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Zoom Inventors and Inventions
1300's and Earlier 1400's 1500's 1600's 1700's 1801-1850 1851-1900 1901-1950 1951-2000
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calder fakeMobiles are airy, hanging sculptures that move with the wind. Alexander Calder (1898-1976), an American sculptor, invented the mobile in the early 20th century. His mobiles eventually became famous worldwide.

For more information on Calder and his art, click here.

A metal can (or canister) for preserving food was invented in 1810 by a Peter Durand, of London, England. Metal cans (also called tins) could preserve food for a long period of time. To open a can, a person had to use a hammer and chisel; the can opener wasn't invented for another 50 years.

The can opener was invented in 1858 by Ezra Warner of Waterbury, Connecticut, USA. Warner's device used a lever and chisel. Until then, cans were opened using a hammer and chisel; the can opener was invented 50 years after the metal can was invented.

The can opener was improved in 1870 by William Lyman of West Meridian, Connecticut, USA. Lyman's device used a rotating wheel and a sharp edge. His can opener only fit one size of can, and first had to pierce the center of the can.

The modern-day type of can opener (using a serrated wheel) was invented in 1925.

The caravel (also spelled carvel) is a light sailing ship that that was developed by the Portuguese in the late 1400's, and was used for the next 300 years. The Portuguese developed this ship to help them explore the African coast.

For more information (and activities) about caravels, click here.

People have been drinking naturally-carbonated water (water with carbon dioxide bubbles) since pre-historic times. The English chemist Joseph Priestley experimented with putting gases in liquids in 1767, producing the first artificially-produced carbonated water.

In 1770, the Swedish chemist Torbern Bergman invented a device for making carbonated water from chalk and sulfuric acid.

Chester Floyd Carlson (1906-1968) invented xerography (which means "dry writing" in Greek) in 1938. Xerography makes paper copies without using ink (hence its name). In this process, static electricity charges a lighted plate; a plastic powder (called toner) is applied to the areas of the page to remain white.

Chester F. Carlson was born in Seattle, Washington, USA. As a teenager, Carlson supported his invalid parents by publishing a chemical journal. After attending Cal Tech in physics, Carlson worked at an electronics firm. Carlson later experimented at home to find an efficient way of copying pages. He succeeded in 1938, and marketed his revolutionary device to about 20 companies before he could interest any. The Haloid Company (later called the Xerox Corporation) marketed it, and photocopying eventually became common and inexpensive.

George Washington Carver (1865?-1943) was an American scientist, educator, humanitarian, and former slave. Carver developed hundreds of products from peanuts, sweet potatoes, pecans, and soybeans; his discoveries greatly improved the agricultural output and the health of Southern farmers. Before this, the only main crop in the South was cotton. The products that Carver invented included a rubber substitute, adhesives, foodstuffs, dyes, pigments, and many other products.

For more information on Carver, click here. For a cloze (fill-in-the-blank) activity on Carver, click here.

The mechanical cash register was invented (and patented) in 1879 by James Ritty (1836-1918). Ritty was an American tavern keeper in Dayton, Ohio. He nicknamed his cash register the "Incorruptible Cashier," and started the National Manufacturing Company to sell them. When a transaction was completed, a bell rang on the cash register and the amount was noted on a large dial on the front of the machine. During each sale, a paper tape was punched with holes so that the merchant could keep track of sales (at the end of the day, the merchant could add up the holes).

John H. Patterson (1844-1922) bought Ritty's patent and his cash register company in 1884. Patterson renamed the Dayton, Ohio, company the National Cash Register Company. Patterson improved Ritty's cash register by adding a paper tape that kept a printed record of all transactions.

In 1906, Charles F. Kettering (and employee of NCR) developed an electric cash register (Kettering later worked for General Motors and invented the electric car ignition).

The National Cash Register Company was later called NCR, until the company was bought by ATT in 1991; it was given back the name NCR in 1996, when it was split off from ATT.

A Cassegrain telescope is a wide-angle reflecting telescope with a concave mirror that receives light and focuses an image. A second mirror reflects the light through a gap in the primary mirror, allowing the eyepiece or camera to be mounted at the back end of the tube. The Cassegrain reflecting telescope was developed in 1672 by the French sculptor Sieur Guillaume Cassegrain. A correcting plate (a lens) was added in 1930 by the Estonian astronomer and lens-maker Bernard Schmidt (1879-1935), creating the Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope which minimized the spherical aberration of the Cassegrain telescope.
The catapult is a device that hurls heavy objects or arrows over a large distance. It was invented in ancient Greece in 399 BC by Dionysius the Elder of Syracuse. The Romans later added wheels to the catapult to make it more maneuverable. The catapult (also called the ballista) was a major weapon of warfare for well over a thousand years. A double-armed catapult (also called the trebuchet) was invented by Mariano Taccola of Siena during the Middle Ages, about AD 1400.
The cat's eye road reflector is a simple device that has saved countless lives. These inexpensive glass and rubber reflectors are set on the roadway at regular intervals, and help motorists see where the road is at night. Each of the cat's eyes reflects oncoming light, acting like lights set into the road. This device was invented in 1933 by Percy Shaw, from Yorkshire, England. He invented it after he had been driving on a dark, winding road on a foggy night; he was saved from going off the side of the hill by a cat, whose eyes reflected his car's lights. Shaw's invention mimicked the reflectivity of a cat's eyes. Because of his invention, Shaw was awarded the Order of the British Empire ("OBE") by Queen Elizabeth of England in 1965.
William Caxton (1422?-1491) was an English businessman, royal advisor, translator, editor, and printer who set up England's first printing press in 1476. Caxton had learned about printing in Cologne, Germany. In Brussels, he printed "The Recuyell," the first book printed in the English language, around 1474. His second publication was "The Game and Play of Chess Moralised" (printed in 1476); this was the first printed book on chess and the first printed book to use woodcut illustrations. Caxton then returned to England and set up England's first printing press (in 1476), where he printed " Troilus and Creseide," " Morte d'Arthur," " The History of Reynart the Foxe," Chaucer's " The Canterbury Tales," and many other books. Since Caxton refused to print regional variations in English, he began the standardization of the English language and its spelling.
Cellophane is a thin, transparent, waterproof, protective film that is used in many types of packaging. It was invented in 1908 by Jacques Edwin Brandenberger, a Swiss chemist. He had originally intended cellophane to be bonded onto fabric to make a waterproof textile, but the new cloth was brittle and not useful. Cellophane proved very useful all alone as a packaging material. Chemists at the Dupont company (who later bought the rights to cellophane) made cellophane waterproof in 1927.
The first automatic analog cellular phone was made in the 1960's. Commercial models were introduced in Japan by NTT on December 3, 1979. They were introduced in Scandinavia in 1981, in Chicago, USA, on October 13, 1983 (by Motorola), and in Europe in the late 1980's. Early mobile FM (frequency modulation radio was invented by Edwin H. Armstrong in 1935) radio telephones had been in use in the USA since 1946, but since the number of radio frequencies are very limited in any area, the number of phone calls was also very limited. Only a dozen or two calls could be made at the same time in an area. To solve this problem, there could be many small areas (called cells) which share the same frequencies. But when users moved from one area to another while calling, the call would have to be switched over automatically without losing the call. In this system, a small number of radio frequencies could accommodate a huge number of calls. This cellular phone concept was devised by a team of researchers at Bell Labs in 1947, but there were no computers available to do the switching. As small inexpensive computers were developed, cell phones could be produced. Motorola holds the US patents for the cell phone. Henry Taylor Sampson and George H. Miley hold a 1968 patent (US patent #3,591,860) on a "gamma electric cell," which is not a component of cellular phones.
Celluloid is a plastic made from cellulose (it is derived from plants). This very flammable material was invented in 1869 by the American inventor John Wesley Hyatt (it was invented to be a substitute for the elephant ivory used for billiard balls). Celluloid was one the first plastics invented; it can be damaged by moisture.
Anders Celsius (1701-1744) was a Swedish professor of astronomy who devised the Celsius thermometer. He also ventured to the far north of Sweden with an expedition in order to measure the length of a degree along a meridian, close to the pole, later comparing it with similar measurements made in the Southern Hemisphere. This confirmed that that the shape of the earth is an ellipsoid which is flattened at the poles. He also cataloged 300 stars. With his assistant Olof Hiorter, Celsius discovered the magnetic basis for auroras.
Ruth Wakefield invented chocolate chips (and chocolate chip cookies) in 1930. Wakefield ran the Toll House Inn in Whitman, Massachusetts. Her new cookie invention was called the "Toll House Cookie." Her original cookies used broken-up bars of semi-sweet chocolate.
Dr. John Stith Pemberton (1830-1888) was an American pharmacist, soldier, and inventor. He invented Coca-Cola on May 8th, 1886 in Atlanta, Georgia, USA. He had invented many syrups, medicines, and elixirs before, including a very popular drink called French Wine of Coca, which contained French Bordeaux wine, coca leaves, and caffeine (from the kola nut).

When Atlanta banned alcohol consumption in 1885, Pemberton had to change the formula of his French Wine of Coca, omitting the French wine. He added sugar, citric acid and essential oils of many fruits to the drink, and the original Coca-Cola was created. It was named for its main ingredients, coca leaves and the kola nut. Coca-Cola quickly became a very popular soda fountain drink.

Pemberton became partners with Frank Robinson and David Roe, but the partners soon began to quarrel and Pemberton soon sold his interest in Coca-Cola. The formula for Coca-Cola is a closely-guarded secret.

The first dishwasher was patented in 1850 by Joel Houghton; his machine was a hand-turned wheel that splashed water on dishes - unfortunately, it wasn't very effective at washing dishes. The first working automatic dishwasher was invented by Mrs. Josephine Garis (W. A.) Cochran, of Shelbyville, Illinois, in 1889. Her dishwasher was a wooden tub with a wire basket in it - the dishes went in the basket, and rollers rotated the dishes. As a handle on the tub was turned, hot, soapy water was sprayed into the tub, cleaning the dishes. Cochran's machine was first shown at the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago, Illinois. At first, her machine was only bought by some restaurants and hotels. Cochran's small company was eventually associated with the KitchenAid company. The dishwasher didn't become widespread as a labor-saving machine until the 1960s.
The earliest-known compass dates from China, during the Han Dynasty (2nd century BC - 2nd century AD). This early compass was made from lodestone, a naturally-magnetic variety of magnetite ore. A spoon-shaped piece of lodestone was placed upon a bronze disk, and the lodestone always pointed north. This early compass was not used for navigation at first; it was used for divination (like Feng Shui), to determine fortuitous placement of buildings, etc.
Zacharias Janssen was a Dutch lens-maker who invented the first compound microscope in 1595 (a compound microscope is one which has more than one lens). His microscope consisted of two tudes that slid within one another, and had a lens at each end. The microscope was focused by sliding the tubes. The lens in the eyepiece was bi-convex (bulging outwards on both sides), and the lens of the far end (the objective lens) was plano-convex (flat on one side and bulging outwards on the other side). This advanced microscope had a 3 to 9 times power of magnification. Zacharias Janssen's father Hans may have helped him build the microscope.
Contact lenses are tiny removable lenses that are worn in contact with the eye (they rest directly on the cornea of the eye). Like glasses, they improve the wearer's vision. This type of lens was envisioned (but not actually made) by Leonardo da Vinci (around 1508) and later by René Descartes (around 1636-1637).

Contact lenses were invented and made in 1887 by the German physiologist Adolf Eugen Fick (1829-1901). He first fitted animals with the lenses, and later made them for people. These lenses were made from heavy brown glass and were 18-21mm in diameter. The lenses were improved by August Muller in 1889; he made lenses that corrected myopia (nearsightedness).

Plastic contact lenses were first made by the California optician Kevin Tuohy in 1948. Soft contact lenses (hydrophilic lenses) and gas-permeable lenses (which let oxygen pass through the lens and to the cornea) were invented in the 1970s.

The "lead" pencil (which contains no lead) was invented in 1564 when a huge graphite (black carbon) mine was discovered in England. The pure graphite was sawn into sheets and then cut into square rods. The graphite rods were inserted into hand-carved wooden holders, forming pencils. They were called lead pencils by mistake - at the time, graphite was called black lead or "plumbago," from the Greek word for lead (it looked and acted like lead, and it was not known at the time that graphite consisted of carbon and not lead).

In 1795, the Nicholas Jacques Conte (a French officer in Napoleon's army) patented the modern method of kiln-firing powdered graphite with clay to make pencils of any desired hardness.

For a more on the invention of the pencil, click here.

The cotton gin is a machine that cleans cotton, removing its many seeds. This device revolutionized the cotton industry. Previously, this tedious job had been done by hand, using two combs. Eli Whitney (1765-1825) was an American inventor and engineer who invented the cotton gin; he patented the cotton gin on March 14, 1794. The cotton gin made much of the southern United States very rich, but cotton plantation owners rarely paid Whitney for the use of his invention, and Whitney went out of business.
Jacques-Yves Cousteau (1910-1997) was a French undersea explorer, environmentalist, and innovator. In 1943, Cousteau and the French engineer Emile Gagnan invented the aqualung, a breathing apparatus that supplied oxygen to divers and allowed them to stay underwater for several hours. Cousteau traveled the world's oceans in his research vessel "Calypso," beginning in 1948. (Calypso was a converted 400-ton World War 2 minesweeper; it sank in 1996, after being hit by a barge in Singapore harbor). Cousteau's popular TV series, films and many books [including "The Living Sea" (1963), and "World Without Sun" (1965)] exposed the public to the wonders of the sea.
The candy called "Life Savers" was invented in 1912 by Clarence Crane, a chocolate maker from Cleveland, Ohio. His original Life Saver was a life-preserver-shaped peppermint candy called "Pep-O-Mint." Crane designed it as a summer candy - one that would not melt in the summer heat. He bought a pill-making machine to make the candies, and then punched a hole in the middle. Since they looked like little life preservers, he called them Life Savers. In 1913, he sold the rights to his candy to Edward Noble for only $2,900. Noble then sold Life Savers in many flavors, including the original peppermint. There are now 24 flavors; they are manufactured in Holland, Michigan.
Crayons were invented by Edwin Binney and Harold Smith, who owned a paint company in New York City, NY, USA. Binney and Smith invented the modern-day crayon by combining paraffin wax with pigments (colorants). These inexpensive art supplies were an instant success since they were first marketed as Crayola crayons in 1903.
The modern piano (the pianoforte) was developed from the harpsichord around 1720, by Bartolomeo Cristofori of Padua, Italy. His new instrument had a delicate pianissimo (very soft sound), a strong fortissimo (a very loud, forceful sound), and every level in between.

The first upright piano was made around 1780 by Johann Schmidt of Salzburg, Austria. Thomas Loud of London developed an upright piano whose strings ran diagonally (in 1802), saving even more space.

The crossword puzzle, a word game, was invented by Arthur Wynne in 1913. Arthur Wynne was a journalist born in Liverpool, England. Wynne wrote weekly puzzle for the US newspaper called the New York World. The first crossword puzzle by Wynne was a diamond-shaped puzzle that was published in the Sunday New York World on December 21, 1913. The first British crossword puzzle appeared on February 1922; it wass published in Pearson's Magazine.
The potato chip was invented in 1853 by George Crum. Crum was a Native American/African American chef at the Moon Lake Lodge resort in Saratoga Springs, New York, USA. French fries were popular at the restaurant and one day a diner complained that the fries were too thick. Although Crum made a thinner batch, the customer was still unsatisfied. Crum finally made fries that were too thin to eat with a fork, hoping to annoy the extremely fussy customer. The customer, surprisingly enough, was happy - and potato chips were invented!

For more information on George Crum and potato chips, click here.

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