Persistent inventors


Great inventions have not always received immediate public acceptance. In fact, in many cases, the people who invented them have been treated downright shabbily.

Take the case of Luther Crowell who, back in 1867, designed an item still in use today. His neighbors in Dennis, Mass., wanted nothing to do with Luther's bright idea.

In their defense, it should be pointed out that Luther had taken out patents on 256 other inventions, all of them failures. What was Luther's invention? He was the genius who had the idea for those snap-open square-bottomed paper bags at super markets. Plastic bags have been giving the snap opens competition in recent years, but they are still around.

Then there was Elias Howe, who invented the sewing machine back during the early years of the 19th century. Bankers used to snicker and laugh when he came in with his "silly idea." Women had been sewing things for centuries without Howe's ridiculous machine. Finally, in desperation, Howe wrote to an old friend who lived in another part of the country. He asked for a loan of $500, but did not mention why he needed the money. The friend sent the money.

Thus was the sewing machine launched. The rest, as they say, is history. Howe, it should be added, did pay his old friend back - with interest.

In 1834, Alonzo Phillips of Hartford, Conn., patented the first sulphur-dipped match. Until then, the flint was used to start fires.

Phillips's idea was considered dangerous. Hartford town fathers denounced matches. Stores would not sell them. The railroad refused to ship them. For a while, it appeared the flint was going to win out. Happily, in time, Phillips's brainstorm caught on, and soon matches were sold everywhere.

Chester Greenwood, a Farmington, Maine, resident, had sensitive ears. He invented the earlap, so he could go ice skating in the winter. All the other skaters laughed at him. Jokes were made behind his back.

Chester had the last laugh though. He made a fortune with his earlaps. He took out a patent on them in 1873.

How times have changed!

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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