About Kate Wiley

Kate Wiley is the Public Affairs Specialist for the Lemelson Center.

Innovating New Traditions

As Thanksgiving approaches, our thoughts naturally turn to traditions—national traditions like the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and our own personal traditions, which in my family means kielbasa and apple pie, going to the local Christmas tree farm, and my family members pretending to be shocked when I decline a serving of carrots for the 28th year in a row. (And, of course, my mother’s mashed potatoes, over which I rhapsodized in a previous post.)

Woodcut of a turkey

Woodcut, The Marchbanks Calendar–November by Harry Cimino. Smithsonian American Art Museum.

We all have traditions, but where did they come from? When we deep-fry the turkey or add a spiral ham to the menu, it may not seem particularly innovative. But the technology behind these yummy traditions had to come from somewhere. While doing some Thanksgiving-inspired Googling, I came across this fun video from History on the invention of deep-fried turkeys, turduckens, and honey baked hams:

While we may not know who invented the deep-fried turkey, we can take a look at Harry Hoenselaar’s patent (#2470078A) for an “apparatus for slicing ham on the bone.” Hoenselaar’s invention was ingeniously created out of various objects found around his home—a pie tin, brackets, a hand drill, and a broom handle, to name a few. The patent application reads:

In the meat industry there is a large market for sliced meats, particularly for ham slices, but the bone construction and the shape of a ham is such that no wholly satisfactory method of slicing it exists. This statement also applies to legs of lamb and other like cuts of meat.

It is an object of the invention to provide a method and a machine for slicing ham and other joints, which are of exceptional efficiency in operation. Another object of the invention is to prepare ham for the market in a new and superior form.

Millions of spiral cut hams are sold every year, so I believe we can safely say that Hoenselaar accomplished what he set out to do—create an “efficient” ham.

Patent drawing of the ham slicing machine.

Patent drawing by Harry Hoenselaar.

So whatever your traditions are this Thanksgiving, enjoy the holiday!

And remember, when frying a turkey, safety first!

Get that clean, baby-face look: Razors at the Smithsonian

Well, we’re just about halfway through November and the streets are filled with beards—all for a good cause. Whether participating in Movember or No Shave November or just being lazy with the razor, November is all about facial hair. The Smithsonian is participating in our own unique way and highlighting historic mustaches, beards, and sideburns. Just check out our Pinterest page, “Smithsonian Staches,” or visit the National Museum of American History’s blog, O Say Can You See, for some truly amazing mustache-related collection items—from photos of Ambrose Burnside to a bicentennial-celebrating beard.

Ambrose Burnside

Perhaps Burnside’s most lasting legacy was the genesis of the term sideburn, the fashionable facial hair style that took its title from his scrambled surname

Beard dyed red, white and blue.

Northwoods Hairstyling of Downey, California, dyed this beard for Gary Sandburg, who later sent it to the Smithsonian. The American bicentennial commemorated the 200th anniversary of the convening of the Second Congress in the Pennsylvania State House (now known as Independence Hall) in Philadelphia, July 4, 1776, and the signing of the Declaration of Independence, which called for separation from Great Britain and the creation of the United States of America.

Come December 1, the razors come out, perhaps to the delight of spouses and significant others. Coincidentally, November hosts some razor-specific invention anniversaries.

On November 15, 1904, King C. Gillette received a patent (No. 775,134) for a razor. “A main object of my invention is to provide a safety-razor in which the necessity of honor or stropping the blade is done away with, thus saving the annoyance and expense involved there in,” reads Gillette’s patent application. By making his blades out of “very thin sheet-steel,” he was able to “produce and sell [his] blades so cheaply that the user may buy them in quantities and throw them away when dull without making the expense thus incurred as great as that of keep the prior blades sharp.” Gillette’s razor was adjustable, to allow for different beard lengths, and featured a safety guard.

Patent drawing for "Razor" by Gillette, 1904.

Patent drawing for “Razor” by Gillette, 1904.

On November 6, 1928, Jacob Schick patented (No. 177,885) a “Shaving Implement.” Whereas Gillette was concerned about creating cheap and replaceable blades, Schick’s invention avoided blades altogether. “The invention is designed to provide a shaving implement that does not require the usual prior application of lather, or its equivalent to the face as the cutting of the hair can be done while the face and hairs are comparatively dry.” When using Schick’s Shaving Implement, “the hairs are snipped off and by repeating the stroke several times the face is cleanly shaven.” Schick’s invention also used air suction, both to draw the hair away from the skin and to suck the cut hairs out of the implement.

Patent drawing for "Shaving Implement" by Schick, 1928.

Patent drawing for “Shaving Implement” by Schick, 1928.

One of the more interesting places to find razors in the collections of the Smithsonian is the National Air and Space Museum. Examples from both Gillette and Schick have gone up into space—astronaut Michael Collins carried shaving equipment made by Gillette on the Apollo 11 mission. More Gillette and Schick items reside in the national collections at NASM and Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum.

Gillette razor and shaving cream carried aboard Apollo 11.

This shaving equipment was carried aboard the Apollo 11 mission by astronaut Michael Collins as part of his personal preference kit. Both pieces were readily available in drugstores.
The Personal Preference Kit was so named because all astronauts were permitted one small bag for personal or small items of significance they wished to carry into space.

Innovations in “FOOD”

A few nights ago, my friend Corinne was making dinner and realized she didn’t have a steamer basket large enough to accommodate the head of cauliflower she was preparing. After a few minutes rummaging around in cabinets and drawers, she rigged up this:

corinnes invention

And it worked! Brilliantly, I’m sure she’d want me to add. “Hey, you should probably put this in the Smithsonian,” she said. (I tend to get that a lot from friends and family.)

It got me thinking. The kitchen is definitely a place of invention. We’ve discussed food-related inventions before here on Bright Ideas—innovations in coffee, the invention of cup holders, a gadget that might just let me finally recreate my mom’s famed mashed potatoes, and the stories behind three frozen treats. But what other food innovations reside in the collections at the National Museum of American History? Here are five invention stories from our food exhibition, FOOD: Transforming the American Table, 1950 – 2000. (There are so many more!)

1.  Food Television Programming

Julia Child’s The French Chef debuted on public television in 1963. Its successful ten-year run inspired a model for a flood of new cooking shows and culinary stars throughout the 1970s and 1980s. In 1993, a new cable channel, Television Food Network, turned cooking and food shows into twenty-four-hour entertainment—a round-the-clock affirmation of Julia’s instinct that demonstrating omelette-making would appeal to viewers.

Martha Stewart and Mario Batali.

Martha Stewart and Mario Batali, 2007. “Martha Stewart Living” first aired in 1993.
Batali, who joined the Food Network in 1995 starred in “Molto Mario” beginning in 1997.

2. The Ring King

Krispy Kreme of Winston-Salem, North Carolina, had been making doughnuts since 1937. In the 1950s as the company expanded to a small chain of stores, it sought ways to ensure a consistent and profitable product. They created a dry doughnut mix and developed a machine that automated the doughnut-making process. The Ring King Junior formed, fried, turned, and cooled about sixty dozen doughnuts per hour, reducing labor costs.

ring king

3. Ready to Eat Carrots

Engineer and inventor, Joseph T. Listner was early to recognize the appeal and convenience of bagged, ready-to-eat vegetables. In 1959, he designed and built a one-of-a-kind machine that sliced raw carrots into sticks. The machine enabled a small-scale producer like Listner, Inc., in Wallington, New Jersey, to slice an estimated one million pounds of carrots in sixteen years of operation.  Listner sold his bagged carrot sticks and cole slaw to stores, including the Grand Union supermarket chain.

Listner made his slicer with components from other machines.  Although the carrots still had to be peeled by hand, the machine automatically trimmed them to uniform sticks.

carrot machine

4. New Materials, New Tools

Using materials developed before and during World War II, manufacturers created a variety of new equipment and appliances for postwar cooks.  New plastics, non-stick-coatings, and pyroceramic glass were among the most successful.  Tupperware, Teflon, and Corning Ware housewares took their place in many American kitchens next to old reliable glass jars, and cast iron and aluminum skillets. Brand-new electrical gadgets consumed ever greater amounts of counter space.

A Coring Ware dish, a Teflon-coated Bundt pan, a Rival Crock-Pot and a Veg-O-Matic.

1. Corning Glass Works formulated a glass ceramic material in the 1950s that withstood extreme temperatures. A single Corning Ware dish could be used for cooking, freezing, and serving food. 2. Bakeware pioneer Nordic Ware was one of the first companies to apply Teflon to its products, including its signature Bundt cake pan. 3. Patented in 1975, the slow-cooking, electric Crock-Pot with a removable insert allowed busy home cooks to start dinner before they left for work, and return home to a fully cooked meal. 4. The Veg-O-Matic food slicer, invented by Samuel J. Popeil, debuted in 1963 and was sold by his son, Ron, via late-night television. The device is best remembered for his iconic sales pitch—“It slices! It dices!”

5. White Zinfandel

Zinfandel was one of the grapes associated with cheap jug wines widely produced after the repeal of Prohibition. During the replanting of California’s vineyards in the 1960s and 1970s, acres of Zinfandel were ripped out to make way for the new darlings of the vineyards, Cabernet and Chardonnay.

One vintner who kept his Zinfandel grapes was Bob Trinchero of the Sutter Home Winery, who used them to produce a dry, rosé-style wine. In 1975, while his grapes were fermenting, the yeast died before the wine’s sugar was converted to alcohol. He decided to try selling the resulting slightly sweet pink wine. Many Americans still had a “sweet tooth” for wine, and his “blush,” called White Zinfandel, was a runaway hit.

Bottle of white zinfandel and a bumper sticker praising the wine.

This is one of the first bottles of White Zinfandel made by the Trincheros of Sutter Home Winery in 1975. They named it Oeil de Perdrix, or Eye of the Partridge. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms later rejected the name, so this new wine became, simply, White Zinfandel. The bottle is on load to the exhibition from Trinchero Family Estates and Sutter Home Winery. Below is a bumper sticker.

Note: Photos were taken in the exhibition and text is pulled from exhibit labels.

In the News: Kid Inventors

Here at the Lemelson Center, we believe that everyone is inventive, even—and especially—kids. Our Spark!Lab is dedicated to inspiring creativity in young people and we’re all so excited to hear about kids and teens flexing their inventive and problem-solving muscles. Here’s a round-up of some inspiring kid inventors:

The 2013 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair Winners

What were you doing when you were a senior in high school? I was most likely inventing new reasons to break curfew, so these kids blow me out of the water.

Ionut Budisteanu, a 19-year-old from Romania, was awarded first place and received the Gordon E. Moore Award of $75,000 for inventing an inexpensive self-driving car. Ionut’s invention uses 3-D radar and mounted cameras that allows the car to detect traffic lanes, curbs, and the real-time position of the car.  All of this for only $4,000!

Eesha Khare, an 18-year-old from Saratoga, CA, received the Intel Foundation Young Scientist Award of $50,000 for inventing a supercharger that can charge a cell phone in 20 to 30 seconds. Eesha’s invention is portable and flexible, and is able to last for 10,000 charges.

Smithsonian Magazine American Ingenuity Award for Youth Achievement

Late last year, our director, Art Molella, participated in the first annual Smithsonian Magazine American Ingenuity Awards. For him, one of the most inspiring moments was the acceptance speech by high school sophomore Jack Andraka, the Youth Achievement winner. Jack invented a paper sensor that can detect a protein linked to pancreatic cancer—for which he won him the grand prize at the 2012 Intel Science and Engineering Fair. Art reported, “Bursting with youthful creative energy, Andraka told us how an uncle’s illness prompted his amazingly simple invention.” Jack’s invention uses only a sixth of a drop of blood and takes only five minutes to produce accurate results.

Spark!Lab Invent It! Challenge Winners

In September, Spark!Lab partnered with ePals, an education media company and safe social learning network, for the second annual Invent It! Challenge. The contest challenged students to think about real-world problems and invent something that could help solve it. We received nearly 300 entries!

Each of the three challenges had winners in four different age categories. Winner Chase Lewis, a seventh grader from Chapel Hill, NC, visited the Lemelson Center recently. Chase’s invention was the Refugee Travois, which allows refugees to carry people—children or the elderly—long distances without too much strain on their backs. Chase even made his local news!

Lemelson-MIT Program InvenTeams

InvenTeams are teams of high school students, teachers, and mentors that receive grants up to $10,000 each to invent technological solutions to real-world problems. Each InvenTeam chooses its own problem to solve. Current InvenTeams are working on inventing wind turbines, a compost water heating system, a bacteria powered battery, and a pedestrian alert system. A team from Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology presented their emotive aid for combating autism at the National Museum of American History in March during the Open Minds exhibition of student inventions hosted by the Lemelson Center and the National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance.

Just like Mom’s: Will an Invention Finally Reveal Her Secret Ingredient?

My mom makes the best mashed potatoes. The best. I’m sure your mom’s are good, but not this good. (Ok, I guess I can admit that I’m probably a little biased here.)  And I love mashed potatoes. So I find it incredibly frustrating that I have thus far been unable to recreate my mother’s mashed potatoes.

Mashed potatoes.

These are not my mom’s mashed potatoes. By Renee Comet (photographer) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

This conversation has been had more times than I can count ever since I moved 350 miles south:

“Mom, seriously, how do you make them so good?”
“Well, I use whatever I have. If you have some sour cream you can add that.”
“Ok, well how much sour cream?”
“I don’t know, Kaitlin, whatever seems like the right amount.”

So with that not-exactly-precise recipe, I attempt, over and over, to make my mom’s glorious mashed potatoes. And every time, despite claims from my boyfriend that they taste just fine or even really good, they always fall flat to me.

The Motherspoon.

The Motherspoon. Will this gadget finally explain my mom’s recipe-less cooking to me?

But maybe technology is going to finally allow me to faithfully recreate Mom’s mashed potatoes. Cruising Pinterest the other night, I stumbled across a kitchen gadget by Electrolux called The Motherspoon. The gadget is explained as such:

“Basically what happens is that you and your mom buy your own pair of Motherspoon and register onto a dedicated platform for file sharing. So when your mom cooks her recipe and uses the spoon to taste her food, the sensor laden spoon picks up the ingredients and deciphers the recipe. When you put it on its cradle, the spoon loads the recipe to the sharing platform so that you can access it, even if you live miles apart.”

Is this the answer to my mashed potatoes angst? I don’t know that I’m going to rush out to get this gadget, but I will admit that I’m completely intrigued at the idea of technology showing precisely how my mom makes hers so delicious. But in the end, Mom’s mashed potatoes are as good of an excuse as any to make the trip home, and I think I’ll be ok never really knowing if her secret ingredient is a few teaspoons of onion powder or—as she claims—love.

At the London Eye.

Me and my mom in London, when my family visited me there for Christmas in 2008. And yes, I made her make me mashed potatoes.

Michael Jackson, Patented Inventor?

On March 25, 1983—30 years ago—Michael Jackson performed the moonwalk for the first time during his performance of “Billie Jean” on NBC’s Motown 25th anniversary special. While the move may have originated with James Brown, the moonwalk will forever be associated with Jackson, meaning you’ve probably seen headlines and Facebook statuses celebrating the 30th anniversary of the invention of the moonwalk.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the moonwalk is not literally a patented dance move. However, Michael Jackson does hold a patent. Awarded jointly to him and to two of his costume-men in 1993, the patent described specially designed shoes that gave the illusion of his leaning beyond his center of gravity. The move and the associated gadget were created for his 1988 music video, Smooth Criminal.

patent drawing of Michael Jackson's Smooth Criminal shoes.

A patent drawing from Michael Jackson’s application.

Shortly after Jackson’s passing in 2009, our director Art Molella wrote about his inventiveness:

“We shouldn’t be all that surprised by Jackson’s invention; he was a known technological enthusiast. Consider, for example, that widely publicized video arcade he installed at Neverland Ranch. Jackson was a gamer. Still, I was somewhat taken aback by reports that he once planned to build a fifty-foot robot likeness of himself that would roam Las Vegas publicizing his acts, an image as much threatening as it was peculiar. That he not only invented but also sought and earned a patent is no mystery. Protecting an invention would come naturally to a man who zealously guarded his music rights and was reported to have acquired the copyrights to the Beatles’ songs. Then again, perhaps being certified by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office as a bona fide inventor conferred a kind of status and satisfaction that even Hollywood could not bestow.”

As Art points out in that column, many other musicians and movie stars are also inventors:

“Jackson was far from the only “patented” celebrity performer. For instance, his friend Marlon Brando also dabbled in invention, at least toward the end of his life when he earned several patents related to a device for tuning drumheads. One can envision him on some beach in Tahiti, turning out invention ideas to the beat of bongos. The ranks of improbable inventors also include two of the Marx brothers, who showed that even comic geniuses could take to the serious task of invention. Unlike Jackson’s and Brando’s, however, their inventions did not relate specifically to entertainment, at least not directly. Zeppo (Herbert), considered the mechanical genius of the family, patented a cardiac pulse-rate monitor, while Gummo (Milton) earned his patent for “Improvements in Packing-Racks,” something that undoubtedly came in handy for life on the road.

Patent drawing by Zeppo Marx of a pulse tracking watch mechanism.

Patent drawing for a “method and watch mechanism for actuation by a cardiac pulse” filed by Zeppo Marx.

Patriotism motivated other performers. During World War II, the stunning Austrian-born movie star Hedy Lamarr approached her Hollywood neighbor, the avant-garde composer George Antheil, about contributing ideas to the National Inventors Council, established under the National Bureau of Standards to solicit inventions from U.S. citizens for the war effort. She even thought of cashing in her acting career to become an inventor. Their 1941 patent for “frequency hopping” was applied to secret communications and to radio-guided torpedoes, among other weapons. Eventually, some of this technology found its way into Wi-Fi networking and wireless telephony.”

Patent drawing for "Secret Communications System" filed by actress Hedy Lamarr.


U.S. Patent Number 2,292,387 granted on August 11, 1942, to Hedy Keisler Markey aka Hedy Lamarr and George Antheil for a “Secret Communications System.”

At the Lemelson Center, we believe that everyone is inventive—and as Michael Jackson, Zeppo, and Hedy Lamarr demonstrate, that includes the rich and famous.

Editor’s Note: This post quotes from a 2009 article by Art Molella titled “Notes from the Director: National Inventors’ Month,” which first appeared in our newsletter, Prototype.

From the Collections: Voting Technology

My first voting experience was the presidential election of 1988…and I was three years old. My daycare provider brought me, my infant brother, and her young daughter to the polls and a photographer from my hometown’s newspaper snapped a photo of us. I was not even tall enough to be concealed by the privacy curtain and was looking up in awe, probably mesmerized by the curtain and the lever. (My mom saved the photo, but alas could not find it in time for this blog.)

Since that first time, now being of age to actually vote, I’ve performed my democratic privilege and duty three times—via gear and lever machine, absentee ballot, and paper ballot machine. However, I don’t think I’ve been awed by how I was voting, as opposed to the meaning behind my vote, since that first time as a toddler.

But I’ve been thinking a lot about the technology I’ve voted with recently because this year’s New Perspectives on Invention and Innovation symposium, “Political Machines,” is examining the technology that has been used—and will be used—during campaigns and elections. (Though I actually had to call the DC Board of Elections and Ethics because I couldn’t remember how I voted in 2008. I was just excited to be voting in person for president for the first time!)

As you might imagine, the National Museum of American History has wonderful collections documenting the history of voting. In fact, an exhibition titled Vote! The Machinery of Democracy was on view between June 2004 and February 2005. Fortunately, that exhibition is still available online. Here I’ve pulled out just a few of the voting technologies and machines that Vote! explores.

 

Invention Makes America

As the National Museum of American History (of which the Lemelson Center is of course a part) is busy charting its way forward during strategic planning, its staff is asking a big question—What makes America…America?

Did your mind simultaneously go blank and run wild at the same time? I know mine did when we were asked to write down five things in a recent staff meeting. Here’s what I came up with (no judgement!):

  • The Statue of Liberty
  • Hollywood/pop culture
  • Inaugurations
  • Fried foods on sticks at county fairs
  • The sheer size of the nation

The staff here has had a chance to weigh in, and now the Museum REALLY, REALLY wants to know what YOU think. The survey asks two questions:

  1. When you think about America, what three objects or images come to mind?
  2. What inspires you about America and helps define its essential character?

Everyone’s going to have different answers, though we can expect that certain themes will emerge. But this morning I got to thinking, how would the Lemelson Center answer? It’d be impossible to pick only three inventions! In technology, would it be the telephone or Technicolor? On the home front, disposable diapers or Tupperware? If we looked at medicine, could we decide between the implantable pacemaker and prosthetic legs? Would solar roofing shingles or a water purifier represent solving environmental problems?

Marion O'Brien Donovan, grandmother of the disposable diaper; Technicolor camera; Flex Foot prosthetic; Bell telephone. Smithsonian photos. UV Waterworks apparatus courtesy of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Tupperware photo from Wikimedia Commons user OttawaAC.

The options are extensive and equally powerful in their own ways. It would take minds much wiser and greater than mine to pick just three. But I think the second question is easier to answer on behalf of the Lemelson Center. We believe that America is resilient, problem-solving, creative and resourceful—in short, inventive. America has always charged forward, hunting for the next big idea, solution, product, technology, what have you. The Lemelson Center thinks this inventive spirit is so integral to America that we document it—through our exhibitions, collections, programs, etc.—in order to foster that spirit. And we can’t wait to see what America comes up with next.

Beat the Heat with a Cool Treat

I don’t know about where you are, but Washington, D.C., has been in the middle of a heat wave. Temps were in the 100s this weekend (105 to be exact). Washingtonians have been staying inside to bask in air conditioning, heading to the nearest body of cool water for a dip, and otherwise trying to avoid heat stroke.

One of the more fun ways to cool down is by enjoying a cold treat. Here are three frozen treats (and their invention stories) to beat the heat:

  • Eskimo Pies. Christian K. Nelson invented the ice cream bar covered in a chocolate candy coating in 1920 after being inspired by a young customer at his confectionery storewho couldn’t decide between buying a chocolate bar or an ice cream. In 1921, Nelson partnered with chocolate maker Russel C. Stover and the Eskimo Pie received U.S. Patent #1,404,539 on January, 24, 1922.

    Image from the Eskimo Pie Corporation Records, 1921-1996, Archives Center, NMAH.

  • Popsicles. The invention of the popsicle, like so many other items, was an accident. Eleven-year-old Frank Epperson left a soft drink overnight on his San Francisco porch in 1905. The next morning he discovered the mixture frozen solid around the stirring stick. Epperson didn’t apply for a patent until 1923, and, though he later sold the rights to the Popsicle, inspired the Fudgsicle, Creamsicle, and Dreamsicle.
  • Frozen Margarita. In 1971, Mariano Martinez, inspired by a Slurpee machine, adapted a soft serve ice cream machine to meet the demand for the popular adult frozen beverage at his Dallas restaurant. Though the machine was never patented, the original machine now resides in the collections of the National Museum of American History.

How are you beating the heat this summer?

An Inventive Dad

With Father’s Day coming up this weekend, I’ve been thinking a lot about how being a parent requires you to be inventive. I thought I’d share with you the story of Joseph B. Friedman and the product — ubiquitous to you and me — that his daughter inspired him to invent.

Pencil sketch of flexible drinking straw, no date. Photo from the Archives Center at the National Museum of American History.

Friedman was with his daughter, Judith, at his brother’s soda fountain. Judith had ordered a milkshake and was struggling to drink it through a straight paper straw, the only straw option at this point in the 1930s. Having an inventive bent, Friedman was able to alter the straw by inserting a screw and wrapping dental floss around the screw thread. This created corrugations, allowing the straw to bend over the lip of the glass and Judith to more easily drink her milkshake. He was granted a patent for this — the Flexible Drinking Straw — on September 28, 1937. (Read more about Friedman, his other inventions, and how his papers came to the Archives Center.)

 

If you’ve got a story about how being a parent has inspired you to be inventive, we’d love to hear about it in the comments!