History of Underrated Inventions Used Daily in Society

Inventions

From time immemorial, it has been the inventions and discoveries that have kept the human race driven towards development in every sector. Inventions are especially important manmade things that bridge the gap in the requirements. As we use an invention for ages and ages, it comes to a point where we consider it a natural resource!

We forget that things do not come down to us easily and do not reach us easily either. Only processed things are put to use and the process is the brainchild of a pioneer inventor. In fact, today the world is trying hard to invent a perfect vaccine so that we can become mask-free and return to our old normal life.

Zip

Have you ever thrown away your bag for a malfunctioning zip?

Not really, I hope. It is quite interesting that we tend to repair zips and use our bags but never realize their importance. It is a wonderful, simple, and repairable invention that has made our lives very easy.

Imagine the world without a zip. Raincoats, Bags, Purses, Dresses, Cloth Shelves, and so many more items use zip. It is such a robust invention that we use till today.

The History behind Zip/Zipper

In the year 1893, Whitcomb L. Judson was an American engineer whose main work is on the “Pneumatic street railway”. He went on to register about 14 patents. His remarkable invention was a “Chain-lock-fastener” which served as a prototype for today’s zip model. He went on to launch the “Universal Fastener Company”, to manufacture this device.

This company was renamed and relocated to New Jersey. In 1906, they hired a Swedish-American electrical engineer called Gideon Sundback. He went on to improve the design of hook-less fasteners and filed a patent in 1909 in Germany. He then increased the number of fastening elements from four per inch to 10 or 11 and designed two facing rows of teeth that became a single piece with a slider. This is the modern-day Zip or Zipper known as “Separable-fastener”. It was patented in the year 1917.

A picture of the inventor of Zip, Gideon Sundback.
Gideon Sundback (Image Credit: Edubilla)
A picture of the paper with work for patent filed for Zip in the year 1917
Patent of Zip in 1917(Image Credit: Wikipedia)

After that, he went on to build the machine to manufacture this is in a lump. In the year 1923, he further developed the design by adding grooves and a lock-in system to the last tooth. It got commercialized when it was first used for boots by the B.F. Goodrich Company in the same year. Followed by that, it was used in leather jackets by Schott NYC in 1925. It was later used by French designers to zip men’s trousers in the year 1937.

An image of zipper in the Jeans pant
Zip in Jeans Pant (Image Credit: Pixabay)

Zip in today’s world

It is now widely used in pouches, clothing, boots, bags, and many others. Lately, there is a model of zipper used in coats and jackets where both the ends are open. You can pin and unpin them whenever you use them.

Mirror

What could have people used before the existence of modern-day mirrors to look at themselves?

A pool of water! Yes, it may seem absurd or simple but that is the fact. Even when early mirrors existed they were only meant for the royals to use. Unlike a common affordable commodity today, where most girls may never go out without glancing at a mirror, I am sure. Actually, anyone for that matter would care to have a look at what they are like.

Thus it has also become a basic essential in our everyday life. It is found in our houses and vehicles mainly.

The History of Mirrors

The earliest mirrors are known to exist in modern-day Turkey about 8000 years back. Around 4000 – 3000 BCE, they were used in Egypt and Iraq, where they were made up of copper. Then around 2000 BCE (1000 years later), Americans made mirrors out of polished stones while Indians and Chinese made using bronze. In fact, a curved mirror was constructed inside the Lighthouse of Alexandria to reflect beams and guide sailors.

Given the early history of mirrors, they were not widely used except for the posh people like the Royal families. Also, they were much different from today’s mirrors. This was invented by the German Chemist Justus Von Liebig in 1835. He developed a process to coat a thin layer of metallic silver on one side of a glass pane. This was further improvised for its materials and techniques.

An image of the inventor of mirror, Justus Von Leibig
Justus Von Liebig (Image Credit: FamousInventors)
An image of a mirror
Mirror (Image Credit: Unsplash)

Mirrors today

They are now manufactured by depositing Aluminum rather than silver. Glass is used as the base mostly. It was also coated using mercury but then due to its toxicity, it was replaced by various other metallic coatings.

There are different types of mirrors, technically differentiated based on the curvature of their reflective surface. Also, there are two-way mirrors that act as a mirror on one side and transparent glass on the other side. These are found in various places like car windows, building walls, police interrogation rooms, and so on.

Today there are numerous applications of mirrors. They are used in the field of Optical Science and Medical Science fields, because of their ability to completely reflect light and focus it at a point. It is also used as an outer covering for buildings. It is used in the engineering of giant machines in various industries and in spacecraft.

Pencil

What is that one thing which you teach every child to hold on to?

It is the Pencil! Even today, pencils are widely used by people to write. Children all over the world, start writing using this instrument. It is also erasable, unlike other writing tools, making it easy for children to learn. So, when they make mistakes, they can also undo it!

The History of Pencils

Pencils have a Roman background to them. The writing tool called “Stylus“, used by Romans to write on Parchments, were the predecessors. Around 1300 BC, Greeks used to write using metallic stylus pointers on wax-coated tablets. This was followed by Quills in 600 – 1800AD. These are nothing but feathers dipped in inks . Further in 1564, the breakthrough discovery of large deposits of Graphite in England paved way for the invention of the pencil.

It was found to be pure carbon but too soft and brittle. To put this to use, they rolled thin sticks of the substance and wrapped it in sheepskin or string so that, one can hold it without breaking. In the year 1560, an Italian couple – Simonio and Lyndiana introduced the idea of enclosing the sticks between two halves of carved wooden pieces and glue them together. But England held the monopoly over graphite pencils. Due to the Napoleonic wars, France could not import graphite from England or Germany. That is when they were pushed to explore other options of resources.

In 1795, Nicolas-Jacques Conté, a scientist serving the army of Napoleon Bonaparte, discovered a method to harden the core. He proposed that by mixing powdered graphite with clay and heating it in a kiln one can achieve the required degree of hardness. Additionally, the composition of raw materials and the level of roasting can be altered to adjust the hardness. Even today, pencils are manufactured using this method.

An image of the inventor of pencil, Nicolas Jacques Conte
Nicolas Jacques Conte (Image Credit: Britannica)

Manufacturing Companies around the world

In 1662, the world saw the first mass production of graphite sticks by a company located in Nuremberg, Germany. In 1832, the first pencil factory named Cumberland Pencil Company was opened in England. Although, William Monroe, ( cabinet-maker) made the first American wood pencils in the year 1812, it was Joseph Dixon who devised the method to mass-produce it. Then due to the Industrial Revolution, there were numerous manufacturing companies mushrooming throughout the 19th century in New York, New Jersey. German manufacturers owned them. Popular companies are Faber-Castell (1761), Eberhard Faber, Eagle Pencil Company, and General Pencil Company.

Initially, they were plain and non-painted wood enclosures. But in the 1890s they were painted and the brand name was also put on them.

The picture of an ancient pencil found in timbered house built in 1630
Oldest surviving pencil in the world (Image Credit: BrainPickings)
Image of pencils used today. It shows Natraj brand pencils
Modern day pencils (Image Credit: Unsplash)

Pencils today

There are color pencils, unlike the traditional graphite pencil that writes in grey or black shade, these write in different colors. Various writing tools have emerged like a pen, marker, sketch pens, and so on.

An image of multiple color pencils against a yellow wall.
Color pencils (Image Credit: Unsplash)

Clock

“What time is it now? 10:23, Ah! I am already late.”

These are usual conversations in our day-to-day life. We carry wristwatches of varied types from dial watches to digital watches that can be paired with smartphones. We have clocks hung everywhere that show time to the precision of seconds. But these machines did not arrive in this shape easily.

In fact, in modern machines like computers, laptops or mobile phones, we can see the time. But since when did mankind start enjoying this privilege of seeing time as it is? Let us go back in time to find this!
The History of Clocks

The History of Clocks

The art of timekeeping dates back around 5000 years ago when Egyptians used Sundial-based Shadow Clocks. The stone was partitioned into 12 equal segments. Depending on the movement of the Sun, the position and length of shadow will differ, to mark the time. Then, around 4000 BC, there came Water clocks which allow a restricted flow of water, based on the collected amount, one can mark the time. It was in use across places like Egypt, China, India, and few others. In the following years, there were numerous other types like Candle Clock, Incense Clock, Hourglass Clock, and Sand Clock.

Image of an Egyptian Sundial/shadow clock believed to be 1500 BC old with 12 equal segment markings on the stone.
Egyptian Sundial (Image Credit: Wikipedia)
Picture of an ancient surviving mechanical clock built by Salisbury Cathedral, supposedly around 1386. It is in Science Museum, London
Medieval Mechanical Clock (Image Credit: Wikipedia)

The most important invention was the Mechanical Clock, found in 14th Century in Europe. This used a mechanism called the escapement, which controlled the speed of the oscillator by transmitting only required power, unlike the weight-driven predecessor found in England. In order to observe the prayer time, The Roman Catholic Church installed this. Whereas, the exact inventor of the mechanism is still unknown.

Pendulum Clocks to Modern watches

In 1582, Galileo Galilei, an Italian Scientist theorized that pendulum oscillations can be used to monitor/mark time. Based on this theory, it was Dutch Polymath Christiaan Huygens who built a portable pendulum clock on Christmas day in 1656. He was soon granted the license to commercially manufacture them.

An engraved vintage portrait illustration image of Galileo from a Victorian book dated 1877.
Galileo Galilei (Image Credit: Pixabay)
Image of Christiaan Huygens, who invented world's first portable pendulum clock.
Christiaan Huygens (Image Credit: Universetoday)

These had inherent shortcomings like a high degree of oscillations up to 50. It was improved by bringing it down to 10-15 degrees. Then in 1840, external batteries were added to power them. Further, the design was improved to have the batteries installed inside. As this dial could show only 12 hours, so the time was marked with the suffix- AM (Ante Meridiem) to show the first half of the day and PM (Post Meridiem) to indicate that it’s the second half of the day.

Many watchmakers and designers from around the world kept modifying the clock to improve its accuracy, cost, and portability. Certainly, the major stepping stone was when Jacques and Marie Curie discovered the Quartz crystal and its properties in 1880. Consequently, an American Engineer, Walter G Cady built the first crystal Oscillator in 1921. However, Warren Marrison and J.W Horton built the first crystal clock at Bell lab in Canada in 1927.

The dial of world's first quartz wrist watch - Astron.
Astron (Image Credit: Wikimedia)
The world's first atomic clock and its inventor, Louis Essen on the right.
First Caesium-133 based Atomic Clock (Image Credit: Wikimedia)

In 1969, Seiko made the world’s first quartz wristwatch named Astron. Then the most accurate clocks of today are based on atomic transitions of electrons while excited from the ground state. The English Physicist Louis Essen built the first Caesium-133 based atomic clock in 1955 at National Physics Lab, London.

Clocks and Watches today

There are analog and digital variants in clocks and watches. Clocks are importable while watches are wearable and hence portable. The Analog version typically has dials with the hour hand, minute hand, and second hand. It covers only 12 hours in one cycle. Based on the light, we need to add AM/PM suffix. Digital counterparts are 24-hours clock machines that read the time in a day directly, in terms of hours, minutes, and seconds. These machines are commonly used by everyone across the globe now, unlike the times when they were not affordable for all people.

Wall clock isolated on white background  showing ten past ten
Wall Clock (Image Credit: Pixabay)
A picture of girl wearing the analog dial wrist watch.
Wrist Watch (Image Credit: Pixabay)
A smart watch that can be paired with smart phone. The picture shows the watch displaying time, temperature and other details
Smart Watch (Image Credit: Pixabay)

Air Conditioner(A/C)

One of the most essential units anywhere today is an Air conditioner. As the name suggests, it is used to condition the specifics of air like temperature, humidity, and dust. Today, we cannot imagine living without A/Cs in our offices or homes!

The History of A/C

On July 17, 1902, Willis Carrier, an American Engineer at Buffalo Forge Company, New York, submitted the drawing of a machine that can control the humidity, temperature, and ventilation in a closed space. He developed this to reduce the problems due to air quality in the Sackett-Wilhelm’s Lithographing & Publishing Company, Brooklyn. Since it was a printing press, the ink and machines should remain intact despite long working hours. So, the solution was to maintain the appropriate ambiance for uninterrupted working hours.

Image of the paper was patented in 1906 for the work of Willis Carrier under the name "Apparatus for Treting Air"
Patent paper from “Apparatus for treating Air” (Image Credit: PatentedImages)
Image of Willis Carrier next to his invention of early AC
Willis Carrier (Image Credit: Carrier)

Soon, in the year 1906, he was granted the US patent in the name “Apparatus for treating Air”. In the same year, Stuart W Cramer was looking for a method to add moisture in the air in his textile company. That is when he coined the term “Air Conditioning”. Willis Carrier believed that air conditioning is useful in multiple other industries. This is why he founded the company “The Carrier Air Conditioning Company of America” in the year 1915 with six other engineers. Today, he is regarded as the “Father of Air conditioning technology”.

A/C Today

With the advent of Electronics, the design, weight, size, cost, and portability of the machine reduced. Hence, different types of cooling units were developed and deployed in various places. Window AC, Split AC, Centralized AC are a few of them.

Air conditioner hanging from ceiling. Cassette type air conditioner.
Cassette type A/C (Image Credit: Pixabay)
Car A/C with its adjustinf knob.
A/C in Car (Image Credit: Pixabay)
Happy Male Technician Repairing Air Conditioner With Screwdriver
Split A/C (Image Credit: Pixabay)

This novel invention has impacted and changed the lifestyle of people in many ways. It has significantly reduced the number of deaths in summer due to heatwaves. Also, with the aid of an air-conditioned environment, a lot of research and development has taken place in the field of medicine. In fact, almost every industry today like, Malls, Theatres, IT companies, Hospitals, Data Centers, Residences, and many others deploy Air Conditioners.

Summary

Through ages of experiments and trials, inventors across the globe have made significant contributions to improve and develop the life of mankind. Hence, every other invention has a basis of reducing cost, increasing access to the invention, and serving society.

Although we are aware of the above facts, we rarely appreciate or even try to acknowledge a finding that has made our lives super easy.

Thanks to all the inventors! What was once considered a luxury has now become an essential part of our lives. That is how much they have helped us lead a better life. Maybe these are not survival essentials, yet we should learn to give people and things the place they deserve.

Be it Charles Babbage or Gideon Sundback, they are both inventors. Therefore let us not draw any difference between the two. Let’s cherish even the simple inventions and the inventors for helping us do things the way it is done today.

The intelligence of the future human race depends on nurturing the kids of today. Thus, we must pass them all the necessary knowledge and history of the past. This will help them explore new avenues. It is a small way of “thanksgiving” for all that they have contributed, not only for us but for all the time and people to come. After all, let’s consider them to be tiny for their size and not trivial for their usage.

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