Ever wonder who thought up air conditioning and electric irons? Here are six household items that most DIYers couldn't live without -- and the innovative Americans who invented them.
Imagine a world without power tools. Or a home without air conditioning -- or even an electric fan. Think of all the things we take for granted in an age when DIYing has become so accessible. How could we build cabinets without the invention of screws? Or measure and mark at the same time without a spring-loaded tape measure?
So as we prepare to celebrate Independence Day, I decided to explore the story of DIYing in America.
How did all these household products, materials, and tools come about? And who were the people who dreamed them into existence? Here's what I discovered:
1. Spring-Loaded Tape Measure
Connecticut resident Alvin J. Fellows
was clearly ahead of his time. Although an earlier model of the modern tape measure had already been invented in England, this American kicked it up a notch in 1868 by encasing the tool in plastic and attaching a spring clip to lock the measuring tape in place until it's released. But the spring tape measure -- clearly an indispensable product that's stood the test of time -- didn't outsell the wooden ruler until the 1940s.
2. Air Conditioner
Back in 1902, a New Yorker named Willis Carrier had just graduated from Cornell University and found a job at a printing plant, where the heat and humidity were getting in the way of paper production. They needed a way to prevent the paper dimensions and ink alignment from warping. Carrier decided to rise to the challenge (talk about a loyal employee!) and wound up inventing the air conditioner
3. Electric Iron
There was once a time when people had to work up quite a sweat to get wrinkles out of their clothes. Then, in 1882, a Kentucky resident, Henry W. Seely
, invented the electric iron. The first electric iron weighed in at a whopping 15 pounds
(I would have just lived with the wrinkles.) Thankfully, future DIYers improved upon that initial burst of genius!
In the late 1800s, one woman just got tired of doing her dishes by hand. So Josephine Cochran decided to take action, and debuted her bright idea -- the dishwasher -- at the 1893 World's Fair
. You'd have thought the machine would make a splash among other frustrated homemakers. But instead, it was received primarily by by hotel and restaurant owners. Granted, Cochran's invention was a mechanical, hand-operated device. But the determined DIYer didn't give up; she eventually started a company to develop her idea of a machine that washes dishes. That company became KitchenAid
5. Phillips Screw
Have you ever wondered why there are two types of screws -- slotted and Phillips? The answer has to do with our country's industrial revolution. Machines that were designed to drive screws were having trouble aligning properly; it was hard for a machine to drive a thin wedge perfectly into a narrow slot each and every time. J.P. Thompson, an Oregon inventor, stepped up to the plate with his idea for a cruciform-slotted screw that's a whole lot easier for a machine to center on. He presented his idea to businessman Henry Phillips
, who patented what is known today as the Phillips screw.
6. Circular Saw
Think all power tools were invented by burly handymen? Think again. The circular saw was actually conceived in the early 1800s by a Massachusetts Shaker named Sister Tabitha Babbitt
. While watching the men exhaust themselves by sawing wood manually, Babbitt thought, there's got to be a better way. So she built a prototype of the circular saw; a "a toothed circular blade cut from a tin sheet and mounted to her spinning wheel
," according to the Washington Post. Her idea was adopted and brought to fruition by a local saw mill. But the modest Babbitt never applied for a patent. Why? It was against her religion
Interested in the learning the origins of your favorite household helper? Let us know in the comments, and we'll see if we can dig up some answers!