Ten Inventions That Changed the World
German engineer Gottlieb Daimler was a driven man. Intent on inventing a high-speed, gas-fed, internal combustion engine, he and his partner, Wilhelm Maybach, tested their motor on the simplest vehicle they could find — a wood-wheeled bike. They pulled off the pedals, affixed their engine to the frame, and, with a trial run, the easy rider was born. The duo didn't monetize their motorized bike; instead, they went down a different road and created a car (and founded what later became the Daimler AG company). But tinkerers took their idea and ran with it. The result: an estimated 200 million motorcycles on roads today.
Before widespread refrigeration and regulation, raw milk could deliver as much bacteria as it did calcium — that is, until John Meyenberg's Illinois factory began churning out evaporated milk. His apparatus killed the bugs, concentrated nutrients, and turned the bone builder into a shelf-stable staple. The company later labeled the product Pet Milk, a brand that is still sold in grocery stores.
Much of America was still in the dark in the late 1800s. Yes, Thomas Edison had perfected his lightbulb, and power plants were being built, but there was a link missing between the two — a way to convert the higher voltages into lower ones. Then Westinghouse engineer William Stanley tweaked an inefficient transformer invented in the UK. His revolutionary device led to a system that, to this day, both supercharges the volts surging through power lines and tames them into the 110 volts needed to run home appliances.
Czar Alexander III might have shelled out 4,151 rubles (about $43,000 in today's dollars) for his wife's Easter gift in 1885, but it was a priceless present: a gold-and-gemstone egg, crafted by jeweler Carl Fabergé, that hid a ruby-eyed hen and kicked off a tradition of lavish love tokens among Russian royalty. Fabergé created some 50 of the opulent eggs over the next three decades; the extravaganza ended with the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution.
Oral hygiene in 1880s America was nothing to smile about. Thanks to soaring sugar consumption and fluoride-free water, cavities were commonplace. Jars of tooth-cleaning paste went for jaw-dropping prices — roughly half a day's wages for a manual laborer — and expensive, hand-carved toothbrushes were as likely to appear in the average home as the tooth fairy. Enter Manhattan dentist Meyer Rhein, who, with the Florence Manufacturing Company of Massachusetts, engineered a mass-produced, budget-friendly brush. Crafted of animal bone and boar's-hair bristles, it had its drawbacks — the bristles trapped bacteria and frequently fell out — but for 35 cents, it helped keep molars, bicuspids, canines, and incisors clean more than a century before Sonicare.
Mark Twain was already a literary legend when his Adventures of Huckleberry Finn debuted in America to a tepid commercial and critical response. But the classic coming-of-age tale, chronicling the antebellum adventures of tweenager Huck and the runaway slave Jim, eventually brought Twain acclaim for his explorations of racism and use of everyday language (like the word "ain't" in the book's first sentence). While Finn has been both celebrated and censored over the years, it, like Good Housekeeping, has never been out of print.
Less than a decade after Alexander Graham Bell leaned toward his experimental phone and uttered the famous phrase "Mr. Watson, come here, I want you" to his assistant down the hall, the inventor was poised to extend the gadget's calling circle across the continent. As a signal of his expansion intentions, Bell formed the American Telephone and Telegraph Company. In a few years, wires were being strung from East Coast cities to Chicago and then to points north, south, and farther west. Now, countless mergers and antitrust breakups later, AT&T remains synonymous with quick communicating, as evidenced by its current symbol on the New York Stock Exchange: T, the shortened version of AT&T.
During his downtime at a Waco, TX, drugstore, pharmacist Charles Alderton liked to fiddle with recipes for syrup-sweetened sodas. His most crowd-pleasing concoction — a nose-tickling blend of 23 fruity flavors that Alderton dubbed Dr Pepper — caught on fast and became one of the country's first fizzy fountain drinks. While the origins of the name remain mysterious (it may refer to a former employer of Alderton's boss), there's no disputing that the popular pop is an American original.
With Chicago real estate prices climbing, the Windy City's business district had nowhere to go but up — and architect William Le Baron Jenney obliged with the Home Insurance Building. The 138-foot-tall tower had 10 floors supported by a weight-dispersing steel skeleton, an innovation so radical civic leaders briefly halted construction in order to satisfy skeptics of its safety. Jenney's high-rise was demolished in 1931, but it ushered in every subsequent skyscraper, from the 110-story Willis (formerly Sears) Tower to the 160-plus-story Burj Dubai.