(Roughly) Daily

“The very existence of flamethrowers proves that sometime, somewhere, someone said to themselves, ‘You know, I want to set those people over there on fire, but I’m just not close enough to get the job done”*…

Inventions so fundamentally important that we take them for granted…

You might find it impossible to imagine a world without your smartphone, or have trouble remembering a time when Wi-Fi wasn’t everywhere, but many of today’s most relied-upon technologies would not have been possible—or even dreamed of—if it weren’t for the game-changing inventions that came before them. And while it’s easy to take many of the marvels of design and engineering we interact with on a daily basis for granted—think toilets, seat belts, and suspension bridges—it’s just as easy to overlook how a handful of more surprising inventions, like the Super Soaker or the pizza saver, have affected the world around us…

For example…

Duct tape was the brainchild of Vesta Stoudt, an Illinois mom whose two sons were in the Navy. Stoudt worked at Green River Ordnance Plant packing and inspecting boxes of ammunition. The boxes were sealed with paper tape, dipped in wax, and had a tab to open them. Stoudt noticed that the boxes had a flaw: The tape was flimsy and tabs often tore off, which meant that soldiers couldn’t quickly open the boxes when they were under fire. Why not create a cloth-based waterproof tape to seal the boxes? She asked her supervisors, but they weren’t supportive, so she escalated the matter … straight to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. “I suggested we use a strong cloth tape to close seams, and make tab of same,” she wrote. “It worked fine, I showed it to different government inspectors they said it was all right, but I could never get them to change tape.”

The president sent her letter to the War Production Board, her idea was approved, and the rest is history. Duct tape has been a quick fix for everyone from your average joe to physicists (who use it on their particle accelerators) to astronauts (duct tape helped them make repairs on the moon). When the three crewmembers of Apollo 13 were forced to transfer to the lunar module, duct tape helped them survive—according to Northrop Grumman, the vessel was designed to hold two people for 36 hours, but after the accident, had to hold three for over 86 hours. They used the adhesive (along with cardboard, plastic bags, and space suit components) to adapt their square carbon dioxide filters to the module’s round holes. Jerry Woodfill, a NASA engineer who assisted the team from the ground, later told Universe Today, “Of course … the solution to every conceivable knotty problem has got to be duct tape! And so it was.”

Blood banks, barcodes and beyond: “The Stories Behind 20 Inventions That Changed the World.”

* George Carlin


As we exalt ingenuity, we might spare a thought for one of the protagonists in the story above, Nils Bohlin; he died on this date in 2002 (though some sources suggest that he passed on September 21 of that year). An engineer who had worked on avaition ejection seats (and restraints) before joining Volvo, he developed and patented the three-point lap and shoulder seatbelt– considered one of the most important innovations in automobile safety. Volvo introduced the seatbelts in 1959– then made the design freely available to other car manufacturers to save more lives.

In 1974, Bohlin was awarded The Ralph Isbrandt Automotive Safety Engineering Award, and in 1989 he was inducted into the Hall of Fame for Safety and Health. He received a gold medal from Royal Swedish Academy of Engineering Sciences in 1995 and in 1999, was inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame. He retired from Volvo as Senior Engineer in 1985 and was posthumously inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.

Bohlin, demonstrating his invention


%d bloggers like this: