By Guest Blogger Joy Bennett
As with all post-war periods, prosperity reigned, and wartime scientific breakthroughs were adapted to civilian and commercial use. A lot of these innovations were focused on making domestic life easier, and providing entertainment for leisure time. Many of these inventions are still used today!
The Electric Automatic Traffic Signal
In 1923, Garrett Morgan submitted a patent for an electric automatic traffic signal. He was the first African-American to own a car in Cleveland, Ohio. His design used a T-shaped pole unit with three positions. There was Stop and Go, and a light that signaled all vehicles to stop to clear the intersection. Morgan sold the rights to his traffic signal to General Electric for $40,000. According to government records, the United States had roughly 300,000 traffic lights installed in 2018.
During the WWI, Clarence Birdseye of Brooklyn lived in Labrador, Canada, where he learned about the customs of the Inuit indigenous people, who would go ice fishing, and then let their fish freeze in the frozen air. When they took the frozen fish back to camp to cook, it tasted fresh! In 1920, Birdseye returned to living in the US, working with fishermen. He discovered that large amounts of freshly caught fish spoiled before it could make it to stores and consumers. He decided to apply the freezing concept to the fish, and founded a frozen-fish company in New York in 1923. There had been frozen food available for quite a while, but these items were slowly frozen, and lost flavor and texture. The fast freezing kept the food’s integrity, and caused less spoilage, and caused more food to reach consumers away from the coast! Eventually, this technique was applied to more than just fish, as evidenced by the Birdseye brand frozen vegetables still available in grocery stores today.
In 1920, Johnson & Johnson employee, Earle Dickson, invented the adhesive bandage for his wife Josephine, who often cut herself while cooking in the kitchen. The adhesive bandage allowed her to dress her own foods without the help of another person. The bandages worked, and Johnson & Johnson began to produce and market the product known as the “Band-Aid” in 1924.
A new sport was created in 1922 by Ralph Samuelson, known as water skiing. Strapping a pair of boards on, and using a clothesline as a tow rope in Lake Pepin, Minnesota, Samuelson’s brother pulled him on a boat, reaching 20 MPH speeds. He worked hard to develop the technique that seemed to work best. Samuelson spent the next 15 years travelling the country teaching people techniques in water skiing.
The first electric blender was developed in 1922 by Stephen J. Poplawski. He devised the machine for his business Stephen’s Tool Company, after being hired by Racine, Wisconsin’s Arnold Electric Company, who wanted him to create a machine specifically for making malts and milkshakes at soda fountains. In 1926, Stephen’s company was bought out by Hamilton Beach, where Poplawski continued to work.
In 1924, 16-year-old Lionel Sternberger was working in his father’s Pasadena, California sandwich shop, when he decided to add a slice of American Cheese on top of a plain hamburger. He thought it was delicious, and so did his father, and the cheeseburger was born! Granted, they called it a “cheese hamburger” so maybe it wasn’t quite a cheeseburger yet. It wasn’t until the 1930s, that the term cheeseburger made it onto the menu of a restaurant.
Regular eyeglasses have been around quite a while, but the sunglasses that we sport regularly were not always ready at souvenir stands everywhere. In 1929, Sam Foster invented what would become the modern sunglasses. A plastics manufacturer that also worked with celluloid, Foster began marketing his “Foster Grant” sunglasses on the boardwalk at Atlantic City, New Jersey. People began buying them like hotcakes to protect their eyes from the sun while visiting the beach. The glasses also soon became fashion statements when Hollywood Stars began to be photographed wearing them.
All of these products are still in use today, and all were amazing inventions. Which are your favorite?
Joy Bennett is the Curator and Archivist of the Hancock Historical Museum, and has worked there for nearly 9 years. She graduated from Bowling Green State University in 2011 with Masters degrees in 20th Century American History and Public History. She loves the history of fashion, classic movies, and reading.