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Do You Know Who Invented These 20 Household Items?

By: Justin Chaplin
February 10, 2020

Have you ever wondered who invented common household items that wind up on your apartment checklist? What did the world do before refrigerators, can openers, and toothbrushes? 

Necessity is the mother of invention, and nothing says necessary like all your favorite household products!

From the television to the alarm clock, here's a look into the inception of your favorite everyday household items and their inventors.

1. Television

Before we all watched Games of Thrones streaming from HBO onto our devices, the world was littered with televisions. Farmboy Philo Taylor Farnsworth invented the world's first electronic television at age 21. However, there was already an idea involving a TV that worked mechanically. 

Before television, the world was listening to the radio and reading books. We were also talking to one another without the need for texting. I’d like to think we still used emojis in our handwritten letters.

2. Vacuum Cleaner 

John. S. Thurman invented a presumably smelly, gasoline-powered cleaner. It was so big it had to be horse-drawn and somehow cleaned by blowing the air. 

In 1901, Hubert Cecil Booth and John T. Kenney used similar technology to create the more modern vacuum we use today. This duo gets bonus points because we don't have to gas up our vacuums every week.

Before vacuums, you could take out your bad day at work on your rugs. People dragged them outside, beat them, and spot cleaned them with soap and water. 

3. Coffee Maker

Don't panic when you hear the news. But there was a time that the coffee maker didn't exist. 

Thankfully, Melitta Bentz invented the first drip coffee maker in 1908. That paved the way for us caffeine addicts of today.

If you didn't have a coffee maker, you could always roast the beans yourself on an open fryer to roast them. Then, you can heat up a pot of water. Just think, the world was ahead of its time and creating limited-edition coffee brews.

4. Cast Iron Skillet

Abraham Darby patented a method that involved casting iron onto pots and kettles in 1707. Thanks to Darby, we can make great-tasting fried chicken and brag-worthy kimchi hash right in our apartments.

But did Darby know the big secret about cast iron cooking? Keep seasoning your cast iron skillets before cooking to get the best flavor. 

5. Can Opener

Ezra J. Warner invented the first US can opener in 1858. However, Peter Dunard in England secured a similar patent decades prior. Oddly, the tin can itself was developed some 50 years prior.

So how did you get into those sardines and baked beans? The cans were so thick and durable that people hammered them open to get inside.

6. Toilet Paper

There's some gray area when it comes to who invented toilet paper. I'm pretty sure people figured out they needed some form of toilet paper the moment humankind came into existence. 

However, Joseph Gayetty is credited with being the inventor of the modern toilet paper in 1857. It was later mass-produced and sold in flat sheets watermarked with his name. Everyone knew who to thank when they reached for that toilet paper! 

7. Air Conditioning

In 1902, a 25-year-old engineer named Willis Carrier decided someone had to control the humidity in the printing plant where he worked. He invented the air conditioner. The process involved pushing air through water-cooled coils.

Everyone else probably gave him high-fives and mad props for creating something that made factory jobs a little more comfortable. Before air conditioners caught on, everyone just dealt with the heat and tried to create as much shade as possible.

8. Refrigerator

The first artificial refrigeration device dates back to the mid-1750s. However, the first refrigerators for home use weren't invented until 1913. 

I'm torn between being psyched apartment parties have cold drinks because of that invention and annoyed the fridge needs cleaning far too often.

Before the fridge came on the scene, people used iceboxes that required regular delivery of a large ice block to keep an apparatus that looked like a small wooden armoire cool. People were also savvy and spent more time preserving food by salting, spicing, pickling, and trying to keep their food from spoiling.

9. Microwave

World War II's radar technology did more than help soldiers see images for hundreds of miles. It also paved the way to reheat our food. 

Engineer Perry Spencer is credited with inventing microwaves. People called them the Radarange in 1946. 

Before the microwave, people just reheated their food on the stove or relied on the toaster oven. Microwave dinners also weren't a thing. That forced us to get off the couch and cook more.

10. Toaster

It turns out we weren't the first to think of burning clever decorations into our toast. Toasting devices and decorative detailing emerged in the early 19th century. However, it was Alan MacMasters of Scotland who brought us the electric version in 1893.

However, sliced bread wasn't invented until 1928. People had to slice their own bread by hand and make sure it fit into their toaster if they wanted to warm it up.

11. Toothbrushes

The modern toothbrush was invented in 1938. But don't worry, our great-grandparents didn't invent dental hygiene. 

Ancient civilizations used a chew stick. There was a bristle version of the toothbrush that was invented in China in 1498. These stiff, coarse hairs were taken from a hog's neck. 

We later used boar bristles and adopted the modern, nylon fiber toothbrush after World War II. The US was inspired by the hygiene habits of soldiers taking preventative measures with their health and adopted the practices.

12. Soap

Have you noticed how so many household items appeared in the last 100 years? You can breathe a sigh of relief that soap has been around for centuries. Ancient Babylonians decided to clean up and invented soap that they made from animal fats, wood ash, and water.

More recently, we made soap by mixing animal fats with abrasive lye. That likely didn't do much for our complexions. 

Today, we use fats and alkali to clean up. We have an endless selection of soap, face wash, and scrubs to choose from.

13. Brita

We all know you don't get your Adulting license until you get a Brita product. Invented in 1970 by Heinz Hankammer, the Brita Filter optimized tap water for the masses.

Brita still relies on modern filtration to make sure your water is clean. It can't clean everything out of your water. 

Water filtration existed as early as 500 BC when Greek scientist Hippocrates invented a cloth called the Hippocratic Sleeve to filter water. However, more water systems and aqueducts appeared to help the taste of water, not so much the sanitation.

14. Iron

Historians believe pressing heated metal on clothes originated in China. Back in the day, we had to heat a piece of iron with a handle and press it on our clothes. That made for a long and laborious process. 

Fortunately, Henry W. Seeley invented the modern electric version in 1882. We've all been looking wrinkle-free on our neighborhood pub crawls ever since.

15. Toilet Brush

William C. Schopp graced the world with the modern toilet brush in 1932. I have so many feels about this information. But my biggest question is, "Why did it take someone so long to invent this one?"

Before the toilet brush, we cleaned toilets about the way you would fear: with rags and cleaner. It's a safe bet someone wrapped up their toilet rag on a stick to avoid touching the water.

16. Blow Dryer

Women were getting their hair dried and set during the late 19th century with a stationary hairdryer that Alexander F. Godefroy invented. It was big, impractical, and didn't do much to circulate the air on your head. But women loved it.

The handheld version came out in 1920. Now we all look like we just woke up this way. Hair and fashion experts say we didn't have long, flowing hair that's always Instagram-ready before hairdryers caught on.

17. Alarm Clock

Levi Hutchins invented the first alarm clock in 1787. It only rang at 4 a.m. to wake him up for his job. 

In 1847, French inventor Antoine Rédier thought the world deserved to wake up later than 4 a.m. He patented an adjustable arm version. 

My guess is we were either all farmers rising with the sun before alarm clocks or all rolled into work an hour late every day. 

18. Curtains

Leave it to the Egyptians to be hip enough to invent curtains in 3,100 BC to dress things up and help control the temperature. The curtains were made from animal hides and hung across doorways, and anywhere else, with hooks.

Despite the Egyptians’ innovations, they didn't get around to inventing the curtain rod. Instead, Samuel R. Scrottron came up with the first version in 1892. However, they didn't catch on until the 1920s.

19. Crock-Pot

Instapot may give the Crock-Pot a run for its money, despite its long history and religious roots. Irving Nachumsohn invented the Crock-Pot in 1940 to cook up cholent, a traditional Eastern European stew people eat on the Sabbath.

Today, slow cooking is practically a revolution. There are untold volumes of Crock-Pot recipes that extend past the Sabbath and make you look like a culinary genius come dinnertime!

20. Garbage disposal

Before 1927, the world somehow made do without garbage disposals. John W. Hammes invented the first disposal. He got his product to the market in 1940, making kitchen clean-up a little easier for everyone. 

However, some areas outright banned the joy of garbage disposals. That included New York City. Until 1997, you couldn't install a disposal at the fear of damaging an aging sewer system. 

Many apartments still don't offer them, nor will landlords always allow you to install one.

Ready to take a look around your apartment and get inspired? Someone, please invent an instantaneous apartment cleaner that won’t judge your mess.

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