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.


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.

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.

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 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.

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 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.

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 December 30, 1936, the autoworkers in Flint, Michigan, began a sit-down strike. They wanted General Motors to recognize the United Auto Workers (UAW) union and were hoping for a fair minimum wage, a grievance system, and procedures that would help protect assembly-line workers from injury. As the strike continued President Roosevelt urged GM to recognize the union and re-open the plants. In mid-February, the automaker finally signed an agreement with the UAW. 

On December 29, 1890, the U.S. Cavalry killed 146 Sioux Indians at Wounded Knee, South Dakota. Sometimes referred to as a battle, the conflict at Wounded Knee is best seen as a tragic and avoidable massacre. Surrounded by heavily armed troops, it is highly unlikely that Sioux Indians would have sought a confrontation. Some historians speculate that the soldiers of Custer’s old 7th Cavalry were deliberately taking revenge for the regiment’s defeat at Little Bighorn in 1876.

On December 28, 1900, temperance crusader Carry Nation attacked a saloon in Wichita, Kansas, shattering a large mirror behind the bar and throwing rocks at a painting of Cleopatra bathing. The sale of alcohol was already illegal in Kansas but the law was largely ignored. Nation reasoned that it was the responsibility of law-abiding citizens to destroy not only the alcohol but also the saloons selling it. Carry Nation was  frequently jailed for her disturbances.

On December 27, 1932, Radio City Music Hall opened in NYC. The Music Hall was the brainchild of the billionaire John D. Rockefeller, Jr., who made it the cornerstone of the Rockefeller Complex he was building in midtown Manhattan. The Radio City Music Hall Christmas Spectacular debuted in 1933 and draws more than a million people annually. The show features the high-kicking Rockettes, a precision dance troupe that has been a staple at Radio City since the 1930s.

On December 26, 1946, mobster Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel opened his new hotel in Las Vegas, The Pink Flamingo. The facility was not yet finished, but Siegel hoped to raise revenue with the opening.  The plan flopped.  Gamblers had no rooms at the hotel, so they went elsewhere to gamble. The casino lost $300,000 the first week. In 1947, Bugsy was murdered. The case was never solved, but some of his hotel partners may have thought he was double-dealing.

On December 25, 1914, the German troops along the front line in World War I ceased  fighting and started singing Christmas carols.  As dawn broke, many emerged from trenches and approached the Allies, calling out “Merry Christmas.” World War I was only 5 months old, and they were observing the notion of chivalry between enemies in warfare on Christmas. In 1915, World War I fighting worsened.  The concept of another Christmas Truce was unthinkable.

On December 24, 1814, the Ghent Peace Treaty was signed by British and American representatives, ending the War of 1812. On September 11, 1814, the tide of the war turned when Thomas Macdonough’s American naval force won a decisive victory at the Battle of Plattsburg Bay on Lake Champlain. The British had suffered other losses and soon abandoned their plans to invade the U.S. This led to the signing of the peace treaty.

On December 23, 1982, residents of the town of Times Beach, Missouri, were told that their town had been hopelessly contaminated. In 1972, a contractor sprayed the chemical dioxin over the town’s unpaved roads to reduce dust. Within a few years, animals began dying and people fell ill. In 1982 the EPA announced that Times Beach was to be condemned. The government officials purchased every home in town and had to incinerate 265,000 tons of dioxin-tainted soil.

On December 21, 1988, Pan Am Flight 103 from London to New York exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing all 259 passengers and crew aboard, as well as 11 Lockerbie residents.  After investigation, the UN and U.S. placed sanctions against Libya, as the most likely perpetrator. In 2003, Libya accepted responsibility but no remorse; they agreed to pay each victim’s family approximately $8 million in restitution. Pan Am sued Libya and later received a $30 million settlement but the airline went bankrupt anyway.

On December 20,1957, Elvis Presley received his army draft notice while he was at Graceland for the holidays. Elvis asked for one deferment to finish his movie, King Creole. He was sworn in on March 24, 1958. After basic training, he served in a Tank Battalion in Friedberg, Germany. While Presley served, his manager, Colonel Tom Parker, continued to release Elvis’s singles. This kept money rolling in and Presley’s name fresh in the public’s mind.