The Surprising Histories Behind 4 Inventions We Use Everyday - OZY | A Modern Media Company

The Surprising Histories Behind 4 Inventions We Use Everyday

The Surprising Histories Behind 4 Inventions We Use Everyday

By Jose Fermoso

Bra on lamp


Because knowing about the history of even the simplest items will make you appreciate them. 

By Jose Fermoso

If you brushed your teeth or put on a bra today, you likely enjoyed the end result of hundreds of iterations of a product that started off as a simple, small idea. This is true of the most ubiquitous everyday items today, who likely have a hidden story that’s pretty amazing. Like the modern bra. Did you know the first woman to invent bras did it one day at the last minute because part of corset was poking out from her dress? It’s true. Find out this and other stories on great inventions you use every day, below.  

How the Long Roll of History Led to Toilet Paper

What would you do if you went back in time and needed to go to the bathroom? You’d probably be really unhappy with your wiping choices, according to OZY reporter Sean Braswell. On a deep dive to investigate the history of toilet paper, Braswell found that the Ancient Greeks used stones and pieces of clay to clean while another civilization actually used a wet corncob. Yowza. In the late 19th century, an American inventor finally created the modern version of toilet paper but it turns out that the Chinese had actually invented it much earlier. Check out the following excerpt from the article. 

Gayetty, though, was not the first to dream up bathroom tissue: for that you have to turn back the dial in your time machine — about 1,300 years. That’s because, as with the compass, gunpowder, movable type and so many other innovations, Chinese inventors were centuries ahead of their Western counterparts. By the late sixth century, wealthy Chinese were using paper (also invented in China) to wipe, and by the 14th century, millions of toilet paper sheets (measuring 2 x 3 feet) were being made to clean the bottoms of the Imperial court. 

Absolutely Necessary: How the Bra Age Started with a Shortage

First modern bra on black backdrop

Source Neal Hamberg/Getty

Until the bra was invented in the 1910s, women tended to use corsets to impart a then-ideal ultra-slim appearance. But in the middle of World War I, a metal shortage, the principal material holding corsets together, forced women to find a new supportive tool. One quick-thinking woman in the 1910s came up with the modern, backless bra in a moment of genius and within years, the new bra was everywhere. Read the following excerpt about how the simple bra came to be.

At first, they were one size fits all, fashioned from stretchable material. Some historians credit William and Ida Rosenthal, founders of Maidenform, with introducing the A-, B-, C- and D-cup system in the late 1920s or early ’30s, while others claim it was S.H. Camp and Company. Regardless of who slapped letters on women’s chests, the system caught on with other bra manufacturers.

From Baghdad to Your Cabinet: The Invention of Toothpaste and Deodorant

Abu l-Hasan Ali Ibn Nafi, a highly educated North African, is largely responsible for introducing Islamic Spain to dining etiquette and décor. He came up with the three-course meal, tablecloths and elegance to dining but his greatest invention may have been toothpaste and deodorant. Read the following excerpt from the article, which explains in detail the origins of the now-common hygienic products.

Born and raised in Baghdad, the flamboyant gadfly invented a popular type of toothpaste, encouraged twice-daily baths and developed the world’s first deodorant. He told folks to apply a solution of protoxyde of lead to ward off underarm odors, according to The Literature of Al-Andalus, an anthology of ancient Arabic literature. As one blogger put it, had Old Spice been around in A.D. 800, Ziryab “would’ve been the PR director, research department and CEO.”

The Vacuum That Sucked Up The World 

You likely owe the cleanliness of your home to a 48-year-old former salesman and janitor. In the early 20th century, James Murray Spangler took an electric fan, a broom handle, and a pillowcase and created a “suction sweeper” that operated on electricity and would change the history of home cleaning. But the road to success was fraught with financial problems until Spangler met with one Ms. William H. Hoover, the matriarch of a leather goods company in need of a new product. Read what happened when they met, in the following excerpt from the original article.

But when the burgeoning automobile industry threatened sales of the W.H. Hoover Company’s signature leather harnesses, horse collars and saddles, “Boss” Hoover recognized that his business needed a new direction. And after hearing glowing reviews of Spangler’s machine from his wife and others, Hoover quickly moved to acquire the struggling outfit, leaving Spangler as a superintendent holding generous royalties.



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