Invention Success Stories

Liquid Paper

Divorcee Bette Nesmith Graham went to work as a typist in 1951 to support herself and her son. Unfortunately, she wasn't the greatest typist in the world and developed a white tempura paint to hide her errors. Using her kitchen as a laboratory and her garage as a factory, she created a much-needed product that other secretaries and office workers began to buy. While maintaining her employment as a secretary, she developed her business acumen. She then offered her product “Mistake Out” to IBM which turned it down. Impervious to failure, Ms. Graham changed the name of her product to “Liquid Paper” and kept marketing it out of her residence for the next 17 years. By 1968, she was making a profit. In 1979, the Gillette Corporation purchased Liquid Paper for $47.5 million plus royalties.

Duct Tape

Adhesive tape and masking tape was invented in the 1920's by Richard Drew of Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing, Co. What we know as Duct Tape was created and manufactured by the Johnson & Johnson Permacel Division in 1942. Medical adhesive tape was its predecessor. Duct Tape was first used to keep moisture out of ammunition cases. As it was waterproof, it was quickly referred to as “duck tape.” Additionally, the tape was manufactured using cotton duck, not unlike cloth medical tape. Ingenious soldiers started using the tape to quickly repair guns, Jeeps and even aircraft. After World War II, the tape found a home in the burgeoning housing industry serving to connect heating and air conditioning duct work together. The color was changed from the military olive drab to silver to match the ductwork and duck tape came to be “Duct Tape.” It started becoming a necessary household item during the 1970s when the partners at Manco, Inc. started offering retailers duct tape in convenient shrink wrap packaging.

Microwave Oven

The microwave oven did not come from developments within the kitchen appliance industry. Rather, its origins can be traced to World War II scientists who invented the magnetron, a tube that produces microwaves. Used to augment British radar, the magnetron's microwaves could detect Nazi warplanes on their way to bomb the British Isles . It was Percy LeBaron Spencer of the Raytheon Company who accidentally discovered that microwaves also cook food when he found radar waves had melted a candy bar in his pocket. Further experiments revealed that microwave heating could raise the internal temperature of many foods far more rapidly than a traditional oven. In 1967, Amana, a division of Raytheon, introduced its domestic Radarange microwave oven, starting a revolution in home food preparation.

Velcro

In the summer of 1948, Swiss mountaineer George de Mestral took his dog for a hike. Upon returning home, both he and his dog were covered with burrs, the plant seed pods nature designed to cling to animal fur to travel to new planting grounds. Overcome by curiosity, he examined one of the burrs under a microscope and noticed the small hooks that caused the burr to cling so tightly to the loops in the fabric of his pants. He decided to design a two-sided fastener, one side with stiff hooks and the other with soft loops. His goal was to rival the zipper. Through trial and error, he learned that when nylon is sewn under infrared light, if forms strong loops. Patented in 1955, he called his invention “velcro” a combination of the word velour and crochet. The inventor formed Velcro Industries and was soon selling sixty million yards of Velcro per year. Ultimately, he developed his invention into a multi-million dollar industry.

Kitty Litter

Edward Lowe was an entrepreneur who created a whole new product with his invention of cat box filler. He made the trademark Kitty Litter® a part of our lexicon. After serving in the Navy, Lowe worked in his family's industrial absorbent business. A neighbor, Kay Draper, asked for a replacement for the ashes she was using in her cat box. At that time, ashes from burned wood was marketed for use in cat boxes. The Drapers' cat was trailing ashy paw prints and she was hoping for a cleaner alternative. Ed Lowe suggested absorbent clay known as Fuller's Earth. She used it and loved it. In 1947, Lowe packaged the clay in 5lb bags marked as “kitty litter” for a local pet store. To develop demand, he convinced the store owner to display and give the product away. Soon, customers were willing to pay sixty-five cents per bag for more kitty litter. He later founded Edward Lowe Industries, Inc. to mass produce and distribute kitty litter products. In 1964, he created the Tidy Cat® brand of kitty litter. In 1984, biochemist Thomas Nelson invented the first clumping kitty litter. Mr. Lowe's innovative use of an industrial product “brought the cat indoors.”

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