With superstores, mega malls and big-box retailers filled with thousands of items for conspicuous consumption, modern-day consumers rarely stop to think about how certain products originated. Here’s a few that might surprise you:
Paper Or Plastic?
Because it’s so lightweight and cushiony, Bubble Wrap has become today’s preferred choice for packing material (sorry old-fashioned excelsior and messy Styrofoam popcorn). But for many people, Bubble Wrap is as much a stress-reliever as it is a package protector. There’s just something so cathartic about popping those compressed little pockets of air and listening to the pleasantly staccato noise they make. But just how pleasing would those pockets be if they were permanently ensconced on your walls? A failed experiment by engineer Alfred Fielding and his partner, Marc Chavannes, Bubble Wrap first came into being in a 1957 New Jersey garage as a space-age, textured wallpaper. Perhaps aghast at discovering their lack of interior design savvy, the duo altered their vision and realized that the bulbous material would be better at protecting fragile items during shipping than it would at adorning the home. They received a U.S. patent for the technology in 1960 and founded Sealed Air Corp. which still exists and holds the trademark on Bubble Wrap and other packaging products.
Peanut Butter And Petroleum Jelly?
Nearly all of us have kept a jar of Vaseline petroleum jelly in our medicine cabinet, but how many of us have taken a heaping spoonful and swallowed it? That’s what its inventor, Brooklyn chemist Robert Augustus Chesebrough, did daily until he died at the old age of 96. This tidbit is from Charles Panati, who has researched the origins of everyday items for his book “Extraordinary Origins of Everyday Things.” While it has been used for everything from soothing diaper rash to a butter alternative to catching trout, Vaseline was first invented by Chesebrough when people began the switch from kerosene to oil in the late 19th century. When the kerosene dealer started looking for a way to get into the up and coming oil business, he discovered that drillers were complaining about a substance that was gumming up their equipment. Despite the annoyance, workers observed that the compound helped wounds heal faster. Chesebrough eventually isolated the main ingredient and began marketing the first petroleum jelly, calling it Vaseline.
Toying With An Idea
Necessity is the mother of invention, and in the 1940s America needed rubber. During World War II, rubber was a crucial material for military truck tires, soldiers’ boots and other war accoutrements such as gas masks and life rafts. But with Japan having attacked many rubber-producing countries in Asia, the material grew scarce and rubber drives became part of quotidian life in the United States. Early in the war effort, the government began employing scientists to develop a substitute for synthetic rubber. When James Wright mixed boric acid and silicone oil together at General Electric’s New Haven, Conn., labs, he thought he had discovered the answer. The result was a pliable compound that bounced farther than rubber even in extreme temperatures. While Wright’s discovery bombed as a synthetic rubber substitute, when unemployed advertising man Peter Hodgson got hold of some he was endlessly entertained by it and saw its marketing potential as a toy for children. He bought the production rights from GE and Silly Putty was born, packaged inside a plastic egg because it was introduced just before Easter in 1950. Ifyou thought it was only good for copying pictures from the funny pages, think again. Silly Putty also picks up dirt, lint and pet hair, has been used in physical therapy, and was even used by the crew of Apollo 8 to secure tools in zero-gravity.
The scene has become a cinematic cliche: a horseman, after a long ride in the sun, stops at a remote farmhouse with a well and asks a maiden for a drink of water. She takes a tin utensil, similar to a ladle, and dips it into a bucket to offer the traveler a drink. It’s more than movie magic: people often drank from a public water barrel, well, pump, or spigot with a communal tin cup or communal dipper until the late 19th century. With both sick and healthy people sharing drinking vessels, the public soon realized that the practice spread germs; and that’s when the paper cup was born. Bostonian Lawrence Luellen developed a water-vending machine with disposable cups, emphasizing the health benefits of the apparatus. By 1912, he and his partner Hugh Moore had their first semi-automatic machine. In 1919 their company’s Health Kup was renamed the Dixie Cup and an iconic American brand was born. According to Smithsonian magazine, the Dixie cup ushered in a whole new era of disposable, single-use items, such as razors, aerosol cans and pens. So instead of simply singing praises for their sanitary endeavors, you might also blame Luellen and Moore for the state of today’s landfills.
Walk Like An Egyptian
Ladies, as you apply your makeup in the mirror, you are participating a ritual that dates back thousands of years. We’ve all seen the depiction of Cleopatra with dark, thick eyeliner that extends well past her eyes. It is said that the Egyptians—both men and women—took to accentuating the eyes with makeup by 4000 B.C. Green eyeshadow, applied to the lids above and below the eye, was made from powdered malachite, a green copper ore. Meanwhile, eyeliner was concocted from a mixture of powdered antimony, burnt almonds, black oxide of copper and brown clay ocher that formed a heavy black paste called kohl. It was softened using spit and applied with ivory, metal or wooden sticks akin to today’s eyeliner wands. And if you think glittery makeup is a fashion of today, think again. The Egyptians had the jump on that, too, grounding the shells of iridescent beetles into a fine powder that they added to the malachite for sparkly effects.
Via All That Is Interesting: The Incredible Origins Of Everyday Items
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With origins in the 1920s, the Bund Deutscher Mädel was the only female youth organization within Nazi Germany. Against a racial ‘defilement’ and pro-rebelling against parents should they compel female youth to take part in events that involved Jewish people, the Mädel formed as a way to harvest good German mothers for the one thousand-year Reich. Members contributed to the Nazi war effort by collecting money, goods and clothing for Nazi charitable donations. The female arm of the Nazi movement was severed in 1945 at the hands of the Allied Control Council.
Via All That Is Interesting: The League Of German Girls, 1938