett Morgan was given the first patent on a three-signal traffic light

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The inflatable life preserver (the Mae West) was invented shortly before World War I

This Day in History

On December 22, 1956, a gorilla was born in captivity for the first time ever.  The place was the Columbus Zoo in Ohio, and Colo, as she was named by the zoo staff, weighed approximately 4 pounds.  She is a western lowland gorilla whose parents were brought from French Cameroon, Africa in 1951.  Colo was raised by zookeepers in a nursery as her mother rejected her. Since that time, zoos have been able to create better environments so that mother gorillas can raise their young. Colo is still alive today and is now a great-grandmother.

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