9 Great Inventions that come from ... Connecticut?

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

a.portable typewriters.jpg

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

Picture 3.png

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

a.nucsub.jpg

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

a.espn.jpg

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.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0
7 Giant Machines That Changed the World—And 1 That Might
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

From a 17-mile-long particle accelerator to a football-field–sized space observatory, here are seven massive machines that have made an equally huge impact on how we build, how we observe our universe, and how we lift rockets into space. We've also included a bonus machine: a technological marvel-to-be that may be just as influential once it's completed.

1. LARGE HADRON COLLIDER

Large Hadron Collider
Carlo Fachini, Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

The Large Hadron Collider, a particle accelerator located at CERN outside of Geneva, Switzerland, is the largest machine in the world: It has a circumference of almost 17 miles and took around a decade to build. The tubes of the LHC are a vacuum; superconducting magnets guide and accelerate two high-energy particle beams, which are moving in opposite directions, to near-light-speed. When the beams collide, scientists use the data to find the answers to some of the most basic questions of physics and the laws that govern the universe we live in.

Since the LHC started up in 2008, scientists have made numerous groundbreaking discoveries, including finding the once-theoretical Higgs boson particle—a.k.a. the "God" particle—which helps give other particles mass. Scientists had been chasing the Higgs boson for five decades. The discovery illuminates the early development of the universe, including how particles gained mass after the Big Bang. Scientists are already working on the LHC's successor, which will be three times its size and seven times more powerful.

2. CRAWLER-TRANSPORTER ROCKET MOVERS

Built in 1965, NASA's crawler-transporters are two of the largest vehicles ever constructed: They weigh 2400 tons each and burn 150 gallons of diesel per mile. In contrast, the average semi truck gets roughly 6.5 miles per gallon. The vehicles' first job was to move Saturn V rockets—which took us to the moon and measured 35 stories tall when fully constructed—from the massive Vehicle Assembly Building (the largest single-room building in the world) to the launch pad at Cape Canaveral. The 4.2-mile trip was a slow one; the transporters traveled at a rate of 1 mph to ensure the massive rockets didn't topple over. Without a vehicle to move rockets from the spot they were stacked to the launch pad, we never could have gotten off the ground, much less to the moon.

After our moon missions, the crawler-transporters were adapted to service the Space Shuttle program, and moved the shuttles from 1981 to 2003. Since the retirement of the orbiters, these long-serving machines are once again being repurposed to transport NASA's new Space Launch System (SLS), which, at 38 stories tall, will be the biggest rocket ever constructed when it's ready, hopefully in a few years (the timeline is in flux due to budgetary issues).

3. NATIONAL IGNITION FACILITY

National Ignition Facility (NIF) target chamber
Lawrence Livermore National Security, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

Three football fields could fit inside the National Ignition Facility, which holds the largest, most energetic, and most precise laser in the world (it also has the distinction of being the world's largest optical instrument). NIF—which took about a decade to build and opened in 2009—is located at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Livermore, California. Its lasers are used to create conditions not unlike those within the cores of stars and giant planets, which helps scientists to gain understanding about these areas of the universe. The NIF is also being used to pursue the goal of nuclear fusion. If we can crack the code for this reaction that powers stars, we'll achieve unlimited clean energy for our planet.

4. BERTHA THE TUNNEL BORER

When Seattle decided it needed a giant tunnel to replace an aging highway through the middle of the city, the city contracted with Hitachi Zosen Corporation to build the biggest tunnel boring machine in the world to do the job. The scope of Bertha's work had no precedent in modern-day digging, given the dense, abrasive glacial soil and bedrock it had to chew through.

In 2013, Bertha—named after Bertha Knight Landes, Seattle's first female mayor—was tasked with building a tunnel that would be big enough to carry four lanes of traffic (a two-lane, double-decker road). Bertha needed to carve through 1.7 miles of rock, and just 1000 feet in, the 57-foot, 6559-ton machine ran into a steel pipe casing that damaged it. Many predicted that Bertha was doomed, but after a massive, on-the-spot repair operation by Hitachi Zosen that took a year-and-a-half, the borer was up and running again.

In April 2017, Bertha completed its work, and engineers started the process of dismantling it; its parts will be used in future tunnel boring machines. Bertha set an example for what is possible in future urban tunnel work—but it's unlikely that tunnel boring machines will get much bigger than Bertha because of the sheer weight of the machine and the amount of soil it can move at once. Bertha's tunnel is scheduled to open in 2019.

5. INTERNATIONAL SPACE STATION

international space station
NASA

The international space station is a highly efficient machine, equipped with instrumentation and life support equipment, that has kept humans alive in the inhospitable environment of low-Earth orbit since November 2, 2000. It's the biggest satellite orbiting the Earth made by humans. The major components were sent into space over a two-year period, but construction has slowly continued over the last decade, with astronauts adding the Columbus science laboratory and Japanese science module. The first module, Zarya, was just 41.2 feet by 13.5 feet; now, the ISS is 356 feet by 240 feet, which is slightly larger than a football field. The station currently has about 32,333 cubic feet of pressurized volume the crew can move about in. That's about the same area as a Boeing 747 (though much of the ISS's space is taken up by equipment). The U.S.'s solar panels are as large as eight basketball courts.

From the space station, scientists have made such important discoveries as what extended zero-G does to the human body, where cosmic rays come from, and how protein crystals can be used to treat cancer. Though NASA expects the most modern modules of the ISS to be usable well into the 2030s, by 2025 the agency may begin "transitioning" much of its ISS operations—and costs—to the private sector [PDF] with an eye on expanding the commercial potential of space.

6. LIGO GRAVITATIONAL WAVE DETECTOR

The Laser Inferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) is actually made up of four different facilities—two laboratories and two detectors located 2000 miles apart, in Hanford, Washington, and Livingston, Louisiana. The detectors, which took about five years to build and were inaugurated in 1999, are identical L-shaped vacuum chambers that are about 2.5 miles long and operate in unison. The mission of these machines is to detect ripples in the fabric of spacetime known as gravitational waves. Predicted in 1915 by Einstein's theory of general relativity, gravitational waves were entirely theoretical until September 2015, when LIGO detected them for the first time. Not only did this provide further confirmation of general relativity, it opened up entirely new areas of research such as gravitational wave astronomy. The reason the two detectors are so far from each other is to reduce the possibility of false positives; both facilities must detect a potential gravitational wave before it is investigated.

7. ANTONOV AN-225 MRIYA PLANE

Antonov An-225 in Paramaribo
Andrew J. Muller, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 4.0

The Russians originally had a rival to the U.S. Space Shuttle program: a reusable winged spacecraft of their own called the Buran—and in the 1980s, they developed the AN-225 Mriya in order to transport it. With a wingspan the size of the Statue of Liberty, a 640-ton weight, six engines, and the ability to lift into the air nearly a half-million pounds, it's the longest and heaviest plane ever built. Mriya first flew in 1988, and since the Buran was mothballed in 1990 after just one flight (due to the breakup of the Soviet Union rather than the plane's capabilities), the AN-225 has only been used sparingly.

The monster plane has inspired new ideas. In 2017, Airspace Industry Corporation of China signed an agreement with Antonov, the AN-225's manufacturer, to built a fleet of aircraft based on the AN-225's design that would carry commercial satellites on their backs and launch them into space. Currently, virtually all satellites are launched from rockets. Meanwhile, Stratolaunch, a company overseen by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, is building a plane that will be wider (but not longer) than Mriya. The giant plane will carry a launch vehicle headed for low-Earth orbit.

BONUS: 10,000-YEAR CLOCK

This forward-thinking project, funded by Amazon and Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos, focuses on reminding people about their long-term impact on the world. Instead of a traditional clock measuring hours, minutes, and seconds, the Clock of the Long Now measures times in years and centuries. The clock, which will be built inside a mountain on a plot of land in western Texas owned by Bezos, will tick once per year, with a century hand that advances just once every 100 years. The cuckoo on the clock will emerge just once per millennium. Construction began on the clock in early 2018. When this massive clock is completed—timeline unknown—it will be 500 feet high. What will be the impact of this one? Only the people of the 120th century will be able to answer that question.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Choose Water
Bottle Service: This Water Container Decomposes in Weeks
Choose Water
Choose Water

For all the cheap convenience it affords us in day-to-day life, the long-term cost of using plastic is staggering. More than 165 million tons of discarded plastic waste are in the world’s oceans and pose a serious threat to marine life.

Scotland-based inventor and Durham University chemistry graduate James Longcroft is currently fundraising a potential solution. His company, Choose Water, is offering a biodegradable water container that Longcroft claims will decompose within three weeks. Made from recycled paper and a proprietary waterproof inner lining, the bottle is intended for a single use. Longcroft claims it will begin decomposing after being discarded in water or a landfill. The steel cap will rust and take about a year to erode completely.

The company’s methodology for making the bottle is being kept under wraps for now: On his Indiegogo campaign page, Longcroft says that he’s waiting for patent approval before offering any further explanation. Business Insider requested a bottle to test, but the company declined, citing concerns over trade secrets.

If fundraising is successful, Choose Water hopes to be in stores by the end of 2018. (At press time, the campaign had reached roughly half of its $34,000 goal.) The company says all profits will be donated to Water for Africa, a charity providing clean water solutions.

[h/t Business Insider]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios