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9 Great Inventions that come from ... Connecticut?

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It happens to everyone. One minute you're exchanging pleasantries with a perfect stranger; the next minute they're up in your face talking trash about Connecticut. Well, you don't have to take it anymore. History buff, and friend of the Floss, Streeter Seidell expands on why Connecticut might just be the most ingenious state in the Union.

1. The State that gave us the Cotton Gin

Depending on how you look at it, the cotton gin was one of the best or one of the worst inventions in American history. In 1794 Eli Whitney, a Yale man, patented a device to separate cotton from its seeds and set up a factory in New Haven. Inadvertently, Whitney's invention breathed new life into the slave trade simply because of how effective it was. More cotton being processed required more slaves to pick it, unfortunately. Not content to be remembered for one thing, Whitney went on to popularize the idea of interchangeable parts, which he then used to manufacture guns. As such, Whitney was both the cause of (ongoing southern slavery) and solution to (through the North's manufacturing superiority) the Civil War.

2. The Colt .45 Revolver

a.colt.jpgOne doesn't normally think of a tiny New England state as the birthplace of the gun that tamed the West, but Samuel Colt, inventor of the Peacemaker, was indeed a born and bred Connecticutian. Colt's Manufacturing Company was and is based in Hartford, CT, the state capital. Of Colt's famous gun someone once said, "Abe Lincoln may have freed all men, but Sam Colt made them equal." And they couldn't have been more correct. For better or worse, Colt's revolver was easy to use, effective and powerful, making all men equally deadly. A bigger, more powerful .45, the Whitneyville Walker Colt was produced specifically for the Texas Rangers. Only 168 are known to exist and can fetch around $100,000 at auction. Talk about some serious bang for your buck"¦

3. The Can Opener

a.canopener.jpgWe've all heard that juicy tidbit about how the can had been around for fifty years before someone invented the can opener (true!). And that someone was none other than Connecticut's own Ezra Warner. Warner, a Waterbury, CT. native, created what PBS calls an "intimidating" contraption featuring a bayonet and sickle to open cans in 1858 (canned food debuted in 1810). The bayonet would hold the can in place while the sickle would saw around the edge. The whole process was pretty primitive but it sure beat the earlier method of opening can, which involved a hammer and a chisel. Despite the obvious improvement over the hammer/chisel arrangement, Warner's can opener was not for novices; grocers would open cans at the store before shoppers took them home.

4. The Portable Typewriter

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George C. Blickensderfer may have a funny name but what he invented was all business... literally. After moving to Stamford, CT. from Erie, PA. Blickensderfer put his fertile mind to creating some competition for the Remington desk typewriter, the standard of the day. At the 1893 World's Fair, he unveiled his challenge to Remington, the Model 1. He also brought along a scaled down version of the Model 1 called the Model 5, which featured far fewer parts and was intended to a less wealthy market. It was the Model 5 "“ lightweight, portable and cheap "“ that took off and just like that, Blickensderfer had invented the portable typewriter (or "˜5 pound secretary,' as it was called). Remington, Corona and other typewriter manufacturers would eventually drive Blickensderfer out of business after they wised up and produced their own portable machines, but Blickensderfer will forever be known as the man who gave legs to the typed word. He'll also be known as the man with the funniest last name in this article.

5. The Submarine

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Like with most inventions executed before the Internet, there are competing claims to the invention of the submarine. What isn't being challenged is the fact that Saybrook, CT native David Bushnell's Turtle saw action during the Revolutionary War, which seems to give it a leg up credibility-wise. In 1776 a man trained by Bushnell, Ezra Lee, piloted the Turtle into New York Harbor and attempted to attach a bomb to the hull of The Eagle, a British Warship anchored in the bay. The plan didn't work and, later, the Turtle was sunk by the British while in transit. Perhaps even stranger though is what happened to Bushnell. After the war was over and he had blown his fortune on failed business ventures, Bushnell started calling himself Dr. Bush, moved to Georgia and got a job teaching at a local school. Nobody in Georgia ever had any idea that their kindly teacher was the man responsible for submarine warfare until after his death in 1824.

6. The Nuclear Submarine

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Wait a minute, didn't I just write about how Connecticut is responsible for the submarine? What's the big difference between a regular submarine and a nuclear submarine? Quite a bit, it turns out. As The Historic Naval Ships Association points out, before the U.S.S. Nautilus hit the water in 1954 submarines were really submersibles; boats that could go underwater but not for very long. The Nautilus, built in Groton, CT. by the Electric Boat Company and running on nuclear power, could stay underwater for months at a time because it created its own power. Part publicity stunt, part "˜hope you're watching, Russia,' the Nautilus even took a trip under the North Pole ice. All of these facts have been drilled into the heads of bored Connecticut middle schoolers being forced to visit the docked ship on class trips.

7. The Frisbee

a.frisbee.gifThe stoners hippy athletes of our country owe a great debt of gratitude to Connecticut for giving them half of the name of their very own sport: Ultimate Frisbee. While throwing a disc through the air is nothing new (see: ancient Greece), calling it a Frisbee certainly is and the coining of such a term deals with three major players: Yale University, the Frisbie Pie Company and Wham-O toys. Bridgeport, Connecticut's Frisbie Pie Company had been supplying the hungry students of Yale University with pie for many years. At some point during those years, a student discovered that the empty pie tins made for great throwing. Thus, the "˜Frisbie' was born on Yale's campus. Meanwhile, Wham-O toys had acquired the rights to a plastic flying disc called a Pluto Platter from an inventor (and UFO enthusiast) named Walter Fredrick Morrison. Looking for a more appealing name, the execs at Wham-O heard about the Connecticut colloquialism and registered the trademark "Frisbee."

8. Vulcanized Rubber

a.vulc.jpgConnecticut native (and descendent of a founder of the New Haven colony) Charles Goodyear is one of the state's most famous native sons. The man responsible for vulcanized rubber - you know, the kind we use in everything - spent most of his adult life destitute and his business acumen was less than enviable but, as Goodyear's story shows, it's hard to keep a good man down. Goodyear spent years experimenting with raw rubber before working out the process for making it a marketable product. After he had worked out the vulcanization process, he lobbied for replacing practically everything with rubber: his clothing, his flatware, even his business card. Goodyear, clearly, liked rubber and luckily, so did everyone else. He died in debt "“ like he had spent most of his life "“ but his tireless experiments and refinements have given us one of our most versatile and useful products. Also, it makes me smile in the sickest way when I think about how rarely a guy named Goodyear actually had one.

9. Sports on Cable"¦All The Time

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Many American males have wasted spent countless hours plopped in front of the TV watching SportsCenter. They have Connecticut to thank for that. ESPN, the brainchild of Bill Rasmussen, was founded and continues to operate out of Bristol, CT. Rassmussen was originally searching for a way to put UConn Huskie basketball on local Connecticut cable when he found out that for the same price he could throw the signal to the entire country. ESPN (originally just SPN) started off by broadcasting whatever sports footage they could get their hands on but found its first real hit with college basketball. The benefits were mutual and partly because of ESPN coverage, college basketball grew into the cultural giant it is today. EPSN, as we all know, has grown to become the name in sports television and no longer needs to broadcast slow pitch softball or demolition derbies, instead focusing more on the major professional sports: football, baseball, basketball, tennis, golf and, yes, hockey...still. And to think, it all started in the little city of Bristol in the little state of Connecticut.

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10 Surprising Facts about Alexander Graham Bell
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Alexander Graham Bell may have been born in Scotland and become an American citizen, but he called Nova Scotia, Canada home for the last few decades of his life. By the time Bell was 38, he was living in Washington, D.C. and involved in endless draining lawsuits concerning patents over the telephone. He came across a book by Charles Dudley Warner called Baddeck and That Sort of Thing, which described the small fishing village of Baddeck in Nova Scotia as “the most beautiful saltwater lake I have even seen … its embracing hills, casting a shadow from its wooded islands … here was an enchanting vision.” After reading that description, Bell moved there with his wife and two children. He made the idyllic Canadian village his home for nearly 40 years, until his death.

1. BELL’S FIRST PASSION WAS HELPING THE DEAF.

Alexander Graham Bell and his family
Alexander Graham Bell and his wife, Mabel Gardiner Hubbard, and two of their children
Library of Congress, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Alexander Graham Bell’s primary focus was on helping deaf students communicate. His grandfather had been an elocutionist, and his father, Melville, developed a system called Visible Speech, a collection of written symbols designed to help the deaf while speaking. (Melville was name-checked in George Bernard Shaw’s preface to Pygmalion, and is thought to be a possible basis for Professor Higgins.) Both Alexander Graham Bell’s mother and wife were deaf, and became the inspiration for his work. In 1872, when he was 25, he opened a “School of Vocal Physiology and Mechanics of Speech” in Boston.

2. THE TELEPHONE WAS INVENTED FOR LOVE

Luke Spencer

One of Bell’s pupils was Mabel Hubbard, the daughter of a wealthy Massachusetts family, with whom he fell in love. Her father, lawyer Gardiner Greene Hubbard, the first president of the National Geographic Society, opposed the marriage due to Bell’s poor finances. But only a few days after establishing the Bell Telephone Company and securing his fortune, Bell married Mabel. For a wedding present, he gave her all but ten of his 1507 shares in the company. On his desk in his study at Baddeck, Bell kept a photograph of his beloved Mabel; written on the back, in his own hand, it says: “the girl for whom the telephone was invented.”

3. THE FIRST TELEPHONE MESSAGE MAY HAVE BEEN A CALL FOR HELP.

It was while experimenting with acoustic telegraphy alongside his assistant Thomas Watson, a machinist, that Bell invented the telephone. On the evening of March 10, 1876, with a receiver set up in Watson’s room and the prototype transmitter in his own room down the hallway, Bell uttered the first words sent down a telephone wire: “Mr. Watson, come here, I want to see you.” As Watson recalled, “I rushed down the hall … and found he had upset the acid of a battery over his clothes … his shout for help that night … doesn’t make as pretty a story as did the first sentence ‘What Hath God Wrought’ which Morse sent over his new telegraph ... 30 years before, but it was an emergency call.”

However, according to Watson’s great-granddaughter Susan Cheever, the acid was an invention of Watson’s 50 years after the fact. To make her case, she quotes a letter from Watson soon after the momentous call, in which he said, “[T]here was little of dramatic interest in the occasion.”

Bell's patent 174,465 was filed with the U.S. Patent Office at almost the same time as another engineer, Elisha Gray, filed a caveat (a document saying he was going to file for a patent in three months) for a similar invention. That sparked one of more than 500 various lawsuits over the telephone—all of which were unsuccessful.

4. BELL PIONEERED WHAT WOULD BECOME CASSETTE TAPES, FLOPPY DISCS, AND FIBER OPTICS.

In 1880, the French government awarded Bell 50,000 francs for the invention of the telephone. With the prize money he founded the Volta Laboratory, dedicated to the “increase and diffusion of knowledge relating to the deaf.”

Of the 18 patents held by Bell alone, and the 12 he shared with collaborators, many related to improving the lives of deaf people. Bell considered once such patent, the photophone, the “greatest invention I have ever made, greater than the telephone.” The photophone was designed for optical wireless communication, which was quite a feat for 1880. Bell and an assistant, Charles Summer Tainter, transmitted a wireless voice message by light beam over a distance of 200 meters from a school roof to their laboratory—a precursor to fiber-optics one hundred years later

They are also said to have attempted to impress magnetic fields as a way of reproducing sound. Although they abandoned the idea after failing to produce a workable prototype, Bell had in fact been pioneering the principle that would one day become the tape recorder and the computer floppy disc. One of their improvements to the gramophone was patented under the Volta Graphophone Company, which would one day evolve into Columbia Records and Dictaphone.

5. HE ALSO INVENTED THE WORLD’S FASTEST SPEEDBOAT …

After becoming interested in hydroplanes, Bell sketched out an early model of what would become known as a hydrofoil boat. Along with aviation pioneer Frederick “Casey” Baldwin, Bell began building and testing what they called the HD-4 in the laboratory at Baddeck. On the Bras d’Or lake outside Bell’s home, the boat set the world speed record of 70.86 mph on September 9, 1919. The remnants of the world’s fastest boat can still be seen at the Alexander Graham Bell Historic site and museum in Baddeck.

6. … AND HELPED OUT WITH CANADA’S FIRST CONTROLLED PLANE.

The Bras d’Or lake also saw another milestone in Canadian history, when the AEA Silver Dart, one of the earliest aircraft, made the first powered flight in Canada in February 1909. As early as 1892, Bell had been developing motor-powered aircraft, and had done extensive experiments with tetrahedron kites. Under Bell’s guidance, co-designer John McCurdy managed to fly the Silver Dart a half-mile over Nova Scotia. A few weeks later, after more tinkering in Bell’s workshops, the flight managed more than 22 miles. By the summer of 1909, the Silver Dart carried the first-ever passenger in Canadian airspace.

7. HE WAS HELPFUL TO NEIGHBORS.

Alexander Graham Bell with family and friends
Library of Congress, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

There is a local story told in Baddeck of how, one day soon after moving to the town, Bell was walking along the main street and saw the editor of the local newspaper having problems with his wall-mounted telephone. Bell walked in and promptly unscrewed the earpiece, revealing a trapped fly, which he blew out of it. The astonished newspaper editor asked how the stranger had known how to fix the newfangled invention, to which Bell replied, “because I am the inventor of that instrument.”

8. HE INVENTED A METAL DETECTOR TO SAVE A PRESIDENT’S LIFE.

A metal detector like the one Bell invented, on display at the Bell Historic Site in Baddeck.
Luke Spencer

The first known use of the metal detector was not for beachcombing or gold prospecting, but rather as an attempt to save the life of a U.S. President. James Garfield had been shot at the Baltimore & Potomac Railway station in July 1881 by Charles J. Guiteau. The bullet was lodged somewhere in the president’s back and couldn’t be located by the attending doctors. Alexander Graham Bell, a visitor to the stricken Garfield, quickly developed a metal detector with the purpose of finding the bullet. Inspired by French inventor Gustave Trouvé’s earlier handheld device, Bell built a device based on electromagnetics. Unfortunately, the metal springs in the mattress Garfield was lying on confused the detector—or so Bell would later claim—and the 20th president of the United States died of an infection in the wound that September.

9. YOU CAN ALSO THANK HIM FOR NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE.

The National Geographic magazine as we know it today was largely the brainchild of Alexander Graham Bell. Under his father-in-law, the exclusive society’s first president, the prestigious club house in Washington D.C. was struggling. Membership was dwindling to just under a thousand people when Bell was elected its second president. He immediately set to work to revitalize the society, and in particular its journal, which, according to Bell, “everyone put on his library shelf and few people read.”

Bell relaunched the journal with a new slogan, “The World And All That Is In It.” He promoted illustrations and good photography, introducing “pictures of life and action … pictures that tell a story.”

10. AFTER HIS DEATH, THE PHONE COMPANIES PAID TRIBUTE.

Alexander Graham Bell died in his adopted home of Nova Scotia on August 2, 1922, with his beloved Mabel by his side. It’s a common custom to hold a minute’s silence when someone of note has passed away, but for Alexander Graham Bell, a remarkable tribute took place after his funeral. Every phone in North America was silenced for a minute in “honor of the man who had given to mankind the means for direct communication at a distance.”

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Animals
Welcome to Italy's 'Snail Spa,' Where Happy Mollusks Ooze Prized Slime
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Wellness fads may come and go, but one beauty trend—using gross unguents to maintain a youthful glow—remains constant. Throughout history, cultures around the world have slathered themselves in concoctions containing everything from crocodile excrement to bird droppings and even snail slime, the last of which was favored by the ancient Greeks and Romans.

Today, mollusk mucous is undergoing a surprising resurgence, as cosmetics companies around the globe use the slime to make skin products. To harvest mass quantities of the clear ooze, snail farmers typically have to kill the tiny creatures. But according to Great Big Story's video below, an Italian man named Simone Sampò invented a snail slime extraction machine—which he has dubbed a "snail spa"—that sprays the critters with secret ingredients, pleasuring them to the point that they secrete their valuable ooze.

Curious how the natural lubricant gets from a mollusk's foot to a well-cared-for face? Watch Sampò's steam machine in action below, as it lulls a bevy of happy snails into producing jugs of slime.

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