Greetings, Learning Expressions Readers!
It’s January 17—and do you know what that means? It’s Kid Inventors Day! That’s right, today’s the day we celebrate the amazing imagination and innovation of children. You may not be aware, but some of the items you use and enjoy every day were actually invented by kids. Today we want to share with you a few of our classic favorites. Enjoy!
can be a chilly place, and that was certainly true in 1873 when 15 year old
Greenwood invented the earmuffs. While ice skating on a local pond, Greenwood’s ears became cold—and his scarf just wasn’t doing the trick. So Chester went home and constructed two ear shaped wire loops, and asked his grandmother to sew some fur into them for him. It worked like a charm. Four years later, a steel band was added to the design and Greenwood's Champion Ear Protectors were patented. Greenwood also set up Greenwood's Ear Protector Factory and made a great deal of money selling earmuffs to soldiers in World War I. To this day, Farmington Maine is the earmuff capital of the world. If you head there on the first Saturday of December, you’ll also be able to catch the Chester Greenwood parade. Even the school buses and police cruisers will be wearing earmuffs!
Braille: French born Louis Braille was only three years old when he was blinded in an accident in his father’s leather workshop, while trying to use a leather piercing instrument called an awl. Young Braille was bright and smart, and at age ten he was sent to the National Institute for Blind Youth in Paris. The children were taught using the Huay system, which consisted of tracing the outlines of Latin letters with one’s fingers. Needless to say, Braille found the system cumbersome and limiting. In 1821, Braille first heard of “night writing”—developed by Captain Charles Barbier so that soldiers on the battlefield could share messages in the dark without speaking. The writing consisted of dots and dashes that were indented onto thick paper. The system was too difficult for the kind of usage Braille wanted to put it to, so for the next three years Louis Braille developed his own system. In a strange twist of fate, he used an awl (the tool that originally blinded him) to create the raised dots for his system. By the time he was fifteen, it was largely completed. The system was published five years later, in 1829, and later modified in 1837. A universal braille code for English was formalized in 1932 and is still in use today.
The Popsicle: In 1905 11 year old Frank Epperson invented the Popsicle. On a cold San Francisco evening he accidentally left a glass of homemade soda outside on his porch with a stirring stick in it. The next morning the drink had frozen, and he pulled it out by the stirring stick and found he had a delicious frozen treat! Fast forward 17 years and Epperson began to sell his frozen confections at an amusement park in California. By 1924 he realized just how popular his invention was becoming, and applied for a patent for The Epsicle Ice Pop. He went on to sell his patent and royalty rights after the stock market crash in 1929.
The Trampoline: This kid favorite was invented in 1930 by 16 year old gymnast George Nissen. While watching trapeze artists at the circus (and seeing how they bounced off the netting at the end of their routines) Nissen was convinced that something similar should be created for gymnasts. When he finished high school George worked tirelessly in his parents’ garage to create what he called a “bouncing apparatus.” He salvaged steel materials from junk yards to create a frame and then stretched canvas across it.
After finishing up at the University of Iowa, Nissen began travelling the country with two friends and his bouncing apparatus. Their group was called The Three Leonardos and they travelled all over the country performing their act. When performing in Mexico George Nissen learned that the Spanish word for diving board was ‘el trampolin’—and so his homemade bouncing apparatus became the Trampoline. Nissen went on to create the Nissen Trampoline Corporation and married a dutch acrobat named Annie. He continued inventing throughout his life, and passed away in 2010.
Water Skis: In 1922, 18 year old Ralph Samuelson invented water skis in Lake City, Minnesota. Though he technically wasn’t a kid any more we think his story is just too interesting not to share! An avid skier thanks to all the Minnesota snow, Samuelson was convinced that skiing could also be done on the water. He tested out his snow skis behind a boat, but they were no good. Next, he took some 8 foot x 9 inch wide pine boards and curved the end of each one before attaching leather foot straps. He then purchased 100 feet of cord and had a blacksmith make him a ring which he turned into a handle. After a few failed attempts he was skiing on water! Unsurprisingly, Samuelson’s antics became the talk of his small town. As he developed daring new tricks the crowds began to gather and he hosted weekend waterskiing exhibitions. Samuelson’s daredevil tricks included jumps, slalom skiing, and even being pulled behind a plane.
After breaking his back in 1927, Samuelson hung up his skis and wasn’t heard of for a number of decades. Not until a young journalist named Margaret Mason came to the area and found Samuelson’s old skis hung up in a local bathhouse in 1963. She wrote an open letter in her news column entitled “YOUR OLD WATER SKIS ARE GREAT, MR. SAMUELSON—MR. SAMUELSON?” in which she wrote, "Where are you now, Mr. Samuelson? I wish I knew. So do Simons and a lot of other Lake Cityites who are proud of their native son." Ralph and his wife were living on a small island outside of Lake City, and a delighted Mr. Samuelson read the article and shared his story with the young journalist. For many years Samuelson was overlooked as the father of water skiing, since Fred Waller of Huntington, N.Y. patented them in 1924. After discovering Samuelson through Margaret Mason’s pieces on him, the American Water Ski Association acknowledged Ralph Samuelson as “the fairy godmother of water skiing" and he is now recognized as their rightful inventor.
Pretty impressive what kids can come up with, right? If you want to learn more about what kidventors are up to these days, you can also check out our kids in the toy business feature from from one of our prior blogs.
Thanks for reading, talk to you again soon!