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. Kate Kelly

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.


Elmer Berger was the man behind the first widely-marketed rearview mirror for automobiles. His product was released in 1921.

The football huddle was invented in the 1990s by a quarterback at a school for the deaf. He wanted to prevent others to see his signing to his teammates.

The X-ray shoe-fitting machine may have been invented by either Dr. Jacob Lowe or Matthew Adrian. The machines became very popular in shoe stores for a time.

Wheelchairs did not come into common use until the last 150 years, but various forms of them existed before the 1860s. Here's how they were invented:

The baseball catcher's mask was invented by a Harvard student named Fred Thayer in 1878.

Bessie Blount invented a device that helped wounded World War II veterans feed themselves without needing help from others.

Scrabble was the brainchild of an out-of-work architect named Alfred M. Butts.

Gail Borden, Jr., came up with the concept of a milk product that did not require refrigeration. He made it a reality by condensing the milk, and thereby launched a business that we still hear about almost 175 years later.

Elsie the Cow was the highly successful marketing mascot for Borden milk. It was created ad man Stuart Peabody and illustrator Walter Early.

The story of Elmer's Glue is about the creation of a new product but also about the strength of a top-flight marketing campaign.

The shopping cart was invented in the 1930s by Sylvan, Goldman, an Oklahoma grocer who wanted a way to help people buy more in his stores.

The true inventor of the ice cream cone was Italo Marchiony, not Ernest Hamwi at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis in 1904 as is often reported.

Bubble gum was first created by Walter Diemer, an accountant working at the Fleer Chewing Gum Company. The product was sold as Dubble Bubble.

The Woodcraft Indians were a precursor to scouting groups, and Ernest Thompson Seton formed the group in 1902 to encourage young people to enjoy nature.

Amanda Theodosia Jones (1835-1914) invented safer ways to preserve food through new canning methods and also contributed to better systems for furnaces that burned fuel oil.

The home security camera was first patented by Marie Van Brittan Brown, a nurse, was concerned about her own home security. It was the forerunner of all home security systems today.

Morrie Turner created the first integrated syndicated comic strip, Wee Pals.

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.

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.

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

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

The wire coat hanger was invented in 1903

The searchlight was invented in 1915

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

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

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

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.

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

The idea for mass-producing valentines arose with Esther Howland (1828-1904), a young entrepreneur who learned card-making from her father.

Blue jeans were invented by Jacob Davis

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

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

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

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

Beulah Henry Louise had so many patents she was known as Lady Edison--among them, "Dolly Dips" soap-filled sponges and an umbrella cover that could be changed to match one's outfit...

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

Wonder Bread was first baked in Indianapolis in 1921

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

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.

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

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

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

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)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Groundhog Day came about in 1887 and was created by a group of Groundhog Hunters in Punxsutawney.
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.
The drunkometer was invented by Dr. Rolla N. Harger followed by the Breathalyzer by Robert Borkenstein
Safety razors were invented by King C. Gillette (1855-1932)
The remote control was invented by Eugene Polley in 1955
Willis Haviland Carrier invented air conditioning in 1921.
In May 1886, Coca Cola was invented by Dr. John Pemberton.
The popsicle was invented by Frank Epperson when he was 11.
Newborn evaluation system (Apgar Score) was invented by Virginia Apgar in 1952
Patricia Bath pioneered cataract surgery.
Scotchguard was invented by Patsy Sherman.

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

The first Brownie camera was created in 1901 by Kodak.
Garrett Morgan was given the first patent on a three-signal traffic light

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

The bra was designed and patented by Caresse Crosby in 1913
Political cartoonist Thomas Nast was the first to draw Clement Moore's description of what we now know as Santa Claus
Embalming came about because of the Civil War

The keyboards of today are the same design as the originals in the 19th century. Here's how the design came about.

Bette Nesmith Graham (1922-1980) invented "liquid paper," first called "Mistake Out," in the 1950s...
This Day in History

On April 25, 1947, President Truman unveiled a new bowling alley in the West Wing of the White House. It was paid for by a group of Truman’s friends from Missouri. Eisenhower closed the alley in 1955, but another was built nearby in the OEOB. Over the years, the presidential residence has had putting greens, swimming pools, a jogging track, a tennis court, and even a tree house (Amy Carter) for its residents.

On May 2, 1933, the Loch Ness monster made news when a Scottish couple reported having seen an “enormous animal rolling and plunging” in the water. While the legend of the monster goes back 1500 years, this report re-awakened interest in expeditions to watch for the monster, and tourists flocked to the area for sightings. Though nothing conclusive has ever been learned, modern sonar and radar equipment have not ruled out the presence of a large aquatic animal in the Loch Ness in Scotland.

On April 28, 1967, boxing champion Muhammad Ali refused to respond to the military draft. For Ali, the decision not to fight was a religious one. He had converted to Islam in 1964, and he said, “I ain’t got no quarrel with those Vietcong.” On June 20, 1967, Ali was convicted of draft evasion, sentenced to five years in prison (did not serve), fined $10,000, and banned from boxing for three years. He returned to boxing in 1970.

On April 29, 1968, the rock musical, Hair, opened on Broadway.  The show started in New York at Joseph Papp’s Public Theater and moved to Broadway to extend its run. In addition to musical references that were seen as questionable, the show also featured a much-talked-about scene at the end of its first act in which the cast appeared completely nude on the dimly lit stage. The play proved exceedingly popular.

On April 27, 1865, the steamboat Sultana exploded on the Mississippi River, killing 1,700 passengers. During the Civil War, the Sultana carried troops along the lower Mississippi. On this trip, the steamboat left New Orleans, stopping at Vicksburg for repairs. The captain took on many Union soldiers heading north as the government paid well for them. They were soon carrying more than six times capacity. Just above Memphis, the boiler blew, killing hundreds. Only 600 people survived.

On April 24, 1800, President John Adams approved legislation for $5,000 to purchase “such books as may be necessary for the use of Congress,” thus establishing the Library of Congress. When the British torched the Capitol during the War of 1812, all books were lost. Former president Thomas Jefferson was known for his fine personal library, so he sold his collection to Congress to get the library started again. Professional librarian George Watterston was hired to be in charge.

On April 22, 1954, Senator Joseph McCarthy began hearings investigating the United States Army, charging them as “soft” on communism. Though McCarthy had been hunting out Communists for years, this was the first time there were televised hearings. His recklessness, bullying and disregard for the truth were all on full view, and this turned sentiment against him. The hearings closed with no charges against the Army. In December 1954, the Senate voted to censure McCarthy for his conduct.

On April 21, 1895, Woodville Latham and his sons, Otway and Gray, demonstrated the first movie projector developed in the United States, calling it the Panopticon. Up until this time, Edison’s Kinetoscope could only show films viewed through peep-show boxes with viewers seeing it one at a time. Projecting to a large audience was a big advance. Critical to their success was the “Latham Loop” that let the film be projected smoothly.

On April 19, 1897, the first Boston Marathon was run. Marathons became popular after one was held as part of the 1896 Olympics. Afterward, the manager of the US team was inspired to establish the Boston Marathon. April 19, Patriots’ Day, was selected as the date to remember the start of the Revolutionary War. The route began at Metcalf’s Mill in Ashland, Massachusetts, and ended at Boston’s Irvington Street Oval near Copley Square. Fifteen men participated. 

On April 17, 1964, the Ford Mustang was officially unveiled at the World’s Fair in Flushing Meadows, New York. Named after a World War II fighter plane, the car was intended as a “working man’s Thunderbird” and featured two-seats and a mid-range engine. Ford sold 22,000 Mustangs the day it was unveiled, and more than 400,000 within its first year. In films, the car is best known for the chase scene in the 1968 Steve McQueen’s movie Bullitt.