Lesser Known American Inventions and the Inventors Behind Them

Lesser Known American Inventions and the Inventors Behind Them

May 25, 2016 | American History

Ask someone who invented the first airplane or who created the first Polio vaccine and nine out of ten times they will answer correctly. Orville and Wilbur Wright and Jonas Salk are well known icons in the history of America. Their innovations changed the world we live in the ways in which we live. It may surprise you to learn that many of the other inventions that are a part of our daily life were the brainchild of some incredible, but lesser known, American minds.

Air Conditioner

The next time you turn on your air conditioner, give a shout out to Willis Haviland Carrier. Born in Angola, New York on November 26, 1876, Carrier earned a degree in engineering from Cornell University. His interest in humidity, and how to control it, eventually led to his invention of the first modern air conditioner.  His invention modernized countless aspects of life as we know it, from improving the comfort of patients at medical facilities to enabling such luxuries as enclosed shopping malls, cooled movie theaters, and transatlantic flights. Named one of Time Magazine’s “100 Most Influential People of the 20th Century” in 1998, Willis Carrier’s legacy lives on today in Carrier, the world leading innovator in high-technology heating, air-conditioning and refrigeration solutions.

Pull-Top Cans

While the name Ernie Fraze may not ring any bells, his invention is one that people use every day. In 1959, while at an Ohio picnic, the tool manufacturer went to open a soda can and realized he had forgotten his church key. Frustrated at the annoyance of needing a tool to open a beverage, he set to work on creating a can with an attached opener. A few years later he improved on his original design and invented a pull-top can. By 1965, seventy-five percent of beer manufacturers in the United States had adopted Fraze’s can. Pull-top cans revolutionized the beverage industry. But they also created a lot of litter. Looking to solve this unintended problem, Fraze patented the first push-in, fold-back beverage tab in 1977. To this day, his company, the Dayton Reliable Tool Company, produces the cans that he invented, making it easier for every one of us to easily enjoy a tasty beverage.

Chewing Gum

Whether you prefer Hubba Bubba, Trident or Big Red, you owe a debt of gratitude to Thomas Adams, inventor of the first modern chewing gum. Hailing from New York, this scientist and inventor was trying to find a use for Mexican chicle, made from the sap of the sapodilla tree, which he had acquired a large quantity of from colleague Mexican General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna. In 1870, he was close to giving up on his venture when he noticed that Santa Anna loved to chew the chicle. Adams set to work to create a smoother and tastier version of the gum that was currently on the market. He named his gum “Adams New York Snapping and Stretching Gum” and began selling it to local drug stores. The product was a hit, and Adams expanded his endeavor to selling his gum in vending machines in New York City subway stations. The Adams Gum Company was the first company to introduce vending machines in the United States. Many varieties of the gum that Adams invented still exist today, including Black Jack and Chicklets.

Pencil Erasers

The old adage “No one is perfect…that’s why pencils have erasers” would not exist if not for the brainchild of Hymen Lipman. In 1858, Lipman combined two previous inventions, the pencil and the eraser, into one, user-friendly writing tool. He patented his pencil-plus-eraser and subsequently sold the patent to entrepreneur Joseph Reckendorfer for $100,000. In 1875, the Supreme Court ruled the patent invalid; stating that all Lipman had done was combine two existing technologies. Regardless of the legalities of the invention, students, parents, and teachers across America are greatly appreciative of Hymen Lipman’s helpful combination.


Who doesn’t take for granted the simple satisfaction of zipping up a zipper? A staple on nearly every jacket, pair of jeans, backpack and dress, this ingenious invention makes our lives easier on a daily basis. American mechanical engineer and inventor Whitcomb L. Judson is the man behind the ‘clasp-locker’. Judson invented the precursor to the modern zipper in 1890 and unveiled his invention at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893. First used on shoes, clasp-lockers earned the name zippers in 1923, when the Goodrich company used the on their rubber boots, which were called Zippers. It’s probably safe to say that Judson had no way of knowing that his invention would be the impetus behind “made you look” jokes for American teenagers for decades to come.

The United States of America has been the home to great thinkers and trendsetters since our nation’s inception. It is important to pay homage to the men and women who made it their mission to think outside the box and propel our country forward. It is impossible to predict what inventions are in store for us as future generations incorporate technology with innovation.