CLOSE
Syngrafii
Syngrafii

8 Things Invented by Famous Writers

Syngrafii
Syngrafii

We might not often think of writers as having a creative life outside of the page, but that sells some of our more celebrated authors short. In addition to penning some amazing literature, these 8 writers also came up with innovative inventions.

1. THE SELF-PASTING SCRAPBOOK // MARK TWAIN

One of history’s greatest humorists, Twain found nothing funny about the laborious process of creating and maintaining personal scrapbooks. The glues and pastes were messy, hard to dispense, and sometimes resulted in torn mementos from his travels. Instead, he developed a scrapbook with the adhesive pre-applied to pages; the user would only need to moisten the glue in order to make the page functional. The idea was patented in 1873. In 1885, a St. Louis Post-Dispatch article reported that sales of the scrapbook had netted Twain $50,000 in profit.

2. THE WATERBED // ROBERT HEINLEIN

Heinlein’s career as a science-fiction author allowed him to prognosticate about a number of potential inventions, but it was his time spent as a tuberculosis patient in the 1930s that provided him with inspiration for a more comfortable bed. Convalescing during his illness, Heinlein conceived of a bed that used water instead of springs. The notion was first described by the author in 1942 and later used in many of his novels, including Stranger in a Strange Land. When inventor Charles Hall tried to patent a similar idea, it was denied on the grounds that Heinlein (who never pursued a real-world application for it) came up with it first. 

3. THE PRINGLES CHIP MACHINE // GENE WOLFE

Prior to beginning his contributions to the science fiction genre with The Fifth Head of Cerberus in 1972, Wolfe was a mechanical engineering major who accepted a job with Procter & Gamble. During his employment, Wolfe devised a way for the unique, shingle-shaped Pringles chips to be fried and then dumped into their cylindrical packaging. (Despite his resemblance to Mr. Pringle, there is no evidence the chip mascot was based on him.)

4. GEOSTATIONARY SATELLITE // ARTHUR C. CLARKE

Though Clarke is not directly credited with the development and execution of satellites used to broadcast communication waves, he's widely acknowledged as the guy who got people thinking about it. The sci-fi author wrote a paper in 1945 proposing that in addition to satellites being used as refill stations for spacecraft, they could also be used to emit “world-wide ultra high-frequency radio services, including television.” Telstar, the first satellite to take advantage of the idea, came into service just 17 years later. The geostationary orbit—the distance at which a satellite can remain stationary during the Earth’s 24-hour rotation—later became known as the Clarke belt.

5. A CEREBRAL SHUNT // ROALD DAHL

Getty

Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and The BFG have brought considerable happiness to children, but his biggest contribution to a kid's well-being may have been to his own five-month-old son, Theo. When the boy was hospitalized after a car accident in 1960, Dahl worked with researchers to conceive of a valve that could drain fluid build-up from the brain. Known as the Wade-Dahl-Till valve, it went on to be used in thousands of cranial surgeries.

6. THE BACKLESS BRASSIERE // CARESSE CROSBY

Not overly fond of wearing a corset, Mary Phelps Jacob decided to tweak the concept by patenting a design in 1914 that involved tying two handkerchiefs together for anatomical support. Jacob, a socialite who later changed her name to Caresse Crosby and wrote poetry and erotica, sold the patent for $1500. 

7. POSTAGE CASE // LEWIS CARROLL

When he wasn’t occupied with Alice’s exploits in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll busied himself with a better way to organize and display the many denominations of postage stamps used by the British post office in the late 1800s. Carroll’s 1889 postage case was made up of several pockets separating the amounts and labeled so Carroll could reach for the right ones in a hurry. He dressed the case with an illustration of Alice on the front flap and the Cheshire Cat on the back. A first edition sold for over $8000 at a Christie’s auction in 1998.

8. LONG-DISTANCE AUTOGRAPH PEN (LONGPEN) // MARGARET ATWOOD

Canadian novelist Atwood had been drained by lengthy book tours when she struck upon the idea of “appearing” in bookstores remotely. Atwood’s “LongPen” allowed her to remain at home while readers approached a table and greeted her via a videoconferencing system; after settling on a personalized message, Atwood wrote the inscription on an LCD screen that was shortly communicated to a robotic arm in the bookstore—the arm carried out the signature with a pen. After its debut in 2006, Atwood’s invention had some hiccups: Visitors to a Manhattan signing experienced technical malfunctions and had to wait for signed books to be mailed to them. The invention is currently being examined for applications in banking and security.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Slice of Sauce
arrow
Food
This Ketchup Will be Sold by the Slice
Slice of Sauce
Slice of Sauce

Some have called it a food abomination. Others believe it will be the next big thing in food disruption. It’s ketchup taken out of its customary bottle or squeeze packet and distributed via cheese-like slices. And it may be coming to a store near you.

Slice of Sauce slices appear on a cutting board
Slice of Sauce

In March 2018, a company called Bo’s Fine Foods organized a Kickstarter for Slice of Sauce, a new—and highly controversial—method of packaging the condiment. Each retail pouch will contain eight “slices” of dried ketchup that Bo’s argues has several advantages over the bottled version. The ketchup won’t soak a piece of bread or sputter out in watery blasts: Consumers will get an even application of it every time, with the ketchup distributed equally among each bite. Each slice has 30 calories and 5 grams of sugar, with no high-fructose corn syrup or preservatives.  

As Vice pointed out, the idea is similar to chef Ernesto Uchimura’s “ketchup leather,” a novelty food hack he created in 2014.

While Slice of Sauce may help prevent apparel-related squirting mishaps, it’s not entirely clear whether people will embrace this rogue approach to dispensing tomato paste. The idea of freezing and then serving slices of peanut butter was met with scorn in 2017. Today reports that some Twitter critics have refused to acknowledge a “ketchup fruit roll-up” while others promise to “make a huge scene” if confronted with it while dining out. We’ll see if Slice of Sauce can dispense some unconventional success when it starts shipping to Kickstarter backers and select retail stores in June.

[h/t Today]

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
Lists
19 Things You Might Not Know Were Invented by Women
iStock
iStock

Necessity isn't the only mother of invention. Though it wasn't always easy to get patents or the credit they deserved, women are responsible for many items we use today.

1. THE PAPER BAG

paper bag with groceries
iStock

America got a brand new paper bag when cotton mill worker Margaret Knight invented a machine to make them with a flat square bottom in 1868. (Paper bags originally looked more like envelopes.) A man named Charles Annan saw her design and tried to patent the idea first. Knight filed a lawsuit and won the patent fair and square in 1871.

2. KEVLAR

Kevlar material
iStock

Lightweight, high-tensile Kevlar—five times stronger than steel—will take a bullet for you. DuPont chemist Stephanie Kwolek accidentally invented it while trying to perfect a lighter fiber for car tires and earned a patent in 1966.

3. THE FOOT-PEDAL TRASH CAN

foot-pedal trash can
iStock

Lillian Gilbreth improved existing inventions with small, but ingenious, tweaks. In the early 1900s, she designed the shelves inside refrigerator doors, made the can opener easier to use, and tidied up cleaning with a foot pedal trash can. Gilbreth is most famous for her pioneering work in efficiency management and ergonomics with her husband, Frank. Two of their 12 children, Frank Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth, humorously wrote about their home/work collaborations in the book Cheaper by the Dozen.

4. MONOPOLY

Monopoly game
iStock

Elizabeth Magie created The Landlord's Game to spread the economic theory of Georgism—teaching players about the unfairness of land-grabbing, the disadvantages of renting, and the need for a single land value tax on owners. Fun stuff! Magie patented the board game in 1904 and self-published it in 1906. Nearly 30 years later, a man named Charles Darrow rejiggered the board design and message and sold it to Parker Brothers as Monopoly. The company bought Magie's patent for the original game for $500 and no royalties.

5. WINDSHIELD WIPERS

windshield wipers on red car
iStock

Drivers were skeptical when Mary Anderson invented the first manual windshield wipers in 1903. They thought it was safer to drive with rain and snow obscuring the road than to pull a lever to clear it. (Another woman inventor, Charlotte Bridgwood, invented an automatic version with an electric roller in 1917. It didn't take off, either.) But by the time Anderson's patent expired in 1920, windshield wipers were cleaning up. Cadillac was the first to include them in every car model, and other companies soon followed.

6. DISPOSABLE DIAPERS

disposable diaper
iStock

Marion Donovan didn't take all the mess out of diaper changing when she patented the waterproof "Boater" in 1951. But she changed parenting—and well, babies—forever. The waterproof diaper cover, originally made with a shower curtain, was first sold at Saks Fifth Avenue. Donovan sold the patent to the Keko Corporation for $1 million and then created an entirely disposable model a few years later. Pampers was born in 1961.

7. THE DISHWASHER

dishwasher
iStock

Patented in 1886, the first dishwasher combined high water pressure, a wheel, a boiler, and a wire rack like the ones still used for dish drying. Inventor Josephine Cochrane never used it herself, but it made life easier for her servants.

8. LIQUID PAPER

liquid paper
iStock

In the days before the delete key, secretary Bette Nesmith Graham secretly used white tempera paint to cover up her typing errors. She spent years perfecting the formula in her kitchen before patenting Liquid Paper in 1958. Gillette bought her company in 1979 for $47.5 million. And that's no typo.

9. ALPHABET BLOCKS

Alphabet blocks
iStock

Children don't read books by anti-suffrage author Adeline D.T. Whitney these days—and that's probably for the better. But the wooden blocks she patented in 1882 still help them learn their ABCs.

10. THE APGAR SCORE

Nurse holding newborn
iStock

Life is a series of tests, starting with the Apgar, named after obstetrical anesthesiologist Dr. Virginia Apgar. In 1952, she began testing newborns one minute and five minutes after birth to determine if they needed immediate care. About 10 years later, the medical community made a backronym—an acronym designed to fit an existing word—to remember the criteria scored: Appearance, Pulse, Grimace, Activity, and Respiration.

11. MARINE SIGNAL FLARES

marine signal flares
iStock

Communication between ships was once limited to colored flags, lanterns, and screaming things like "Thar she blows!" really loudly. Martha Coston didn't come up with the idea for signal flares all by herself. She found plans in a notebook that belonged to her late husband. The determined widow spent 10 years working with chemists and pyrotechnics experts to make the idea a reality. But she was only named administratrix in the 1859 patent—Mr. Coston got credited as the inventor.

12. THE CIRCULAR SAW

circular saw
iStock

A weaver named Tabitha Babbitt was the first to suggest that lumber workers use a circular saw instead of the two-man pit saw that only cut when pulled forward. She made a prototype and attached it to her spinning wheel in 1813. Babbitt's Shaker community didn't approve of filing a patent, but they took full advantage of the invention.

13. RETRACTABLE DOG LEASH

Dog on leash
iStock

New York City dog owner Mary A. Delaney patented the first retractable leading device in 1908. It attached to the collar, keeping pooches under control, while giving them some freedom to roam. Incidentally, someone named R.C. O'Connor patented the first child harness 11 years later. Coincidence? Maybe.

14. SUBMARINE TELESCOPE AND LAMP

telescope
iStock

It's difficult to find any in-depth information about early inventor Sarah Mather. Her combination telescope and lamp for submarines, patented in 1845, speaks for itself.

15. FOLDING CABINET BED

folding bed
iStock

Sarah E. Goode's folding cabinet bed didn't just maximize space in small homes. In 1885, it made her the first African-American woman with a U.S. patent. The fully functional desk could be used by day and then folded down for a good night's sleep. The Murphy bed came along some 15 years later.

16. THE SOLAR HOUSE

solar panels
iStock

Biophysicist Maria Telkes's place was in the house—the very first 100 percent solar house. In 1947, the Hungarian scientist invented the thermoelectric power generator to provide heat for Dover House, a wedge-shaped structure she conceived with architect Eleanor Raymond. Telkes used Glauber's salt, the sodium salt of sulfuric acid, to store heat in preparation for sunless days. Dover House survived nearly three Massachusetts winters before the system failed.

17. SCOTCHGARD

spaghetti spilled on floor
iStock

Apparently, it takes a stain to fight one. In 1952, 3M chemist Patsy Sherman was perplexed when some fluorochemical rubber spilled on a lab assistant's shoe and wouldn't come off. Without changing the color of the shoe, the stain repelled water, oil, and other liquids. Sherman and her co-inventor Samuel Smith called it Scotchgard. And the rest is ... preserving your couch.

18. INVISIBLE GLASS

camera lens
iStock

Katharine Blodgett, General Electric's first female scientist, discovered a way to transfer thin monomolecular coatings to glass and metals in 1935. The result: glass that eliminated glare and distortion, which revolutionized cameras, microscopes, eyeglasses, and more.

19. COMPUTERS

old computer
iStock

Women in computer science have a role model in Grace Hopper. She and Howard Aiken designed Harvard's Mark I computer, a five-ton, room-sized machine in 1944. Hopper invented the compiler that translated written language into computer code and coined the terms "bug" and "debugging" when she had to remove moths from the device. In 1959, Hopper was part of the team that developed COBOL, one of the first modern programming languages.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios