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Inventions Trivia

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M. R. Bissell had a china shop in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and was allergic to the dusty straw scattered on the floor after unpacking china from crates. So, he invented the first carpet sweeper in 1876 to clean up the mess and protect his sinuses.

The first plastic ever invented was celluloid. It came about as an alternative for billiard balls made from ivory.

Madame Alexander dolls were the creation of Beatrice Alexander Behrman, the daughter of Russian immigrants. Mrs. Behrman, whose father operated New York's first doll "hospital," started making dolls in 1923. Her creations soon became famous for their molded heads and limbs, lifelike eyes, rooted hair, and elaborate costumes. Mrs. Behrman sold the company to several New York investors in 1988, two years before she died at age 95. But America's first doll manufacturer has not compromised her high standard of quality and unique craftsmanship. Today, most of the company's manufacturing is still done in Harlem, New York, and more than 500,000 dolls a year are sold.

The first portable calculator placed on sale by Texas Instruments weighed only 2.5 pounds and cost a mere $150 in 1972.

Many hair sprays (which are really just adhesives for the hair) are made largely of cellulose, the major ingredient of the cell walls of plants. Ethyl cellulose adhesives dry quickly, do not remain tacky, and wash out with water.

The first practical can opener was developed many years after the birth of the metal can. Canned food was invented for the British Navy in 1813. Early cans were made of iron and weighed more than the food they held. Ezra Warner of Waterbury, Connecticut patented the first can opener in 1858. This first type of can opener never left the grocery store. A clerk had to open each can before it was taken away. William Lyman of the United States invented the modern can opener, with a cutting wheel that rolls around the rim, in 1870.

Marjorie Stewart Joyner became the first female African American patent holder when she patented her invention for setting hair in 1926. Distressed over how damaged the kinky hair of black women would often turn out after a visit to the hairdresser, and with a background in African American beauty culture, Joyner invented a permanent wave machine that allowed a hairdo to stay set for days.

The first product to have a UPC bar code on its packaging was Wrigley's gum.

Mark Twain once invented a trivia boardgame similar to Trivial Pursuit. He called it Mark Twain's Memory-Builder.

Mark Twain secured a patent in 1873 for a self-pasting scrapbook. A series of blank pages coated with gum.

Henry Tibbs patented the corncob pipe in 1878.

Henry Waterman invented the modern elevator in 1850. He intended it to transport barrels of flour.

Houses were first numbered in Paris in 1463. In Britain, numbering did not appear until 1708, where the system was first used on a street in London's Whitechapel area.

In 1656, Dutch inventor Christian Huygens, working independently, constructed the first pendulum clock. Pendulum clocks remained the most precise means of measuring time into the twentieth century.

In 1832, the Scottish surgeon Neil Arnott devised water beds as a way of improving patients' comfort.

In 1843, mathematician Ada Byron published the first computer programs. She based them on Jacquard's punch-card idea. Her programs were for the first general-purpose mechanical digital computer that had just been invented by Charles Babbage.

In 1871, David O. Snyder patented cement.

In 1875, the director of the United States Patent Office sent his resignation and advised that his department be closed. There was nothing left to invent, he claimed.

The first rubber heel for shoes was patented on January 24, 1899 by Humphrey O'Sullivan. O'Sullivan, an Irish-American, found that his rubber heel outlasted the leather heel then in use.

The first sewing machine was patented in 1846, by Elias Howe. When it didn't catch on, the now-broke Howe sold the patent to Isaac Singer for $2,000 in 1851.

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