Syndicated weekly newspaper columnist, NIE vendor and author
2614 South 24th Street Quincy, IL 62305
(217) 224-7735 FAX: (217) 224-7736

December 26, 2006

The News-Press / NIE
ATTN:  Ms. Evie Rosen
2442 Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd.
Fort Myers,
FL 33901

Dear Evie -- 

Here are the 30 stories that I picked out for you, along with their categories. Feel free to add anything to the activity guides or change them. The guides ask the students to use the News-Press to explore each story topic further. 

Since you have an Edison home in your area, I included some articles about Thomas Edison. I added 5 extra (bonus) articles at the end, which you can use in addition to these, or you can use any of them to substitute for any of the others (in case you find any that you don’t like). 

I will call you in a couple days to see if you have any questions. Thanks again, Evie! 

Best Regards,

Paul Niemann 

# 1:    Meet Thomas Edison, the greatest inventor of all time,
with 1,093
U.S. patents

“To invent, you need a good imagination and a pile of junk.” – Thomas Alva Edison

The greatest American inventor of all time was born in 1847 in Milan, Ohio. During his lifetime, Thomas Edison was issued more than 1,000 patents. Some of his inventions – such as the incandescent light bulb and the phonograph – even led to the creation of brand new industries.

“Genius is 99 % perspiration and 1 % inspiration.”

Of all of Edison ’s important inventions, he is best known for the incandescent light bulb, which he created in 1878. Edison wasn’t the only inventor to invent a light bulb, though; a British inventor named Joseph Swan developed a different version a year earlier. Trying to find the right filament to make the bulb work was the biggest obstacle Edison faced. His idea for the light bulb was the 1 % inspiration part of the equation, while the thousands of experiments and the marketing of the light bulb made up the 99 % perspiration. The main difference between Edison and Swan was that Edison was able to create an entire industry around his light bulb, which replaced candles and gas lamps as the primary sources of light.

There are several interesting facts about Thomas Edison that many people do not know. For example:

·        Edison went to school only until the third grade; then his mother taught him at home. One of Edison ’s teachers showed how badly she had misunderstood the 6-year-old Edison when she sent a note home with him stating that, “He is too stupid to learn.”

·        Edison suffered from a hearing loss. This may have helped his career, though, because it allowed him to concentrate better and avoid many of the distractions in his lab.

·        Edison once worked sixty hours straight, stopping only for 15-minute catnaps and snacks.

In 1869, Edison was approached by a wealthy businessman about selling one of his products, an improved stock tickertape machine. Rather than stating an asking price, Edison asked the man to make him an offer. The man offered him $40,000 for it (which was equivalent to about $700,000 in today’s dollars). This turned out to be a lot more than Edison thought it was worth, and the money helped finance future inventions.

“If we could do all the things we are capable of doing,
we would literally astound ourselves.”

The incandescent light bulb was Edison ’s greatest invention. In addition to the light bulb, his 1,093 patents included:

      ·        Vote Recorder (1868)  
·        Printing Telegraph (1869)  
·        Stock Ticker (1869)  
Automatic Telegraph (1872)  
Electric Pen (1876)  
Carbon Telephone Transmitter (1877)  
Phonograph (1877)  
Dynamo (1879)  
Incandescent Electric Lamp (1879)  
Electric Motor (1881)  
Talking Doll (1886)  
Projecting Kinetoscope film projector (1897)  
Storage Battery (1900)

“I have not failed. I have merely found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

Even the greatest inventor of all time had a few failures. Edison ’s failures included motion pictures with sound, his inability to create a practical way to mine iron ore, and an electric vote recorder. Even though the electric vote recorder worked, it was a commercial failure and led Edison to remark, “I only want to invent things that will sell.”  

The electric industry that Edison formed led to the creation of what is known today as General Electric, and his Menlo Park invention lab became the model for which the labs of many innovative companies were patterned after. While Edison ’s greatest invention was the incandescent light bulb, his greatest contribution is probably the fact that nearly every civilized society on earth has benefited positively from one or more of his inventions.

# # #

"This story is part of the INVENTION MYSTERIES series by author Paul Niemann. More information is available at "

Activity Guide for Students for “Meet Thomas Edison, the greatest inventor of all time”
Using at least a full page in your notebook or scrapbook, answer these questions: Do you think Thomas Edison is the greatest inventor of all time? If not, then who was? Why was Thomas Edison so successful? What were his three most important inventions? Search through the News-Press to find other stories about Thomas Edison. In your opinion, who were the three greatest inventors in American history?  

# 2:    Could Thomas Edison be considered a failure?

The greatest inventor in American history also had the most failures. This story reminded me about the fact that Babe Ruth, the man who held the records for most home runs in a season and in a career, also held the record for the most strikeouts.

Even a young Elvis Presley appeared to have some shortcomings. After a performance early in his career at the Grand Ole Opry, someone told the King, “You ain’t goin’ nowhere, son.”

Thomas Edison, the man who invented the incandescent light bulb, as well as the phonograph, the motion picture camera, a stock ticker, a vote recorder and the electric motor, had many failures.

Edison tried – and failed – to use cement to build small things such as cabinets and pianos. Concrete was just too expensive at the time.

He was also one of many inventors who tried – and failed – to combine sound and motion to make talking movies. Actually, he was in good company because nearly everyone else who tried also failed, and there were quite a few who tried.

One of Edison ’s greatest failures was being unable to create a practical way to mine iron ore. He lost every penny that he invested in the project.

His electric vote recorder, which worked but was a commercial failure, taught him a valuable business lesson. It led him to conclude, “I only want to invent things that will sell.”

Oh, and that light bulb only came about after he endured 10,000 failed attempts.

How did all of the failures affect Edison ?

Apparently, it made him stronger. He once remarked that he hadn’t failed 10,000 times, but rather that he discovered 10,000 ways that will not work! Talk about making lemonade when handed a bunch of lemons. He saw that each failed attempt brought him a little closer to the solution that he was searching for.

In fact, Edison wasn’t even the first inventor to invent a light bulb when he developed his incandescent bulb in 1878. A British inventor named Joseph Swan developed a different version a year earlier. But Edison established the framework to light entire cities.

Despite the title of this story, I’m not trying to convince you that Edison was a failure. You see, the man who is regarded as the most successful inventor in American history is the same man who had the most failures as an inventor. Like Babe Ruth and Elvis Presley, Edison didn’t let his failures slow him down.

His reputation as the greatest inventor of all time comes not just from having the most patents (he received 1,093 patents) but also for having the most impact on society with his inventions. Just about every person living in a civilized society has benefited from at least one of his inventions. This is even more impressive when you consider that Edison was nearly deaf and that his formal schooling didn’t go beyond the third grade. One of young Thomas Edison’s teachers even remarked that he was “too stupid to learn.”

Where Edison failed on a small scale, he was usually able to succeed on a larger scale. Most successful inventors create new products, but Edison created an entire industry – the electric industry. His light bulb, along with the power grid that he built to allow his light bulbs to keep entire cities bright at night, led to the creation of what is known today as General Electric.

And while Edison failed on a small scale with making certain products out of cement, he succeeded on a very large scale with cement. It was his company, the Edison Portland Cement Company, that built Yankee Stadium … forever known as “The House That Ruth Built.” 

# # #  

"This story is part of the INVENTION MYSTERIES series by author Paul Niemann. More information is available at "  

Activity Guide for Students for Could Thomas Edison be considered a failure
Search the News-Press each day for the next 7 days to find at least three stories of people who had to overcome failure before they achieved success. Write in your notebook or scrapbook what their achievements were and the reasons why they succeeded. Write down any experiences that you’ve had in which you overcame failure and then achieved success. What was the key to your success?



 # 3:    Learn the difference between a trademark, a copyright and a patent

There are three types of intellectual property that you probably know about: Trademarks, copyrights and patents. There’s also a fourth type, called trade secrets, that very few people know much about. I guess that why they're called trade secrets. We will dissect each of the four types in this column.  

A trademark is a word, phrase or symbol that identifies the source of a product and distinguishes it from others. Brand names are trademarked. Trademarked product names or company names are shown with the ™ symbol, usually written in a smaller font.  

EXAMPLE: Invention Mysteries ™

A registered trademark is a trademark or service mark which has been registered with the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office (U.S. PTO). The symbol for a registered trademark is ®.  

EXAMPLE: Pepsi ®  

Trademark rights arise from either using the mark in public OR from filing an application to register it with the PTO. Certain items are not eligible for a trademark, such as letters, numbers, slogans, colors (the pink color of Owens-Corning’s insulation).  

A service mark is the same as a trademark except that it identifies and distinguishes the source of a service rather than a product. Service marks are shown with the symbol SM.  

EXAMPLE: GE’s We Bring Good Things To Life SM  

A copyright protects an original artistic or literary work; a copyright lasts for the “life of the author plus 70 years.” Copyrights protect the following: Literary works, such as books, plays, articles or poems; songs (without a copyright, there would be no royalty payments to the musician); movies, including movie soundtracks; pictures and paintings; architectural works and pantomimes.  

A copyright is created when the work is published with the copyright symbol © and the year next to it, and the copyright holder usually places his name on the copyright notice, too. A copyright can also be filed with the Library of Congress to prevent or resolve future disputes over ownership.  

EXAMPLE: Warner Brothers © 2001 or Copyright © Warner Brothers 2001.  

What is not eligible for copyright protection? Works that consist entirely of common knowledge and contain no original work, such as calendars, rulers, height & weight charts, tape measures.  

A patent protects an invention for 20 years from the date the patent is applied for with the patent office. There are 3 types of patents: utility, design and plant. A utility patent protects the functionality of an invention, a design patent protects the appearance of an invention and a plant patent, as the name implies, refers to the discovery or creation of a new plant. The patent number, or the term "patent pending," is placed somewhere on the product or the packaging.  

The term “patent pending means that a patent has been applied for but has not yet issued. If the patent later issues, the patent holder is protected for twenty years from the date of his application. The unauthorized use of another’s patent, trademark or copyright is called "infringement." When this happens, the result is usually litigation through the courts.  

Approximately 20 percent of the patents issued each year go to independent inventors while 80 percent go to corporations, yet more than 2/3 of the major new product breakthroughs in the 20th century came from individual inventors rather than corporations. Further, while many people assume that a patent usually makes an inventor wealthy, fewer than 2 percent of all patents actually produce a profit for the inventor.  

The fourth and final type of intellectual property is the trade secret. Examples of trade secrets include the recipe for Colonel Sanders’ chicken and the formula for Coca-Cola ®. Trade secrets are not patented for two reasons: First, patents expire after twenty years. Second, patents become common knowledge once they're issued and, even though they offer legal protection against infringement, patent attorneys and product developers can sometimes “design around the patent.” In some cases, a firm will try to reverse engineer a product to find out what ingredients it contains and how it is made.  

Now you know the difference between a trademark, a copyright and a patent and what all those symbols stand for.  

# # #  

"This story is part of the INVENTION MYSTERIES series by author Paul Niemann. More information is available at "

Activity Guide for Students for “Learn the difference between a trademark, a copyright and a patent”  
Search the News-Press
for the next 3 days to find examples of products that have either a trademark, a copyright or a patent. Keep score, and keep looking until you find three of each, for a total of nine. HINT The ads are a good source of products that show either a trademark, a copyright or a patent. Cut each one out and put it in your notebook or scrapbook. Make sure you know the difference between a trademark, a copyright and a patent.   




# 4:    What does “QWERTY” have to do with Valentine’s Day?

Before we jump into the usual topic of inventions, let’s start with a brief history of Valentine’s Day. There were actually three different men named Valentine, and all three became martyrs.

Around 270 A.D., the emperor Claudius banned marriage in the Roman empire. His reasoning was that married men were weak soldiers. A Catholic priest named Valentine secretly married the couples that came to him. When Claudius found out, Valentine tried to convert him. He failed, though, and the emperor had him imprisoned before executing him. While he was in prison, he fell in love with the jailer’s blind daughter and cured her. Upon Valentine’s departure, he gave her a farewell message that read, “From your Valentine.”

Legend has it that the middle of February may have been chosen as Valentine’s Day because it was the mating season of birds during the Middle Ages in Europe. I guess that clears up the misconception that Hallmark created the holiday. Actually, Valentine’s Day was created in the 5th century A.D. to replace a pagan festival. As for Cupid, he was the son of Venus, the Roman god of love.

Now back to our story.

Two of the most notable Valentine’s Day inventions came from Christopher Sholes and George Ferris. Since you know what Ferris invented, we’ll start with Sholes. 

As you type away on your computer keyboard, have you ever wondered why the letters are arranged that way? Why didn’t they just put them in alphabetical order?

Christopher Sholes was born on Valentine’s Day in 1819 in Danville, Pennsylvania. A two-time Wisconsin state senator who helped found the Republican Party in Wisconsin, Sholes was asked by President Lincoln to become customs collector for the port of Milwaukee before he invented the first practical typewriter in 1872.

In the early days, people used the two-finger “hunt and peck” method that’s still popular today. The letters of Sholes’ typewriter were originally arranged in alphabetical order, and a typewriter tended to jam when the user typed too fast. To solve this problem, Sholes re-designed the keyboard so that the most common letters were further away from each other, hoping to slow down the rate of typing and reduce the jamming. The result is the QWERTY design.

The following year, Sholes sold the rights of his typewriter to Remington, which is the same company that makes Remington rifles. He later added the shift key so that people could type lowercase letters as well as uppercase letters.

Mark Twain, who sometimes invested in new inventions, was the first author to submit a typewritten manuscript to his publisher.

As for George Ferris and his Wheel, George Washington Gale Ferris was born on Valentine’s Day in 1859 in Galesburg, Illinois, and moved with his family to Carson City, Nevada, at age five. There was a second person named George Ferris who was born just two weeks after the first one. He also moved to Carson City, but it was much later than when the first George Ferris lived there.

Like Sholes, Ferris was also an engineer. George built the Ferris wheel for sight-seeing purposes, and it made its debut at the Chicago Fair in 1893. It was 264 feet tall and had 36 cars, each one seating 40 people. It carried more than one million paying customers during the nineteen weeks of the fair, grossing a little more than $725,000.

A duplicate of the wheel was constructed for the 1900 Paris Exposition, while the original wheel was taken down and re-constructed in St. Louis for the 1904 Exposition. Two years later, it was torn down.

Ferris’ wife stopped the wheel when it reached the top for the very first time and toasted him. What a great way to celebrate Valentine’s Day! What a great way to end this story!

Actually, it didn’t happen on Valentine’s Day. It happened in June. And this story is not quite over yet.

A few other interesting events surround Valentine’s Day. Two states, Oregon and Arizona, were added to the union on Valentine’s day. Oregon became the 33rd state in 1859 and Arizona became the 48th state in 1912. Two other well-known people were born on Valentine’s Day – Jimmy Hoffa in 1913 and Mrs. Brady herself, Florence Henderson, in 1934.

Now the story is officially over.

# # #

"This story is part of the INVENTION MYSTERIES series by author Paul Niemann. More information is available at "  

Activity Guide for Students for “What does “QWERTY” have to do with Valentine’s Day?
Look through sources such as the almanac, your history book and the News-Press for any stories of successful people who were born on holidays. On which holidays were the most people on your list born? 


# 5:    Four inventors signed the Declaration of Independence

In 1776, while working for our nation’s independence from England , Benjamin Franklin said, “Indeed we must all hang together, otherwise we will hang separately.” The penalty for treason against the British was death by hanging.  

We often cover stories in this column that are timely and relevant, so we celebrate our nation’s freedom by taking a look at two signers of the Declaration of Independence who were also known as inventors in their day. As regular readers of this column know, Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson – two of the most famous among the 56 signers – were inventors. There were two other signers who were inventors but who are unknown to most Americans. It is these two signers / inventors who we introduce to you.  

Francis Hopkinson:

Francis Hopkinson (1737-1791) was born in Philadelphia . His father was one of the first trustees of the College of Philadelphia (now called the University of Pennsylvania ) as well as its first graduate. Hopkinson went on to become a judge.  

The only “inventions” that Judge Hopkinson created were the American flag and the Great Seal of the United States . While history credits Betsy Ross with designing the flag, it was probably Hopkinson who played the larger role in its design. Betsy Ross had sewn the flag together, and this may be why she is regarded as the person who designed the flag. The journals of the Continental Congress indicate that Hopkinson designed the flag, though. In 2000, the U.S. Postal Service issued a stamp in honor of Hopkinson’s flag design.

In addition to being an inventor, Hopkinson was also an author who wrote a ballad called “The Battle of the Kegs” in 1778. The ballad was loosely based on a battle in which gunpowder kegs floated down the Delaware River toward the British at Philadelphia , and the British returned the favor by firing back. Hopkinson was also a chemist, a physicist, a musician, a composer and an artist.

George Clymer:

Like Hopkinson, George Clymer (1739 – 1813) was born in Pennsylvania . He was an orphan who was raised by his uncle, and his paternal ancestors were among the earliest settlers of the state.

Clymer invented the Colombian printing press, which was an improvement over Ben Franklin’s printing press. But the Columbian, with all its bells and whistles, never caught on in the United States .

You may have heard the story of how the signers of the Declaration of Independence were hunted by the British for treason. The 56 signers literally risked everything fighting for our nation’s freedom. Each one became a marked man. Some were captured while others, like Thomas Jefferson, escaped.

Nine of the signers died as a result of the war, but all were driven from their homes at one time or another. Five were captured, imprisoned and abused. Seventeen signers lost everything they owned, including twelve who had their homes completely burned. Several lost their wives and families. One lost all of 13 of his children.

George Clymer and Francis Hopkinson both escaped with their families, but their properties were completely destroyed. Clymer was the only signer who returned to England . His reason for returning was that England presented him with a better opportunity for his Colombian printing press.

Thomas Jefferson died on the 4th of July, 1826 , exactly fifty years after the Declaration of Independence was adopted. Coincidentally, it was the same day that another signer, John Adams, died.

In the end, each of the 56 signers kept his word to “… mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.”

# # #

"This story is part of the INVENTION MYSTERIES series by author Paul Niemann. More information is available at "  

Activity Guide for Students for Four inventors signed the Declaration of Independence
Look through sources such as the almanac, your history book and the News-Press for any stories of historical people whose actions have had a positive effect on us. Write a short story (one page) describing what they achieved and how their achievements helped society.



# 6:     What kept these inventors from obtaining patents on their own?

Chelsea Lannon invented a diaper with a pocket to hold a baby wipe and baby powder, but she couldn’t get a patent without some help.

The Thompson sisters, Theresa and Mary, invented a solar tepee and called it a “Wigwarm.” Pretty clever name, but the sisters weren’t able to get a patent on their own.  

Suzanna Goodin invented an edible spoon-shaped cracker. She even won a grand prize for her invention yet she, too, needed some help to get a patent.   

Why couldn’t these young women get patents on their own? Was it because property laws prevented women from owning property, including patents, during part of the 1700’s and 1800’s?  

No, because all of the above inventors were born in the 1900’s. Besides, inventor Robert Patch had the same problem as the other four inventors. So did Brandon Whale and his brother, Spencer, when they invented separate devices to help hospital patients.  

Why, then, couldn’t these inventors receive patents on their own?  

It was because they weren’t even 10 years old yet!  

Young Ms. Lannon was only 8 years old when she invented the diaper with a pocket in 1994, and the Thompson sisters were only 8 and 9 when they invented their solar teepee in 1960. Ms. Goodin was only 6 when she invented her prize-winning edible spoon-shaped cracker.  

Robert Patch was only 6 in 1963 when he received a patent for a toy truck that could be changed into different types of trucks.  

Brandon Whale invented the “PaceMate” in 1998 to improve the electrical conductivity of his mother’s sensor-bracelets after she had an operation for a pacemaker implant. Brandon’s brother, Spencer, created a device to attach IV’s to the wheeled vehicles that child patients rode in, allowing the IV’s to stay in place.  

In the end, each of these young inventors, except the Whale brothers, received patents for their great ideas.  

By comparison, how old were some of the more famous inventors when they first achieved success?  

Thomas Edison was 21 when he received his first patent, which was for a vote counter intended to speed things up in Congress. Despite the benefits it offered, it never made it onto the market.  

Margaret Knight was 30 when she invented the machine that makes the square-bottom paper bags in 1871, and that type of bag is still being used today. Alexander Graham Bell was 29 when he invented the telephone in 1876. Mattel co-founder Ruth Handler was 43 years old when she introduced the world to the Barbie Doll in 1959.  

The United States Patent Office does not have an age requirement for receiving a patent. Most inventors, though, whether they’re 6 or 60, need the assistance of a patent attorney to either prepare their patent application or at least review it before submitting it to the patent office. And most child inventors need to get some parental assistance when paying for the patent application and attorney fees.  

# # #

"This story is part of the INVENTION MYSTERIES series by author Paul Niemann. More information is available at "  

Activity Guide for Students for “What kept these inventors from obtaining patents on their own?”
Search the
News-Press each day for the next 7 days to find stories of children (age 12 and under) accomplishing extraordinary or newsworthy things. These do not have to be related to inventions. Cut out these stories (along with any pictures) and keep them in your notebook or scrapbook, because they can inspire you to do great things.

Choose the two most important ones and explain in your notebook or scrapbook what the children did in order to achieve these. Then set three goals that you want to accomplish in your lifetime, and write these goals down on paper.


 # 7:      Could one of these young inventors become the next Edison ?  

The six inventors in this story hadn’t even celebrated their twelfth birthday by the time they achieved some success.  

Rich Stachowski invented Water Talkies ™ in 1996 when he was just ten years old as part of Wild Planet’s Kid Inventor Challenge contest. He formed his own company to make more toys when he saw how popular his invention had become. Wild Planet then acquired Rich’s company. Now he can go back to being a kid again.  

Young Shannon Crabill invented what she called the “Create-your-own-message-alarm-clock,” also as part of Wild Planet’s contest. Wild Planet changed the name to “Talk Time.” Think that’s impressive? Oprah Winfrey sure thought so, so she invited Shannon to be a guest on the show and she also featured her in Oprah magazine.  

Thanks to ten-year-old Stephanie Mui (that’s pronounced “Mui”), it’s now easier to remove splinters and ticks. Her invention, called “See and Tweezz,” combines an all-in-one magnifying glass, tweezers and light. It even comes with a cute little name. Way to go, Stephanie.  

Eleven-year-old Tessanie Marek invented “Easy Crutches.” This pair of crutches allows a person to rest his or her foot while walking instead of having to hold it up. How does it work? Easy Crutches contains a pedal that is screwed to the crutch in a way that supports the foot. Very few people are on crutches at any given time, but wouldn’t it be great to have the Easy Crutches when you need them?  

Then there’s 8-year-old, Matthew Nettleton, who invented the “Pin Picker.” The Pin Picker helps you find and pick up sewing pins that have dropped on the floor. It works on both hard floors and rugs. ‘Atta boy, Matthew!  

While the Pin Picker might not be for everybody, the next invention is. Eleven-year-old Paul Simmons invented the Anti-Soggy Cereal Bowl. It’s a double bowl with springs, and it keeps your cereal from getting soggy by helping you use just the right amount of milk.   

I can see the letters and e-mails pouring in already: “But these aren’t life-altering inventions. What’s so great about a Pin Picker or an Anti-Soggy Cereal Bowl?”  

Since I usually answer critics’ questions with an equally annoying question of my own, I ask, “What were some of the more famous inventors doing in their early years?”  

Thomas Edison created his first important invention, a telegraphic repeating instrument, while working as a telegraph operator in 1865. He was eighteen at the time. Three years earlier, he had begun publishing a weekly newspaper, which he printed in a freight car that also served as his laboratory.  

What about Ben Franklin? While he was Ben Franklin the Inventor, he was also Ben Franklin the Publisher and Ben Franklin the First U.S. Postmaster General. Not to be outdone (by himself), he was also Ben Franklin the Signer of the Declaration of Independence, as well as Ben Franklin the First Person to Appear on a U.S. Postage Stamp.   

While you might not recognize the names of these next two inventors, you probably used their inventions when you were a kid.  

In 1873, 17-year-old Chester Greenwood applied for a patent for his earmuffs. Nothing significant about that, except that his factory made these earmuffs for the next 60 years, and Greenwood went on to create more than 100 other inventions.  

Then there’s the story of 16-year-old George Nissen, who built a rectangular frame with a piece of canvas stretched across it in 1930 and called it a trampoline. George had designed it in his parents’ garage and built it out of steel materials from a junkyard.  

Could any of our six young inventors turn out to be the next Thomas Edison or the next Marie Curie? Who knows, but they’re off to a pretty good start if they decide to continue inventing.  

# # #

"This story is part of the INVENTION MYSTERIES series by author Paul Niemann. More information is available at "  

Activity Guide for Students for Could one of these young inventors become the next Edison?”
This one requires some outside research. Write down all the steps that you think are necessary to invent a new product, protect it, and bring it to market. Create your own gameplan, and explain it in your notebook or scrapbook. Then discuss your work with your teacher. 




# 8:    National Gallery recognizes seven award-winning inventors

The patent files include so much technical language that it’s practically impossible for anyone to understand them. Patents are written in a foreign language known as lawyer-esque, which is something that only the lawyers can enjoy.

The National Gallery, part of the Partnership for America’s Future, recently presented awards to seven outstanding inventors for their work. Here, then, are the seven inventors and their inventions:



Then there’s Elena Glassman of Pipersville, Minnesota. She invented the BRAIN-COMPUTER INTERFACE FOR THE MUSCULARLY DISABLED.  


Other than their high-tech capabilities, can you figure out what these award-winning inventors have in common? At first glance it appears that the common denominator is the fact that they’re all women.

But then there’s Sean Mehra and Jeff Reitman of Jericho, New York, who teamed up to invent a process of USING NANOPARTICLES TO ENHANCE POLYMER PROPERTIES FOR IMPROVED COMMERCIAL APPLICATIONS.

Rounding out these seven award-winning inventors is Chandler Macocha of Oxford, Michigan, who invented the WHEELCHAIR BACKPACK HELPER. Finally, an invention that us non-geniuses can figure out (or would that be non-geniui?).

What was Chandler’s problem? Was he inventing with one hand tied behind his back?

Actually, the problem may have been his age, since Chandler was three or four years younger than the other inventors. He was only in the 8th grade, while the others were in the 11th and 12th grades.

For most people, myself included, the words in capital letters above are just plain hard to understand. Let’s take a look at the inventors’ backgrounds, which are more interesting than the technical descriptions of their inventions.

Hyeyeon Choi was born in Korea and moved to the United States with her family at age twelve. She’s an accomplished violinist, pianist and drummer who plans to study chemical engineering in college and do research after graduation.

Invention seems to run in Joline Marie Fan’s family. Her mom is a chemist and her dad teaches chemical engineering. Typical underachieving family! Joline was named after Marie Curie while her brother, Jonathan Albert Fan, was named after Albert Einstein. She plans to become a medical researcher, a surgeon or an engineer.

Elena Glassman first used the family computer when she was only 18 months old. She was inspired to invent her brain-computer interface after seeing a paralyzed man use his hands to pick up objects from a table. Elena plans to follow in her father’s footsteps and become an electrical engineer.

Vaishali Grover was only two years old when she learned to read. Now she envisions her anti-fouling paint being used to prevent barnacles from building up on ships. She hopes to become a documentary filmmaker someday.

Best friends Sean Mehra and Jeff Reitman have both been accepted to Yale, where they plan to study medicine. Sean can speak Hindi, Punjabi and French, while Jeff was recently chosen to be the U.S. Ambassador for the Third Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation Youth Science Festival.

Chandler Macocha, who once made a paper model of the TITANIC for his grandmother, plans to become either a flight director for NASA or an engineer at Disney World.

Each of their inventions is either patented (mildly difficult to do), won a national invention competition (more difficult to do) or is marketed nationwide (most difficult to do). Each one of these young Einsteins achieved this before graduating from high school.

# # #

"This story is part of the INVENTION MYSTERIES series by author Paul Niemann. More information is available at "  

Curriculum Guide for Students for National Gallery recognizes seven award-winning inventors
Search the News-Press each day for the next 7 days to find stories of children (age 12 and under) accomplishing extraordinary things. These accomplishments do not have to be related to inventions. Cut out these stories (along with any pictures) and keep them in your notebook or scrapbook, because they can inspire you to do great things.

Choose the two most important ones and explain in your notebook or scrapbook what the children did in order to achieve these. Then set three goals that you want to accomplish in your lifetime.



# 9:    Who really invented baseball … Alexander Cartwright or Abner Doubleday?  

“…And somewhere men are laughing, and little children shout; But there is no joy in Mudville – mighty Casey has struck out.”
-- Ernest Thayer, from the poem “Casey at the bat,” June 3, 1888

Major League Baseball celebrated the 100th anniversary of the World Series in 2003. In the first-ever World Series that year, the Boston Pilgrims (now known as the Red Sox) defeated the Pittsburgh Pirates, 5 games to 3. The Series was originally a best-of-nine format.  

The 2003 season also marked the 100th anniversary of the event that started the great debate over who “invented” baseball. In this story, we try to find out who invented baseball. There are two competing stories, and they involve two men who were born within a year of each other and died within a year of each other. In fact, both men had died by the time the great debate began. It was either bank clerk Alexander Cartwright or Civil War veteran Abner Doubleday, whose great-great-grand-nephew is the co-owner of the New York Mets.

How the Debate Began …

The debate began when baseball writer / historian Henry Chadwick, who wrote baseball’s first rulebook in 1858, declared in Albert Spalding’s Baseball Guide of 1903 that baseball had been derived from an English game called “rounders.”

Al Spalding was a former major league pitcher and manager for the Chicago Cubs (originally known as the Chicago White Stockings). Since he didn’t want to accept that the game he loved could have come from the British, he commissioned a panel in 1904 to determine the game’s origins. The panel, which included two U.S. senators and was chaired by a former National League president who probably never heard of Alexander Cartwright, also didn’t want to accept the possibility that baseball might have British roots. Their choice as the inventor of baseball was a Civil War general named Abner Doubleday. Doubleday, by the way, has the distinction of being the soldier who fired the first shot in defense for the Union during the Civil War, at Fort Sumter , South Carolina .

The only evidence that the panel had in support of Doubleday was a letter they received from an elderly man who claimed that he was a boyhood friend of Doubleday’s. In his letter, he claimed that he saw Doubleday invent baseball in Cooperstown in 1839 when he organized two teams in a game which included bases and a ball. Most of the other research for this panel was done by an employee of the publishing company which Spalding owned. 

There was plenty of evidence to suggest that Doubleday did not invent baseball, though. For example, Doubleday kept diaries and was a skilled public speaker, but there was never any mention of baseball in his writings or his speeches. You would think that a person who invents a new sport would mention it somewhere along the way.

Alexander Cartwright, on the other hand, established many of baseball’s basic rules. He established that the distance between bases is to be 90 feet, that the game is to be played by nine-person teams for nine innings, and that each team gets three outs per inning. In addition to adding the position of shortstop, he eliminated the rule that allowed the defense to get a runner out by throwing the ball at him! He also divided the field into fair and foul territory. Many believe that September of 1845 is when Cartwright invented the game at age 25, and his Knickerbocker baseball club played their first game the following year in Hoboken , New Jersey .

To further complicate matters, there were claims that there was another Abner Doubleday. The game that the original Doubleday’s childhood friend had claimed to see him invent was actually a form of the British-based rounders game mentioned earlier, called “Town Ball.” Years later, a baseball with the cover nearly completely torn off was found in this man’s attic; it became known as the “Doubleday” baseball and it sits in the Hall of Fame.

Which man is in the Hall of Fame?

Where can you find most of this information about Cartwright’s contributions to the rules?

On his Hall of Fame plaque, which also lists him as the “Father of modern baseball.” Cartwright’s plaque doesn’t claim that he invented the game, but he is in the Hall of Fame, while Doubleday is not.  

So who did invent baseball – Alexander Cartwright or Abner Doubleday?  

You have to decide for yourself. Even though the evidence favors Cartwright over Doubleday, no one knows for sure because there wasn’t enough proof at the time – more than 150 years ago. Plus, there were accounts of “baseball” being played as early as the 1820’s and 1830’s in the Northeast, although those games may or may not have resembled today’s game.  

Personally, I believe that Al Spalding – whose company, named Spalding, manufactures sports equipment – established his panel for one purpose only – to manufacture an American origin for baseball.

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"This story is part of the INVENTION MYSTERIES series by author Paul Niemann. More information is available at "  

Activity Guide for Students for Who really invented baseball … Alexander Cartwright or Abner Doubleday?”
This one requires a little more research: Searching through the library, find out the name of the persons who invented the following sports, and also the year in which they invented the sports: Basketball, football, soccer, volleyball and hockey and horse racing.


# 10:    Who invented the modern baseball glove?

 As you enter the main office of Rawlings Sporting Goods near St. Louis , you can’t help but notice the wall decorations.

This is no ordinary office because it’s the headquarters of the exclusive supplier of Major League baseballs. The company also supplies gloves to more baseball players than any other glove company. In fact, you could say that Rawlings invented the modern baseball glove.

Rawlings was founded in 1887 by two brothers, George and Alfred Rawlings, and their name is still synonymous with baseball nearly 120 years later. Since baseball season begins this week – finally – we take a look at an invention that’s become a part of every father and son’s life. You could even say that it’s one of the most important inventions since medieval times. OK, I may be a bit biased in my judgment of the glove’s importance, but if you’re a baseball fan, you can probably relate.

What catches your attention as you enter Rawlings’ main entrance are the baseball bats hanging from the walls. Each bat has the name of a major league team carved into it, and the bats are placed from top to bottom according to their standings in their respective divisions. They update the team’s standings daily. It’s like being in baseball heaven.

Very neat, or as my baseball-playing nephews would say, “way cool.”

In the early days of professional baseball, the baseball gloves had nothing to connect the glove’s thumb with the index finger. The idea for the webbing between the index finger and thumb on every baseball and softball glove used today came about when a man named Bill Doak stopped by the Rawlings plant one day and suggested a way to improve the glove. At the time, Rawlings was located just a few miles from where the Cardinals played their games.

Who was Bill Doak?

“Spittin’ Bill” Doak made his major league debut in 1912, a year in which the World Series went eight games because one game ended in a tie. Doak earned his nickname as a spitball-throwing pitcher with the St. Louis Cardinals during a time when spit balls were legal. When Major League Baseball outlawed spitballs in 1920, Bill Doak and the sixteen other spitball pitchers were allowed to continue throwing the spitter under a grandfather clause.

If you can’t imagine playing baseball with a glove that doesn’t have the webbing, then imagine what it felt like to play without a glove, because that’s how the original players did it during much of the 1800’s.

For example, when one Cardinals player wore a thin glove for the first time in 1875, he was ridiculed by fans, by opposing players and even by his own teammates! The rule change in the mid-1880’s which allowed pitchers to pitch over-handed resulted in line drives coming off the bat much harder than before. As a result, most of the players started wearing gloves.

Have you ever wondered how the glove companies get major league players to endorse their gloves and bats?

They offer “glove contracts” to minor league players before they make it to the major leagues. The players then get free gloves in exchange for the future use of their names on the gloves if and when they make it to the major leagues.

In an interesting twist to this story, the company that manufactured Major League baseballs prior to Rawlings was a sporting goods company known as Spalding. That company’s founder was a Hall of Fame pitcher for Chicago named Al Spalding, and it was Al who started the debate over who invented baseball – Cartwright or Doubleday.

For the record, it was Alexander Cartwright who invented the rules of modern baseball, while Civil War veteran Abner Doubleday laid out the four bases on a diamond and called it baseball in 1839 in Cooperstown , New York .

Spalding’s company was the official supplier of major league baseballs for 100 years – from 1876 to 1976 – until St. Louis-based Rawlings became the official supplier. Could that have anything to do with the rivalry between the Cardinals and Cubs?

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"This story is part of the INVENTION MYSTERIES series by author Paul Niemann. More information is available at "  

Activity Guide for Students for Who invented the modern baseball glove?
This one requires a little more research: Searching through the library, find out the name of the persons who invented the following sports-related items:  Basketball, football, soccer ball, volleyball, hockey stick and hockey puck.  


# 11:  Where did the Barbie Doll and Baby Ruth originate?

Today we learn about two success stories and the real-life women behind them. One was born to a very successful female CEO at a time when there weren’t many women executives in corporate America, while the other was supposedly born to a First Lady.

One has its roots in the proverbial “inventor’s garage,” while the other was supposedly born in the White House. I’m talking, both figuratively and literally, about the Barbie Doll and the Baby Ruth candy bar.

One woman was one of the first female CEO’s in our country’s history, while the other was supposedly the first child born to a president’s family in the White House. The first story is based on indisputable truth, while the second one is either truth or urban legend, depending on who you want to believe.


Prior to the three-dimensional Barbie Doll, most dolls were two-dimensional and made of cardboard. They came with paper dresses with little tabs that bent over the edges of the doll, as well as hats with slits to slide over their heads. Like her cardboard predecessor, the Barbie Dolls were also patterned after full-grown women. Ruth wanted to create a doll that inspired girls to think about what they wanted to become when they got older.

Ruth named the Barbie Doll after her daughter. She also created the Mattel name in 1943 when she combined the names of the company’s co-founders, her husband Elliot Handler and Harold Mattson. Barbie has accompanied millions of girls through their childhood years. Her boyfriend Ken was named after real-life Barbie’s real-life brother. More than a billion Barbie Dolls have been sold since Barbie arrived on the scene at the annual Toy Fair in New York City in 1959. Oddly enough, when Handler approached the all-male group of ad executives at Mattel, the group rejected her Barbie Doll idea because they thought the doll was too expensive and didn’t have enough potential.

The Barbie Doll is the toy industry’s most successful product line of all time, a line that consists of more than 600 different Barbies. A Barbie was even included in the official “America’s Time Capsule” buried at the 1976 Bicentennial celebration. The Handlers left the company in the mid-1970’s.


The Baby Ruth candy bar made its debut in 1921, a product of the Curtiss Candy Company. The company claims that the bar was named after President Grover Cleveland’s baby daughter, who was born in 1892.

This is where it gets interesting – and where the urban legend comes into play.

The Curtiss Candy Company claims that the name and the style of lettering was patterned after a medallion at a Chicago expo in 1893 which pictured the president, along with his wife and daughter.

Curtiss’s main office was in Chicago, and their official explanation of the bar’s name was that, “Our candy bar made its initial appearance in 1921, some years before Babe Ruth … became famous. The similarity of names, therefore, is purely coincidental.” The company went on to explain that Ruth Cleveland visited the Curtiss Candy Company when the company was just getting started. Since Ruth Cleveland had died at the age of 12 in 1904 and the company wasn’t founded until 1916 (the candy bar made its debut in 1921), I’m going to go out on a limb and say that their claim wasn’t totally accurate. Then again, both the company and the presidential medallion mentioned earlier were from Chicago. Plus, the candy bar was named “Baby Ruth” rather than “Babe Ruth.”

By 1921, Babe Ruth had become a famous Yankees outfielder, while Grover Cleveland had been out of office for more than 25 years. This makes it hard to believe that the candy bar was named after Ruth Cleveland.

So are we really supposed to believe that the company named the candy bar after the former president’s daughter rather than a rising star like Babe Ruth?

It’s hard to say for sure. Just as there’s no consensus over the 100-year old debate as to who invented the game of baseball – Alexander Cartwright or Abner Doubleday – there’s no consensus as to who the famous candy bar was named after.

At least there’s no doubt who Barbie was named after.

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This story is part of the Invention Mysteries series by Author Paul Niemann. For more information, please visit

Activity Guide for Students for “Where did the Barbie Doll and Baby Ruth originate?”
Search the News-Press and other sources to find the origins of at least three characters. They can be fictional or real. Then write each one down in your notebook, and write a paragraph about each character by describing it and the benefits that it brings to people. 



# 12:    What do these inventors have in common?

It’s time for a short pop quiz, with only one question. So you either get a 100% or a 0%. The pressure’s on.  

QUESTION:  What do the inventors of the following products have in common?  

ANSWER:      They were all women.  

There are many interesting facts about female inventors that you probably don’t know. For example, women were not allowed to own property during parts of the 1700’s and 1800’s. Since patents are considered property, women were not allowed to get patents on their inventions.  

For example, Ann Mathews invented a process for cleaning and curing corn in 1715. She is believed to be the first woman whose invention eventually received a patent, although it was granted to her husband. Some inventors applied for patents by using their initials instead of their first names, and it is likely that some of these inventors were women. There were other women besides Ms. Mathews who filed for patents in their husbands’ names.  

So when did female inventors break through the gender barrier?  

Mary Kies is believed to be the first known woman to receive a patent when she patented her process of weaving straw with silk in 1809. Ms. Kies did not receive a patent number for her invention, though, because the patent office didn’t issue patent numbers until 1836. Approximately 10,000 non-numbered patents were issued prior to 1836, and most of those were lost when a fire destroyed the patent office building that year.  

The first black woman to receive a U.S. patent was Sarah Goode in 1885. Goode owned a furniture store in Chicago when she patented a cabinet bed.  

In 1890, fewer than one percent of U.S. patents were issued to women. By 2002, that number had risen to fifteen percent.  

In 1991, Gertrude Elion became the first woman inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame, which is located in Akron, Ohio. Elion and her colleague George Hitchings created drugs to fight leukemia, gout, malaria, herpes and AIDS. Altogether, she was involved with 45 patents and was awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1988.  

Ms. Elion wasn’t the first woman to win a Nobel Prize, though. That honor went to Marie Curie in 1903. It was another woman, Bertha von Suttner, who helped convince Alfred Nobel to establish a Nobel Prize for Peace, which she won in 1905. Altogether, 31 women have won the various Prizes since they were established in 2001.  

It probably comes as no surprise that women invented the first washing machine and the first dishwasher since women did nearly all of the housework in those days, but women also invented the Kevlar ® used in bulletproof vests, as well as fire escapes, laser printers, Liquid Paper ®, Scotchgard ® and the COBOL computer language, just to name a few.  

Who was it who told me that in 1890 fewer than one percent of U.S. patents were issued to women?  

The editor of Inventor’s Digest magazine who – you guessed it – is a woman.  

# # #

"This story is part of the INVENTION MYSTERIES series by author Paul Niemann. More information is available at "

Activity Guide for Students for “What do these inventors have in common?”
Working with two of your classmates, search
the News-Press for the next 3 days to find examples of three women inventors or innovators who achieved greatness. They can be local people or famous people. In your notebook or scrapbook, explain what each one accomplished and how she accomplished it. Also explain what obstacles each woman had to overcome.

Do you think the fact that they were women helped them or hurt them? Or neither? Are there more opportunities for women today than there were in your parents’ generation, or fewer? What about your grandparents’ generation?  


# 13:  In the shadow of a genius lies a brilliant woman

This isn’t the rare story about a man who was overshadowed by his wife. It’s the tragic story of a woman overshadowed by her husband. Most people have never heard of her, but everyone knows his name.  

Her name was Mileva Maric, and she was born in 1875 near Zagreb, in what is now Croatia. She was born with a birth defect that was common in her region, and it caused her to walk with a limp all throughout her life.  

Mileva was a successful, self-made woman who gave up a promising career to help her husband pursue his career. She was a few years younger than Marie Curie, and the two met later in life. She might have been on a par with Curie if she had pursued her own career. Her story remains mostly unknown to this day, even to historians.  

When Mileva was 20, she began studying medicine at a university in Zurich, one of the few universities at the time that admitted women. This is where she met her future husband, who was three years younger than she. We’ll call him Al until his full name is revealed. Al was a Jewish boy from Munich, Germany.  

Both Mileva and Al failed their final exams at the university, probably as a result of spending too much time together and not enough time studying. (Parents, feel free to use this column to lecture your kids on what will happen to them if they don’t study.)  

Al later received a diploma, but Mileva did not. When Al was the only person in his class to not receive a teaching offer, he went to work at the Swiss patent office. It was while working at the patent office that he became a household name, albeit not for patenting any of his inventions.  

Al’s parents disapproved of the relationship from the beginning. For one reason, Mileva and Al were of different faiths. To make matters worse, she became pregnant out of wedlock with his child. Worse yet, her parents disapproved of the relationship, too.  

After losing their daughter, Lieserl, to an early death, they had two sons, Hans and Eduard. The couple had a breakthrough year in 1905 when Al had three of his scientific papers published. The third one was entitled, “On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies.”  

Their marriage was turbulent at times, and they divorced in 1918 after 16 years of marriage. Al later married again, this time to his cousin Elsa, only to have that marriage end in divorce, too.  

Things didn’t turn out any better for Mileva. In 1920 she moved back home to help her ill parents, but she also had to care for her sister who was suffering from psychological problems. Her sister once burned a large sum of cash, literally, that was hidden in an empty stove. (Again, parents, feel free to use this column to lecture your kids on what can happen if they hide their cash in the stove.)  

As for Al’s “On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies” paper mentioned earlier, you probably know it by its other name … “Einstein’s Theory of Relativity.” Albert went on to win the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1921.  

You knew all along that it was Albert Einstein, didn’t you?  

Mileva spent the last years of her life caring for their son, Eduard, who was suffering from schizophrenia. While Albert was not a very good husband, he was an even worse father. He emigrated to America in 1933 and never saw Eduard nor Mileva again, even though Eduard lived another 32 years.  

When Mileva died in 1948, her obituary made no mention of Albert. A hidden collection of love letters that Albert and Mileva had written to each other in their early years together was made public in 1990, finally revealing the extent to which Mileva contributed to Albert Einstein’s success.

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This story is part of the Invention Mysteries series by Author Paul Niemann. For more information, please visit

Activity Guide for Students for In the shadow of a genius lies a brilliant woman
Using whatever resource materials you can find – starting with the
News-Press – locate four other women who have accomplished important things in their lives. It can be in their careers or their personal or spiritual lives. Write these down in your notebook or scrapbook, and write a paragraph about each one. Explain how they were able to accomplish such greatness, and explain the importance of their accomplishments. Keep this notebook and refer back to it occasionally to let it inspire you to do great things.  

# 14:     Invention Mysteries Pop Quiz:

I’d like to honor the group of students in the marketing class that I teach at Quincy (IL) University in my hometown by turning this article into a pop quiz. You see, I told them recently that they would have a quiz on the “next chapter” the following week.  

They failed to read the class syllabus, though, as college students sometimes tend to do. If they had read it, they would have found that we were going straight from Chapter 3 to Chapter 5, skipping Chapter 4 in the process. As a result, they studied the wrong chapter and most of them failed the quiz!  

As I tell my students, there are no trick questions on my quizzes. Grading is as follows, and the answers appear at the end of the column. No peeking!  

All 15:              Inventive genius
11 – 14:           Wise as an owl
7 – 10:             Average
4 – 6:               Novice
0 – 3:               Go back to the drawing board 

1.      What protects an invention from infringement for twenty years?
a.  patent
b.  copyright
c.  trade secret
d.  trademark

2.      Which “bright” inventor was quoted as saying, “Genius is one percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration”?  
a.   Leonardo da Vinci
b.   Thomas Edison
c.   Alexander Graham Bell
d.   Rube Goldberg

3.      Which famous invention did Mark Twain turn down as an investment opportunity because he had recently invested in other inventions that had failed?
a.  the telegram
b.  the telestrator
c.  the telephone
d.  the telegraph

4.      Possible trick question here … TRUE or FALSE:  The inventor who perfected the Braille alphabet was … Mr. Braille.

5.      Which of the following inventors was born in the late 1300’s?
a. Samuel Morse
b. Johannes Gutenberg
c. Joseph Guillotine
d. Rube Goldberg

6.      The only U.S. President to receive a patent was …
a. George Washington
b. Abraham Lincoln
c. Teddy Roosevelt
d. Ronald Reagan

7.      Where is the U.S. patent office located?
a.  Chicago, IL
b.  Arlington, VA
c.  New York, NY
d.  Kokomo, IN

8.      TRUE or FALSE:  Around 1899, the former commissioner of the United States patent office was quoted as saying, “Everything that can be invented – has already been invented.”  

9.      TRUE or FALSE:  Michael Jackson, together with two other inventors, received a patent for an anti-gravity device for his moonwalk shoes.

10.   What protects books, plays, articles, songs, etc. from infringement?
a.  patent
b.  copyright
c.  trade secret
d.  trademark

11.  TRUE or FALSE:  The first U.S. patent to be awarded to a woman didn’t happen until the 1900’s.  

12.  Possible trick question # 2: TRUE or FALSE:  The inventor of the World Wide Web is an English computer scientist named Timothy Berners-Lee, not Al Gore.  

13.  TRUE or FALSE:  Ben Franklin invented bifocals as well as the first odometer used to measure the routes that mail carriers traveled.  

14.  TRUE or FALSE:  Thomas Edison holds the record for being granted the most U.S. patents for his inventions, with more than 1,000 patents in his name.  

15.    The famous invention cartoonist who designed elaborate methods to accomplish simple tasks was …  
a.  Rube Goldberg
     b.  Rube Goldberg
     c.  Rube Goldberg
     d.  All of the above

ANSWERS:   1-a; 2-b; 3-c; 4-true; 5-b; 6-b; 7-b; 8-true; 9-true; 10-b; 11-false; 12-true; 13-true; 14-true; 15-Rube Goldberg.

# # #

"This story is part of the INVENTION MYSTERIES series by author Paul Niemann. More information is available at "  

Curriculum Guide for Students for “Invention Mysteries pop quiz”
Working with two of your classmates, create your own pop quiz with ten or more questions that relate to inventions or inventors.



# 15:    Which U.S. Presidents were the most successful inventors?

Since my hometown of Quincy, Illinois, is named after a U.S. President – John Quincy Adams, our 6th President – I decided to write a story about those presidents who were our best inventors. By the way, there are 12 states that contain a Quincy:  California, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Washington.  

While Thomas Jefferson, our nation’s 3rd President, was the most accomplished inventor among all the U.S. Presidents, he did not hold a patent on any of his inventions. Only one President ever received a patent, and only one received a trademark. Who were they? Read on; the answers are at the end of the column.  

Among Thomas Jefferson’s inventions were such devices as a macaroni machine that he invented in 1787, the swivel chair, the spherical sundial, the moldboard plow and the cipher wheel, which was an ingenious way to allow people to code and decode messages. Jefferson ’s cipher wheel was used until 1802, and then it was “re-invented” just prior to World War I and used by the US army and other military services to send messages back and forth. Jefferson served as American minister to France in the 1780’s and, as a result of his travels throughout Europe, was able to adapt some of the things he saw in Europe to benefit Americans as well.  

Jefferson felt that all people should have access to new technology and, since he didn’t want others to be deprived of the benefits that new inventions bring, he never applied for a patent on any of his inventions. He considered patents to be an unfair monopoly.  

Several of Thomas Jefferson’s inventions are still in use today; they deal mainly with agricultural and mechanical products. He also was responsible for introducing French fries into the United States.  

One of Jefferson ’s most notable achievements was the founding of the University of Virginia, and this was one of only three achievements that he had listed on his tombstone.  

Jefferson ’s impact on the United States patent system can be seen today in the fact that each new patent application must meet three criteria before being issued a patent. A patent must be: New, not obvious, and useful. While Jefferson was the most prolific of any presidential inventor, he wasn’t the only President to have some success at inventing.  

In two separate boating incidents, one as a teenager on the Mississippi River and one on the Great Lakes, President Lincoln got his boats stuck in shallow waters, known as “shoals.” These two experiences inspired Lincoln to invent a solution to help him navigate his boat through shallow waters.  

A wooden model of this invention, which Lincoln made himself, is in the Smithsonian Institution. The invention was never sold to the public, though.  

In 1858, Lincoln called the introduction of patent laws one of the three most important developments “in the world's history,” along with the discovery of America and the perfection of printing.  

During the Civil War, he took a personal interest in the development of new types of weapons: iron ships, the observation balloon, the breech-loading rifle and the machine gun.  

President Washington was also a successful inventor, and in 1772 he received a trademark for his brand of flour.  

Since there haven't been very many Presidents who were considered inventors, I guess you could fish for additional Presidential inventions by insisting that President Nixon invented impeachment, and that President Clinton holds the current patent on it.  

While Thomas Jefferson invented the most new products of all the Presidents, only one U.S. President has ever received a patent, and it wasn’t Jefferson. Do you know which President received a patent?  

A.        George Washington
B.         Abraham Lincoln
C.        Teddy Roosevelt
D.        Harry Truman

ANSWER:      President Lincoln was issued Patent # 6,469 for “A Device for Buoying Vessels Over Shoals” on May 22, 1849 while still a Congressman in Illinois. If you guessed George Washington, you were close; he is the only President to receive a trademark, which he received in 1772 for his brand of flour.

# # #  

"This story is part of the INVENTION MYSTERIES series by author Paul Niemann. More information is available at "  

Activity Guide for Students for “Which U.S. Presidents were the most successful inventors?”
Look through the index of a history book for any stories of presidential inventors. Then search the News-Press for the next 7 days to find stories of any public figure who invented a new product. Try to find two or three of them. Cut these stories out and keep them in a notebook or scrapbook. Ask your teacher if he / she can think of any other public figure who was an inventor.  




# 16:    Which presidents are better inventors: Republicans or Democrats?

With the 2006 elections behind us, the Political Division of Invention Mysteries World Headquarters has issued its prediction for the 2008 presidential election.

Several U.S. presidents were inventors before they moved into the White House, so we take a look at how this could influence the election results. With my loyal and bipartisan dog, Patent, watching over me to make sure that I score this contest accurately, we’ve devised a system that’s fair to both parties.  

Votes will be awarded as follows:  

In chronological order, we begin with Thomas Jefferson, who was by far the greatest presidential inventor in U.S. history. Jefferson created at least nine successful inventions, including: A moldboard plow, a wheel cipher, a spherical sundial, a portable copying press, automatic double doors, the bookstand, the swivel chair, the dumbwaiter and a macaroni machine. That’s 18 votes if you’re keeping score at home. He also introduced French fries, ice cream, waffles, and macaroni to the U.S.

Abe Lincoln invented a solution to help him navigate a boat through shallow waters while he was an Illinois Congressman. He was issued Patent # 6,469 for “A Device for Buoying Vessels Over Shoals” in 1849. Lincoln never commercialized his invention, but he made a wooden model of it which sits in the Smithsonian Institution. Score two points for Lincoln’s Republican Party.  

Even though Lincoln’s successor, Andrew Johnson, didn’t invent the process of impeachment, he was the first U.S. president to actually be impeached (he was impeached by the House but acquitted by one vote in the Senate). Deduct three votes, but for which party? Johnson was both a Democrat and a Republican during his career, so his negative votes get thrown out.

Enter another Republican president, Rutherford B. Hayes. President Hayes was not an inventor, but we deduct two votes from his party under the “Acts Unbecoming of a President” clause instituted at the beginning of this column. Some might even say that Hayes’s offense, like Johnson’s, was an impeachable one. What was his crime?  

Upon seeing a demonstration of Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone in 1876, Hayes failed to realize its benefits at first. He remarked, “That’s an amazing invention, but who would ever want to use one of them?”  By the way, the “B” in his middle name stands for “Birchard.”  

Another Republican, Teddy Roosevelt, gets two votes for the teddy bear that bears his name. Roosevelt didn’t patent the teddy bear because he’s not the one who created it. It was invented by Morris Michtom, who named it after the president and presented it to him as a gift in 1903.  

Deduct three votes for the Republican Party for Richard Nixon’s impeachment and subsequent resignation. His negative votes get cancelled out by Democrat Bill Clinton’s impeachment, though.  

So there you have it – the entire 215-year history of presidential inventions in a nutshell. Now it’s time to count up the votes to see which party will occupy the White House for the next four years. Drumroll, please.  

The votes are in, and it doesn’t look good for either party. The Republicans, with Lincoln, Hayes, Roosevelt and Nixon, have minus one vote, while the Democrats have minus three votes because of Clinton’s impeachment. This means that Thomas Jefferson’s party is the winner. To which party did Thomas Jefferson belong?  

He was a member of – and I’m not making this up – the “Democratic-Republican Party.” When Jefferson was first elected in 1801, the nation didn’t have the same two-party system that it has today. There were additional political parties during the 1800’s, such as the Federalists and the Whigs.  

I think we need a re-count.

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"This story is part of the INVENTION MYSTERIES series by author Paul Niemann. More information is available at "  

Curriculum Guide for Students for Which presidents are better inventors: Republicans or Democrats?
Look through the index of your history book for any stories of U.S. presidents. Then search the News-Press each day for the next 7 days to find stories of any public figure who invented a new product. Try to find two or three of them. Cut these stories out and keep them in a notebook or scrapbook. Ask your teacher if he / she can think of any other public figures who were inventors.


# 17:    Screen Doors for Submarines and Lead Balloons: 
20 of the craziest inventions of all time

Today you’ll see some odd inventions that were just not meant to be. To get the maximum amount of enjoyment out of this article, try to visualize what each of these must-see, must-have inventions might have looked like.  

Can you guess which ones were actually patented, and which ones were left on the cutting room floor – sending the inventor back to the old drawing board? The answer appears at the end of the column.  

1.      Flying saucer submarine.

2.      A method of growing unicorns.

3.      A dog watch. I presume this is for the busy executive dog on a tight schedule? And does every hour equal 7 hours in dog hours?

4.      An amphibious horse drawn light vehicle, which is used by a horse walking in shallow water. Does it come with a water bucket in case the horse gets thirsty?

5.      A leash for walking an imaginary dog, which produces a variety of barks, growls, etc. A similar version of this actually made it onto the market back in the '70's!

6.      Toilet seat landing lights.

7.      A Santa Claus detector, which signals the arrival of Santa Claus. If this one really exists, would there be a debate over whether or not it really exists?

8.      A drive-thru ATM machine with instructions written in Braille (think about it).

9.      A device for producing dimples. And you thought people were just born that way!

10.  A haircut machine that sucks in your hair like a vacuum cleaner, and then gives it a perfect cut.

11.  A motorized ice cream cone. Don't you wish you would have had that as a kid?

12.  A drip pan for caskets (in case the dead leak!).

13.  A jet-powered surfboard.

14.  An all-terrain baby stroller. For the adventuresome little tykes!

15.  A pet petter. This device has a human-like hand that pets Rover when you're not able to.

16.  A slingshot golfing system. This device slings the little white ball, then converts into a putter once you reach the putting green.

17.  A human slingshot machine.

18.  A gas-powered snow ski fan. For those who live in the Midwest and other mountainless areas.

Check out these nifty little inventions from across the pond:

Americans don’t have a monopoly on ridiculous patents, so we present you with two of Great Britain ’s craziest inventions:

19. A horse-powered minibus, in which the horse walks along a treadmill in the middle of the bus to drive the wheels via a gearbox.

20. A ladder which enables spiders to climb out of the bathtub.

So which of these 20 “inventions” were actually patented, and which ones were left on the cutting room floor?

ANSWER:      All of the above inventions were patented!

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"This story is part of the INVENTION MYSTERIES series by author Paul Niemann. More information is available at "

Activity Guide for Students for “Screen Doors for Submarines and Lead Balloons: 20 of the craziest inventions of all time”
Working with some of your friends, create your own crazy inventions. Search the News-Press to get some new product ideas. Look at some of the ads in the newspaper and try to switch some of the advertised products in the ads with other products. Come up with at least two or three inventions. Now for the fun part: Name each of your new inventions.


# 18:  The verdict is in on these ridiculous inventions

It’s time for another list of some of the most ridiculous inventions ever patented. If the patent office ever decided to create a blooper reel, these inventions could make the cut.

These are real inventions which the inventors actually thought would succeed – as opposed to ideas that never made it to the drawing board, such as a submarine with a sunroof, an inflatable dartboard or a helicopter with an ejector seat (think about it). Last year’s list included a pet petter, a Santa Claus detector, a motorized ice cream cone and toilet seat landing lights.

To get maximum enjoyment out of this story, try to imagine what these inventions would look like. If they were on the market – and trust me, they’re not – you could purchase them in order to “Not keep up with the Joneses.” Here are the nominees …

# 10.    The keg head: This 9-inch mini keg sits on the sports fan’s head, and comes complete with a spigot for dispensing any type of drink. It’s ideal for the fan who doesn’t want to leave his seat for fear of missing a great play.

# 9.      The toilet tank aquarium: I love inventions that are so descriptively named, because it’s pretty easy to figure out what this one would look like. Have you ever asked yourself, “Now, why didn’t I think of that?”

# 8.      The parachute hat: This one would work just as you would picture it to work – if only it would work. It was probably intended as a way to escape a burning building … okay, now it makes perfect sense! The parachute hat comes to us from England , and I sure hope they don’t have any plans to export it. Unless they export it to France .

# 7.      A helmet fitted with a rifle: This is another contraption dreamed up by those clever British. The recoil broke a guinea pig’s neck during the experimentation phase. Unfortunately, the guinea pig was a real person.

# 6.      Eye glasses for chickens: This one isn’t as far-fetched as it sounds, because chickens have been known to poke at each other's eyes.

# 5.      The process of reincarnation or rebirth which results in immortality: I wonder if the inventor created this process in this lifetime or in a previous lifetime? It kind of makes you wonder what the inventor did for a living in his previous life.

# 4.      Training pants for dogs: We’ll leave this one alone.

# 3.      Tricycle lawnmower. Some things were just meant to go together … like a clock and radio, or chocolate and peanut butter, but not tricycles and lawnmowers.

# 2.      A coffin with an escape hatch:  This would be ideal for the inventor of # 5 above.

And the “winner” is …

# 1.      The bird harness. Like each of the inventions above, this is a true story. This story is so bizarre that it would be impossible to make up. A lady put a bird harness on her bird and took the bird to the park, only to see it get spooked by the sound of flying ducks, who were spooked by a dog. The bird – while attached to the bird harness– flies to a nearby tree and gets stuck. As the poor little bird tries to escape, he accidentally hangs himself.

How is it possible that any of these inventions could receive a patent?

In order to be granted a patent, an invention must meet three criteria: It must be new; it must be “unobvious” to people in that particular industry; and it must be useful. Each of these inventions could be considered new and unobvious, but it’s hard to imagine how they can be considered useful.

If you know of an invention that should be included in a future story, send me an e-mail and I might just include it in next year’s list.

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"This story is part of the INVENTION MYSTERIES series by author Paul Niemann. More information is available at "

Activity Guide for Students for The verdict is in on these ridiculous inventions
Working with some of your friends, create more of your own crazy inventions. Search the News-Press to get some new product ideas. Look at some of the ads in the newspaper and try to switch some of the advertised products in the ads with other products. Come up with at least two or three inventions. Then name each of your new inventions.


# 19:    Inventors’ quirks lead to the pursuit of worthless trivia

A common myth about inventors is that they stay up all hours of the night working in their garages. Another myth is that they are eccentric and have frazzled hair. While these aren’t very accurate descriptions, a number of inventors had quirks that made them very interesting. Maybe even peculiar; you be the judge.

Some of these little nuggets of trivia appeared in previous articles, so think of this story as a highlight film. Or, better yet, a bloopers reel. Best of all, it’s better than anything a person could make up.

We begin with some aviation trivia, such as …

·        The inventors of the first manned airplane, Wilbur and Orville Wright, never received their pilots’ licenses.

·        In case you’re wondering, Glenn Curtiss was assigned pilot’s license # 1 and the inventor of the modern folding parachute, Captain Tom Baldwin, was assigned pilot’s license # 7.

·        The “black box” flight recorders found in commercial airplanes are actually orange.

Even the most well-known inventors can run but they can’t hide from their quirks …

·        Even though Walt Disney “invented” Mickey Mouse, he was afraid of … mice!

·        One of the greatest visionaries and inventors of all time, left-handed Leonardo da Vinci, recorded his inventions and discoveries in his notebooks by writing backwards, from right to left. Some people believe that he did this in order to prevent others from copying his ideas, but that’s probably not true because his writings could easily be de-ciphered with a mirror.

·        A teacher sent little 6-year-old Tommy Edison home from school one day with a note stating, “He is too stupid to learn.” At the age of sixteen, he created his first invention, an “automatic repeater,” which transmitted telegraph signals between unmanned telegraph stations.

·        Magician Harry Houdini, who invented and patented a diver’s suit in 1921, was claustrophic. Who’d a thunk it? Actually, this makes sense when you realize that his diver’s suit invention was intended to allow a deep-sea diver to remove the suit by himself if he was in danger.

·        Alexander Graham Bell fought off more than 600 lawsuits over his telephone patent. He won all but two of them, and they were both over minor issues.

Since no bloopers story would be complete without government officials, we honor …

·        Former patent commissioner Charles Duell, who in 1899 remarked that “Everything that can be invented – has already been invented.”

·        Thomas Jefferson, our nation’s most accomplished Presidential inventor, did not patent any of his own inventions. He incorrectly believed that patents deprived people of the benefits that come with new inventions.

·        Jefferson apparently changed his mind about patents because he later helped establish the U.S. patent office and became its first patent commissioner.

·        The inventor of the World Wide Web, Tim Berners-Lee, could have patented it and probably become the wealthiest man alive (I’ll try to resist the urge to make an Al Gore comment here). Instead he chose not to patent it so that the Web could reach its full potential. If he had patented the Web, he probably would have faced 600 lawsuits from imposters claiming that they invented it. See Alexander Graham Bell above.

Finally, there’s even some trivia about people whose invention-related roles were misunderstood or just plain unknown throughout history …

·        Rube Goldberg’s claim to fame resulted from his cartoons depicting ten or more steps to achieve a simple task. Yet this man, whose name is synonymous with inventions, never invented anything in his life.

·        Alfred Nobel, the man who created the five Nobel Peace Prizes, is also the inventor of … dynamite.

In case you haven’t had enough worthless trivia yet, here’s one more for you: The orange black box flight recorders mentioned earlier were invented in Australia . Now you’ve had enough. 

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"This story is part of the INVENTION MYSTERIES series by author Paul Niemann. More information is available at "

Activity Guide for Students for Inventors’ quirks lead to the pursuit of worthless trivia
Working with some of your friends, search the News-Press to find other quirks that other people have. Try to find at least three of four people who have interesting quirks about them. Then explain why you think they act the way they do. 


# 20:    Here’s why you’ve never heard of the other person who invented the telephone  

We all know that Alexander Graham Bell is credited with inventing the telephone, but did you know that there was another person who tried to patent a different version of the telephone on the very same day as Bell in 1876?

Born in Ohio in 1835, he was a physics professor at nearby Oberlein College, and was a renowned inventor due to the musical telegraph that he invented. Little is known about him because, in what has to be one of the worst cases of being “a day late and a dollar short,” he arrived at the patent office two hours after Bell arrived to apply for a patent for his version of the telephone.  

His name is Elisha Gray and, as a result of arriving two hours after Bell arrived, most of the world has never heard of him.  

What happened?  

U.S. patent law states that the first one to invent a new product is the rightful owner of the product, regardless of who applies for a patent first. Adequate records are necessary whenever there is a dispute. Since Bell applied for his patent first, he was initially awarded the patent. 

Gray did prevent the issuance of Bell’s patent temporarily, however, pending a legal hearing. Since he did not keep adequate records of his design, however, he lost any possible rights as Bell’s right to the patent was later sustained by the U.S. Supreme Court and the rest, as they say, is history.  

The basis of Gray’s legal action against Bell was that Bell had filed for his patent before he had a working model of his telephone, according to Inventors’ Digest magazine. But the Supreme Court ruled that a person can prove that his invention is complete and ready for patenting even before a working model has been produced, a ruling that later served as a precedent on a similar type of lawsuit years later.  

Gray was not the only other person to stake a claim to inventing the telephone. Daniel Drawbaugh, who was born near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, claimed to have invented the telephone long before Bell filed a patent application in 1875. Drawbaugh didn't have any papers or records to prove his claim, though, and the Supreme Court rejected his claims by four votes to three. Alexander Graham Bell, on the other hand, had kept excellent records.  

Elisha Gray did go on to invent other products, such as the facsimile telegraph system that he patented in 1888. Bell, who was born in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1847, became a U.S. citizen in 1882. He went on to become one of the co-founders of the National Geographic Society, and he served as its president from 1896 to 1904.  

Elisha Gray, however, has been forgotten by much of the world.  

Was Bell’s telephone greeted with enthusiasm by everyone at the time?  

As is the case with many new inventions, there were those who rejected the telephone for one reason or another. Even President Rutherford B. Hayes was skeptical of the new device when Bell demonstrated it to him at the White House in 1876.  

There was also a well-known “investor” who had an opportunity to invest in the telephone directly with Bell, but he rejected the opportunity. According to his writings, he was a big fan of new inventions, but since he had previously invested in several that had failed, he turned down a chance to invest in the telephone. Who was he?  

Mark Twain, who patented two of his own inventions.  

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"This story is part of the INVENTION MYSTERIES series by author Paul Niemann. More information is available at"  

Activity Guide for Students for “Here’s why you’ve never heard of the other person who invented the telephone”
Write one or two paragraphs describing how you would rank Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone invention. In your opinion, where does Bell rank in terms of the greatest inventors in
U.S. history? Also, in one or two paragraphs, explain how his telephone invention has benefited mankind. Explain what life would be like without it.



# 21:  The verdict is in: This is the greatest invention of all time

The age-old question, “What's the greatest invention of all time?” has been debated for many years without any kind of consensus, so there’s probably not a perfect answer.  

Instead, let’s select the five greatest inventions of all time. First, let’s establish some criteria:   

1.    The number of people who use it or benefit from it.

2.    Its impact on society. For example, does it save lives?

3.    Its place on the historical timeline: Would this invention be possible without a previous invention?   

We won’t consider developments such as fire, the wheel, the alphabet or the spoken language because these are considered to be “discoveries” rather than “inventions.” Electricity could be classified as a discovery, too, but we include it in this column because of the subsequent electrical inventions that harnessed the power of electricity.  

The top contenders, in no particular order, are:  

·        Johannes Gutenberg’s printing press (invented in the mid-1400’s)

·        The discovery and use of electricity

·        Indoor plumbing (early records place its origin between 2,500 B.C. – 1,700 B.C.)

·        Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone (1876)

·        Thomas Edison’s incandescent light bulb (1879)

·        Sir Alexander Fleming’s penicillin (1928)

·        The mass-produced automobile (1901)

·        Personal computers (1965)

·        The Internet (1986)  

Using a process of elimination, Criteria # 3 (its place on the historical timeline) eliminates the Internet because it would not exist without the discovery of electricity, the invention of the telephone and computers. Computers cannot be considered the most important invention of all time because they depend on electricity.  

While the light bulb and the telephone have each been considered by many to be the greatest invention ever, neither one would have been invented without electricity. So these two get voted off the island for the same reason as computers and the Internet. 

So what are the five most important inventions in history?  

In my opinion, they are: The printing press, electricity, indoor plumbing, the automobile and penicillin. These have all impacted millions of lives in a positive way, and none of them required the use of a previous invention.  

Penicillin has saved millions of lives since Sir Alexander Fleming discovered it by accident in 1928. It also plays a major role in treating illnesses such as pneumonia, rheumatic fever and scarlet fever. In addition, it was the foundation for discovering many other antibiotics that are used today.  

Prior to the widespread use of indoor plumbing, many people died of dysentery, cholera and other sanitation-related diseases. There are no exact figures on the number of lives that have been lost due to a lack of indoor plumbing, but it’s been estimated to be in the millions worldwide. In terms of an invention’s impact on society and its ability to save lives, I believe indoor plumbing is even more important than penicillin.  

Many of today’s major inventions would not have been possible if the inventors had not received a good education. Johannes Gutenberg’s printing press brought us movable type and type-written books in the mid-1400’s, and is considered by many to be the greatest invention ever. Prior to the printing press, only the nobles and the wealthy had access to the kind of education that books afforded. Johannes Gutenberg made education available to the common man when he created his printing press, just as Henry Ford’s mass production of the automobile has changed the world in many ways. He made them available to the common man when he developed the concept of assembly line production.  

We all know that electricity has led to the development of everything from street lamps, indoor lighting, refrigerators and other household appliances, radio and television, the power to run our homes and workplaces, telephones, computers and the Internet, just to name a few. Not much else needs to be said about the importance of this invention.  

So in terms of an invention’s impact on society AND the number of people who have benefited from it, the five greatest inventions of all time, in my humble opinion, are:  

·        The mass-produced automobile

·        Penicillin

·        Indoor plumbing

·        Printing press

·        Electricity.

Keep in mind that there are millions of people in underdeveloped countries who do not benefit from any of these three inventions. Regardless of what you believe is the greatest invention of all time, there will be additional inventions created in the future that will have people still debating this topic a hundred years from now!  

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"This story is part of the INVENTION MYSTERIES series by author Paul Niemann. More information is available at "  

Activity Guide for Students for “The verdict is in: This is the greatest invention of all time”
Write a one-page paper explaining what you think is the greatest invention of all time. Explain why it is the greatest invention, using the three criteria mentioned in this story:

1.    The number of people who use it or benefit from it.

2.    Its impact on society. For example, does it save lives?

3.    Its place on the historical timeline: Would this invention be possible without a previous invention? 



# 22:  Meet Inventor STANLEY MASON, who sold his first invention at the age of seven

STANLEY MASON was born in 1921 in Trenton, New Jersey. He turned out his first successful invention when he was just seven years old – a clothespin fishing lure that he sold to his friends. Now 82 years young and living in Connecticut, Stanley Mason has created more than 100 inventions in his lifetime and received 60 U.S. patents over the last 50 years.  

Stanley Mason had something in common with Thomas Edison (who had 1,093 patents) and Jerome Lemelson (who had 583 patents): They each realized early in their inventing careers that there was no use inventing anything which could not be sold at a profit. This is important when you consider that 98 percent of all patents fail to produce a profit.  

Yet Stanley is different from Edison in the fact that he considers himself to be “an inventor of ordinary, everyday products.” Like Edison but unlike Lemelson, he started out working alone and later established his own team of inventors.  

Like many great inventors, Stanley improves existing products and creates entirely new ones. Major products that fit into his “new & improved” category include:  

      ·        the squeezable catsup bottle
the underwire bra
stringless Band-Aid ® packaging
dental floss dispensers
“instant” splints and casts for broken limbs

while his most successful “brand new” products include:

      ·        the first granola bars
fingerprint printing systems
heated pizza boxes
heatproof plastic microwave cookware
many toys and games
the world’s first form-fitted disposable diaper with sticky tabs rather than pins.

This last one, the form-fitted disposable diaper with no pins, is the product for which Mason is most well-known. He didn’t invent the first disposable diaper, though. That was accomplished by Marion Donovan in 1946, and she later sold her diaper rights to the founder of Pampers nine years later for $1 million.  

In case you’re wondering, it was NOT Stanley Mason who invented the Mason jar. That honor goes to John Mason of New York City, who patented it in 1858. Like many new products, the Mason jar is named after its inventor. In case you’re still wondering about the Mason jar, both the flat metal disk and the lid of the Mason jar were invented by two separate inventors in later years, neither of whom was named Mason.  

Now, back to our story.  

Mason reportedly starts every morning with an invention and believes in patenting each new idea before telling anybody about it. Some inventors, though, will tell you that it’s better to do some market research before patenting your product to determine if there’s a market for it.

The company that Stanley started, Simco, located adjacent to his Connecticut farmhouse, has been inventing new products for Fortune 500 companies since its inception in 1973, specializing in food-packaging, cosmetics, and medical devices.  

Stanley’s wife, Charlotte, is an inventor in her own right. She has received patents and has taught African women in the Congo how to become entrepreneurial. Stanley and Charlotte have traveled and worked in 80 countries around the world.  

Stanley Mason currently teaches entrepreneurship in an MBA program at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, CT. He also lectures at high schools on entrepreneurship and has written two books on inventing. “Going Solo” and “Inventing Small Products for Big Profits, Quickly” are available nationwide at major bookstores.  

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"This story is part of the INVENTION MYSTERIES series by author Paul Niemann. More information is available at "  

Activity Guide for Students for “Meet Inventor STANLEY MASON, who sold his first invention at the age of seven” …
See how many of Stanley Mason’s inventions you can find the next time you go to the grocery store. Take a copy of this story with you, and count how many of his inventions you see on the shelves.



# 23:  Who invented television … an American, a Russian-born immigrant or a Scot?

“This is a beautiful instrument. I wish I had invented it myself” – Vladimir Zworykin  

Many people believe that television was invented by General Electric or RCA (which stands for Radio Corporation of America), but can’t remember which big company invented it.  

Actually, television was invented by an independent inventor working alone. There were three inventors trying to develop television at the same time:   

1.         Philo Farnsworth, a 15-year old farmboy from Idaho who rode his horse to school each day.

2.         Vladimir Zworykin, a Russian immigrant born in 1889 who worked for RCA.

3.         John Baird, a Scottish inventor born in 1888.

Philo Farnsworth, whose grandfather settled with Brigham Young, was born in a log cabin in 1906. According to his ninety-five year old widow, Elma Farnsworth, he decided at age six that he was going to be an inventor when he grew up.  

Farnsworth conceived of what television should look like while plowing one of his family’s potato fields (although I doubt this is where the term “couch potato” comes from), and he drew illustrations on the chalkboard for his high school chemistry teacher to see.  

In his early twenties, he turned down job offers from both RCA and GE, choosing to go it alone. Both of these companies had spent millions of dollars trying to develop television. RCA had also waged a 7-year legal battle with Farnsworth over his patent rights.  

A major part of Farnsworth’s battle with RCA came from Vladimir Zworykin, who had developed an electronic method of scanning an image for RCA in 1925. After Zworykin was finally issued his patent thirteen years later, he couldn’t produce any evidence to prove that he had constructed and operated his system before Farnsworth did, and RCA lost the case.  

Across the ocean, there was another inventor obsessed with inventing the first working television. John Baird sent what he called ‘pictures by wireless’ in 1923, and then sent and received the first wireless television signal two years later. In 1928, he became the first person to broadcast live images across the Atlantic and he started broadcasting with the BBC regularly in 1929. But the process with which he did all this -- known as “mechanical scanning” -- soon became obsolete.  

Despite the competition with John Baird and the financial backing that RCA provided to Vladimir Zworykin, it was Philo Farnsworth who became the father of television. So did Farnsworth live happily ever after?  

Unfortunately, no. After beating Zworykin and RCA in court, Farnsworth was paid a handsome royalty for the right to license his television, which marked the first time RCA paid a royalty to anyone. Even though he developed modern television, RCA brought it to market first and began regular broadcasts in 1939 through NBC, which it owned.  

By 1941, Farnsworth was ready to follow RCA onto the market, but the United States government soon banned commercial television during World War II. By the time the war ended, Farnsworth’s patent had run out, and so did his luck. While he profited from the licenses that he sold, those licenses ran out when his patent expired.  

More than a decade after his death in 1971, Farnsworth finally received some of the credit that he deserved. The U.S. Postal Service commemorated him with a stamp in 1983, and he was given an honorary television Emmy Award in 2001. Time magazine recognized him as one of their “100 Most Influential Persons of the 20th Century.” By 1951, there were ten million TV sets in the United States and it is estimated that there are now more people who own a TV set than a telephone.  

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"This story is part of the INVENTION MYSTERIES series by author Paul Niemann. More information is available at "  

Activity Guide for Students for Who invented television … an American, a Russian born immigrant or a Scot?”
Search the News-Press and any other sources for examples of three other inventions that you just can’t live without – such as your CD player, your computer or your music player. Write each one down in your notebook, and list what kind of products you would use if you didn’t have the ones that you listed.



# 24:  Charles never received much recognition for his life-saving invention

This is the story of an inventor whose work with a first-class doctor led to thousands of lives being saved, yet he didn’t receive the recognition that he deserved.

His name was Charles, but I don’t want you to feel sorry for him, because Charles didn’t want the attention that comes with helping to create a life-saving invention. Charles had earned enough praise for his work in another field, totally unrelated to his work as a medical researcher and inventor.

Besides, since he was already known as the greatest in his field, he would probably not have been taken seriously as a medical researcher. Does anyone remember that Babe Ruth the actor once starred in a movie? Or that Mark Twain the inventor once earned more money from one of his inventions than from his writings that year?

Any unnecessary attention might hinder Charles’s work. His motivation came from the fact that his sister-in-law had a serious illness and there wasn’t any kind of medical device available that could save her life.

Charles approached Dr. Alexis Carrel of the Rockefeller Institute about working together. An odd pairing, the two hit it off immediately. Carrel, who had won a Nobel Prize for his work on organ transplants, was known as “the father of vascular surgery” and was somewhat quirky, while Charles was the amateur medical researcher with nationwide name recognition who chose to work in anonymity.

Dr. Carrel was from France, a country which gave Charles a hero’s welcome. He later won a Pulitzer Prize in 1939 for a book that he co-wrote with Charles called The Culture of Organs.” Charles would later win a Pulitzer Prize of his own for a book in a totally different field.

The two of them went about trying to create a way to keep the heart and other organs alive outside of the body during surgery. The result was a perfusion pump which consisted of an organ chamber, an equalization chamber and a pressure chamber, all contained in a glass container. It was designed to circulate blood through the body during surgery.

Charles created a system of floating valves, using airplane glue to seal the device shut. It had to be a closed system in order to keep things sterile. Charles had even suggested to Carrel that he bypass the heart during cardiac surgery, but Carrel refused. It took another 20 years before another surgeon accomplished open heart surgery in 1954.

When World War II began, both men walked away from their research. Carrel died during the war, ironically, of heart failure while Charles was stationed in the Pacific.

Success and inventing seemed to run in Charles’s family. His father was elected to the U.S. Congress five times and later made a run for the Senate, which he lost. His maternal grandfather was the dentist who invented the porcelain crown.

The family of Charles’s wife, Anne, was just as successful as Charles’s family. Anne’s father was a partner of J.P. Morgan as well as an ambassador to Mexico and later a U.S. senator. In fact, it was Anne’s anesthesiologist who led him to Dr. Carrel. Both Charles and Anne received numerous awards during their life together, yet they were haunted by the death of their infant son early in their marriage.

By now, you’ve probably figured out who Charles is. If not, here’s a re-cap of the clues:

·        France, a country which gave Charles a hero’s welcome.

·        Charles had won a Pulitzer Prize for his book.

·        Charles used airplane glue to seal the system of floating valves shut.

·        Charles and Anne were haunted by the death of their infant son.

The book was The Spirit of St. Louis, which Charles Lindbergh wrote in 1953.

Since Charles’s second career would probably have been overshadowed by his first – as was the case with actor Babe Ruth and inventor Mark Twain – he probably would not have been taken seriously as a medical researcher and inventor.

The invention came to be known as the Carrel-Lindbergh perfusion pump. Lindbergh’s contribution was the perfusion system and the centrifuge which he made to separate blood plasma without damaging it. Charles didn’t really create the first artificial heart as has been reported, but rather a way to keep organs alive outside the body during surgery.

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This story is part of the Invention Mysteries series by Author Paul Niemann. For more information, please visit

Activity Guide for Students for Charles never received much recognition for his life-saving invention”
Using whatever resource materials you can find – starting with the News-Press – locate four other people who have accomplished important things in more than one field. Write these down in your notebook or scrapbook, and write a paragraph about each one. Explain how they were able to accomplish such great things in more than one field, and explain the importance of their accomplishments, such as who their accomplishments helped. Keep this notebook and refer back to it occasionally to let it inspire you to do great things.  




# 25:  Take a ride back in time to the 1800’s to see how bicycles were invented and re-invented

The year 2003 marked the 100th anniversary of several historic events: Ford Motor Company was founded in 1903, the Wright Brothers’ successfully flew for the first time, the first World Series was played between Pittsburgh and Boston, and bicyclists competed in the first Tour de France in 2003.  

Today we look at the development of the invention that made the Tour de France possible, beginning with the first bicycle invented 86 years earlier.  

In this article, you’ll see how bicycles played a role in the development of the airplane, motorcycles and automobiles. But first, we take a ride back in history to see who invented the earliest versions of the bicycle and how they’ve evolved over time.  

The Walking Machine -- just like the Flintstones did it:  

In 1817, Baron Karl von Drais of Germany invented the first version of the bicycle, called the Draisienne. It came complete with a steering bar, but it had no pedals or brakes and was made entirely of wood. Riding it required you to push your feet along the ground one at a time to propel yourself forward.  

Kirkpatrick MacMillan, a blacksmith from Scotland, invented the first bicycle with foot pedals in the 1830’s to 1840’s, but he never patented it and it didn’t catch on.  

The Velocipede – 100% All-Natural Ingredients:  

Making its debut in 1865, the velocipede had pedals applied directly to the front wheel. Like its predecessor, it was made of wood and gave a very rough ride. 

The High Wheel Bicycle -- The First One to be Called a Bicycle:  

In 1870, the first all-metal frame appeared. With rubber tires and front-wheel spokes, it gave a much smoother ride. This is the version with the huge front wheel; it was believed that the bigger wheel would allow you to go faster, and it actually did allow you to go farther with each rotation of the tires.  

The high wheel bicycle was the first one to be called a bicycle, and they cost an average worker six months’ worth of pay. In 1864, the roller drive chain was invented, and is still used on bicycles today. Ball bearings were first used on bicycles in 1877. Other innovations included the use of a chain with sprockets and air-filled tires in the 1880’s. The pneumatic tire was invented by an Irish veterinarian named John Dunlop (as in Dunlop tires) in 1888. The high wheel bicycle was replaced with the “safety bicycle” in the 1880’s, which involved the use of a chain with sprockets and had two wheels of the same size.  

The High Wheel Tricycle:  

The adult tricycle contained two large rear wheels and one normal-sized front wheel, and was popular with women and with men who had to wear formal clothing to work.  

Some of the mechanical innovations used in cars today were originally invented for tricycles, such as rack and pinion steering, differentials and band brakes. Gottlieb Daimler, of Daimler-Benz fame, mounted his gas engine on a bicycle to create the world’s first motorcycle. The Duryea brothers, Charles and Frank, were among the first to build a successful automobile in 1896 and, like the Wright Brothers, they were bicycle mechanics.  

Recent Models:  

Three-speed bicycles were popular from the 1950’s through the 1970’s, until the 10-speed version began to replace them. Today, the latest models are mountain bikes and 24-speed bicycles, and the high-tech bicycles that race in the Tour de France have aerodynamic frames and ultra lightweight carbon fiber wheels.  

How did bicycles play a role in the Wright Brothers inventing the first airplane?  

The bicycle shop that the Wright Brothers ran before they began flying produced enough income to afford the brothers the opportunity to build and test their airplanes. They learned many of the basics of flight from their experiences in working on bicycles, such as how to transmit power with a chain and sprockets and how to steer. They also used a bicycle when testing their airplanes’ wing designs.

So there you have it – a brief story of the long history of bicycles, from the earliest version made of wood that had neither pedals nor brakes, all the way up to the current 24-speed version and the high-tech bicycle that American Lance Armstrong used to drive the French crazy with his seventh straight Tour de France victory.

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This story is part of the Invention Mysteries series by Author Paul Niemann. For more information, please visit

Activity Guide for Students for “Take a ride back to the 1800's to see how bicycles were invented and re-invented”
Search the News-Press and any other sources for three inventions that were created in the 1600’s, three inventions that were created in the 1700’s and three inventions that were created in the 1800’s. Write each one down in your notebook.


# 26:  A craving for ice cream led to the invention of the outboard motor

A few summers ago, I received a phone call from the marina where I had docked my boat in storage just three days earlier. The boat was nothing fancy – just a little 16-foot boat that I used for skiing, but it had a huge 115-horsepower motor that looked totally out of place on such a small boat.

That motor doubled the weight of the boat. Okay, I’m exaggerating. It tripled the weight.

I referred to the motor as a Binford 6000. Binford was the fictional sponsor on the TV show Home Improvement, and anything that has more power than normal is often referred to as a “Binford.”

The call from the marina that fateful night went something like this:

Marina person: “Mr. Niemann, your boat sunk.”

Me: (in a state of shock) “WHAT?!?”

Marina person: (louder) “Mr. Niemann, your boat sunk.”

Me: “I heard you the first time.” (After calming down a little) “Well, that’s not so bad. How’s the Binford 6000?”

Marina person: “Bad news, Sir. I’m afraid the motor went down with the ship.”

Me: (in another state of shock) “WHAT?!?”

Marina person: (louder) “Bad news, Sir. I’m afraid the motor went down with the ship.”

The next day I called my brother to help me pull it out, telling him to bring ropes, a pulley, a winch, whatever he could find.

So he brings a camera.

“Hey, this is a Kodak moment, and I want to get this on film,” he says. I think he wanted evidence in case I ever denied that my boat sunk.

After he took several pictures of me standing next to my little Titanic, we pulled it out of the water and towed it over to shore. After draining all the water out and towing it home, I looked for the cause of the leak. The caulking around the back side of the boat had worn off, and while it didn’t cause any problems when I took it out on the Mississippi River for a couple hours at a time, it couldn’t handle 3 days of constantly being in the water at the marina.

Not willing to spend the money that it would take to get it fixed, I was fortunate to find a mechanic who wanted to buy it despite the fact that it didn’t run anymore. Actually, I think he just wanted the Binford 6000 motor and not the rest of that old boat.

The whole incident, which I’ve been unable to forget even though it didn’t leave any psychological scars, made me think about how the Binford motor – uh, make that the outboard motor – was invented. It turns out that the Girlfriend (rather than the Mother) of Necessity was the inspiration behind this invention.

“Don’t row! Throw the oars away” …
The inventor’s ad writer, Bess, in an ad promoting his new invention:
The outboard motor

In 1906, a 29-year-old immigrant from Norway named Ole took his girlfriend for a picnic near a Wisconsin lake. She hinted that she wanted some ice cream, so Ole rowed his boat across the river to find her some ice cream. When the ice cream began to melt by the time he returned, he figured there must be a quicker way to power his boat. In fact, it was during this trip that he figured out that a boat might be able to use a gas engine.  

Ole came to America with his family when he was just five. At age ten, he quit school to work on the family farm. He had read about the internal combustion engine, and was no doubt inspired by its potential and its applications.  

When Ole was fifteen, he built two boats. Why two boats? Because his father, who had lost three uncles at sea, chopped the first boat to bits. Ole had never sailed before, but his boat worked just fine. He was as well-qualified to design the outboard motor as anyone.  

What was his last name?   

You guessed it: Evinrude. Like many other inventors whose products created an entirely new industry, Ole Evinrude created a whole new industry with his invention. And the person who inspired him to invent it, his girlfriend Bess, soon became his wife. His company later merged into the Outboard Marine Corporation.

I’m guessing that Ole probably checked his boat’s caulking before he stored it in the marina.

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This story is part of the Invention Mysteries series by Author Paul Niemann. For more information, please visit

Activity Guide for Students for “A craving for ice cream led to the invention of the outboard motor?”

Write down your answers to these questions in your notebook:

1.         Why was this invention so important, and in what ways has it benefited society?
2.         What was the key to the inventor’s success?
3.         What lessons can you learn from this story that you could apply to your life?


# 27:  The invention that nearly ruined its inventor

“I don’t think the goal was the magnitude of the money. My role was to defend the patent system” – Robert Kearns

Occasionally you hear a story in the news about an inventor having his idea stolen by a big company; this is one of those stories. It’s about an individual inventor and the battles he fought with the automakers to prevent them from stealing his invention. In 1964, Robert Kearns had invented intermittent windshield wipers while working out of his garage, and his efforts to launch them onto the American market led to court fights that lasted for years.  

Most inventors will tell you that it’s very hard to introduce a new invention to the automotive industry; Kearns found out the hard way. There are two common ways for an inventor to launch a new invention onto the market: You can license it to an existing company, or manufacture and sell the item yourself.  

In an eerie coincidence, the first windshield wipers were invented in 1903, exactly one hundred years ago, by Mary Anderson of Alabama during a trip to New York.  

For a product like intermittent windshield wipers, there were several reasons why it made more sense to try to license it to an existing company such as Ford, General Motors or Chrysler. First, these companies already have worldwide distribution established; second, they can install the wipers as standard equipment; and, third, it would be nearly impossible for an inventor to achieve critical mass selling the wipers himself. Unfortunately, any of the Big Three automakers could design their own version of intermittent windshield wipers by designing around Kearns’ original patent – and put him out of business.  

According to David Lindsey’s book, House of Invention, when Kearns met with representatives from Ford to demonstrate his wipers, he was told that all he needed to do was prove that they met industry standards. He did this in 1964 but rather than immediately license his wipers, Ford offered Kearns a job instead, which he gladly accepted. 

Kearns was laid off just five months later, though, and he soon noticed that his intermittent wipers began appearing on Ford cars, even though he did not license them to Ford. Kearns still held the patent rights. It’s one thing to have a company steal your idea, but imagine what it must feel like to have AN ENTIRE INDUSTRY steal your idea! That’s what happened to Kearns, as General Motors, Chrysler, Saab, Volvo, Honda and Rolls-Royce all followed Ford’s lead in stealing Kearns’ intermittent wipers.  

Kearns decided to fight them in court, initially serving as his own lawyer even though he had no legal background. Years of legal battles followed, and Kearns eventually won court settlements of $10.2 million from Ford and $11.5 from Chrysler. Today, nearly all new cars sold worldwide have intermittent windshield wipers. So this story turned out just fine for Kearns, right?  

Not exactly. The legal battles consumed nearly thirty years of his life. Kearns’ daughter Kathy once said, “The lawsuit is all we’ve ever known.” The inventor’s wife, after having finally lost her patience, left him. Kearns filed additional lawsuits against nineteen foreign automakers but lost, and his suit against General Motors was thrown out. Altogether, he spent nearly $8 million dollars in legal fees.  

We now know that inventor Robert Kearns won the battle, but only he and his family can decide who won the war. His fight was more about inventors’ rights than it was about money. It was about principle, as evidenced by the fact that he had turned down an earlier settlement offer of $30 million from Ford. Kearns’ intermittent windshield wipers have benefited car owners worldwide, even though the majority of them do not result in a royalty to Kearns.  

Kearns wasn’t the first inventor who invented a revolutionary new automotive product and didn’t see instant rewards. You see, Mary Anderson, who invented the precursor to Kearns’ invention, the windshield wiper, in 1903, never profited from her invention even though it had become standard equipment on American cars by 1913. Her story was quite different, though, as it didn’t involve lawsuits. Some companies see infringement lawsuits as merely a cost of doing business, but in this case, the automakers nearly ruined an inventor’s life in the process.

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This story is part of the Invention Mysteries series by Author Paul Niemann. For more information, please visit

Activity Guide for Students for “The invention that nearly ruined its inventor”
Search the News-Press each day for the next 7 days to find stories of people who had to overcome obstacles to achieve their goals. Write in your notebook or scrapbook the reasons they succeeded. Then set three goals that you want to accomplish in your lifetime. Write down any obstacles which you think you will have to overcome.




# 28:  These celebrities co-starred as real-life inventors

QUESTION:         What do the following famous people have in common?

      ·        Abraham Lincoln
Zeppo Marx
Hedy Lamar
Jamie Lee Curtis

ANSWER:   They all received U.S. patents on their inventions. Now try to match the inventor with their inventions:

      ·        A diaper equipped with a pre-moistened baby wipe
A device for buoying vessels over shoals
A wristwatch for cardiac patients
A secret communication system designed to help the allies in World War II

Here’s what they invented:

President Lincoln was issued Patent # 6,469 for “A Device for Buoying Vessels Over Shoals” in 1849 while he was still a Congressman in Illinois. It was never commercialized, but a wooden model of the device is on display at the Smithsonian Institution.  

Zeppo Marx, whose second wife Barbara later became the fourth wife of Frank Sinatra, was the youngest Marx brother, the one who Groucho said was “off screen, by far the wittiest and funniest of the brothers.” Zeppo patented a 1969 wristwatch for cardiac patients. It had two dials; one driven by the pulse of the wearer and the other keeping the steady beat of a normal heartbeat. Zeppo died of lung cancer in 1979 at the age of 78.  

Silver screen superstar Hedy Lamarr, born Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler in 1914 in Vienna , Austria , teamed up with composer George Antheil to patent an invention that manipulated radio frequencies and was intended to prevent the Nazis from intercepting radio-guided torpedoes in World War II. Lamarr personally knew both Hitler and Mussolini when she was married to a pro-Nazi arms dealer, the first of her six future ex-husbands.  

The Navy rejected Lamarr’s “Secret Communication System” in World War II but the patent, which was issued in 1942 and expired in 1959, served as a foundation in developing technologies that were used in the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Vietnam War and the Gulf War. The U.S. government kept the patent confidential until 1981 because it was under secrecy orders for national security reasons.   

The technology, which is similar to what happens when you hit the “scan” button on your car radio, was originally known as “frequency hopping” and is now used in cell phones, pagers, wireless internet devices and defense satellites. Hedy Lamarr died in 2000 at the age of 86.  

Jamie Lee Curtis, star of the 2003 hit movie, Freaky Friday, along with Trading Places, The Fish that Saved Pittsburgh and many other films, received U.S. Patent # 4,753,647 in 1988 for a diaper that holds a pre-moistened baby wipe.

# # #

This story is part of the Invention Mysteries series by Author Paul Niemann. For more information, please visit

Activity Guide for Students for “These celebrities co-starred as real-life inventors”  
Search the News-Press for any stories of people who do any work outside of their regular jobs, just like the celebrities in this story also worked as inventors. The stories doesn’t have to be invention-related. For example, you might find a story about a teacher who previously worked as an accountant, or a musician who once worked as a waiter.


# 29:       What do celebrities know about inventing that the rest of us don’t?
Today we look at the inventions of several celebrities. Each of these celebrities applied for and received patents on their inventions.
Harry Houdini received a patent in 1921 for a diver’s suit. His diver’s suit was meant to allow a deep-sea diver to remove the suit by himself 
if he was in danger. While Houdini could escape from just about any type of device, he realized that others could not. 
Comedian Danny Kaye received a patent in 1952 for a toy that used one mouthpiece to simultaneously unfurl three blow-out paper snakes 
used at birthday parties.
Steve McQueen was awarded a patent on the bucket seats used in his Ford Mustang in the 1968 movie, “Bullitt.”  
Actress Julie Newmar, who wore a skin-tight outfit in her role as “Catwoman” in the old Batman TV series, patented ultra-sheer, ultra-snug 
pantyhose. She appeared in the recent movie, “To Wong Fu, Thanks for Everything, Love Julie Newmar” and on TV in guest appearances 
in Bewitched, The Beverly Hillbillies and Star Trek in the 1960’s and most recently in Melrose Place.
Celebrity Mom Christie Brinkley created a set of educational blocks for kids, while Director Steven Spielberg received a design patent in 
1998 for a switch used on mobile camera equipment. 
Musicians Eddie Van Halen and Harry Connick, Jr. also received patents on their inventions. Van Halen’s patent was for a hands-free guitar 
support, while Connick received Patent # 6,348,648 last year for his method of displaying written music on computer screens. “It basically 
eliminates old-fashioned sheet music,” said Connick. 
What do celebrities know about inventing that the rest of us don’t?
Absolutely nothing! 
It’s not that difficult to get a patent. In fact, it reminds me of the true story of a man who wanted to prove that almost anyone could become a 
Kentucky Colonel if he had good credentials. So he sent in an application for his dog to become a Colonel and, sure enough, his dog became a 
While getting a patent is not as easy as becoming a Kentucky Colonel, it does require three steps:
Step # 1.    Create something that is new, useful and non-obvious to the average person in the industry.
Step # 2.    Conduct a patent search to determine if a similar product has already been patented. If there’s no previous patent that would 
prevent you from obtaining one, then you write the application. It is possible to do this on your own, but most people choose to hire a patent 
Step # 3.    File the application with the patent office. The average cost, including attorney fees, is around $4,000 for an individual inventor or 
small company, while the fees for a large corporation are much higher. 
Here’s an example of what is meant by “non-obvious” in Step # 1: The person who invented the Philips screwdriver was able to get a patent 
because the second groove – the one that set it apart from a regular screwdriver – wasn’t obvious to the average person. But it would now be 
impossible to get a patent on a screwdriver with three grooves because it would be an obvious difference. 
It’s common among inventors to create products that relate to their particular area of expertise. You probably noticed that each of our celebrity 
inventors created products that relate to their craft. And while it’s not difficult to get a patent, fewer than two percent of the 6 ½ million patents 
that have been issued since the patent office opened in 1790 have produced a profit for the inventor. That’s worth considering the next time you 
come up with a great new idea.

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"This story is part of the INVENTION MYSTERIES series by author Paul Niemann. More information is available at "  

Activity Guide for Students for What do celebrities know about inventing that the rest of us don’t?
Search the News-Press for stories of any celebrities who do any work outside of their regular jobs, just like the celebrities in this story also worked as inventors. The stories don’t have to be invention-related. For example, you might find a story about a well-known person who previously worked as a teacher, an accountant or a musician.


# 30:    How many of these little-known clues about inventors can you solve?

How many of these inventors can you match with the following little-known facts about them?

1.         This Frenchman was one of the founders of the theory of electricity.

2.         He was a college dropout who conceived of his invention while working in the Arctic .

3.         He published a chemical magazine to support his invalid parents when he was in high school, and went on to license his photocopying technology to Xerox.

4.         Born to slaves in Missouri and kidnapped by Confederates, he was known as “The Plant Doctor” and later became head of the Department of Agricultural Research at the Tuskegee Institute.

5.         His mouse is more than 70 years old.

6.         He sometimes gets credit for inventing the game of baseball, and he fired the first shot in defense during the Civil War.

7.         His partial deafness helped him concentrate better by being able to block out noise, leading to an invention that helped brighten people’s lives.

8.         He conceived the idea of television at age 14.

9.         This inventor named his heating process after Vulcan, the Roman god of fire, and was $200,000 in debt when he died.

10.       She co-founded Mattel before designing a doll which she named for her daughter.

11.       Prior to becoming our nation’s first patent commissioner, he opposed the concept of granting patents because he considered them to be an unfair monopoly.

12.       He established a company to make corporate jets, was a co-inventor of the world’s first car radio and was sole inventor of the 8-track tape player. He was also born in the same hometown as Mark Twain.

13.       One of four famous brothers, he invented a clamping device which was used to strap down the atomic bombs before they were dropped in World War II.

14.       The original version of his machine, which led him to start what later became the International Harvester Company, was pulled by horses.

15.       Before he became known for the biblical phrase, “What hath God wrought?” he was well-known for his paintings and was commissioned to paint President James Monroe, Eli Whitney and his neighbor Noah Webster.

16.       This Canadian golfer invented the do-over in his sport.

17.       This Canadian minister created basketball at a YMCA; his rules originally called for each team to have nine players, including a goal keeper (yes, a goal keeper).

18.       This “man of peace” invented dynamite.

19.       He used coca leaves and the cola nut in his recipe for Coca Cola.

20.       His “cool” invention was first used in southern California long before the NHL had a hockey team there.

Choose the correct answers from the following names. Each answer is used only once.

Ruth Handler
Zeppo Marx
Philo Farnsworth
George Washington Carver
David Mulligan
Chester Carlson
Alfred Nobel
Nelson Doubleday
Thomas Jefferson
Clarence Birdseye
James Naismith
Thomas Edison
Samuel Morse
Walt Disney
Frank Zamboni
Charles Goodyear
André Marie Ampère
William Lear
Cyrus McCormick

ANSWERS:   1. Ampère, 2. Birdseye, 3. Carlson, 4. Carver, 5. Disney, 6. Doubleday, 7. Edison, 8. Farnsworth, 9. Goodyear, 10. Handler, 11. Jefferson , 12. Lear, 13. Marx, 14. McCormick, 15. Morse, 16. Mulligan, 17. Naismith, 18. Nobel, 19. Pemberton, 20. Zamboni

You may have noticed a trend developing. The answers to each clue are listed in alphabetical order, according to each inventor’s last name.

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"This story is part of the INVENTION MYSTERIES series by author Paul Niemann. More information is available at "  

Activity Guide for Students for “How many of these little-known clues about inventors can you solve?”
Working with one other student, answer as many of these questions as you can, without looking at the answers. For the ones that you cannot answer, either go to the library or go online to find the answers, instead of looking at the answers. When you’re finished, check your answers with the answers provided here.


BONUS ARTICLE # 1:   Was an author named Richard the first person to discover electricity?

Long ago there was a popular author who went by the name of Richard. His best-selling book is still available more than 200 years after his death. Richard was a pretty good inventor, too; in fact, some of his inventions and ideas are still being used today.

Besides being an author, he was also a scientist, a statesman, a printer, an economist, a musician and a philosopher.

Did I mention that he was also the first postmaster general of the United States ? His work as postmaster general inspired him to invent the odometer, which measured the distance that mail carriers traveled. Why was it important to measure the distance they traveled? Because it would be another 80 years before someone would invent postage stamps, and the postage rate was calculated by the distance the mail carrier had to travel to deliver it. Then the recipient of the letter, not the sender, would pay the postage due.

Richard was also the first person to have his image appear on a U.S. stamp. Oddly enough, the second person to have his image appear on a stamp was George Washington.

You say you haven’t heard of him?

Maybe it would help if you knew his full name: Richard Saunders. Richard introduced some pretty original sayings in his book, such as “Haste makes waste” and “Early to bed, and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.”

His father had earlier landed in Boston when he immigrated to America looking for religious freedom. Born in 1706, Richard was the youngest of 16 kids – including 6 half siblings born to his father’s first wife. Like his father, he was the youngest son of a youngest son; in fact, he was one of five consecutive generations of youngest sons.

A man with many successful inventions and ideas, he was the first to suggest the idea of daylight savings time. This idea was years ahead of its time, though, as daylight savings time wasn’t implemented until long after Richard died. He had invented many things, but he chose to give them away rather than profit from them.

It was the lightning rod which resulted from his greatest accomplishment.

You still haven’t heard of him?

You probably have, but you just don’t realize it. Not yet, anyway. Maybe it would help if you knew that he was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, even though you won’t find Richard Saunders’ name anywhere on the document. You’ve probably heard of his popular book, Poor Richard’s Almanack, which he published each year for 25 years.

In a previous article in this column, we listed the five greatest inventions of all time, and one of those was the discovery and use of electricity. That was Richard’s main claim to fame. You see, he conducted a simple experiment with a kite and a key which enabled him to tap into the power of electricity.

That’s impossible, you say – Richard Saunders didn’t discover electricity.

Actually, Richard wasn’t his real name; it was his pen name. His real name was … Ben Franklin.

# # #

"This story is part of the INVENTION MYSTERIES series by author Paul Niemann. More information is available at "  

Activity Guide for Students for Was an author named Richard the first person to discover electricity?
Write one or two paragraphs describing how you would rank Ben Franklin as an inventor. In your opinion, is he one of the top ten inventors in history? Also, in one or two paragraphs, explain in your own words how his inventions have benefited mankind. 

 BONUS ARTICLE # 2:  The inventor didn’t regret missing out on an $8 million fortune

Sometimes two people cross paths and it changes history. Sometimes a business deal works out well for one person but not the other.

Joshua L. Cowen’s family arrived in New York shortly after the Civil War.  

Conrad Hubert immigrated to America in 1890 to avoid being persecuted as a Jew in his native Russia.  

In 1898, the two met and became friends. Joshua was an inventor running a business. Conrad was particularly interested in one of Joshua’s inventions, an “electric flowerpot,” and Joshua let his friend have it for practically free. Joshua was more interesting in inventing than in running a business anyway.  

Conrad re-designed the electric flowerpot by placing the battery and bulb inside a tube, and called it an “electric hand torch.” Field and Stream magazine later re-named it as the flashlight.  

While Conrad went on to amass an $8 million fortune, 22-year old Joshua founded another company in 1900 in a small, third-floor loft in Manhattan. He didn’t mind that he had sold his electric flowerpot for so little, as he was now doing what he really enjoyed – inventing.  

By 1953, Joshua’s company had become the largest toymaker in the world, although it has since declined. Joshua had named the company after himself, but that doesn’t tell you much because he named it after his middle name.  

He wasn’t the first to invent this type of product, but he was the first to use electricity to run it, as electricity was still rare in American homes in the early 1900’s. The product, whose origin probably began when Joshua whittled a miniature wooden model of it at age seven, was originally designed as a window display for stores. When Joshua noticed that people wanted to buy the display item, he decided to make them available for sale.  

You might not recognize the name of Joshua Lionel Cowen, even though his invention has bonded fathers and sons for more than 100 years, but I know you’ve heard of the Lionel Manufacturing Company, which has sold more than 50 million trains since it began more than a century ago.  

So the story about a man who basically gave away a product that led to another man’s fortune has a happy ending of its own.  

Lionel’s earliest trains were powered by batteries. Who did he buy his batteries from?  

I don’t know the answer to that one, but I’d like to think that he bought them from the company run by his friend, Conrad Hubert. The name of the company?  

Eveready Battery.  

Today, Eveready / Energizer is the world’s largest manufacturer of batteries and flashlights, and is headquartered in St. Louis with more than 10,000 employees in 140 countries.

Kind of interesting how these things work out, isn’t it?

# # #

"This story is part of the Invention Mysteries series by Author Paul Niemann. For more information, please visit"

Activity Guide for Students for “The inventor didn’t regret missing out on an $8 million fortune”
Research other people who have made sacrifices for the benefit of others. Write down the reasons why you think they made these sacrifices, and how they became better people for doing so. Also, write down who the recipients of their sacrifices were.



BONUS ARTICLE # 3:         
The Roman engineer had little hope for future inventions

In 10 A.D., Roman engineer Julius Sextus Frontinus said, “Inventions have long since reached their limit, and I see no hope for further developments.” He was obviously misinformed, but since that was more than 2,000 years ago and before the era of history books, 24-hour-a-day news channels and the Internet, we’ll give him a pass. Besides, he sets the stage for the rest of this story.  

A few others who have made similar remarks don’t get off so easy, though.  

For example, President Rutherford B. Hayes made the following remark when a young Mr. Bell presented him with a working model of his invention in 1876: “That’s an amazing invention, but who would ever want to use one of them?” Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone went on to become the most valuable patent in history. Bell, by the way, turned over all of his AT&T stock to his new bride.

Fast forward to 1895 when Lord Kelvin, president of England’s Royal Society, opined with the following: “Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible.” Eight years later, the Brothers Wright proved him wrong. A few years after that, Captain Tom Baldwin proved him wrong again when he designed the first dirigible for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (then known as the Army Signal Corps).

Lord Kelvin was considered a very brilliant man among his peers. His most notable achievement was the invention of the “absolute temperature scale,” which measures the lowest possible temperature in the universe at a negative 273 degrees Celsius. Known as the Kelvin scale, it is still used by scientists today.

“There is no likelihood man can ever tap the power of the atom.” This quote came from the 1923 Nobel Prize winner in physics, Robert Millikan. We all know how that turned out.

In 1927, Warner Brothers Studio was on the verge of bankruptcy when its president, Harry Warner, remarked, “Who the (heck) wants to hear actors talk?” Later that year they produced the first movie with talking actors, The Jazz Singer. Americans started going to the movies in droves, even though it was during the Great Depression, while silent movies had all but disappeared by 1930.

“I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.” Who said this? It was none other than IBM chairman Thomas Watson in 1943. He wasn’t alone in his logic, as the founder of DEC Computers, Ken Olson, said a few decades later, “There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.”

Apparently there are no patent restrictions on making foolish quotes because the commissioner of the United States patent office allegedly did it, too. It’s been reported that in 1899 commissioner Charles Duell said, “Everything that can be invented has already been invented,” although this quote has been often denied. The patent office has registered more than 6.5 million patents since its inception in 1790, and the U.S. continues to lead the rest of the world in technological innovations, partially because of the way our patent system is set up.

If these quotes make you nostalgic for the stories that your grandfather told of the good old days when inventions like the telephone, movies with talking actors, heavier-than-air flying machines and computers were still in their infancy, that’s OK. I hope these quotes from the experts serve as a personal motivation for you whenever someone shoots down one of your great ideas.

The people mentioned above were a very successful and intelligent group, yet their quotes now live in infamy. So if you’ve ever made one of those predictions that sounded good at the time, like I did in the ‘80’s when I predicted that 8-track tapes would make cassettes obsolete, then you’re in pretty good company with a Roman engineer, a U.S. president, the founder of a multi-million movie studio, an IBM president and a Nobel Prize winner.

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This story is part of the Invention Mysteries series by Author Paul Niemann. For more information, please visit

Activity Guide for Students for “The Roman engineer had little hope for future inventions”  
Many great accomplishments were preceded by negative naysayers who said that certain things were impossible. Think of three other examples in which people faced skepticism as they set out to accomplish something great. Write them in your notebook or scrapbook and explain why it is important to not let skeptics prevent you from doing great things.


BONUS ARTICLE # 4:         
This inventor’s mouse and duck are more than 70 years old!

Some stories tell of a person who did something spectacular in his lifetime to benefit millions of people, yet the person remains anonymous. The kind of person who everyone knows his contribution but no one knows his name.

This is not one of those stories.

This is a story about a man who you’ve probably heard of unless you live in a cave, and he invented something called the multi-plane camera in 1937. Most people have never heard of the multi-plane camera, but it was the only invention this inventor ever patented. This single invention has touched the life of nearly every American, and the inventor’s name is synonymous with the company he founded with his brother.

He was born in Chicago in 1901 and grew up on a farm near Marcelline, Missouri. He kept a mouse AND a duck alive for more than seventy years. In fact, both the mouse and the duck are alive and doing well, even though the man died in 1966.

He grew up not far from where J.C. Penney (as in J.C. Penney) was born. J.C. Penney went on to amass a fortune as one of the world’s most successful retailers, but the young farmboy’s story is just as impressive. Farming wasn’t what made him famous, though.

He began drawing at age five and sold his first works at age seven. When he was just sixteen, he wanted to join the military but was rejected because of his age. He then joined the Red Cross and was sent overseas. He was assigned to drive an ambulance, which he covered with cartoons that he had drawn.

When he returned stateside in 1920, he moved to Kansas City to begin a career as an advertising cartoonist. A few years later, he moved to California at age twenty-two with just $40 in his pocket to join his brother and pursue his dream.

The afore-mentioned mouse and duck made him wealthy and famous during the Great Depression. You can imagine the popularity of a 70-year old mouse and duck in circuses as a side-show attraction. What a team!

That’s not what happened, though. What’s the significance of the multi-plane camera, you ask?

The multiplane camera brought better looking, richer animation to the big screen. It fueled the imagination of the inventor / artist and allowed other artists who worked for him to expand their work. He also used it to produce Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, which was the first full-length animated film to use the multi-plane camera in 1937.

Since you’ve probably figured out the identities of the man, the mouse and the duck by now, there’s no use in stringing you along any more. We’re talking about Walt Disney (as in Walt Disney).

“Oh, I get it … that’s the 70-year old mouse and duck he was talking about.”

Disney introduced Mickey Mouse in his second movie, Steamboat Willie, in 1928 and Donald Duck in The Little Wise Hen in 1934.

Walt Disney earned the first of his thirty Academy Awards in 1932. He also received the Medal of Freedom from President Lyndon Johnson in 1964. He and his wife Lilly had two daughters.

What’s particularly inspiring about Disney is how he rose out of nowhere to become an industry giant. From humble beginnings, the Disney Corporation has made hundreds of films since Walt left for Hollywood in 1923 to join his brother. Including theme parks and merchandise, the Disney Corporation rings up annual sales of $22 billion. Walt Disney was inducted into the Inventors Hall of Fame posthumously in 2000.

There’s one other thing you might not have known about Walt Disney. He was afraid of mice!

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"This story is part of the Invention Mysteries series by Author Paul Niemann. For more information, please visit"

Activity Guide for Students for “This inventor’s mouse and duck are more than 70 years old!”  
There are many movies made by the Disney Corporation. Write down the names of three or more movies that are based on an invention. They don’t have to be Disney movies. Write a paragraph about each movie, and include a description of the inventions and how each one helps people. 









Activity Guide for Students for Invention Mysteries Crossword puzzle”  
Working with two of your classmates, create your own crossword puzzle with ten or more questions that relate to inventions or inventors. You can use the free software at once you’ve written all the clues and answers.

© 2006 -- 2007 Paul Niemann