How did an accident-prone wife inspire one of the most popular first aid products?
Her name was Josephine Dickson, the wife of Earle Dickson, a Johnson & Johnson employee. She was repeatedly cutting and burning herself while cooking. Her husband Earle brought home gauze and tape, which his company manufactured in sterilized form. But Earle found that Josephine’s dressings fell off regularly after they were applied. To help her treat her own wounds unassisted -- while he was at work -- Earle unrolled some surgical tape added squares of gauze to the tape at intervals, and then covered it with a thin fabric. Then rolled the tape and gauze back up. That way, Josephine could unwind the bandage and scissor off what she needed. When Dickson mentioned his creation to co-workers at Johnson & Johnson, they liked the idea and the BAND-AID® was born. It led to a successful career for Earle, who eventually became a vice president at Johnson & Johnson. Band-Aids were introduced in 1921, were pre-cut in 1924, sterilized by 1930, and manufactured in sheer vinyl by 1958.
Desperation inspired the first "free trial, no money down" offer.
In 1803, Connecticut clockmaker Eli Terry introduced wooden wheeled clocks, much like those produced in Europe's Black Forest. Terry was innovative - he made his clock parts interchangeable, and later replaced wooden wheels with brass ones. Even so, he found resistance to his clock innovations. Then, he came up with an inspiration, becoming the first American manufacturer to offer merchandise on a "no money down, free trial" basis. Terry discovered that farm families took advantage of this offer more than other customers did. They liked the clocks and tended to keep rather than return them. As a result, Eli Terry prospered. He later sold his business to Seth Thomas, who became famous as a quality clockmaker.
How did a sea cruise inspire the invention of the cash register?
Dayton, Ohio saloonkeeper James J. Ritty knew his bartenders were stealing from his moneybox, but since his was a cash business, he had no way of knowing how much he was losing. Their pilfering bothered him so much that it undermined his health. So he went on a sea cruise to Europe to recuperate. While aboard ship, he grew fascinated by a device that recorded the revolutions of the boat's propeller. It gave the captain an accurate record of the ship's speed throughout the day. That inspired Ritty to develop a machine to help him record saloon transactions throughout the day. On November 4, 1879, he patented Ritty's Incorruptible Cashier, the world's first mechanical cash register. He eventually sold his business and patent rights for $31,000 to a firm that became the National Cash Register Company, known years later as NCR.
What inspired a young American fur trader to invent frozen food?
In 1914, Clarence Birdseye was a 28-year-old American fur trader working in Labrador. One day, he noticed that fish caught when he was ice fishing would freeze stiff the instant they were exposed to the air. Yet, weeks later, when defrosted and cooked, they tasted almost fresh. That caused Birdseye to think, "Why not flash freeze other foods?" So the New Yorker began experimenting, and the "frozen foods" industry was born.
What marketing campaign did Vick's Vapo-Rub pioneer around 1912?
It started mailing samples to addresses with the label "occupant" - something all big consumer manufacturers eventually did. But Vick's was the first, in 1912. It started mailing samples into states west of the Mississippi, taking advantage of a new postal regulation that allowed mail to be delivered without residents' names. The "occupant" mailing technique was so successful that within the first 50 days, the Vick Chemical Company sent eight freight car loads of Vick's Vapo-Rub samples to 31 million consumers. Vick's was unorthodox in other ways too. It once marketed Vapo-Rub with the slogan "It's good for you. It's made by Presbyterians." The salve was developed by pharmacist Lunsford Richardson of Greensboro, North Carolina. His brother, by the way, was named Vic.
How did an Indiana newspaper inspire a famous cold remedy?
To keep winter colds away, reporters at the Elkhart Indiana Truth used to down a mixture of aspirin and bicarbonate of soda. Andrew Hubble Beardsley, son of Albert Beardsley, a partner at Elkhart's Miles Medical Company, heard about it. What impressed him most was that everyone at the Elkhart Truth seemed to have escaped the great flu epidemics of 1918 and 1927. So in 1931, Beardsley had a Miles chemist make him a tablet composed of aspirin, bicarbonate of soda and citric acid - and Alka Seltzer was born. Incidentally, two years later, in 1933, sales of Alka Seltzer skyrocketed. Why? Prohibition had ended and drinking began. Word got around that Alka-Seltzer was good for hangovers and Miles sales doubled every year for the next seven years.
What translation faux pas inspired a new name for a GM car?
If you do a straight literal translation of a word from one language to another, you might not communicate its true meaning. General Motors found that out in Latin America when it ignored Spanish idiomatic expressions. For example, when translated literally, GM's slogan "Body by Fisher" became "Corpse by Fisher." Worse yet, Chevy Nova's sales were disastrous when first introduced in Latin America. They didn't take off until GM changed the car's name from Nova to Caribe. The reason? In Spanish "no va" means "doesn't go." And few people want an automobile that "doesn't go" anywhere.
How did a President's back problems inspire better tractor seats for farmers?
As a customer-focused company, John Deere has always tried to make its machinery more comfortable for operators. In the 1960s, after substantial publicity about President John Kennedy's back problems - and the braces and chairs he used to alleviate his pain - the company hired Dr. Janet Travell who treated the President. Travell worked with John Deere engineers to design a revolutionary new tractor seat. One that better supported farmer's backs while operating Deere equipment. Likewise, the Lockheed company hired Travell to help it design more comfortable, supportive seats for airplanes.
What famous camera brand started out selling automobile headlights?
Sometimes the concept is right, but the application needs to be worked out. As an 18-year old undergraduate at Harvard, Edwin Land experimented with light waves. In 1928, he discovered a method for polarizing light, a method that canceled rays from light beams unless the rays were traveling on a single plane. Essentially, he came up with a way to eliminate glare. In 1937, he founded the Polaroid Company and tried selling windshield sun visors and headlights to Detroit. But when automakers discovered his polarized plastic sheets deteriorated in heat, they rejected him. To survive, Polaroid applied his idea to something else, sunglasses with polarized lenses. Business boomed during World War II, when Polaroid supplied the U.S. military with goggles, glasses and filters. Then, after the war, Edwin Land invented an instant camera -- and Polaroid found its niche.
What airline began as a crop dusting experiment?
Delta. When the boll weevil was ravaging Southern cotton fields in the 1920s, the Delta Company dusted fields with pesticides. One of its pilots, C.E. Vollman, was an agricultural agent, who saw a great future for the company, and later became its president. By 1929, Delta had transformed itself into a passenger airline. And in 1945, Vollman became company president. The former agricultural agent presided over Delta's expansion until he died in 1966.
What appliance brand first made horse-clippers and sheep-shears?
The brand is Sunbeam. And it traces its beginnings to the 1890's, when John Stewart and Thomas Clark started out making mechanical horse-clippers in Chicago. By the turn of the century, they had a solid business making horse-clippers, sheep-shearing machines, industrial furnaces and flexible shafts for grinders and drills. But because the Chicago Flexible Shaft Company was exposed to agriculture's seasonal ups and downs, they were inspired to add a year-round product category - home appliances. Their first was an electric iron, introduced in 1910. A decade later, in 1921, they began branding their home products with the name "Sunbeam." By 1946, they adopted Sunbeam as the company name. Sunbeam went on to innovate, producing the world's first electric frying pan in 1953, the first women's electric razor in 1955, and the first portable hair dryer in 1956. Today Sunbeam remains a major appliance brand.
How did the U.S. military inspire the development of instant coffee?
Maxwell House developed it in 1942 for the US armed forces. During the Second World War, the government wanted an efficient way to get coffee to American troops overseas. It turned to General Foods, whose Maxwell House brand experimented with soluble coffee. The experiment worked, and the coffee was included in soldiers K-rations for the duration of the conflict. After the war, General Foods introduced the product to consumers as Instant Maxwell House Coffee.
How did rice help launch a Japanese appliance giant?
Sometimes, one success leads to another - even in very different industries. Panasonic's first product wasn't a radio, stereo or television. It was an electric rice saucepan that revolutionized Japanese cooking. It launched the Panasonic empire for Konosuke Matsushita who started his electrical business in 1918 with a $50 investment in electrical adapter plugs. The Panasonic rice saucepan was Japan's first low-priced Japanese electrical cooking appliance. And it obviously led to many other things.
What automobile brand got its logo from a wallpaper design?
You can find inspiration virtually anywhere. Take Chevrolet's first logo. It wasn't conceived in a design studio - it was a rip off. Literally ripped off the wall of a hotel room. The rectangle superimposed on a parallelogram was discovered by General Motors founder William Durant. He saw it in a wallpaper pattern in his French hotel room and was so taken by it that he took a piece of wallpaper home - ripping his sample right off the wall. As for the Chevrolet name, it was borrowed too, from one of the most famous racecar drivers of the time. Driver and car designer Louis Chevrolet and Will Durant co-founded the Chevrolet Motor Car Company early in the 20th century. Chevrolet's name is one of the earliest examples of a celebrity product endorsement. And ultimately, the product outlived its namesake. By the way, in case you never head of Louis Chevrolet, he competed in the Indianapolis 500 four times and his brother won the race in 1920.