In today’s fast-paced world, we tend to take things for granted. Products and devices that would have been magical not so long ago are commonplace and even expected. Sometimes, however, it’s good to ask ourselves where did this thing that I live with and use every day come from and how did such a small thing have such a big effect on the world?
Stuck Without the Sticky
Believe it or not, there was a time when kids had to tie their own shoe laces, when bags and pockets had to be closed with string or hooked metal fasteners, when things could only be secured together once before losing effectiveness. Luckily that all changed in the late 1940s with the invention of Velcro.
It only took a tiny piece of nature to inspire Swiss engineer George de Mestral. On a trip through the Alps, he noticed a tiny marvel of evolution that allowed the burdock burr to easily and securely attach to fur and fabric alike. Several years and many trials later he patented his invention, which has remained essentially the same for almost six decades, according to Velcro. While the Velcro Company has become so familiar it is often used to describe all hook and loop fasteners, the company prides itself on its product and image. Originally intended exclusively for fabric use, today it can be seen everywhere from garages and workshops to hospitals and military bases.
Big O, Little Ring
In an era where mechanical engineering is commonplace and familiar, it is easy to overlook the little things that make those marvels possible. The O-ring is both simple and elegant in its ability to allow two pieces of equipment to work together in ways never seen before its creation.
So what exactly is an O-ring? According to Apple Rubber, an O-ring is a simple, common seal used in a wide range of static and dynamic applications. Niels Christensen developed the product as he worked on creating better automobile brakes, and then patented it in 1937. This little engineering marvel was picked up in WWII by the military and mass produced on an impressive scale for plumbing, appliances, pumps, and valves. Today the O-ring can be found in everything from the common vacuum cleaner to the NASA space shuttle as well as the hydraulics in your car and the medical equipment in hospitals.
The Point of the Ball
As far as 5,000 years ago, our society has felt the need to write things down, according to a chart by Ancientscripts.com. Those early pictograms weren’t just vague ideas etched into clay or stone to be preserved throughout the ages. Over the years, languages have changed and grown, becoming more complex to survive in a changing world or dying away completely. No matter what, our desire to write down what we think and say has always been with us and as technology has improved, so has the instrument we use from chisels to charcoal to pencils to pens.
It took two Hungarian brothers by the name of Biro to see the need of an easy to use writing instrument that you didn’t need to fill and delivered a steady stream of ink as you wrote. Using their newspaper and engineering backgrounds, they eventually developed the now common ballpoint pen, explained About.com Inventors. Suddenly writing was readily available to the masses and popularity skyrocketed. Today, the BIC Crystal, a modern day version of that very first ball point pen, is purchased millions of times every day.
So what’s the point of all of this? It’s simple. Whether you’re an aspiring inventor or a lifelong engineer, you never know what kind of impact the smallest inventions can make on the world of the future.
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