“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
Pictures: Unsplash.com, Pixabay.com, The Science Museum (UK) and Wikipedia.
Wow, Joy, what a fascinating glimpse at our history of invention, and how some ingenuity required centuries to travel the world. I remember when my mother-in-law told me that her brother died as a child from an ear infection (prior to the invention of penicillin). I never forgot her story since penicillin was so common when I was a kid. I’ve wondered at times if I would have survived without it. Great post.
Thank you Diana. Good luck with your latest book. Whoever designs your covers deserves a medal. The art-work is superb! Cheers. x
Thanks so much, Joy. I did the cover for this one, so extra hugs for your comment. ❤
You clever girl you, Diana! Some people, eh! xx
So many great inventions in such a short period of time! I’ll bet most started with one person saying, “I woinder what would happen if . . . .”
Hi Liz, Thank you for reading. I am ever curious…If you’ve never read Bill Bryson’s books, do try ‘Bill Bryson at Home,’ it’s stuffed full of fascinating facts. xx
You’re welcome, Joy. 🙂
Great article, Joy. I never heard of most of these people. As for Joseph Gayetty: the next time I’m on the toilet I’ll raise my voice in praise of him. See ya!
Thanks Neil. Having braved the unforgettable experience of using an outside loo in Wales in winter (in WW2 as an evacuee) and offered several pages of the Merthyr Express…I so appreciated peace and returning home! Cheers. x
A fabulous trip through recent history, Joy. I must agree with you regarding the mind boggling! 🙂
Thanks, Tom. If you’ve never read Bill Bryson’s books, do look see. The present one ‘Bill Bryson at Home’, is a revelation – stuffed full of fascinating facts.
I shall make a note, Joy, thanks! 🙂
To what an amazing group of clever, curious and creative people do we owe our conveniences and health. Thank you for collecting their stories, Joy.
Thanks Norah. I seem to have a passion for ‘wanting to know.’.. Try Bill Bryson’s book ‘Bill Bryson at Home’ if you like facts…Cheers. x
Thanks for the tip, Joy. I’ll add it to my list. 🙂
All so interesting, Joy!
Thanks, Becky. There’s so much to learn in our allotted time…(Whatever that is! ) Cheers. xx
There IS, that’s for sure!
The mind boggles at how much was invented in such a short time frame (relatively speaking). I learnt a great trick on how to get zippers to run smoothly – run a candle over them 🙂
A good tip – had heard of it but never tried it…I’m learning so much from Bill Bryson’s book ‘Bill Bryson at Home.’ If, like me, you’re a curious soul, do read it. Cheers. x
Thank you, Tandy – a good tip. I had heard of it, but never used it. If, like me, you’re a curious soul, do read Bill Bryson`’s book ‘Bill Bryson at Home.’ Take care. Cheers. x
Terrific article Joy and it is amazing how many inventions and advances in medicine there have been in our own lifetimes. Have shared around the usual haunts..♥
Thanks, Sally. Hope you are doing well and enjoying life. At long last the humid weather has given way to cooler nights and days. Heaven! Hugs xxx
Hi Joy, what an interesting post this is, I learned a few new things. It is wonderful that you are curious and continue to learn. I hope I will be like you one day.
Aah, thanks Robbie…(With a few less wrinkles!) You are doing just great, and a credit to our sex!! You clever girl. Hugs xxx
Thank you, Joy, I appreciate your comment. Hugs.
This was so much fun to read, and a nostalgic look at useful items concocted that have stood the test of time. Hugs Joy xx
Hi Debs, Gracias chuchie… Do hope you are continuing to enjoy living in your new abode. Take care and HAVE FUN! Hugs XX
Thanks my Lovely. I’m ready for Mexico! Lol ❤
I wish I could come up with an interesting invention to patent! Great post, Joy. It’s amazing how some of these inventions are discovered- corn cobs? lol
Hi, Thanks! Yep, definitely something better than corn-cob…(As an evacuee, I was given ‘The Merthyr newspaper’ (Wales) to use in an outside loo…Ugh! xx
Lol, I suppose that’s like our Sears catalog 🙂
That made me giggle….x
Very interesting! When an invention becomes an every day object you tend to wonder how you managed without it!
Joy, you have a wealth of information and have woven it into an interesting story. It’s interesting that out of all the inventions that took place during that time period, you chose the ones you did. Great choices in my book. I think you would enjoy the story Gary Wilson wrote for Story Chat last year about penicillin. http://alwayswrite.blog/2021/07/27/july-story-chat-summary-sometimes-a-miracle-by-gary-a-wilson/
Thanks Marsha. Will check Gary’s story out. Cheers. x
Hi Gary, A tad late in reading your story…Naturally, so relieved – to say the least – that your sister survived. Such an ordeal for your parents…Being nearly as old as Methuselah, I can recall the ’30s and ’40s when measles and other childish illnesses were rife. Tuberculosis too was still killing too many people, so hurray for all the hard-working scientists and doctors working their socks off…We now have so much to be grateful for! Best wishes. Cheers.
Some great information. I love this quote by Dorothy Parker, “The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity.” The secret to your youthfulness is definitely your curiosity.
Thank you, Darlene! I admit to being a nosey old soul…I’m lucky to be still so curious! Hugs xx
This was delightful to read, Joy. The wonders of creativity and science boggle the mind. Like you, I find myself pondering and reflecting as I age.
Thanks Jennie. Perhaps it’s a race with the clock (we know who’ll win…) as I’m
now ninety (HOW did that happen?) but I am more curious than ever, and so enjoy learning new things…My husband, or ‘im indoors… is, fortunately, a seeker of knowledge too and is as keen as I on words. He reads a lot and does at least five crosswords every day, and is even luckier to have a retentive memory (which I have not!). He is 94, still drives and cooks. We have three, worthy sons, and truly appreciate how lucky we are. I love reading about your valued work with children and can’t think of a better way to have spent your years. May you have many more! With affection. Joy xx
A fun and interesting post although TP was never a shortage here(covid) every home has a bum gun… like you, Joy I am always curious..google is my friend-smile-I hope you have a fabulous interesting weekend 🙂 x