Invention Trivia

InventHelp has put together this collection of invention trivia and fun facts for you to enjoy.

  • Q:

    What popular toy was originally created to aid in WWII?

    Faced with a rubber shortage during World War II, the U.S. government asked scientists to come up with a rubber alternative. In a GE lab, engineer James Wright attempted to create an alternative by mixing boric acid with silicone oil. He was so pleased with the end result that he threw some of the substance on the floor and discovered that it bounced. Wright conducted a multitude of tests on the substance and discovered that it could not only bounce when dropped, but stretch farther than regular rubber, didn't collect mold, and had a very high melting temperature. GE sent the new substance to engineers all over the world to try to find a practical use for it. After numerous tests, no one could not come up with a way to make the product useful. In 1949, the new creation caught the attention of toy store owner, Ruth Fallgatter, who contracted a marketer named Peter Hodgson. Hodgson offered a creative solution that proved to be invention trivia in the making. He purchased a large amount of the rubber, packaged it into plastic eggs, and sold it to children under the name "Silly Putty." Today, Silly Putty brand products are offered in over 15 different colors in the classic egg-shaped packaging.

  • Q:

    Who invented the seatbelt?

    Nils Bohlin, a Swedish Volvo employee, became the answer to an invention trivia question when he invented the three-point safety belt based on his experiences working in the aerospace industry. He noted that the human body endures incredible stresses during a high-speed crash, and that current restraining devices were uncomfortable and difficult to operate. After a year of testing and engineering, Bohlin reached the conclusion that straps across the chest and hips were the most effective way to restrain vehicle occupants. In addition, this invention enabled users to fasten the restraining device using only one hand. Bohlin is the 1995 recipient of a Gold Medal from the Royal Swedish Academy of Engineering Sciences and a member of the Automotive Hall of Fame.

  • Q:

    Was "Trivial Pursuit" always the popular game that it is today?

    Canadian inventors Chris Haney, Scott Abbott and John Haney created the board game in approximately 45 minutes. Michael Wurstlin, an unemployed artist, designed the board and logo for five shares in the company. The inventors spent four years trying to market their invention before it became successful.

  • Q:

    What did Marion Donovan use to create the prototype for the disposable diaper?

    Marion Donovan, a young mother during the baby boom era, was unhappy with messy cloth diapers that needed to be laundered, so she used a shower curtain to create the "Boater," a plastic covering for cloth diapers. A year later, she added a disposable absorbent material to the Boater design to create the first disposable diaper. Donovan received a negative response from manufacturers, who thought her invention would be too expensive to produce, so she went into business for herself. For related invention trivia about the disposable diaper, visit the Marion Donovan page from "Famous Women Inventors."

  • Q:

    Who invented earmuffs?

    Chester Greenwood invented earmuffs when he was just 15 years old. As he was ice skating, he wrapped his head in a scarf to protect his ears from the cold, but found this method too bulky and itchy. To solve the problem, Greenwood constructed two ear-shaped loops from wire and asked his grandmother to sew fur on them. He later patented an improved version, "Greenwood's Champion Ear Protectors," which featured a steel band that held the earmuffs in place. Greenwood established Greenwood's Ear Protector Factory and supplied earmuffs for U.S. soldiers during World War I. And here's some more invention trivia about Greenwood: he accumulated over 100 patents in his lifetime, including one for the steel-tooth rake. He has been named one of America's 15 Outstanding Inventors by the Smithsonian Institution, and his hometown of Farmington, Maine celebrates his achievements with a parade every December that features police cruisers decorated as earmuffs.

  • Q:

    Is it true that a Patent Office official resigned and recommended that the Patent Office be closed because everything that could be invented had already been invented?

    No, this oft-cited piece of invention trivia is pure fabrication. Research has indicated that this myth may have originated in Patent Office Commissioner Henry Ellsworth's 1843 report to Congress. In his report, he states, "The advancement of the arts, from year to year, taxes our credulity and seems to presage the arrival of that period when human improvement must end." It seems as though Ellsworth's comments were taken out of context, and he merely meant to emphasize the growing number of patents. He even suggested specific areas in which he expected to see increased patent activity.

  • Q:

    Who invented the ice cream cone?

    Italo Marchino, an Italian immigrant, produced the first ice cream cone in 1896 and was granted a patent in December of 1903. Although Marchino is credited with the invention of the ice cream cone, a similar idea was introduced at the St. Louis World's Fair in 1904. One very hot day, Charles Menches was selling ice cream in dishes, but there was such a demand for ice cream that he ran out of saucers before noon. After some quick thinking, Menches turned to his friend Ernest Hamwi for help. Hamwi was selling a Middle Eastern confection called Zalabia, which consists of a wafer-like pastry sold with syrup. Menches rolled the Zalabia and scooped ice cream on top.

  • Q:

    How did one grocery store owner give his business a boost?

    Walter H. Deubner noticed that his customers were only purchasing the items they were able to carry, so he began to brainstorm ways that would enable his customers to carry more merchandise. After four years, he developed the grocery bag. Inexpensive, easy to use, and strong enough to hold up to 75 pounds of groceries, the Deubner Shopping Bag was born.

  • Q:

    How did a baker inspire the invention of an outdoor toy?

    William Russel Frisbee, a baker, discovered a clever marketing tactic in the 1870s. He featured the family name in relief on the bottom of the light tin pans that contained his company’s homemade pies. The pies were sold throughout much of Connecticut, and sometime in the 1940s, Yale students began sailing the pie tins through the air and catching them. Ten years later, Walter Frederick Morrison, a flying-saucer enthusiast from California, designed a saucer-like disk for playing catch. The disk was produced by a company called Wham-O, and on a promotional tour of college campuses, the president of the company encountered the innovative Yale students. Shortly after, the disk was renamed the "frisbee."

  • Q:

    What chewy treat was originally produced using chicle from Mexican sapodilla trees?

    After failed attempts to turn chicle into toys, masks, rain boots and bicycle tires, Thomas Adams popped a piece of it into his mouth and enjoyed the taste. He decided to add flavoring to the chicle, and shortly after, he opened the world's first chewing gum factory. Adam's New York Gum went on sale in drug stores for a penny apiece in February of 1871.

  • Q:

    Who was the first woman to receive a U.S. Patent?

    The Patent Act of 1790 declared that any individual, male or female, was eligible to obtain a patent for an invention. On May 15, 1809, Mary Dixon Kies, a Connecticut native, received the first U.S. patent issued to a woman. She invented a process for weaving straw with silk or thread and was credited by First Lady Dolly Madison for boosting the nation's hat industry. Unfortunately, the patent file was destroyed in the Patent Office fire of 1836, along with all of the other patents issued up until that date.

  • Q:

    What popular invention was sold in order to pay off a debt?

    In 1849, Walter Hunt, an auto mechanic from New York, New York, invented the safety pin by twisting a length of wire. Hunt received a patent for his invention on April 10, 1849 and eventually sold the rights to his patent for $400 so he could pay a debt in the amount of $15. Hunt is also credited with inventing an early sewing machine, a new type of fountain pen and a new knife sharpener.

  • Q:

    What did the first coin-operated vending machines dispense?

    Introduced in London in the early 1880s, the earliest vending machines dispensed postcards. Richard Carlisle, an English publisher and bookshop owner, invented a vending machine around the same time that sold books.

  • Q:

    Where is the National Inventor's Hall of Fame?

    Created to recognize and honor successful inventors, the Inventors Hall of Fame was established in 1973 by the National Council of Patent Law Associations, now the National Council of Intellectual Property Law Associations, and the Patent and Trademark Office of the United States Department of Commerce. It is located in Akron, Ohio.

  • Q:

    How did graham crackers get their name?

    Graham crackers, invented in 1829, were named after their inventor, Sylvester Graham, a Presbyterian minister. He was an avid vegetarian who promoted the use of sifted and coarsely ground wheat flour for its high fiber content.

  • Q:

    John Spilsbury used his map-making skills to invent what leisure-time activity?

    John Spilsbury, an English engraver and mapmaker, invented the jigsaw puzzle in 1767. He attached a map of the world to a piece of wood, then cut out each country using a fine-bladed marquetry knife. Following its invention, educators used Spilsbury's puzzles to teach geography lessons.

  • Q:

    What commonly used product was originally made out of fish?

    The first patent for an adhesive was issued around 1750 for a glue made out of fish. Shortly after, patents were issued for adhesives made from natural rubber, animal bones, starch, milk proteins and casein.

  • Q:

    What type of cheese can be stored for up to a few years?

    "Easy Cheese," or cheese in a can, was invented by the Nabisco Company and is manufactured in Wrightstown, Wisconsin. It is real cheese that may be squirted out of the can, and it requires no refrigeration.

  • Q:

    When did the dishwasher become the labor-saving machine that it is today?

    Unfortunately, the first dishwasher, patented in 1850, was not very effective. The invention consisted of a hand-turned wheel that splashed water onto dishes. The first working automatic dishwasher was invented by Josephine Garis Cochran in 1889. Her machine featured a wooden tub that included a wire basket. Dishes were placed inside the basket, and rollers rotated the dishes. Hot, soapy water sprayed into the tub and cleaned the dishes as a handle on the tub was turned. Cochran first displayed her machine at the World's Fair in Chicago in 1893 and sold dishwashers to restaurants and hotels. In the 1960s, her company's affiliation with Kitchen Aid turned her invention into the time-saving, convenience-enhancing appliance it is today.

  • Q:

    What is Kevlar?

    Kevlar is a synthetic material that is five times stronger than the same weight in steel, and it will not rust or corrode. It was invented by Stephanie Kwolek through her research for the DuPont Company, and it was patented in 1966. Kevlar is used in the production of bulletproof vests, underwater cables, brake linings, space vehicles, boats, parachutes, skis and building materials.

  • Q:

    What does PVC stand for?

    Polyvinyl chloride, once thought to be worthless, has become the world's second-best-selling plastic. In 1926, Waldo Semon, an employee in the research department at the B.F. Goodrich Company, attempted to dissolve polyvinyl chloride to create an adhesive that could bond rubber to metal. His experiment failed, but he did discover a process that could plasticize polyvinyl chloride. Semon found that when polyvinyl chloride was heated in a solvent at a high boiling point, a flexible, elastic material resulted. He has received 116 U.S. patents.

  • Q:

    Who was the first African-American woman to receive a patent?

    Sarah Goode, owner of a Chicago furniture store, received a patent on July 14, 1885, making her the first African-American woman to accomplish this feat. She invented a folding cabinet bed to help individuals maximize a small living space. The invention resembled a desk and included compartments for stationery and writing implements.

  • Q:

    When was shampoo invented?

    Shampoo originated in England in 1877 and was derived from the Hindi word champo, meaning "to massage" or "to knead." Hairdressers were the first to make shampoo by boiling soft soap in soda water, but it did not come into popular use until after World War II.

  • Q:

    What invention did the most to increase summertime attendance at the movies?

    Air Conditioning. Before theaters had artificially cooled air, picture shows could get rather stuffy in the summertime heat. That is until inventor Willis Carrier conceived the idea for "controlled air" on a balmy night in 1902. The system he came up with was originally used in factories and schools, but it soon became standard at theaters – to the great delight of moviegoers.

  • Q:

    How did a mistake lead to the creation of America's favorite variety of cookie?

    In 1930, Ruth Wakefield was mixing a batch of cookies for her roadside inn guests when she discovered she was out of baker's chocolate. She substituted broken pieces of semi-sweet chocolate, expecting it to melt and absorb into the dough to create chocolate cookies. But the chocolate didn't absorb into the dough. When she removed the pan from the oven, Wakefield realized she had accidentally invented chocolate chip cookies. They were named "Tollhouse" after Wakefield's inn, and they remain the most popular variety of cookie in America.

  • Q:

    Who was the first U.S. President to ride a railroad train?

    On June 6, 1833, President Andrew Jackson stepped on a Baltimore and Ohio passenger coach – thus becoming the first president to ride a railroad train. President Jackson's historic ride took him twelve-miles from Relay to Mt. Claire Depot, MD. During this era, the railroad was just starting to be accepted. Before the Civil War, the railway system expanded significantly, and in 1869 it became possible to take a train from coast to coast. Advancements in the railroad industry made it possible for subsequent presidential candidates and administrations to move quickly and comfortably about the nation addressing crowds at all their stops. Thus was born the whistle-stop tour.

  • Q:

    What was the real innovation behind Tupperware?

    In 1942, Earl Silas Tupper invented Tupperware when he discovered that a certain kind of plastic could be injection molded into specific shapes. In 1946, he added the lids that gave Tupperware its trademark air- and liquid-tight seal. But the product didn't sell very well until Tupper met Brownie Wise. Wise sold Tupperware door-to-door and consistently had impressive results. When asked how she did it, Wise told of how she got groups of housewives together so she could demonstrate the product. These gatherings became known as "Tupperware Parties." This innovation earned Wise a promotion to Vice-President and the honor of being the first woman to make the cover of Business Week.

  • Q:

    Was Thomas Edison the first to receive a patent for the electric light bulb?

    No, he wasn't, but his documentation proved he was the first to invent it. Competitors had heard about his light bulb project and quickly applied for and received patents. Edison presented his extensive and detailed documentation in a lawsuit for patent infringement and won the case.

  • Q:

    Who received the first U.S. patent?

    On July 30, 1790, Samuel Hopkins obtained the first U.S. patent. However, some people confuse this Samuel Hopkins with another. The Samuel Hopkins who acquired the first patent was born and lived his entire life in Maryland. Yet another Samuel Hopkins who lived in Pittsford, Vermont and Pittsford, New York often receives credit for obtaining the first patent. To confuse things even more, two historical markers commemorating Samuel Hopkins for his place in patent history have been erected – in the two Pittsfords!

    The Samuel Hopkins who actually did acquire the first patent discovered a new method of producing potash – a crude form of potassium carbonate that is derived as residue when wood ashes are repeatedly boiled. It is an essential ingredient of glass, soap and gun-powder.

  • Q:

    Duct Tape is well known as one of the most versatile forms of tape, but what was its original name?

    "Duck" tape. Duct tape was originally created in 1942 for the military to seal ammunition boxes. Its waterproof qualities led to its name, Duck Tape, because it repelled water like ducks' feathers do. Following WWII, people used the versatile tape to connect duct-work in homes and buildings, and it eventually became known as "Duct" Tape.

  • Q:

    Was Alexander Graham Bell's invention of the telephone inspired by the hearing-impaired?

    Alexander Graham Bell's mother and wife both were hearing-impaired. Bell's grandfather was an authority on phonetics and defective speech, while his father was a world-renowned teacher of elocution. These influences led Bell to become a teacher of the deaf and to focus most of his intellectual interests on ways to make life easier for the hearing impaired. Bell taught elocution and his father's "Visual Speech" – a method of communicating with the deaf. Bell always considered himself an advocate of the deaf. In fact, Helen Keller dedicated her autobiography to him.

    Bell's inventive endeavors were usually related to acoustics. The invention of the telephone was based on Bell's work with his "harmonic telegraph." Using his knowledge of harmonics, Bell theorized that – like a musical chord – several messages could be sent over the same electrical wire at the same time if they differed in pitch. This work later led to transmitting voices over wire – the telephone.

    For his invention of the telephone, the French government awarded Bell the prestigious Volta Prize – an award given on only two other occasions. Bell invested the prize money [in one of his own inventions] and later established the Volta Bureau. Now known as the Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf, this institution has become an important international center for information for the hearing impaired.

  • Q:

    How long after the invention of canned food was the can opener invented?

    Peter Durand invented canned food in 1813. There was one problem – Ezra Warner didn't invent the can opener for another 45 years (1858). It's doubtful that the shelf life was that long, so why the delay between the two? Well, people were just following the directions on the can that read, "Cut round the top near the edge with a chisel and hammer"!

  • Q:

    What does the invention of White Out have to do with "The Monkees"?

    Bette Nesmith Graham invented "Mistake Out," the product that later became White Out®. She also had a hand in creating the 60's rock band, "The Monkees." After all, she is Michael Nesmiths's mom. Now we dare you to use White Out® again without thinking "Hey, Hey, we're the Monkees – We like to Monkey around"!

  • Q:

    What was Benjamin Franklin's most important invention?

    Benjamin Franklin's inventions and scientific experiments are well documented. Cases could be made as to which was his most important. Novelist Orson Scott Card proposed a somewhat different theory in his book Seventh Son of a Seventh Son, the first book in a fictional history set in early America. In it, a character known as Taleswapper recounts a conversation between himself and Franklin, during which he asks Franklin what he considers his most important invention. Franklin's fictional answer? "Americans." According to the theory, Franklin created Americans by helping people believe in the ideals that inspired American thoughts and actions.

  • Q:

    How did a man's distaste for pets lead him to create a million dollar fad?

    In a conversation with friends, Gary Dahl related that he didn't care for conventional pets like dogs and cats because they misbehaved and made messes, so he kept a pet that caused none of these problems – The Pet Rock. He and his friends got such a kick out of his idea that he wrote a Pet Rock training manual, bought some specialty rocks and boxed them up. His next stop was a gifts trade show where retail giant Neiman-Marcus purchased 500 units. In 1975 and 1976, sales took off. Dahl eventually sold more than a million units, but the fad quickly died out in 1977 since it was "so last year."

  • Q:

    What effect has Tony Soprano had on inventors?

    In an early episode of the HBO television series The Sopranos*, Tony Soprano (played by James Gandolfini) rants at the dinner table that Antonio Meucci is a prime example of how Italian-Americans "get no respect." Tony's claim? That Meucci, an Italian-American, invented the telephone long before Alexander Graham Bell. The humorous scene turned prophetic on September 25, 2001, when the 107th Congress of the United States of America passed House Resolution 269 stating: "Whereas if Meucci had been able to pay the $10 fee to maintain the caveat after 1874, no patent could have been issued to Bell: Now, therefore, be it Resolved, That it is the sense of the House of Representatives that the life and achievements of Antonio Meucci should be recognized, and his work in the invention of the telephone should be acknowledged."

    *Episode 8: "The Legend of Tennessee Maltisanti," written by Frank Renzuli and David Chase, Directred by Tim Van Patten; all references to The Sopranos and its characters ©HBO productions

  • Q:

    Everyone knows the Wright brothers were the first to build and fly an airplane, right?

    Or were they? The Wright brothers occupy the history books as the first to develop and operate a motor driven "heavier than air flying machine." They also received all the glory and fame for the feat. But there are those who believe that someone beat them to the punch. According to the August 19, 1901, Boston Transcript and New York Herald newspapers, Gustave Whitehead took to the air three times in his airplane "No. 21," which was shaped like an albatross. The date the papers recorded for the flights was August 14, 1901, more than two years before the December 1903 flights that made the Wright brothers household names.

  • Q:

    Is there a National Inventors' Day?

    On January 12, 1983, President Ronald Reagan dedicated February 11, 1983 (the anniversary of Thomas Edison's birth) to the creative and resourceful individuals who make up the pool of America's inventors. He called it National Inventors' Day "In recognition of the enormous contribution inventors make to the nation and the world." The President went on to write that the "key to our future success [as a nation] will be the dedication and creativity of inventors." President Reagan also "call[ed] upon the people of the United States to observe this day with appropriate ceremonies and activities."

  • Q:

    Who designed the American Flag?

    It's not Betsy Ross. The current flag was designed by a 17-year-old named Bob Heft. As part of a class project, he redesigned the flag to recognize Hawaii and Alaska. His teacher awarded him a "B-minus." Heft lobbied for a better grade, but the teacher said he'd only award an "A" if Congress accepted his design.

  • Q:

    What famous American Cookie takes its name from a small Massachusetts town?

    In the late 1800s, Charles Roser created a cookie recipe and sold it to the Kennedy Biscuit Works (which later became Nabisco). At the time, the Biscuit Works named products after nearby towns. In this case, the town was Newton, Massachusetts, and the cookie, of course, was the Fig Newton®.

  • Q:

    How were windshield wipers invented?

    On a snowy day in 1903, Mary Anderson was travelling in a streetcar. Every now and then, the conductor stopped to get out and clean the windshield. Anderson immediately set to work designing a device controlled from inside the car to clear the windshield. She received a patent for it in 1904. Since 1913, a version of her windshield wiper has been standard equipment on automobiles.

  • Q:

    When was television invented?

    Television broadcasts on a large scale began after World War II. However, television-broadcasting experiments were underway as early as the 1920s and broadcasts were available on a limited basis in the late 1930s. But the actual earliest known work occurred in 1837 when Sir William Crookes experimented with sending moving visual images over a distance.

  • Q:

    Who was the first U.S. President to sign a Bill establishing the American Patent System?

    On April 10, 1790, President George Washington signed the Bill that laid the foundations of the American Patent System. Since that time, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has issued patents for the electric lamp of Thomas Edison, the telephone of Alexander Graham Bell, the flying machine of the Wright brothers, and the inventions of countless other inventors. More than 6 million patents have been granted, and that number will likely double in less than 50 years.

  • Q:

    How was the toy train set invented?

    Joshua Lionel Cowen originally designed a miniature train set as a retail window decoration. When people asked to buy the train instead of the window merchandise, he decided to go into business selling train sets. In 1900, Cowen founded Lionel Toy Trains, which still produces the staple American toy.

  • Q:

    Why do we save our coins in "piggy banks"?

    During the Middle Ages, dishes and pots were commonly made of a clay called pygg, and the jars were often used to store spare coins. People called this their pygg bank or their pyggy bank. Hundreds of years later, people forgot that pygg referred to the clay. As a result, when nineteenth century English potters received requests for pyggy banks, they produced banks shaped like actual pigs.

  • Q:

    Which automobiles were the first to include air conditioning?

    Air conditioning in automobiles began as a luxury and was originally introduced in luxury cars. The first car that offered an optional air conditioning system was the 1940 Packard. Car buyers would have to wait another seventeen years before Cadillac made it a standard feature in its 1957 Eldorado Brougham.

  • Q:

    Who invented the first pea-less whistle?

    During a 1984 pre-Olympic Basketball game between Argentina and Brazil, referee Ron Foxcroft saw a foul and blew his whistle. But nothing happened! The pea in the whistle chamber malfunctioned, nearly causing the fans to riot. Foxcroft had to be protected by uniformed policemen. It was then that he decided to come up with a more reliable whistle. Now, almost two decades later, his Fox 40 whistle enjoys use by referees in all sports at all levels, including the NFL, NBA and NCAA, and it sells in more than 100 countries. Inventor Ron Foxcroft recently appeared at InventHelp's INPEX® Inventors University™, both as a speaker and as a sponsor.

  • Q:

    Ever wondered how telephone on-hold music and messaging were invented?

    Alfred Levy owned a factory next door to a radio station. In 1962, he noticed his telephone system's on-hold line was picking up the station's signal. He later discovered it was because an exposed wire came in contact with a metal girder. Instead of fixing the problem, Levy took the idea and ran with it. In 1966, Levy patented "Music On-Hold."

  • Q:

    Who invented the first automobile?

    Nope, its not Henry Ford. Actually, two Germans unknowingly teamed up to do so. Karl Benz created and patented the first automobile, while Gottlieb Daimler developed the first internal combustion engine. They both lived in Germany about 60 miles from each other and founded companies based on their inventions that still exist today. Amazingly, the two men were completely unaware of the other's invention. The companies they founded later merged in the early 20th Century, forming Daimler Benz, now Daimler Chrysler.

  • Q:

    How were potato chips invented?

    The answer: by a disgruntled resort guest and a testy chef. In 1853, at the now demolished Moon Lake Lodge in Saratoga Springs, NY, a guest ordered the new delicacy called French fries. The chef, George Crum, made them in the regular fashion and served them. The customer returned them claiming they were too thick. Crum made thinner fries and again they were returned. Aggravated, Crum made the next order of fries so thin that the customer would not be able to use a fork on them. Instead of being irked, however, the customer was delighted by the thin morsels " crispy potato chips " which he was happy to pick up in his fingers.

  • Q:

    How did one resourceful inventor find use for 270 tons of leftover Thanksgiving turkey?

    Gerald Thomas, an executive with the C.A. Swanson & Sons company, was presented with a challenge. Swanson had 10 refrigerated railroad cars, each holding more than 500,000 pounds of unsold turkey, traveling back and forth across the country because warehouse storage space was scarce. Thomas, inspired by the trays used for airline foods, had a revolutionary invention idea. In 1954, the first TV dinner, featuring turkey, corn bread dressing and gravy, buttered peas and sweet potatoes, was created. Coasting off the growing public fascination with television, Swanson sold an estimated 10 million dinners at a price of 98 cents each.


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