Tuesday, September 18, 2007

innovations and inventions

innovations and inventions
The following is a collection of anecdotes about innovations and inventions I've collected over the years [writes David Swenson]. While persistence and the "scientific method" produce innumerable products, the real breakthroughs more often come from inspiration, accident, and discovering the exceptions to the rule. In the following examples, note how the products were developed from new conceptual frameworks. The second section cites some of the remarkable resistances to changes that were later overcome. A new section provides some interesting links.

In the 1960's at 3M, developers were trying to find a powerful glue. The chemist assigned to the project, Spence Silver, often experimented with variations in formulas--one resulting in a substance that would only weakly stick and could be easily pulled apart. He worked on it for ten years but despite improvements in its stickiness, it went undeveloped. In 1974 Arthur Fry, one of Silver's co-workers, was trying to make a bookmark stick in his church songbook and in a flash of recognition discovered the application: Post-It Notes. Silver later stated, "If I had thought about it, I wouldn't have done the experiment. The literature was full of examples that said you can't do this."

Oscar Levi Strauss saw the need for tough pants in the gold rush era of 1849 California. To respond to the miners' complaints that the knees wore out of regular pants he used tent canvas. The fabric was ordered from Nimes, France (de Nimes, or denims). An old miner named Alkali Ike complained that the pockets ripped off too easily when he stuffed his pockets with heavy tools. As a joke, Ike's pants were taken to a blacksmith and the pockets put back on with rivets. The idea worked so well that Strauss soon put them on all the jeans.

In 1762 a gambler named John Montagu had the habit of becoming overinvolved in card games and was reluctant to take breaks to eat. Prepared for such an event he brought slices of bread and meat and played while he ate. His invention was named after him (his formal title was the fourth Earl of Sandwich).

Scotsman Dunlop's first tire was not only inspired by the flexibility of a garden hose, it was a piece of garden hose wrapped around a wheel.

many more....