There are many small, basic inventions which changed the world forever. Just imagine how life would be without something as basic as a fork, if nothing else our dining habits would be very different. However, there are some inventions that required thousands of dollars and years worth research only to be used as toys. This is a list of discoveries that should have been revolutionary, were often held in awe at the time of their creation, but ended up as cheap knick-knacks.
The story of Play-Doh started in 1927 when a dying Cincinnati soap company tried to revitalize its business by creating an innovative new product. Play-Doh was a compound of various non-toxic chemicals meant to clean coal soot off walls. This was a serious problem as most household had coal fireplaces and the only way to clean wallpaper was with a home-made mixture of dough and baking soda. The Play-Doh company took a serious risk, using all its funds in order to create a product that could be used to clean the walls. What follows is a tale of hard work and unbelievable success against seemingly unbeatable odds. Within only a few years Play-Doh was the number one choice for cleaning wallpaper and was selling thousands of cans.
However, after the Second World War coal fireplaces fell out of use and Play-Doh was seeing its business rapidly shrink. A great success story looked like it was about to end abruptly, when the wife of the company manager read an article about children making decorations from wallpaper cleaner. With the company on the brink of bankruptcy once more, the owners took another great risk, rebranding the old wall cleaner into a children’s toy.
The rest, as they say, is history, and remember that if you ever need to clean coal soot off you wall you can just use Play-Doh.
When we think of kites we imagine a fun summer day and lots of fun, however kites have a long history of being used in warfare. It is believed that the first kites were invented in 1000BC in China where they signaled the position of troops back to strategists. An alternative theory suggests that kites were used to send orders to the generals in the fields and the tails and colors were often changed in order to confuse any enemy who would try to break the code.
During the 200’s BC we know that kites were also used as a way of scaring and confusing enemy troops; bamboo was tied to the kite, making a horrible noise as it fell from the sky. Romans and Greeks used kites in order to experiment and it is believed that in Japan kites were seen as religious symbols.
Kites continued to be used in experiments and became popular as children’s toys only in the late 12th century. However, the children’s kite was usually much smaller and had holes made in it so that it would “whistle.” It is believed that only after the civil war in the U.S. the kite became really popular as a toy, being associated with picnics and weekend excursions.
During the 1940’s Richard James was a naval mechanical engineer working on a method to stabilize delicate marine equipment during rough seas. The ideal method to accomplish this was by creating a new metal alloy that could be shaped like a coil in order to absorb pressure but also be able to stretch if necessary. While this might not sound like an impressive feat, but it took Richard James two years to find the right combination of steel and the right tightens.
Once he identified the right compound, Richard spent time trying to find the perfect shape. It was during this stage of the research that he accidentally dropped a metal coil and noticed that it just kept going from one step to the other, effectively “walking.”
Motivated by his wife’s encouragements he developed the “Slinky” and started selling it worldwide. The toy was incredibly popular because it could be used in schools to prove the wave theory. It was also used in Vietnam in lieu of radio antennas and the Slinky has even traveled into outer space where NASA used it in physics experiments.