Thomas Edison will forever be remembered for inventing the light bulb, phonograph and motion picture camera. Alexander Graham Bell will be remembered for the telephone. Nikola Tesla’s induction motor is still used in power tools, blow dryers and vacuum cleaners. His “teleautomotan” was the first remote-controlled robot, and his contributions to advancing alternating current helped make it the electrical system still in use today.
But there are plenty of inventions we take for granted and hardly consider who had a hand in their creation, let alone give thanks for their work. So what about those underrated inventions and their inventors who deserve to be remembered?
While defecating in perfectly good freshwater might not be something we should be doing, most people throughout the world couldn’t imagine getting rid of their bodily waste any other way. The flushing toilet is one of the few inventions with an initial design that has held up over centuries. Every time you flush the toilet, you should thank Sir John Harington for allowing you to do so.
For over 400 years the flushing toilet has provided the masses with a means of making their movements disappear. Sure, without the work of Thomas Crapper, who heavily promoted sanitary plumbing, there wouldn’t be a system in place to move those movements somewhere else. But the flushing toilet might be the most underrated invention and Sir John Harington the most underappreciated inventor in human history.
The modern refrigerator is the result of multiple inventions by multiple inventors, but Jacob Perkins took the design of Oliver Evans, who failed to build a working model, and built the first apparatus and means for producing ice, and in cooling fluids through vapor-compression refrigeration.
Where would we be without refrigeration? We’d still be dying from foodborne illnesses at immense rates. We would be exhausting our freshwater even faster than we are, and we’d be sweating our asses off, living without air conditioning. But we’d probably be thinner.
If you don’t have four-wheel drive and live in a place that experiences all four seasons, you probably have a set of tires specifically for winter, and you have Nokian Tyres of Nokian, Finland to thank.
Nokian is the northernmost tire manufacturer in the world, so it’s no surprise they were the ones to find a solution to transporting goods on unplowed roads covered with snow. The Kelirengas was the world’s first winter tire, designed with lateral grooves designed to grip the surface of the snow and making snow chains unnecessary.
For lighter, passenger vehicles, the Lumi-Hakkapeliitta was designed two years later so tourists could ski slopes otherwise unreachable. And for quite some time, there was no new advancement in winter tire production.
Then came Nokian’s Kometa in 1961 -- the first studded, snow tire. The studs significantly increased traction on icy roads. Now Nokian is working on a studded, snow tire with retractable studs that can be used all season, which could be the best thing to happen to cars since the invention of headlights.
Sørensen changed the marketing and advertising business with the advent of ad-blocking software. He changed the world wide web and the world, in fact. The way we consume everything will never be the same.
The Danish software developer was just a university student back in 2002 when he started work on the side project for Firefox. Now the AdBlock extension has been released for Mozilla Firefox (including Firefox for mobile), Google Chrome, Internet Explorer, Microsoft Edge (beta version), Opera, Safari, Yandex Browser, and Android.
Eventually, AdBlock will be forgotten altogether. Much of the advertising industry is already operating on the assumption that every consumer utilizes some form of ad-blocking software, and eventually they’ll be unable to subvert that software. Andrew Essex’s The End of Advertising: Why It Had to Die, and the Creative Resurrection to Come details the future of advertising thanks to Sørensen’s invention, and it’s much more beautiful than the ad-riddled century before it.
So the next time your ad-blocker blocks an ad, or your snow tires save your life, or you enjoy a cool drink or a pleasant movement, now you know the inventors who deserve to be remembered.
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The Post is a fine film. Meryl Streep is fantastic, as usual, and Tom Hanks is a believable Ben Bradlee, publisher of The Washington Post when the biggest threat to First Amendment rights of the free press was waged—until now, of course.
The Post’s subject matter—the publishing of the infamous “Pentagon Papers,” a Department of Defense study of the makings and escalation of the Vietnam War leaked by Daniel Ellsburg—doesn’t allow for the same suspense Watergate did for All the President’s Men. The Post is not a thriller in any means, but the drama is plentiful thanks to the film revealing the business side of the newspaper business.
Sure, the means of news distribution has changed mightily since the advent of the Internet, but newspapers were a low-margin business then and still are thanks to television. Truth-telling didn’t result in riches then, and it still doesn’t. But there’s more to business than money, and Katharine Graham recognized this as CEO of The Washington Post.
Graham, portrayed by the always fantastic Meryl Streep, who plays the part of a woman struggling to make it in a man’s world to perfection, is a timely character given the mass of allegations brought against men in Hollywood and other positions of power. Strong, female leads are finally becoming more common in Hollywood, and more and more women are ascending to positions of power in business and politics.
Graham got her job when her husband committed suicide, and members of her very own board believed she had no business running The Washington Post. She proved them all wrong, taking the company public and selling 1.294 million shares at a price of $26 per share. The starting price was reported as $24.50 in the film, however. Regardless, by the end of her tenure in 1991, shares were worth $888 each. That’s growth of 3,315 percent. She did it all despite an injunction being filed against The New York Times, to whom the “Pentagon Papers” were originally leaked, that forced The Times to cease publishing stories regarding the papers. The Post was subject to the same fate, but Graham published anyways.
Why did she publish? No members of her board recommended it. Only publisher Ben Bradlee, portrayed by Tom Hanks, wanted to publish, and even he wasn’t the reason Graham decided to do so. If you visit The Washington Post website today, you’ll find the mission statement is the same as it was in 1935, when Eugene Meyer wrote “The Seven Principles for the Conduct of a Newspaper." They are:
Graham decided to publish because of principles five, six and seven. The newspaper would not be fulfilling its duty to its readers if it knew the truth and chose to conceal it in the interests of business. And even if investors pulled out of the stock offering, which was their right if done so within seven days in the event of a “catastrophic event,” “the newspaper shall be prepared to make sacrifices of its material fortunes, if such course be necessary for the public good.” Graham was also willing to sacrifice a friendship. She was friends with Robert McNamara, former Secretary of Defense, but she nor the paper would be an ally or perceived as an ally to any special interest. This is why I subscribed to The Washington Post immediately after seeing The Post: because the newspaper still adheres to those same principles.
I’ve been exhausting my free online articles at The Washington Post long before I ever needed it to do my work. I used to be a journalist, and even when I was writing the news I was reading the news. Now I mostly write about the news, so I find myself exhausting my free online articles at The Post faster than ever. In the search for truth, I am most often led to The Washington Post—an American institution with the interests of Americans in mind, then and now.
The Post is a most timely film given the state of the union and threat to the First Amendment rights of the free press. Now we have White House representatives avoiding the press, with Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt surrounding himself with security, refusing to hold press conferences, and hand-picking interviewers who and news outlets that support his stance and the stance of the administration. Information coming out of the EPA comes in the form of press releases that best serve the goals of the White House—no questions allowed. The EPA is, in effect, writing the news as they see fit—a severe threat to the First Amendment rights of the free press to act as a check on the power of politicians. The EPA is acting like the public relations arm of the collective of corporations now running the EPA.
When politicians dictate news coverage, truth is unattainable and citizens are incapable of properly informing themselves. All the journalists in the world can’t uncover the truth if those in power refuse to answer questions or deflect the attention of the public to what they feel is newsworthy. But as long as there are brave whistleblowers and leaks of sensitive information, The Washington Post will sacrifice its business interests to serve the interests of America and Americans. It’s mission statement demands it.