Henry Shrapnel of England (1761-1842), an artillery officer, invented the so-called shrapnel. It was a round projectile filled with bullets and equipped with an explosive charge to scatter the shot. In later versions, fragments of the shell casing itself were found to be more deadly than the enclosed bullets. Shrapnel today refers to those fragments.
Originally San Francisco tailor Levi Strauss made jeans from canvas. But in the early 1860s, he started using a softer fabric imported from Nimes, France. Known in French as serge de Nimes, the material was called denim in the United States.
The Ouija board is thought to reveal unconscious thoughts and emotions. It is named for the French and German words for yes, oui and ja.
The first chewing gum was the flavorless Adams New York Chewing Gum. Snapping and Stretching was developed by New York inventor Thomas Adams and introduced in 1871. Flavored gum followed in 1875, and bubble gum a decade after that.
The Bic pen is named for Baron Biche. But Biche did not invent the ballpoint pen, Hungarian Laszlo Biro did, in 1938. Biche’s French firm, Bic, took over the English company that had agreed to produce the pens. In England the pen is still known as a “biro,” in France as a “bic.”
Stephen Perry, of the rubber manufacturing firm of Messrs. Perry & Co., patented his design for vulcanized rubber bands on March 17, 1845. Then, as now, the bands were designed to secure “papers, letters, etc.”
Manholes are round so that their covers cannot be dropped through the manhole itself. Squares, rectangles, ovals, and other shapes could be so positioned that they would slip into the manhole. The circular manhole cover rests on a lip that is smaller than the cover. Thus, the size and shape keep the manhole cover from […]
An hour divided into 60 minutes because it is based on the sexagesimal system of notation, a system based on the number 60 that predates the decimal system. It was developed about 2400 B.C. by the Sumerians. Since ancient times, the sexagesimal system has been used to divide circles into 360 degrees (60 x 6), […]
New Yorker Willis Carrier became interested in ventilation systems while he was still an engineering student at Cornell at the turn of the century. Shortly after his graduation, he developed his first air-cooling system for a Brooklyn printer and lithographer. The first air-conditioned movie house opened in Chicago in 1919. By the end of the […]
According to George Eastman, founder of Eastman Kodak, the name is his invention: “I knew a trade name must be short, vigorous, incapable of being misspelled . . . and in order to satisfy trademark laws, it must mean nothing. . . . The letter k had been a favorite with me, it seemed a […]
No, the Baby Ruth candy bar was named for Ruth Cleveland. Ruth Cleveland was the oldest daughter of President Grover Cleveland.
Yes, there was really a Dr. Scholl. In the late nineteenth century, William (“Billy”) Scholl left farm life in La Porte, Indiana, for life as a shoemaker in Chicago. After noticing how much abuse the average foot takes, he decided to become a podiatrist and treat the problems he saw. Once established as a medical […]
The idea for Alka-Seltzer came from a newspaper editor in Elkhart, Indiana, in the 1920s. It was brought to the public by Hub Beardsley, president of the Dr. Miles Laboratories (now Miles Laboratories). Beardsley learned that an entire newspaper staff had remained free of influenza during an epidemic when they took the editor’s prescription of […]
The safety pin as we know it today was not produced until 1849, when American inventor Walter Hunt patented the first modern design. Precursors were developed in Europe about 3,000 years ago and became the standard device for fastening clothes. In the sixth century B.c., Greek and Roman women used a fibula, a pin with […]
Yes, there is a connection between the Avon Lady and Shakespeare’s hometown Stratford-upon-Avon. In 1896 in New York City, D. H. McConnell abandoned door-to-door book selling and formed the California Perfume Company, which marketed scents the same way. His company expanded and McConnell built a factory in Suffern, New York. On the 50th anniversary of […]
The numbers 10, 2, and 4 represented the times between meals when a person’s energy is at its lowest and can be revived by Dr. Pepper.
Scottish engineer John Baird built a working color television in 1928. But it was Hungarian-American inventor Peter Carl Goldmark who, in 1940, developed the first color-television system to be used commercially. Goldmark is also remembered for inventing the 33 1/3 RPM long-playing record in 1948.
Pockets did not come into fashion until the end of the sixteenth century. Before that time, men carried their keys and money in pieces of cloth attached to their clothing. The first pocket was an open-side seam in which men placed their pouch of personal items. Eventually the pocket became a permanent part of the […]
The original camel for Camel cigarettes was an Arabian dromedary named “Old Joe” that appeared in the Barnum & Bailey Circus at the turn of the century. At that time, the R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company was looking for an exotic name and concept to link with its new Oriental and Turkish blend cigarette. On […]
The phrase belongs to President Theodore Roosevelt, who, while visiting Andrew Jackson’s home, the Hermitage, in Nashville, Tennessee, drank a cup of Maxwell House coffee and was offered a refill. He is said to have replied, “Will I have another? Delighted! It’s good to the last drop!” By the way, there actually was a Maxwell […]
No, an airplane’s black box is not black, it is orange. Inside the box, a stainless-steel tape contains information on the airspeed, altitude, and vertical acceleration. A second orange box contains a tape of the last half-hour of conversation in the cockpit.
In 1942, the theoretical physicist John V. Atanasoff and his assistant Clifford Berry built the first computer that successfully used vacuum tubes to do mathematical calculations. The machine was called the Atanasoff Berry Computer, or ABC.
The chair dates from the third and sixth dynasties of Egypt (c. 2686-2181 B.C.). These early chairs often had legs shaped like animal limbs.
PacMan was invented by twenty-seven-year-old Turn Iwatani in 1980. Iwatani worked for Namco Limited of Japan, a producer of video games and computer software. Pac-Man is an icon of 1980s pop culture, and is considered universally as a classic video game.
Called celluloid, it was invented in 1869 by American John Wesley Hyatt. This cellulose nitrate and camphor mixture, though flammable, was strong and pliable enough for use in a variety of common household items. Eventually it was replaced by less flammable synthetic polymers.
Developed between 1908 and 1912 by Hugh Moore as the healthful “individual drinking cup” for public water sources, the Dixie Cup was originally called the Health Kup. It did not catch on until inventor Moore gave it a new name. The producer of the cups was the Dixie Doll Company, which reminded Moore of a […]
Frusen Gladje means “frozen delight” in Swedish. Founded in 1980 by Richard Smith, Frusen Glädjé was a company that made ice cream in the United States. The name was intentionally Swedish sounding. As of this writing, Frusen Gladje does not exist anymore and has disappeared.
The first elevator, called the Flying Chair, was erected in King Louis XV’s private apartments in the Palace of Versailles in 1743. It gave him ready access to his mistress, Madame de Chateauroux, on the floor above. The Flying Chair was operated by weights.
New York socialite Mary Phelps Jacobs patented the first brassiere in 1914. She had devised it for her own use as an alternative to the corset, which showed under her sheer gown. The first bra was made from ribbon and handkerchiefs.
The peace symbol was created in 1958 as a nuclear disarmament symbol by the Direct Action Committee. It was first shown that year at peace marches in England. The forked symbol is actually a composite of the semaphore signals N and D, representing nuclear disarmament.
BVD does not stand for, as once believed, “Baby’s Ventilated Diapers” or “Boys’ Ventilated Drawers”. Instead, it stands for the three founders of the company, Bradley, Voorhees, and Day.
Aspirin got its name in parts. The a came from the first letter of the product’s scientific name, acetylsalicylic acid. The spir came from Spiraea ulmaria, the meadowsweet plant, which was the original source of the compound. The in was a common suffix for medications in the late nineteenth century, when aspirin was first marketed.
In John Dryden’s poem “Absalom and Achitophel” (1681), what contemporary political figures do the title characters represent?
In the Bible, Absalom is the son of King David spurred to rebellion by Achitophel. In John Dryden’s satire “Absalom and Achitophel”, Absalom represents the Duke of Monmouth, the illegitimate son of King Charles II, while Achitophel is the Earl of Shaftesbury. In the Bible, Absalom is the son of King David
Developed in 1914 by George Bunting, a Baltimore pharmacist, the skin cream Noxzema was originally called Dr. Bunting’s Sunburn Remedy. He searched in vain for a better name until one day a customer entered his drugstore and told him, “Your sunburn cream sure knocked out my eczema.” The concoction that “knocks eczema” became Noxzema.
In the Middle Ages, people stored money in a “pygg jar,” made of a clay called pygg. By the eighteenth century in England, the name and shape of the receptacle had evolved to “pig bank”, and from there to piggy bank.
Robert Johnson, a pharmacist from Brooklyn, New York, and partner in a Brooklyn pharmaceutical supply firm invented the Band-Aid. They believed that individually sealed sterile bandages could drastically reduce the rate of hospital infections, which in some cases ran to 90 percent. By the mid-1800s, he and his brothers formed a pharmaceutical company that produced […]
There are nine nuts per ounce in each box of Cracker Jack, a smaller proportion than in the original 1893 box. But there is a prize, and that didn’t become part of the package until 1913.
Most likely, the K in K rations represents the first letter of the last name of the product’s developer, Ancel Keys (b. 1904). Keys, a physiologist from Minnesota, developed the portions of food for soldiers in World War II.
At the time, in 1887, the lowly cabin was meant to evoke thoughts of an all-American hero, Abraham Lincoln, and thus increase sales. Grocer P. J. Towle, creator of the syrup, a blend of sugar cane with Vermont and Canadian maple sugars, had rejected the idea of naming his creation Abraham Lincoln syrup. But the […]
McDonald’s uses about 560 million pounds of hamburger beef each year. This is assuming that the average hamburger weighs 3 ounces. Actually 1.6 ounces for the hamburger, 4 ounces for the quarter-pounder, and that the average quantity sold annually is 3 billion burgers.
The company that eventually bore the name Shell Oil Company was originally a novelty shop in London called The Shell Shop. In the mid-1800s, shop owner Marcus Samuel became successful selling boxes of pretty seashells. Imported shells also brought in money, and his international trade business really expanded when he found he could also export […]
Too much air caused Ivory soap to float. It was originally an error in production. In 1878, Harley Procter and cousin James Gamble decided to create for their company a white soap that would rival the popular castile soaps of their competitors. The product was successful. Then, in 1879, a worker mistakenly allowed the soap […]
This 1903 creation Sanka is a contraction of the French phrase sans cafeine. The first decaffeinated coffee arrived in America by accident that year: A shipload of coffee coming from Europe to coffee importer Dr. Ludwig Roselius became waterlogged, and thus decaffeinated.
Eyeglasses first appeared in Italy in the fourteenth century. They were supposedly introduced by Alessandro di Spina of Florence. Eyeglasses also appeared in China about this time; it is not clear who got the idea first.
No, the Gerber baby is not a painting of the young Humphrey Bogart. The now famous portrait was of a baby girl named Ann Turner and was sketched by artist Dorothy Hope Smith in 1928.
The first toothbrush with bristles was developed in China in 1498. Bristles were taken from hogs at first, and later from horses and even badgers. Not until 1938 were nylon bristles, more sanitary and less dangerous, developed by Du Pont.
Alfred Carl Fuller came to the United States from Norway in 1903, and after working at a variety of jobs, he began selling brushes door-to-door in 1905. By 1910, he had a staff of 25 salesmen. Over the years, Fuller adapted by expanding his line to include a variety of household cleaning products. When he […]
Unlike an air conditioner, it does not cool the air. It actually increases the air temperature because of the heat released by the motor. What makes the room seem cooler is increased air circulation over the skin, which speeds evaporation of moisture.
Nescafe, developed by the Nestle Company and introduced in Switzerland in 1938 was the first instant coffee. It had taken eight years to develop.
M&M stands for Mars and Merrie. Victor Mars and his associate Mr. Merrie created the candy in 1941.
Baron George Wrangell, descendant of Russian and Italian royalty was the Man in the Hathaway Shirt. He was working as an artist’s model before advertising executive David Ogilvy chose him for the Hathaway advertisements in the late 1940s. The eye-patch (cost: 50 cents) was Ogilvy’s idea.
The fat little man made of Michelin tires also known as the Michelin Man is named Bibendum. He can be seen on the covers of all Michelin travel guides.
Chanel Number 5 got its name not because it was the fifth formulation of the perfume mixture. Coco Chanel considered five a lucky number, and when she introduced the perfume in 1921, she did so on the fifth day of May, the fifth month. She called the fragrance Chanel N°5.
The Rubik’s Cube was designed by and named after Erno Rubik. It is made of 27 subcubes that rotate on horizontal and vertical axes. Rubik was a teacher of architecture and design at the School for Commercial Artists in Budapest.
The 7 in 7UP stands for the soft drink’s original 7-ounce bottle, the UP for the bubbles from its carbonation. In 1929, when the drink was first introduced by Saint Louis businessman Charles L. Grigg, it was called Bib-Label Lithiated Lemon-Lime Soda. The name was derived from one of its original ingredients, lithium salts.
Haagen-Dazs has no particular meaning, and is two made-up words meant to look and sound Scandinavian. It is a name created by its developer, Reuben Mattus, a Polish emigre living in the United States, to convey a European sensibility. Haagen-Dazs ice cream started in the Bronx, New York, in 1961, and had only three flavors: […]
There was a woman who acted as Aunt Jemima Nancy Green, of Montgomery County, Kentucky. This cook for a judge’s family in Chicago was lured by executives of the Davis Milling Company to promote the pancake mix at Chicago’s World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893. She had served 1 million pancakes by the time the fair […]
The now legendary and defunct Burma-Shave advertisements were developed in 1926 by Allan Odell, the son of the founder of the Burma-Vita Company. Burma-Shave was a new product, the first brushless shaving cream, and in the 1920s it was difficult to sell. But when Odell saw a series of roadside signs for a filling station, […]
An inventor from Massachusetts named Earl D. Tupper invented Tupperware in 1942. In the 1930s, Tupper, a chemist at Du Pont, experimented with a new durable plastic called polyethylene. Tupper thought it could be used for all types of housewares, and he developed some test products. The first piece of Tupperware, a bathroom cup, was […]
The lion, developed before the formation of MGM, was the original trademark for the newly formed (Samuel) Goldwyn Pictures Corporation. It was the creation of a young advertising man named Howard Dietz, who was inspired by his alma mater Columbia University’s football song, “Roar, Lion, Roar!” Later on, Dietz also came up with the motto […]