Made in Golden

This is a guest post by Jennifer Brundage, a National Outreach Manager for Smithsonian Affiliations and a Lemelson Center Advisory Committee member.

Location, location, location. It’s important for real estate as we all know, but as I’m learning, also critical for innovation and invention.

The state of Colorado has no shortage of breathtaking, jaw-dropping locations. In my home state over the holidays, I rediscovered Golden, a town not only full of scenic vistas, but also packed with nuggets of invention. (Excuse the pun! I couldn’t help myself.)

A grand arch spanning the town’s main street welcomes all to Golden.

A grand arch spanning the town’s main street welcomes all to Golden.

Golden (“Where the West Lives”!) is situated near the junction of I-70, the highway that leads straight to the Rocky Mountains and the ski resorts (and former mining towns) for which Colorado is so famous. It’s also only 15 miles west of Denver, enough to be close, but not too close, to major transportation lines. During the Gold Rush, Golden quickly became an ideal stopping point between the capital city and the mining industry. In fact, in 1858, David King Wall, Golden’s first resident, innovated a way to divert the pristine mountain water from Clear Creek to irrigate crops of vegetables, providing much-desired fresh produce for city dwellers and miners alike. The access to this same pure water also attracted Golden’s most famous resident, Adolph Coors in 1873. As the Places of Invention project repeatedly shows, when access to natural resources, business opportunities, and intellectual capital come together, they create a magnet for even more innovation over time. Golden is no exception. Soon, the Colorado School of Mines started attracting engineers to the town, and mountaineers discovered its benefits as well.

View of the Made in Golden exhibition, showing a diorama of the town from 1938-39, and a list of reasons why over 150 manufacturing businesses call Golden home.

View of the Made in Golden exhibition, showing a diorama of the town from 1938-39, and a list of reasons why over 150 manufacturing businesses call Golden home.

This legacy of invention, stretching into the present day, is the subject of an enlightening exhibition currently on view at the Golden History Center, entitled Made in Golden. After establishing the primacy of location for this community, the exhibition describes how the Coors Brewery decided in the early 1950s that steel—the material chosen for selling beer in cans—was seriously flawed for a variety of reasons, including leakage, contaminants, cost, and most importantly, the unpleasant metallic taste it gave to beer. And so in 1959, Coors invented the two-piece aluminum can, revolutionizing the beverage industry. Coors continued to innovate, creating the internal coating, sterile-fill, and printing processes for aluminum cans that are still the industry standard.

Another view of the Made in Golden exhibition, showing various processes of innovation.

Another view of the Made in Golden exhibition, showing various processes of innovation.

Access and proximity to the mountains also brought innovative adventurers to Golden. In 1981, Patrick Smith survived an avalanche in nearby Berthoud Pass, even though he left his specialized shovel (invented by fellow Golden resident Paul Ramer) in his car because it wouldn’t fit in his backpack. In response, he designed a new kind of pack around the dimensions of a Ramer shovel, and the firm Mountainsmith was born. Mountainsmith used a patented delta suspension system, and produced the best selling lumbar pack for close to ten years. In related gear innovation, climbers and mountaineers alike also flock to the Spyderco knives developed and still produced in Golden, with their trademark holes and pocket clips that make these necessary survival tools easy to carry.

Mountainsmith packs on view in Made in Golden.

Mountainsmith packs on view in Made in Golden.

Jolly Ranchers were developed in Golden, as a way for ice cream vendors Bill and Dorothy Harmsen to extend their season into the Colorado winter by making candy with best-selling names like Fire Stix. And with only four companies in the world producing low wattage lasers for commercial use, Golden boasts one of them, Epilog, who turned the industry on its head when it invented the first low-cost, small-format laser engraver. It’s like a printer, except instead of paper, one can print on glass, wood, metal, fabric… even eggs!

An Epilog laser-produced metal disk, each visitor’s souvenir from this innovation exhibition.

An Epilog laser-produced metal disk, each visitor’s souvenir from this innovation exhibition.

Golden is not the only place to uncover the state’s history of invention. The History Colorado Center (a Smithsonian Affiliate) chronicles innovations in mining, snow sports and more at its location in downtown Denver. (For example, did you know that the cheeseburger was invented in Denver?) The Lemelson Center’s Places of Invention exhibition already plans to highlight two Colorado stories when it opens in 2015. The Telluride Historical Museum (a Smithsonian Affiliate) will share how the Ames Hydroelectric Generating Plant built in 1891 was the world’s first commercial long distance transmission and use of AC generated power. This breakthrough was critical to operating the silver mines in the often inaccessible terrain of the San Juan mountains of southern Colorado, but also, transformed the industrial capacity of the nation. Fort Collins’ revolutionary inventions in clean energy and socially responsible innovation will be featured as well, showing that Colorado State University, the city, and community businesses actively pursue collaborations that result in local innovations with a global impact.

Another view of the Made in Golden exhibition, showing a lab for visitors to devise their own innovative solutions to city problems.

Another view of the Made in Golden exhibition, showing a lab for visitors to devise their own innovative solutions to city problems.

Colorado is a gold mine of invention, both historically and into the present day. I’m confident future prospecting trips will uncover even deeper veins of innovation. Any ideas on where else to look?!

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.