The Relatively Unknown Makers Behind Everyday Items We All Take for Granted

It’s likely that today, you may have started the dishwasher, checked your home security system, packed a sandwich, put a ballpoint pen in your pocket, wiped the rain off your car with the windshield wipers, paused at a traffic light, and sat down at a keyboard. But who are the makers behind these everyday inventions we take for granted?

There are dozens of relatively unknown inventors, and their inventions have absolutely changed the landscape of modern life. Today, we’re going to share their stories in our list of unknown inventors that changed the world.

The Relatively Unknown Makers Behind Everyday Items We All Take for Granted Infographic


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The QWERTY Keyboard

Invented by Christopher Latham Sholes (1876)

The Wisconsin-based newspaper editor and printer developed a piano-like typewriter that was prone to jams. He and colleagues played with the placement of each letter for years to prevent such breakdowns, until E. Remington and Sons adjusted his design into the modern QWERTY layout.

The Dishwasher

Invented by Josephine Cochrane (1886)

Cochrane is one among a list of female inventors who invented handy tools long before women could even vote! Designing her model in her shed in Illinois with the help of her friend George Butters, the wealthy woman wanted to create a dishwasher that would clean her china fast enough to let her host more parties. And which invention debuted at the Chicago world’s fair in 1893? It was Josephine Cochrane’s handy dishwasher, which used water pressure rather than scrubbers.

Toilet Paper Rolls

Invented by Seth Wheeler (1891)

While Joseph C. Gayetty sold the first packaged toilet paper in medicated sheets, the modern roll is the invention of Albany, NY’s Seth Wheeler. (People have hotly debated the “over” or “under” rule of how to hang a roll of toilet paper, but the original design is “over.”)

Windshield Wipers

Invented by Mary Anderson (1903)

The single Alabama native didn’t drive. She invented the wipers after being stuck in the back of a streetcar when it was snowing in NYC, watching the driver get out and repeatedly wipe off the windshield.

The Traffic Signal

Invented by Garrett Morgan (1923)

Morgan is among the top African-American inventors for creating something so ubiquitous and useful. The Cleveland native created the three-position traffic signal after witnessing a horrible accident.

“Surgical Dressing” (aka the Band-Aid)

Invented by Earle Dickson (1926)

Earle’s wife Josephine frequently cut and nicked herself, and he wanted to create strips of tape and gauze that would help her heal faster. She thought it was absolutely brilliant and insisted he show it to his boss — James Johnson (of Johnson & Johnson). Among small, useful inventions for everyday life, the Band-Aid has stuck around for quite a long time.

Adhesive Tape (aka Scotch Tape)

Invented by Richard Drew (1930)

The banjo-player-turned-engineer’s first attempt at painters’ tape was an utter failure. One of the painters said to take the tape “back to those Scotch bosses of yours” (meaning stingy). The tape improved, and the name stuck.

Bread-Slicing Machine

Invented by Otto Frederick Rohwedder (1932)

The phrase “the best thing since sliced bread” is not as old as one might think! Rohwedder created the commercial bread-slicing-and-wrapping machine, but he was forced to sell the rights during the Great Depression, after which the Wonder Bread brand took off.

The Bendable Straw

Invented by Joseph B. Friedman (1937)

Friedman also made improvements to the fountain pen and optometry, but the Flexible Straw Corporation was his biggest success, thanks to his sister, Betty Friedman, who was in charge of sales and distribution.

The Ballpoint Pen

Invented by László József Bíró (1945)

While John J. Loud invented a ballpoint pen that was too rough to work on letters 50 years earlier, the Hungarian Jewish journalist received the patent for the first commercially successful ballpoint pen before fleeing the Nazis during World War II.

Pull-Tab Soda Cans

Invented by Ermal C. Fraze (1967)

He’s among the lesser-known American inventors, but his products can now be found around the world. About 150 billion cans have his patented easy-open can tops. He came up with the idea after he was forced to open a beer with a car bumper at a family picnic.

Home Security System

Invented by Marie Van Brittan Brown (1969)

The Queens, NY, native worked as a nurse while her husband Albert worked as an electronics tech. They had irregular hours, so she was frequently home alone and felt unsafe. Her patent used television surveillance and remote controls.

X-Y Position Indicator for a Display System (aka the Computer Mouse)

Invented by Douglas Engelbart (1970)

After realizing all he really wanted was “a steady job, getting married, and living happily ever after,” he reasoned that he should focus on making the world a better place, and he thought computers might be the way. DARPA funded his research, but he never received any royalties for the invention of the mouse.=“Rollaboard” Luggage

Invented by Robert V. Plath (1991)

The Northwest Airlines pilot working out of a garage in Florida changed the art of trekking through airports forever.

Spinning Toy (aka Fidget Spinner)

Invented by Catherine Hettinger (1997)

It’s hard to go anywhere without seeing a rack of fidget spinners at the check-out counter! But the Florida-based inventor has not made a penny off of the modern fad, since she could not afford the $400 fee to renew her patent in 2005. “But for me, I’m just pleased that something I designed is something that people understand and really works for them.”

We hope you liked our list of inventions that changed the world from awesome and little-known makers. While some stories have happy endings and some have sad, it’s clear that many on our list hoped to make the world a better place, and they did. Open yourself up to the potential of making and discovering new things!