Five Innovators You’ve Never Heard Of

Large bright lightbulb.

According to recent statistics, half of all inventions happen by accident and two-thirds of patents arise from collaboration. There’s plenty of innovation going on, but do you know who invented the products and services you use every day? 

All innovations begin with an idea that is subsequently shaped into reality. However, even when inventions are used frequently, sometimes there is little knowledge about the inventors behind the innovation. 

Here are five innovators you may not have heard of but whose innovations are present in your everyday life.

1. Ernie Fraze

Ernie Fraze, the owner of a successful engineering company, came up with his idea in 1959 when he found himself at a picnic with no way to open canned drinks. He opened them that day using the bumper of his car, but he kept thinking about this dilemma.

A few months later, while unable to sleep, Fraze came up with the idea of a new way to open cans using a tab. This invention, known as the pop-top, was mass-produced for soft drink and brewing companies by his business. By 1980, Fraze’s company pulled in more than $500 million in annual revenue.

Aluminum cans with tabs.

2. Joseph Friedman

Joseph Friedman was at his brother’s soda shop watching his young daughter attempt to drink a milkshake through a straight straw. Realizing she had difficulty reaching the straw without tipping the glass, he invented what is now known as the bendable straw.

Friedman inserted a screw into the straw which he then wrapped floss around to create a ribbed texture. When the screw was removed, the straw bent naturally over the rim of the glass, solving his daughter’s problem.

Friedman patented his idea in 1937 and subsequently started a company to produce the new type of straw. The rights were eventually sold to the Maryland Cut Corporation, which sells around 500 million straws each year.

Plastic straws.

3. Margaret Knight

Margaret Knight noticed how difficult it was to pack items into the flimsy sacks she made while working in a paper bag factory. She remedied the problem by inventing a machine to fold and glue paper to create a flat bottomed bag that was sturdy and reinforced. She first created a prototype out of wood but could not obtain a patent until producing one out of iron.

Knight put her plan into action, but while it was being made at a machine shop, Charles Annan copied the idea and received the patent instead. Knight sued Annan for copyright infringement and won due to her detailed sketches and plans. She later established her own paper bag company and enjoyed large royalty checks as a result.

Brown paper bag.

4. Jeff Dean

Jeff Dean is credited for codesigning the core query system and building part of the programming infrastructure that is used by Google Translate and several other products. He was hired when Google only employed around 25 people and remains humble about his innovations.

Mobile phone displaying icons.

5. Stanford Ovshinsky

Arguably one of the most prolific inventors of the 20th century, Stanford Ovshinsky had a forward-thinking mentality that resulted in over 400 patents during his lifetime. Smithsonian Magazine reports regarding his contributions to modern technology: “When you turn your flat-screen TV on with the click of a remote, when a Prius silently drives past, when you see solar panels powering a home, (or) when you save a photo on your smartphone, you have Ovshinsky, in part, to thank.”

He invented an eco-friendly nickel-metal hydride battery (which has been used in everything from laptop computers to electric cars), flatscreen liquid crystal displays used in modern TVs, rewritable CDs and DVDs, solar panels, and hydrogen fuel cells. 

Multiple screens.

Whether the innovation is as small as a bendable straw or as large as an eco-friendly solar panel, all these innovations can be an inspiration to corporate innovation

According to a recent survey, 57 percent of company owners are challenged when trying to foster an internal culture of experimentation which leads to innovation. Don’t let that be the case for your company. Get the Innovation Starter Kit to kickstart your innovation strategy today!

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