The Best Invention From All 50 States
America was founded on the principle of fresh ideas, so it's no surprise that many of the world's most important innovations and inventions of the last few hundred years were born here. But where exactly did the biggest and brightest of them come from?
See where your state stacks up against the others with this conclusive roundup of the best inventions from all Fifty Nifty. Our most sincere apologies, Mississippi. You've never had it easy.
Real estate developer and rancher Mary Anderson filed a patent for a lever-operated "window cleaning device" for vehicles in 1903, which ended up on some of the earliest popular car models.
While the specialized modern manually-propelled mini boats vary greatly from their ancestors, whitewater rapids would be a hell of a lot less fun if the indigenous Inuit, Yup'ik and Aleut peoples hadn't developed the whalebone-framed vessels nearly 4,000 years ago.
The Personal Watercraft
Anyone who's wiped out on a Jet Ski owes their adventurous outing to Clayton Jacobson II, a Norwegian-American who developed the idea of a "motorcycle for the water" while tooling around the Mojave Desert.
Sound on film
Do you enjoy listening to movies while you watch them? You can thank Pine Bluff native Freeman Harrison Owens for helping develop an early technique that seamlessly synced sound and picture when filming.
It's tough to deny just how much the iPhone has changed the modern world, and it was birthed from a collective of bold engineers in Cupertino between 2005 and 2007.
McDonald's as we know it would be but a dream without the help of the Denver's Humpty Dumpty drive-in, which had the bold idea to top a meat patty with cheese between two buns and patented the name we use for such things today.
You can thank New Haven resident Charles Goodyear for helping to develop the compound capable of turning natural rubber into a more durable material, which to this day is used in everything from tires to shoe soles.
Longtime DuPont chemist Stephanie Kwolek is credited with developing the high-strength synthetic fiber—which is still used to make everything from bike tires and racing sails to body armor and drumheads—in 1965.
While the large-scale electrical air conditioning that enabled the great migration to the Sun Belt didn't take off until the early 20th Century, it was the "cooling system" developed by Apalachicola scientist John Gorrie that paved the way. His unique and somewhat primitive system of blowing air against ice cold cloths was even used as a treatment for a dying President Garfield in 1881.
If you like the fact that you can't feel it when your dentist rips out your tooth, thank Dr. Crawford Long, whose experiments administering ether to patients paved the way for painless medical procedures.
Before Kelly Slater and Laird Hamilton were carving waves, the ancient Hawaiians were carving special trees into thin shaped boards and riding the water not as sport, but as an artform.
While it's entirely possible we'd be much fitter and smarter without it, imagining a world without Seinfeld is too sad to bear. We can all thank Philo Farnsworth and his all-electronic "image pickup device" for helping make the medium of television a reality.
The cell phone
While working for Motorola in the '70s, Martin Cooper conceived the first handheld mobile phone, paving the way Zack Morris's brick phone, that clunky Nokia you had in college, and the mini computer in your pocket right now.
The washing machine
Doing your laundry sucks, but it sucks a whole lot less than it did back in the day thanks to William Blackstone, who built a rotary machine that removed dirt from clothes as a birthday gift for his wife in 1874.
The gas-powered tractor
Farmers could give their livestock a break from the backbreaking labor of field clearing once John Froelich developed the first gas-powered tractor that could go both forward and reverse in 1849. The company he formed went on to build several more advanced models, and was eventually purchased by John Deere.
"Get to da choppah" is a line that would make very little sense if it weren't for William Purchase and Charles Wilson of Goodland, who conceptualized and built a 20-foot tall, two-story rotary-winged aircraft in 1910 that inspired modern helicopters we know today.
This one's a little controversial, especially since the origins of the delicious brown booze is not well documented. However, many accounts attribute it to the Kentucky Baptist minister and distiller Elijah Craig.
Well before the World Series Of Poker was popular enough to be aired on ESPN, poker as we know it developed and spread by Mississippi riverboats in the 1800s, although as reported in the actor Joseph Cowell's memoirs, it was based on a deck of 20 cards.
The ring-shaped pastry loved by cops and civilians the world over was allegedly invented in 1847 by a 16-year-old named Hanson Gregory of Camden, while brainstorming a way to avoid ending up with raw insides when frying dough.
Not only would beer and soda containers look a whole lot different, but we'd also be devoid of that cathartic pop of the top without the crown cork bottle cap (and bottle opener), which invented in Baltimore by the engineer William Painter.
While many serious drivers still insist on driving a manual, this development made getting around by car a much more leisurely and less laborious activity.
The stop sign
Driving would also be a hell of a lot more dangerous today if Michigan hadn't originated the octagonal stop sign back in 1915, which initially featured black letters on a white background.
3M's pressure-sensive transparent tape rolls have made mending rips, cracks, and plastering your high school band's posters on lockers much, much easier.
Not every state's contribution can be glamorous, but Mississippi's Rachel Fuller Brown and Elizabeth Lee Hazen's discovery of nystatin in 1950 has been a huge boon for modern medicine and used to treat all manner of infections of the skin, mouth, and esophagus.
The motorized vacuum
A significant improvement on crude carpet-sweepers, John Thurman patented his "pneumatic carpet renovator," was a gas-powered that blew dust into a receptacle in 1899.
During his career, the Miles City microbiologist Maurice Hilleman developed over 40 vaccines, including those for measles, mumps, hepatitis A & B, chickenpox, meningitis, and pneumonia. Even cooler, he's credited with saving more lives than any other medical scientist of the 20th century.
Ironically, the transportation device skiers around the world use to reach trail summits was invented by a railway engineer on a hot summer day on the flat plains of Nebraska.
Solar power is possible today only thanks to Charles Fritts, who created the first working Selenium Cell (by coating the semiconductor material in a thin layer of gold) in 1883.
Yes, Segways are ridiculous, but many of the gyroscopic balancing technologies found in it were also implemented in the inventor Dean Kamen's more humanitarian offering: an all-terrain electric wheelchair.
As employees at Bell Labs in Murray Hill, John Bardeen and Walter Brattain were tasked with developing a more efficient alternative to vacuum tubes that powered telephone technology. The tiny triangular device they came up with in 1947 went on to drive the Information Age by allowing for the miniaturization of circuitry, earning the team the Nobel Prize in physics.
Nuclear weaponry would have been an easy choice for this one, but since they're awful and potentially world-ending we opted for something less destructive that was developed during the Manhattan Project: radar.
The use of paper for bathroom business can be traced way back to China in the 2nd Century BC, but the development of commercial TP is attributed to Joseph Gayetty, whose original marketing materials from 1857 describe it as "Medicated Paper, For The Water Closet."
The Wright Brothers developed their flying machines in Ohio and North Carolina, but it wasn't until that fateful flight at Kitty Hawk in 1903 that they officially opened the era of aviation with a power-driven "heavier-than-air machine."
David Houston, who himself wasn't even a photographer, actually invented and patented the case for roll film before flexible film had even been invented, anticipating that it one day would be and would need to be housed in a container that prevented exposure to light.
The cash register
Tired of employees pilfering profits from his saloon in Dayton, James Ritty and his pal John Birch invented the mechanical register that would lock up the cash drawer and ring up every time it opened, alerting the manager to a sale taking place.
Much to the delight of weak-armed grocery shoppers, the wheeled shopping cart came to life in 1937 when supermarket owner Sylvan Goldman—along with a mechanic friend—constructed a metal frame with wire baskets and wheels.
If you're reading this on a computer you'll want to thank Douglas Engelbart for helping you navigate to this page. He developed the first mouse prototype in the '60s, as part of a larger project aimed at augmenting human intellect with machines.
The suspension bridge
The first example of a suspension bridge using wrought iron chains and a level deck was the one built over Jacob's Creek in 1801. It was designed and built by the engineer James Finley, who went on to design as many as forty bridges, though none of them still stand.
All those post-drinking pitstops and greasy hangover breakfasts would be nothing without the introduction of the first prefabricated diner, created in 1872 by a dude named Walter Scott. He sold grub out of two walk-up windows on a horse-pulled wagon to employees of the Providence Journal.
During The Civil War, Confederate marine engineer Horace Lawson Hunley developed a groundbreaking early submarine, which was used to attack and sink a ship on Union blockade duty shortly before sinking itself, killing the entire crew including Hunley himself.
This special type of particle accelerator was invented by Ernest Lawrence in 1932, leading to many groundbreaking experiments in physics. One of his subsequent more powerful cyclotrons was used to discover plutonium, neptunium, and other elements, and they've also been used in particle therapy to treat cancer.
The tow truck
Once cars hit the road, it was quickly apparent we needed a way to get the ones that break down off the road without disrupting everybody else. The inventor Ernest Holmes had his eureka moment after retrieving his buddy's disabled car using three poles, a pulley, and a chain hooked up to the frame of a 1913 Cadillac, and patented the setup.
The electric typewriter
Realizing there was a need to increase the speed of typing in a way that decreased operator fatigue, James Smathers tinkered around with electric keyboard setups, eventually landing on one that worked perfectly. Eventually, a version of his initial design was acquired by IBM.
Each and every gamer owes a whole lot to the founders of Atari, Ted Dabney and Nolan Bushnell, who helped shape the modern video game industry when they launched the video game and home computer company in 1972.
Shaun White would have zero Olympic medals and winter would be a hell of a bore without the modded Snurfer-style board invented by Jake Burton Carpenter, who would later go on to found Burton Snowboards.
Harvesting entire fields of wheat by hand before Cyrus McCormick developed the mechanical reaper in 1831 must have been one nasty gig. Thankfully, his machine made farmers' jobs slightly less arduous and allowed for more efficient output and distribution of crops.
While much of the origins of some of the most influential early computer operating systems are murky and controversial, it's hard not to credit a great deal to the brain trust (including the likes of Gary Kildall and of course Bill Gates) operating out of the state.
The entire principle that paved the way for wireless telegraphs and radio was brought to life by a dentist named Mahlon Loomis in 1866, who claimed to have transmitted signals between two Blue Rodge Mountaintops 14 miles apart using kites as antennas.
Your precious Vitamix is the great-great-grandchild of Stephen Poplawksi's blending machines, which he originally designed as special drink mixers way back in the early 1920s.
If you were ever locked up in braces to correct your crazily crooked mouth, you owe your newfangled smile to the dental gauges designed by John Devine in 1924.
BONUS: Washington, DC
Using his expert knowledge to develop large-scale blood banks early on in World War II, DC doctor Charles Drew helped medics save thousands of lives for the Allied forces.
Joe McGauley is a senior editor still waiting for his eureka moment.
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