This daily guide to memorable inventions and discoveries comes from Wired magazine’s popular blog “This Day in Tech.” The book covers a wide range of subjects, including medicine, computers, food and war. Each article is short (one page) and concise. The daily entries also mention two other discoveries made on the same day, as well as two discoveries made in the same year.
I found most of the articles to be entertaining and informative, the perfect material to use at your next cocktail party. For instance, I thought it was interesting that on November 11th, 1930, Albert Einstein applied for a US patent for one of the few commonplace inventions of his life, a refrigerator that used a complex process involving ammonia, butane and water. It was exceptional because it didn’t use freon or electricity, but it was not nearly as efficient at cooling as standard refrigerators of the time, so it never became a commercial success. Modern researchers have tweaked his formula and have been able to increase the cooling capacity of his refrigerator, so the verdict is still out on Einstein’s fridge.
Some of these inventions didn’t catch on right away with the public. Sylvan Goldman of the Humpty Dumpty supermarket chain in Oklahoma City came up with one of the first grocery carts on June 4, 1937. He wanted to make it easier for his customers to carry their groceries, and at the same encourage them to buy more, but the public initially resisted using them. Women thought they were unfashionable and men feared that using them would make them look weak. So he hired male and female models to push them around in his supermarkets, and before long the grocery carts became a huge success.
Some of these inventions had unintended uses that became much more popular with the public. My favorite one in this category involved a Dr. John Kellogg, a strict Seventh-Day Adventist who taught the importance of a healthy diet to his mostly wealthy patients at his sanitarium in Michigan. He came up with bland cornflakes as a way for his patients to achieve a balanced diet. But his brother Will saw a different opportunity by adding lots of sugar to those cornflakes and, with lots of marketing savvy, the Kellogg cereal company quickly became a big business. John of course was very unhappy with the way his brother Will was using his cornflakes, and he sued him in court and lost.
Most of these articles can be found on “This Day in Tech” blog on wired.com. The online versions are slightly longer than those in the book, with larger pictures and text size, so they are easier to read. The online stories aren’t indexed, though you could try a Google search for “This Day in Tech” and the title of the entry you want to read. I enjoyed reading these both online and in print, so I would encourage others do the same.
Search the WRL catalog for Mad Science