Ask most people to list the world’s monumental inventions and you’re likely to get answers like the printing press, electricity, the telephone, the internal combustion engine and the airplane.
While it would be hard to argue against such a worthy list, I have come up with an alternative top 10 list of every-day, working class inventions that truly touch the life of the little guy ? especially those of us who hate to cook:
10. Bread Machine
Anybody can come up with an invention like the bread slicer that automates something previously done by hand, but it takes real ingenuity to invent something that moves society backward. The bread machine did just that by returning us to those halcyon days of unsliced bread. The one thing you can’t say about the bread machine: It’s the greatest thing since sliced bread.
9. Soft Butter
How many centuries did humankind suffer through hard butter and margarine? How many pancakes lost their warmth melting frigid patties? How many ears of corn went unevenly buttered? Soft butter was a quantum leap for humankind (although I’ve kept one of those quarters of hard margarine in my refrigerator since 1959 ? just in case).
8. Duct Tape
No list of great convenience inventions is complete without the wonderful silver-gray tape you can use to bind (and/or gag) just about anything. And some ingenious souls have taken duct tape to even greater heights, using it to:
- Turn a driveway into a basketball court with duct tape floor markings.
- Affix plastic margarine tubs to lawn-chair arms to make cup holders.
- Dab up salt and pepper spills.
- Make a big “X” on luggage so it’s easy to spot on the airport carousel. (Source: “The Jumbo Duct Tape Book,” Workman Publishing)
This one may be a surprise to people too young to remember a really awful product called tooth powder. You’d sprinkle some in your hand, dab a wet toothbrush in it, and brush away.
Some consider it tacky, and that’s not a bad word to describe this complex system of hooks and loops. Nobody knows why it sticks, but it does ? and where would we be without it. But can’t somebody come up with a silent Velcro? That telltale “rrrriiiipppp” can be heard twice as far as the Sawmill Crossing whistle.
From one extreme to the other, WD40 serves the exact opposite purpose of Velcro. It greases those things in life that need to be slippery.
4. Cable TV
Remember those days of three channels, one of which was pure snow, and all of which went off the air at 11 p.m. each night? Now, unless you live in the Rim country, home of the world’s last non-moving station (Channel 4), you can get a bazillion channels devoted entirely to such specialized fare as duck calling, foggy days and butterfly watching.
3. Caller ID
How did we ever endure that era when we had to blindly pick up the telephone not knowing who would be on the other end? For just five bucks a month you never have to tell a telemarketer where to go again. And when that pesky mother-in-law calls, you don’t have to be home.
2. Post-It Notes
Anybody remember paper clips? That’s how notes got attached to things before a 3M employee came up with the idea for Post-It Notes when a glue he was working on turned out to be less sticky than expected.
1. Microwave Oven
Nobody really likes cold pizza. We just ate it because it was a hassle to warm up. In fact, we ate a lot of stuff cold because they were a hassle to warm up. Then came the single greatest invention of all time ? the microwave oven. Overnight, cold pizza was history and a whole new world opened up in the kitchens of people who hate to cook. Entire meals can now be popped into a microwave and in mere seconds nuked to semi-perfection (thanks to their nagging tendency to heat unevenly). But hey, nobody’s perfect.
Honorable Mention: Microwave Popcorn
Among the wonderful foods developed just for microwaves, it would be hard to beat Microwave Popcorn (although somebody could come up with a version whose glorious aroma can only be detected by the person who is going to consume it and not his or her fellow office workers).
Very Honorable Mention: Stove Burner Covers
Since stoves are now obsolete, burner covers are the perfect way to turn them into surfaces to pile stuff on.