Tape, Teflon, Velcro, Virility and Mastercard – WIF Simple

Leave a comment

Simple Technologies

That Changed

the World

There are numerous examples of breakthroughs that humans have used or discovered in their existence that have catapulted us to the top of the food chain. The wheel, the steam engine, the printing press, etc. These advances are known to most people, and we realize that without those things existing, we’re still in the dark ages.

But there are also lots of little blips on the timeline throughout human history of simpler things between the lines. These technologies may not have the same lustre as the heavy hitters, but if you tried to imagine your daily life without these things being developed and perfected, you would quickly see that they’re every bit as important. Here are some simple technologies that changed the world in profound ways.

10. Duct Tape

That sticky grey tape that seems to hold most of the world together these days draws its history back to the Second World War. The military used the tape to keep their ammunition boxes sealed, but quickly found that there were tons of other uses for it. What began as medical tape was found to have incredibly adhesive qualities as well as inherent waterproofing, which led to soldiers calling it “duck tape,” referring to a duck’s wicking feathers.

Once the war ended, soldiers returned home and began buying houses en masse. They also took lots of jobs with construction companies, and told their bosses about this incredibly sticky tape they used during the war. The tape was used for all sorts of HVAC applications, but mostly for holding ductwork together. So “duck tape” became “duct tape,” but in 1998, a test of common HVAC sealing materials was conducted. Duct tape came in dead last. Quack.

9. Teflon Pans

When scientists in the 1930s developed a new kind of polymer that was superbly heat resistant and uber-slippery. They used it in war, because that’s just what was going on at the time. But it took until the ‘60s when they decided that it would be great for keeping food from sticking to pans.

And it wasn’t just pans–the non-stick coating known as Teflon changed the home kitchen for good by also being applied to muffin and cake tins as well as cookie sheets. Clean up was a breeze. The coating could handle high heat. The only thing they were kind of bad at was not killing people. The workers that produced Teflon were basically poisoned by the material, and that sickness was passed on to lord knows how many consumers. One of the components in Teflon that was responsible wasn’t banned until 2014.

8. Smoke Detectors

Think of all the things you probably take for granted in our homes in the present day, and smoke detectors are likely near the top of the list. Those little gadgets have saved countless lives, yet you hardly notice them until their batteries run low. They’ve become standard and required in homes these days, so it’s hard to imagine a time when they weren’t around. And they happened by accident.

In the 1930s, a scientist in Switzerland was trying to make a device that detected poison gas in the air. While it failed to pick up the presence of the tested poison, when he lit a cigarette, the smoke did trip the alarm. It took until the late 1960s before they found their way into homes, and have now cut fire-related deaths by half.

7. Viagra

A little blue pill that’s only been around for twenty years shouldn’t have such an impact on the world that it’s had, especially since it’s not cured any major disease, instead letting men experience the wonder of full erections. But Viagra has basically changed sex around the world.

In 1991, testing began on what would become Viagra, but it was developed with the intention of lowering blood pressure. But during the studies, there was a certain side effect that the men involved could not ignore. The development of the drug headed in the direction of restoring sexual health to men, and within ten years, 200,000 prescriptions a week were being filled. It changed the way men confronted diminishing sex drives. It also helped unknown diseases related to erectile dysfunction become treated when men came to the doctor seeking Viagra.

6. Credit Cards

A fixture of every wallet known to man, the credit card is simultaneously boosting the economy and bankrupting countless people with no financial acumen. The concept of “pay us later, we’re sure you’re good for it,” and then tacking on insane interest amounts is a fairly new concept. At least in card form. But they’re ubiquitous now, with around 18 billion in use.

In 1949, businessman Frank McNamarawas at a restaurant and realized he had forgotten his wallet. This made him envision a kind of card that could be used at multiple businesses. He started Diners Club the next year, and within the next decade, more and more banks started making their own credit cards. Fast forward to present day, and Americans alone possess over a trillion dollars in credit card debt. So in less than a hundred years, we’ve done some damage, haven’t we?

5. UPC Codes

You’ve seen that little box of black lines on the side of every product you buy, even more so when you’re struggling to find them in the self-checkout line. The UPC code (Bar Code) gets scanned, the price shows up, and it’s a pretty expedient process. But how did that get to become the norm?

In 1948, Joseph Woodland (who had actually worked on the Manhattan Project to develop the first nuclear bomb) was responding to a query from a local store owner about how to speed up the process of buying products in his store. Woodland thought about Morse Code and its simple way of giving lots of information with dots and lines, so he made that his inspiration. His innovation could describe an item and its price all at once, instead of the snail’s pace of non-automated operations that most stores suffered through. The only thing that held back progress was the lack of computers readily available to read the code, so it took until 1974 when the technology began to roll out to stores nationwide.

4. Barbed Wire

Two problems faced the American West as it grew and expanded: cattle were getting loose and trampling precious crops, and there wasn’t enough wood in those regions to build fences. The Homestead Act of 1862 made it so many people could get vast tracts of land for next to nothing, so it was important that they be able to work that land and have secure properties.

Enter Joseph Glidden of Illinois, who patented barbed wire in 1874. It wasn’t without its growing pains, as the wire trapped dumb cows by the thousands, and cowboys hated their herds being restricted by the artificial borders. And those very borders that marked a person’s property also screwed over Native Americans, as these practices left them with even fewer claims to their ancestral lands. The Homestead Act required that a person build a home and work the land for five years before it would become theirs to own. The barbed wire was a metaphorical and physical realization that their way of life was over.

3. Velcro

Zippers were still very much the rage in 1941, when Swiss engineer George de Mestral came upon an idea while walking his dog in the woods one day. He noticed how his clothing and his dog were covered in sticky burrs, the pointy little things that always prick your fingers are you’re removing them. Under a microscope, he saw how the curved hooks of the burrs met with his clothing in an almost perfect marriage. Zippers were no longer the only game in town.

Zippers tended to jam all the time. Velcro, as it would come to be in 1955 (from the French words “velour” and “crochet”) didn’t have that problem. Though originally implemented in clothing, it’s now used in everything from sporting equipment to NASA craft. And whoever began using it in little kids’ clothing should eventually get their own medal.

2. Daylight saving time

Ok, so maybe not exactly a technology, but the advent of daylight saving (it’s not “savings”, by the way) time has changed a lot about our modern world. First started in Germany in 1916 as a way to enjoy the sunshine and to conserve electricity, it began to catch on in other countries around the world soon after.

In the United States, it was started in 1918 as a wartime practice. It was repealed the next year after farmers protested; the next few decades saw back and forth fighting and different start times for daylight saving across the country. Finally in 1966, the Uniform Time Act made time, uh, uniform across the country. The central concept, energy conservation, doesn’t really seem to be a benefit though. The stuff that uses the most electricity in our homes are things that get used the more we are home, if that makes sense. It seems that the money that gets boosted into the economy by people enjoying more leisure “daytime” in the evening is enough to keep the practice in use.

1. Transistors

Think of the devices that power your everyday life: smartphones, computers, tablets, etc. They all have one thing in common at their very core, and that’s the very simple transistor. The development of the transistor signaled the developmental shift from hardware to software, and it’s why technology has surged light years ahead since its inception.

A transistor is merely a type of semiconductor that either amplifies signals or switches them. Invented in 1947, it was a device far ahead of its time, and as computing devices grew and became more efficient, so too did the transistor. Computers got smaller and became household items, while transistors shrunk down to the size of a few nanometers. Those tiny transistors are one of the only unchanged (aside from size) building blocks of the entire digital age.


Tape, Teflon, Velcro, Virility and Mastercard –

WIF Simple

Velcro, Aspirin, Frisbees and Dumpster – WIF Trademark Search

1 Comment

“Generic” Product Names

You Didn’t Realize

Were Trademarks

A trademark usually presents itself in the form of a name, a logo, a design, or a phrase, with the purpose of distinguishing one manufacturer’s products from another. Sometimes, however, when business is really good for a particular brand, or it has a head start over the competition, then that particular brand might just become a proprietary eponym, or generic trademark. This means that if a product develops a substantial market share over the other manufacturers, or it becomes well ingrained into the public consciousness, then its brand could replace the name for the entire industry.

 Take Xerox, for instance. When it comes proprietary eponyms, Xerox may be the one most often given as an example. Xerox is actually a corporation that sells a variety of things, among which are photocopiers. But that ‘Xerox machine’ from your work may not, in fact, be a Xerox after all. And Xerox is not alone; Google, Pampers, and Tupperware are just a few other similar brands that have become proprietary eponyms. But while these are fairly well known as actual trademarks, there are a lot of others out there – so common and so widespread – that chances are that you might have never guessed them to be brand names in the first place. To be fair, though, some have since lost their legal protection as trademarks and are now considered to be part of the public domain.

10. Dry Ice

If you’re not familiar with the term, or even with what dry ice actually is, you may not be alone. Nevertheless, if you’ve ever been to a Halloween party, a nightclub, or a theatrical play, and there was some sort of ground-level mist involved, then there’s a chance you were close by to where dry ice was being submerged in hot water. There are several other means of producing that sort of fog (like liquid nitrogen, for example) but dry ice works almost equally as well. It’s cheaper, too, so there’s that. In any case, the entertainment industry isn’t the main business for dry ice – it’s refrigeration.

Sometimes known as Cardice, especially by the British, dry ice is actually solid CO2. Because it’s much cooler than regular ice, dry ice makes for a great refrigerant, especially when mechanical cooling isn’t possible or required. This means that you’ll oftentimes come across it when dealing with ice cream street vendors, or people carrying around organs or other biological samples. Because it doesn’t alter quality or taste, dry ice is frequently used to instantly freeze various foods and oils. Firefighters sometimes use it to extinguish fires and plumbers utilize it to flash freeze some water pipes. You’ll find some in school labs on occasion, or when people try to preserve ice sculptures. You can also use it as bait for mosquitoes and bedbugs, since these insects are drawn to CO2. Just sayin’.

Dry ice was discovered back in 1835 by the French inventor Adrien-Jean-Pierre Thilorier, who described it in one of his works. In 1897, an Englishman by the name of Herbert Samuel Elworthy received a patent for solid CO2 and used it to create soda water for his whiskey. But the device he invented was so big and cumbersome that people rarely used it. It was Thomas Benton Slate, an American businessman, who really took advantage and in 1924 applied for a patent in the US. One year later, he founded the DryIce Corporation of America and began selling solid CO2 under the trademark of “Dry Ice.” The other name,Cardice, short for carbon dioxide ice (the one the British are more familiar with) is also a registered trademark of Air Liquide Ltd. in the UK.

9. Band-Aid

By the 1920s, Johnson & Johnson was already a well-established company that manufactured ready-to-use surgical dressings. They made large, sterile gauzes that were sealed against germs and sold in various hospitals. The fabric itself originated in Palestine, and the name gauze is said to derive from the city of Gaza, an important center of weaving in the region back in medieval times. Nevertheless, Johnson & Johnson’s gauzes, which were used solely as dressings, were the first of their kind. An employee by the name of Earl Dickson, who was a cotton buyer at the company, was also recently married to a woman by the name of Josephine. And as it turns out, Josephine was a bit of a klutz, constantly getting burnt or injured around the house – nothing serious, mind you, but enough to become a constant nuisance for the newlyweds. Her husband, being in the industry, decided to help, but the surgical dressings Johnson & Johnson were providing were too big for the minor injuries Josephine was suffering on an almost daily basis.

In a moment of pure inspiration, Earl Dickson cut out a small square from one of the gauzes and stuck it to one of his wife’s fingers with a piece of adhesive tape. Knowing full well that this would not be a one-time thing, he began his own small-scale production of these… well, “Band-Aids”… to have ready around the house whenever his wife needed one. In order to keep the two adhesive parts from sticking together, as well as to keep the dressing sterile, Earl lined them with some crinoline fabric. The two soon realized that their invention had a potentially huge market, and Earl presented his idea to his boss, James Johnson. In 1924, Johnson & Johnson introduced their adhesive bandages under the Band-Aid trademark. After several more improvements, and after a genius marketing campaign of giving out an unlimited supply of free Band-Aids to all the Boy Scouts in the country, the adhesive bandage became a common household item across America. To date, Johnson & Johnson estimates that they’ve sold over 100 billion around the globe. And as thanks for his invention, Earl Dickson was given the position of Vice President at the company until his retirement in 1957.

8. Frisbee

Who would’ve guessed that the 1970s Frisbee craze began with apple pies? Well, not just apple pies, but pies in general. The story begins in 1871 in Bridgeport, Connecticut, when a man by the name of William Frisbie opened the Frisbie Pie Company. His pies became an instant hit with the students from all the universities nearby. These pies came in tin plates which the students then began flinging at each other while yelling “Frisbie!” Fast forward to 1948 and we have the “Flying Saucer,” a plastic version of those tin plates, reinvented by Walter Frederick Morrison and Warren Franscioni. The new name was aptly chosen as it was less than one year after the famed Roswell UFO incident. After the two parted ways in 1955, Morrison sold the renamed “Pluto Platter” to the Wham-O toy company. Wham-O, the company behind another well-known trademark, the Hula-Hoop, changed the flying disc’s name once again, this time to Frisbee – misspelling its original name in the process.

Then in 1967, Ed Headrick, the company’s designer, added a series of raised, concentric rings on its surface, along with several other features, in order to stabilize its flight, and the modern Frisbee was born. Thanks to an aggressive marketing campaign during the late ’60s and early ’70s, when the company advertised disc-throwing as a sport, Frisbees began flying off the shelves, and Wham-O sold over 100 million units by 1977. Headrick himself came up with Frisbee Golf, while some high school students from Maplewood, New Jersey, invented Ultimate Frisbee. Today, millions of people worldwide throw flying discs around – not all of them being original Frisbees, of course. As of 1994, Mattel Toy Manufacturers are the owners of the trademark, after buying it from Wham-O.

7. Velcro

According to a 2002 episode from the live-action TV series Star Trek: Enterprise, it was actually the Vulcans – an extraterrestrial species – who, during the 1950s, anonymously introduced humanity to the wonder of technology that is Velcro. Now, after some thorough investigation on our part, it seems that there are some inconsistencies with that particular story. As it turns out, the trademark brand ‘Velcro’, as well as the product it represents, the hook-and-loop fastener, is actually the creation of a Swiss electrical engineer by the name of George de Mestral. And apparently, Star Trek was a work of fiction. Who knew? Anyway, in 1948, while on a hike through the woods, de Mestral began wondering how and why so many burrs clung to his pants and his dog’s fur. On closer examination under the microscope, these burrs revealed their secret. As a means of dispersing their seed, they make use of many tiny hooks that get attached to all sorts of furs and fabrics belonging to unaware passersby, and hitch a ride to another place. Nature is truly amazing in its ingenuity, isn’t it?

Probably after coming to the same conclusion about nature, de Mestral began working on a fabric that would be able to mimic the same properties as burrs. Initially made from cotton, the fabric proved vastly more effective with the arrival of nylon, and de Mestral patented his invention in 1955. The word itself, Velcro, is a combination of the French “velours” and “crochet,” which in English translate to “velvet” and “hook.” He then began advertising it as the “zipperless zipper,” but his idea didn’t really catch on with the public at the time. Help finally arrived from the unlikeliest of places – NASA, to be more exact. NASA used Velcro during the 1960s as part of their space program. Thanks to the positive press it received, Velcro began being seen as the ‘space-age fabric’ and various fashion designers started using it. De Mestral sold the rights to his Velcro Company once it became successful, and even though the original patent expired in 1978, the term is still a trademark controlled by the Dutch Velcro company.

6. Aspirin

As one of the oldest and most commonly used drugs around the world, aspirin is still one of the most studied even to this day. It is estimated that between 700 and 1,000 clinical trials are performed on it every year. Aspirin is also the first ever anti-inflammatory and pain reliever mentioned in history. While not technically aspirin, its active ingredient, salicylic acid, was used as early as antiquity. Various medicines derived from willow and other salicylate-rich plants were found described on scrolls in Egypt, as well as on clay tablets in Sumer, more than 5,000 years ago. Even Hippocrates used to prescribe willow leaf tea to women undergoing childbirth. During the 18th and early 19th centuries, various chemists experiment with willow bark and other plants, slowly but surely narrowing down the active ingredient. Then in 1828, a professor of pharmacy at Munich University in Germany was successful in extracting it, and called it salicin. Over the following several decades, other chemists discovered that the Spiraea ulmaria(Meadowsweet) plant also contained salicylic acid, as well as coming up with better ways of synthesizing it.

While working at the German pharmaceutical company Bayer, chemist Felix Hoffmann added an acetyl group to salicylic acid and created acetylsalicylic acid. This addition reduced the acid’s previous irritant properties, and Bayer patented the process. The company then renamed this acetylsalicylic acid Aspirin and began selling it worldwide. Bayer later sold off or lost the trademark for Aspirin in many countries. The origin of the name Aspirin comes from the letter A, which stands for acetyl, and Spir, which comes fromSpiraea ulmaria (Meadowsweet). The in was a common suffix used at the time for medicine. In 1950, Aspirin entered the Guinness Book of World Records as the most commonly sold painkiller in the world. In the many trials it was subjected to since its invention, Aspirin was proven to be a great cancer and heart-attack prevention drug, if taken regularly.

5. Jet Ski

Do you, or someone you know, own a Jet Ski? Well, is it a Kawasaki? If it is, then yes, you have a Jet Ski. If not, then what you, or your friend, have is a personal motorized watercraft. Yes, Jet Ski is a trademark belonging to the Kawasaki Heavy Industries Ltd. from Japan, and all other similar products are commonly known as personal watercrafts, even though most other manufacturers have their own trademark names for them. Now, the history behind these personal watercrafts goes back to Europe during the 1950s, when various motorcycle manufacturers were looking to expand their markets into other areas. The first name ever given to these vehicles was water scooters, and the British company Vincent produced roughly 2,000 Amanda water scooters. Unfortunately for them, however, the trend didn’t really catch on. Over the following two decades, other companies like Mival introduced its Nautical Pleasure Cruiser, but with a similar lack of success.

This is when an Australian motocross enthusiast by the name of Clayton Jacobsen II designed and created his own version – but a model that would require the rider to stand up. His real breakthrough here, though, was to replace the previous outboard motor with an internal pump-jet. During the mid-’60s, he sold his idea to the snowmobile manufacturer Bombardier, but after it, too, failed to gather momentum, the company gave it up. Jacobsen then sold his patent to Kawasaki, which produced its first model in 1973 and named it the Jet Ski.

But because it was a stand-up personal watercraft, the Jet Ski didn’t manage to draw in the masses since it was somewhat difficult to maneuver, especially in choppy waters. The breakthrough came several years later when newer models were designed so as to let pilots sit, thus drastically increasing its stability. Furthermore, it was now possible for two people to enjoy the ride instead of one, and thus the social element was added into the mix. Bombardier later got back into the game by creating their own line of personal watercrafts known as Sea-Doo. In fact, these Sea-Doos are the best-selling watercrafts in the world, surpassing even the Jet Ski. Yamaha is on the market with its own WaveRunners,while Honda entered the business in 2002 with the AquaTrax.

4. Bubble Wrap

This might come as a surprise to many – it certainly did for us – but Bubble Wrap was originally invented to be some sort of high-end wallpaper. Yes, back in 1957, two New Jersey engineers by the name of Alfred Fielding and Marc Chavannes began by sealing two shower curtains together and trapping air bubbles inside – thus giving their new wallpaper idea its unique texture. Unfortunately (or not), their wallpaper business didn’t take off, and they began looking for other possible uses for their idea, including looking into greenhouse insulation. And while Bubble Wrap does, in fact, have some insulating properties, this new venture didn’t pan out well either. Not wanting to give up, Sealed Air Corporation’s marketer, Frederick W. Bowers, struck a deal with IBM in 1959 to package their new 1401 computers, and they’ve been making millions of dollars annually ever since.

Recently, however, in a move reminiscent of a Bond villain, the Sealed Air Corporation has decided to renounce the original Bubble Wrap and begin producing the unpoppable iBubble Wrap. But even though this move might seem like something done just for the sake of making the world a little less entertaining and fun, there’s some logic behind it. As it turns out, Bubble Wrap takes up a lot of space when it’s in storage – something that’s a big problem for many of their customers. The new iBubble Wrap is shipped and stored completely deflated, thus taking up just 1/15th the space. Companies that use it can now inflate their iBubble Wrap on their own when they need it, but because it no longer has individual air bubbles, but rather rows of bubbles connected to each other, they are no longer poppable.

3. Dumpster

Without the humble dumpster, our towns and cities would probably be a lot messier than they are today. Over the past 80 years, the dumpster has become a common sight throughout the United States, and many other designs of these frontloader containers, as they are called, have been in use throughout the world. The first time the word ‘dumpster’was used commercially was back in 1936, when the Dempster Brothers Company from Knoxville, Tennessee, trademarked the term. The word itself is a combination of those brothers’ name, Dempster, with the word ‘dump’ – being used for their most successful front-loading container.

The novelty of these garbage containers were their side arms that allowed another of this company’s inventions, the Dempster-Dumpmaster garbage truck, to lift them up and dump their contents directly inside. This streamlined the whole garbage disposal process by up to 75% of the original time, when garbage was usually being collected by horse-drawn carts. Now, even though this idea spread throughout most of the world, the actual trademark Dumpster didn’t. The British and Australians do sometimes call their ownfrontloader containers dumpsters, but the wheelie bin and skip terms are more commonly used.

2. Mace

When it comes to personal defense, pepper spray, more commonly known as Mace, is among the best weapons to have on your person. It incapacities without killing or seriously injuring someone, and its backstory is based on the same idea. Chemical Macecame into existence in 1965, after Allan Lee Litman, an inventor living in Pittsburgh, alongside his wife, Doris, came up with the chemical formula and means of dispersal. It’s important to mention that other similar pepper sprays existed before the Litmans got into it, but they oftentimes fell short, either by accidentally afflicting the sprayer, or taking too long to activate and deter the attacker. Prior to starting work on Chemical Mace, Allan Litman was working on such inventions such as the “waterless egg cooker” and the “bacon cooker,” but with very limited success. Nevertheless, after one of his wife’s friends told them about how she got mugged while coming home from work, they began discussing what self-defense weapons a woman could have at her disposal in such a situation.

The two then began experimenting around the house with various chemicals such as kerosene, Freon, and sulfuric acid as propellants for aerosol spray cans, as well as a wide array of irritants. They finally settled on chloroacetophenone – a chemical highlighted by the military as being a potent tear gas during WWII. Initially calling it Tear Gas Aerosol Spray Instrument, or TGASI, they eventually decided on Chemical Mace – in reference to the spiked club of medieval times and the effects it had on a person’s face; though without the actual physical harm and, y’know… crushed skull. The two inventors then opened a business known as the General Ordnance Equipment Corporation and began selling their Mace to the public. Now, its active ingredient wasn’t something new, but the fact that the Litmans managed to repackage a chemical weapon as a civilian product was – and its success was almost instantaneous. In 1987, Litman accepted an offer from the gun manufacturer Smith & Wesson to buy the company, and he became director of their nonlethal weaponry research. The active ingredient has since changed to oleoresin capsicum, which is less toxic and has a faster incapacitating property.  

1. Heroin

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” and this rings especially true in reference to today’s opiate epidemic and the appearance of heroin on the world stage. As most of us know, heroin is a Schedule I controlled substance, known in the pharmaceutical industry as morphine diacetate, or simply, Diamorphine. Diamorphine was first synthetized in 1874 in England, but it took another 23 years before it became popular. Chemist Felix Hoffmann, working at the pharmaceutical company Bayer and the aforementioned inventor of Aspirin, was looking for a safer and less addictive alternative to morphine in 1897. It, uh… didn’t work out like he planned. He was hoping to produce codeine by acetylating morphine, but instead ended up with diacetylmorphine, which is two times more potent. The head of Bayer’s research department reportedly came up with its name of Heroin from the German word “heroisch” – meaning ‘heroic’ in English and implying the drug’s strong effects on its user. Bayer then began sellingdiacetylmorphine under the trademark Heroin and marketing it as a safer and non-addictive substitute to morphine, as well as a cough suppressant.

Its primary consumers were middle and upper-class women, who bought it for their medicine cabinets. It took 17 years before the US government began regulating it, and yet another 10 years before people realized Heroin’s actual effects and the United States banned its sale, importation, and manufacture. One year after that, in 1925, the Health Committee of the League of Nations also banned it, but it was in 1930 when all of its other derivate analogues were also banned. After WWI, Bayer lost its trademark rights over Heroin as part of the 1919 Treaty of Versailles. The US went through two major heroin epidemics after that: the first after WWII, and the second during the Vietnam War. Today, however, with various opioids being loosely prescribed by doctors around the country, heroin use has also seen a fivefold increase over the past decade.


Velcro, Aspirin, Frisbees and Dumpster –

WIF Trademark Search