“In old age, we should wish still to have passions, strong enough to prevent us turning in on ourselves: to keep life from becoming a parody of itself.”
— Simone de Beauvoir
As my curiosity and ageing antenna have been twitching a lot lately, I thought I’d tackle them together. Obviously, without curiosity, there would be no life. For some, strange reason in my late eighties, I became more curious than ever – probably because I was aware of the clock ticking?!
Oh, how far humanity has come over the years! The ingeniousness of human beings is mind-blowing. Take one of the most basic human needs. Before paper had been invented, leaves or moss was used for personal hygiene purposes. For the Romans a sponge on a stick did the trick, but elsewhere broken pottery and corncobs(!) were made use of. The mind boggles…
The Chinese had been using toilet paper for centuries, but it was not until 1857 that the western world enjoyed the luxury of the first mass-produced toilet tissue, thanks to New Yorker Joseph Gayetty.
Early in the 1800s, two important discoveries were made: in 1804 morphine was extracted from the poppy plant by German pharmacist Friedrich Serturner, and the first modern general anaesthetic was created by the Japanese physician Hanaora Seishu, which he named Tsūsensan.
Time passed, as it does and, over the years, many minds designed and patented wondrous things.
Basic as it sounds, and looks, what a fabulous idea is the zipper. Faster than buttons and so convenient, Trousers, skirts, jackets and cushions, etc., all benefited from the mind of Whitcomb Judson in the year 1891, and just earlier, in 1888 the quill writers must have been delighted with the design of the ballpoint pen by a John L.Loud. And then – surely magic was in the air? – in 1892 exhausted housewives must been ecstatic when Thomas Ahearn invented the first electric oven!
In the 1800s, invention after invention was patented, enough to make folk wonder at the proliferation of it all, and they grew in stature in the 1900s with the first instantaneous transmission of images on the television – with a broadcast carried out in Paris in 1909, by Georges Rignoux and A. Fournier.
1915 saw the very first military tank – nicknamed Little Willie, invented in Great Britain by Walter Wilson & William Tritton. It would be the precursor to the tanks used in the First World War.
In the early 1900s, the first vacuum cleaners were huge steam or horse-drawn machines that worked from the street, with long hoses that went into your home through the windows.
Then, in 1907, department store janitor James Murray Spangler, of Canton, Ohio invented the first portable electric vacuum cleaner. Unable to produce the design himself due to lack of funding, he sold the patent in 1908 to local leather goods manufacturer, William Henry Hoover, and the rest, as they say, is history.
1928 saw a truly momentous medical breakthrough, when Penicillin was discovered by the Scottish physician and microbiologist Alexander Fleming. For this ground-breaking work, he shared the 1945 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Howard Florey and Ernst Boris Chain.
Penicillin was extremely difficult to isolate, so it wasn’t until the 1940s that it was manufactured on a large scale (in the US), and became more widely available, saving countless lives.
Fast forwarding to 1957, the first personal computer that could be used by one person and controlled by a keyboard was designed by John Lentz at Columbia University. Sold by IBM, the IBM 610 weighed around 800 lbs and cost $55,000. Quite a difference from the lightweight desktop and laptop PCs of today!
For more history of inventions and discoveries, check out Wikipedia – it’s a mine of Information! (and if you can spare a dime or two, do support this great resource).
© Copyright Joy Lennick 2022
Editing and additional research – Jason Lennick