# 1: Kids invent the
Darndest Things; Part 1
On a cold night back in 1905, 11-year-old Frank
of San Francicso left his fruit-flavored drink
outside on the porch with a stirring stick in it. The drink froze to the
stick and tasted good. Frank
initially named it the “Epsicle.”
At first, there wasn’t much interest in the Epsicle. By
the time Frank finally applied for
a patent for his “frozen ice on a stick” and put it on the market 18 years
later, he had a wife and kids of his own. One of the kids convinced him to
re-name the Epsickle as the Popsicle. Two years later, in 1925,
sold his Popsicle rights to the Joe Lowe Company of New York. Good Humor now owns the rights to
Farnsworth of Rigby, Idaho,
invented a product in 1920 that he rarely used, but we use it every day. In
fact, he even discouraged his kids from using it because he didn’t think the
product did much good. Philo was born in a log cabin in 1906, he rode his
horse to school every day, and his grandfather settled with Brigham Young.
But wait, there’s more!
His product was so revolutionary, so far ahead of his
time, that when he drew it on the chalkboard for his high school chemistry
teacher to see, the product was too complex for the chemistry teacher to
understand! Yet it was the simple design of his family’s potato fields that
provided him with his “Eureka”
moment. Philo saw how the rows of potatoes formed horizontal lines – the
same kinds of horizontal lines which television sets use.
How old was
Farnsworth when he figured out how
this new product called television should work?
Only 14 years old! He became the father of television,
winning a lengthy court battle against RCA to establish that he was the real
inventor. His wife, Elma, became
known as the mother of television because she was the first woman to appear
on TV, in 1927.
Our third and final inventor was Chester Greenwood, who
was just 15 years old when he put
Maine, on the map in 1873. The
local residents still celebrate his birthday every year with a parade. What
While ice skating outdoors one winter day, Chester was trying to protect his ears from
the cold weather. He wrapped his head in a scarf, but that wasn’t enough, so
he asked his grandmother to sew fur onto a pair of connected ear-shaped wire
loops. In the process, he invented
Greenwood’s Champion Ear Protectors and went on to
build his own company to manufacture them.
They now go by the name of Earmuffs, and his hometown
is the Earmuff Capital of the World. The local residents still celebrate his
birthday every year with a parade. Chester Greenwood earned more than 100
patents overall, including the steel-tooth rake.
We will take a look at three more well-known inventions
that were invented by teenage kids in a future story.
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© 2007 Paul Niemann.
More information is available at
# 11: Kids invent the darndest things;
Today we pick up where we left off with a previous
story, when we discussed three popular inventions that kids created: The
popsickle, television and ear muffs. Now we turn to our attention to three
more popular inventions that were created by three kids named
Ralph, Blaise and Igor.
Eighteen-year-old Ralph Samuelson
(1903 – 1977) of Lake City,
Minnesota, figured that if he
could ski on snow, then he should be able to ski on water. In 1922 Ralph had designed his own set of skis, and he and his
brother set out on a nearby lake one day, with his brother towing him. After
five days of experimenting, he learned how to ski on the water by leaning
backwards in the water with his ski tips pointing up as his brother pulled
That happened one day before his nineteenth birthday. Samuelson never did patent his invention of water skis, but
he is a member of the Water Ski Hall of Fame.
Water skis are a pretty low-tech invention compared to
what 18-year-old Blaise
Pascal (1623 – 1662) of Clermont,
France, invented in 1642.
Young Mr. Pascal invented something to help his tax
collector father count the taxes that he collected. It had movable dials
that could add large numbers. The calculator that Blaise Pascal
invented might be considered simple by today’s standards, but it was
considered revolutionary at the time. It is also the one that modern
calculators are based on.
He went on to become a scientist, mathematician and
physicist. There are a couple more products for which he is known, although
most people do not know it. While trying to invent a perpetual motion
machine in the 1600’s, he created an early version of the roulette machine.
He was also the first person to wear a pocket watch on his wrist,
effectively introducing the wrist watch to the world.
Both the water ski and the calculator might seem pretty
low-tech compared to what 19-year-old Russian immigrant Igor Sikorsky
(1889 – 1972) designed in 1910.
Inspired by the drawings of
da Vinci and the stories of
Verne (author of “Around the
World in 80 Days”), Sikorsky created the
design for the modern helictopter when he was just 19 years old in 1909.
If the name Sikorsky sounds
familiar to you, it’s probably because the company he founded, Sikorsky
Aircraft, has made the helicopters which have flown every U.S. president
for the past 50 years.
Sikorsky built a model helicopter
powered by a rubber band when he was twelve, and this may have served as the
basis for his helicopter’s rotor wing design. He went on to build airplanes
in his native Russia
beginning in 1911, until the Bolshevik Revolution caused him to move to America in 1918.
He also built flying boats, and in 1913 the 24-year-old
became the first person in the world to pilot a four-engine airplane. It was Igor Sikorsky who taught Charles
how to fly a helicopter.
A pair of Frenchmen, Paul Cornu and Etienne Oehmichen,
built their own versions of the helicopter in 1907 and 1924, respectively,
but it was Sikorsky’s helicopter design that has become the model for the
modern helicopter. In 1931, Sikorsky patented his
One other item worth mentioning about Igor Sikorsky:
In addition to being the inventor of the modern helicopter, he also served
as his own guinea pig when he piloted his helicopters. The first two
inventors featured in this story – Ralph Samuelson and Blaise Pascal
– never had to risk their lives when they test-piloted the water skis and
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is an author and syndicated newspaper columnist who teaches at Quincy (IL)
University. He runs MarketLaunchers.com,
building web sites for inventors at
and is a proud member of the Board of Directors of the United Inventors
Association. He wrote Invention Mysteries (more stories!) on the
horse farm where he grew up, just south of
Paul is available to give
to classes 4th through 12th grades, showing students
how to write and publish their own books, talk about your state's top local
inventors and/or show students how to invent and market their own products.
The 2 INVENTION MYSTERIES books are for sale at