Imagine that all of a sudden, based on something you saw or some random thought that flitted across your mind, you came up with an idea. It’s an idea that seems really cool and you have a moment of dreamy contemplation of creating the hot new product on the market. Is your next step to say “how do I create this thing, I’ll start immediately!?” Or does the practical side of your brain immediately curtail the idea with the thought that it’s not possible/useful/applicable to the real world? For many adults, it’s the latter.
However, most kids haven’t yet learnt to look at things through a realist’s lens, and view the world as something utterly full of possibilities and utterly devoid of restrictions. Whereas adults will come up with a crazy idea and immediately tell themselves it would be impossible to execute, kids will think up something and say – why not? Why can’t I do that?
Kids don’t tell their brains ‘no’ and consequently, they can be incredibly innovative and outside the box thinkers. Those are exactly the kinds of people who invent great things. The following list contains ten inventions that you may know and love, items that you may use on a regular basis, or inventions you may have heard of in the news. What you might not know, however, is that they were all invented by kids.
10. The Popsicle
Way back in 1905, eleven year old Frank Epperson combined soda water powder and water in a glass, stirred it with a stick, and promptly left his beverage outside on the porch. When he awoke, the chilly San Francisco temperature had transformed his concoction into a frozen delight on a stick. Thus, entirely by accident, the Popsicle was born.
Epperson did not immediately draft up his business plans, but years later he still remembered his childhood invention. In 1922, he first served his frozen treats at a Fireman’s Ball, then expanded in 1923 to the hungry crowds at Neptune Beach. Judging by the way the public responded, he knew he had a hit on his hands. He patented the “frozen confectionery” and, starting in 1924, began producing the treat in various fruit flavours on the iconic wooden sticks.
The Popsicle is a classic summertime treat (and year round, if you bundle up!) that has spawned countless flavour variations since its invention.
9. Oink-A-Saurus App
While many kids spend their allowance without thinking about it, Fabian Fernandez-Han took advantage of today’s technology driven society and created the Oink-A-Saurus app.
The app secured Fernandez-Han a win in the NYSE (New York Stock Exchange) Financial Future Challenge, and $2,500 in prize money. The contest was designed to inspire young people to think about how to manage their money, and how to teach their peers about financial matters such as investing and saving money. While financial experts narrowed the entries down to five finalists, the winner was selected by voters on the By Kids For Kids website (BKFK.com).
Things sure have progressed since the days of taking a hammer to your piggy bank.
8. Water Skiing
If you’ve ever whizzed across a lake on a hot summer day trying to balance atop a pair of water skiis, you have Ralph Samuelson to thank.
One summer in 1922, the eighteen year old Minnesotan questioned why you couldn’t ski on water if you could ski on snow. With his brother Ben helping, Ralph tested out his ideas on a local lake, Lake Pepin, in Lake City, Minnesota. Ralph experimented with the skis themselves, first using barrel staves, then just regular snow skis, before finally constructing skis specifically designed for the water. The successful skis were made out of lumber with leather strips to bind them to his feet, and he used a window sash as the first water ski rope. Having experimented until he found the best skis for the activity, he also improved his technique until he discovered that leaning backwards and keeping the skis at an angle was the key to successful water skiing.
While Samuelson never patented his invention, he performed shows across the nation that brought water skiing into the national consciousness. In 1966, Samuelson was recognized by the American Water Ski Association as the first recorded water skier in history.
French-Canadian Joseph-Armand Bombardier, born in 1907, was fascinated with and developed an extensive knowledge of mechanics from an early age. His inventions started small, with clock mechanism powered toys for his siblings, but he soon moved to bigger projects. His successful rebuilding of the engine for his father’s car led his father to gift Joseph-Armand with a Ford Model T engine that was no longer functional.
Bombardier grew up in a small, rural Quebec town that became isolated in the depths of winter, as many rural roads weren’t ploughed. By the winter of 1922, this was becoming less of a problem, as Bombardier turned that old Model T engine into the first snowmobile – at the ripe age of 15. He constructed a prototype with the help of his brother: a two person sled driven by a propeller which was linked to the drive shaft of the Model T engine. Working as a mechanic for several years allowed Bombardier to spend the winter months perfecting his childhood invention, and he soon switched the propeller system for a more efficient half track system and, for certain wet snow conditions, a sprocket-driven continuous track (which he received a patent for).
After years of hard work, in 1959 he at last perfected his invention and started producing the lightweight, speedy, two-person snowmobile that is still a big source of winter fun.
Chester Greenwood, a young boy from Farmington, Maine, was frustrated at his inability to keep his ears warm and protected from the harsh winter temperatures while ice skating. At the age of 15, he came up with an idea to combat this problem that would be more convenient and comfortable than wrapping a scarf around his head (his first attempt to shield his ears from the cold).
He shaped two loops from wire and asked his grandmother to sew fur onto the structure – thus, earmuffs were born. He later got a patent for an improved model which incorporated a steel band, and opened his business selling Greenwood’s Champion Ear Protectors. His business flourished during World War I when he supplied Ear Protectors to U.S. soldiers. Not surprisingly, Farmington has since been deemed the Earmuff Capital of the World and puts on a yearly parade celebrating Greenwood’s birthday.
Earmuffs continue to be a popular choice for combating bitter winter temperatures in style.
Trampolines are a fun addition to any backyard or gym, and their existence is all because of a 16 year old gymnast.
Iowa native George Nissen participated in gymnastics throughout his childhood, and a visit to the circus, where he saw trapeze artists using safety netting to perform amazing feats, sparked an idea. If trapeze artists could use the netting to bounce and perform acrobatic wonders, Nissen observed, a similar device would be beneficial for gymnasts. At the young age of 16, Nissen began working in his parents’ garage to develop the kind of bouncing apparatus he had thought up in his mind.
His first successful prototype was constructed while he was a student at the University of Iowa, and he brought the model to a summer camp where he was employed and needless to say, everyone loved it. Nissen recognized he had a hit on his hands and began efforts to bring it to the commercial public. He came up with the name while touring in a travelling acrobatics act in Mexico, when he learnt the Spanish word for diving board – el trampolin. He obtained “Trampoline” as a trademark name for his device.
While his sales were initially slow, he marketed it in a different way – as a training tool for military purposes, rather than merely for acrobats and gymnasts – and his sales began to increase. Nissen, and his Nissen Trampoline Corporation, began heavily promoting his invention worldwide.
4. KidCare Riding Car
If you thought inventors aged ten and up were incredible, wait until you hear about six year old Spencer Whale. Whale is the youngest inductee ever into the National Gallery for America’s Young Inventors for his invention, the KidCare Riding Car. During a 1998 visit to a hospital, Whale saw a problem when observing sick children in the hospital – because of the cumbersome IV they had to remain attached to, many sick patients were unable to freely play. His invention is a toy car with a built-in IV that allowed sick patients to play without having to risk interfering with the IV, and to be more mobile in general. His invention is not only really cool, it also makes a huge difference in the lives of patients by giving them the ability to play and have fun during difficult times.
Everyone has heard of Louis Braille, but not everyone may know how young he was when he invented the revolutionary Braille system of reading for the blind.
Louis lost his sight at only three years old in an accident. While he adapted and succeeded in his small local school initially, he soon realized they did not have the resources he needed to truly thrive. He moved to attend a special school for the blind, where he at last was able to read, courtesy of special books the school library possessed. The books employed a tactile system with large letters raised up off the page; however, as the books were extremely bulky and costly, the library only had fourteen, all of which Louis read as he pondered a better system. The letter-by-letter system not only produced expensive and bulky books, it was difficult for readers to interact with as well.
An army innovation instigated a spark of creativity one day. Louis heard that the French army was using an alphabet code for messages that could not be written on paper, as they had to be read at night without any lights (the smallest strike of a match would alert the enemy and make the reader an immediate target). The soldiers could instead read a code of dots and dashes by running their fingers along the page, in a similar way to the bulky raised letter books Braille had encountered. He managed to get a hold of the code, which while better than the raised letters, was still too bulky for his tastes.
Using his father’s tools on a visit home, he created an alphabet consisting entirely of six dots that would take up far less space and be easily and quickly readable – thus, Braille was born. He completed the idea at the age of fifteen.
2. Early Television Precursor
Several inventors made contributions towards the invention of the television, but the idea for the world’s first all-electronic television was invented by the fifteen year old Philo T. Farnsworth. Farnsworth, born in 1906, was fascinated by electronic and mechanical devices from a young age (by the time he reached high school, he had converted all the family’s appliances to electrical power).
In 1922, he presented his Chemistry teacher with an idea he had for an “image dissector” vacuum tube. Rather than the prevailing method of the time (mechanically scanning an image through a spinning disc with holes, then projecting the image onto a screen), Farnsworth’s tube invention could reproduce images electronically. He took a brief hiatus from inventing as he entered college and supported his family, but in 1926, with the funding of some friends, Farnsworth got back to his tube dream and demonstrated the first all-electronic television. His innovation garnered more funding, led to a patent battle, and secured his place as one of the fathers of television.
1. Cancer Screening Test
The inquiring young mind of Jack Andraka decided that starting small wasn’t an option and he invented something that could impact how cancer and fatal diseases are diagnosed. He won the $75,000 grand prize at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair for his invention, which is deceptively simple. Andraka created a paper test strip, which is dipped into a solution of carbon nanotubes. The test uses changes in conductivity to detect viruses and antigens quickly and accurately. His sensor is incredibly effective and inexpensive. While Andraka isn’t the first to use carbon nanotubes in this manner, he is the first to target it specifically to pancreatic cancer. While his invention is fairly recent and is still being tweaked and incorporated into the complex world of medical science, it’s safe to say you’ll probably be hearing great things from him as he continues in his career.