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 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.

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 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 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.

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 January 31, 1950, President Harry Truman announced his support for the development of the hydrogen bomb, a weapon intended to be many times more powerful than an atomic bomb. Only two years later, the U. S. successfully detonated “Mike,” the world’s first hydrogen bomb, in the Pacific Marshall Islands. The 10.4-megaton thermonuclear device vaporized an entire island and left behind a crater a mile wide. Three years later, the Soviets also had a hydrogen bomb.

On January 29, 1861, the territory of Kansas was admitted into the Union as the 34th state. Though Kansas was still deeply divided over slavery, it came into the Union as a free state. The battle over slavery there had begun in earnest in 1854 when President Franklin Pierce signed the Kansas-Nebraska Act specifying that Kansas and Nebraska could determine the issue by popular vote. This argument was not fully resolved until after the Civil War.

On January 28, 1964, The U.S. State Department angrily accused the Soviet Union of shooting down an American jet. The plane was on a training mission over West Germany and strayed into East German airspace during a storm. Three U.S. officers aboard the plane were killed in the incident. The Soviets felt it was an obvious intrusion. The U.S. said it was a mistake. The incident was an ugly reminder of Cold War-era tensions. 

On January 25, 1776, the Continental Congress authorized the first national Revolutionary War memorial. Brigadier General Richard Montgomery was the first general to lose his life on the battlefield during the American Revolution. He was killed during an assault on Quebec on December 31, 1775.  In 1788, the memorial created by an artist in France was installed beneath the portico of St. Paul’s Chapel in New York City.

On January 23, 1849, Elizabeth Blackwell became the first woman in the U.S. to earn an M.D. She was granted her degree from Geneva College in New York (now known as Hobart). In 1857, after several years of private practice, she and her sister (also a doctor) founded the New York Infirmary for Women and Children. In 1868, the institution expanded to include a women’s college to train nurses and doctors, the first of its kind in America.

On January 22, 1927, one of the last living Confederate generals  died at age 90.  John A. McCausland, known as “Tiger John,”  lived for over 50 years after the war.  He attended Virginia Military Institute when young and fought as part of the 36th Virginia. After the war, he escaped and didn’t return to the U.S. until he would remain free. For the rest of his life he lived on a farm in West Virginia.

On January 21, 1977, President Jimmy Carter granted unconditional pardons to hundreds of thousands of men who evaded the draft during the Vietnam War. About 100,000 Americans left the country to avoid going to Vietnam. After the war, the government prosecuted those who returned to the U.S. but had avoided the draft. In an attempt to put the bitterness of the war in the past, Carter campaigned with the promise of pardoning the draft dodgers.

On January 18, 1778, English explorer Captain James Cook becomes the first European to discover the Hawaiian Islands. Cook and his crew were welcomed by the island natives who were fascinated by the Europeans. Cook and his men returned again after more exploration, but wore out their welcome. When they departed, they had to return because of rough seas, and the islanders threw rocks at them. A fight erupted. Captain Cook and several others were killed.

On January 17, 1950, the Brinks Armored Car depot in Boston, Massachusetts was robbed.  Eleven men appeared in Brinks-like uniforms; they entered with copied keys and tied up employees. In about 30 minutes, they left with $2.7 million—the largest robbery in the U.S. at the time. There were few clues, but one of the men was jailed for another crime. He finally talked just before the statute of limitations on the crime would have expired.

On January 16, 1919, the 18th Amendment to the Constitution prohibiting the “manufacture, sale, or transport” of intoxicating liquors, was ratified and became a federal law. Temperance societies had formed in the early 19th century, and they campaigned about the evils of liquor. Carrie Nation may have been the most famous crusader. Later in 1919, Congress passed the Volstead Act so that Prohibition could be enforced. Despite this, organized crime grew. Finally, in 1933 Prohibition was repealed.