The Popsicle … by an 11-Year-Old
The fact that a child invented the iconic treat is not the unexpected bit. This is: Eleven-year-old Frank Epperson invented the Popsicle before people had freezers in their homes.
Back in the day, the kids were all keen on “soda water powder”—a Kool-Aid–like drink mix that made carbonated beverages. One night in 1905, Frank accidentally left his drink outside on the porch, and it froze overnight. Lo and behold, it
was absolutely delicious.
Epperson cleverly sat on his invention, keeping it secret for 18 years, until he was in the position to make something of it. In 1923, he decided to patent his Epsicles (“Epp’s icicles”), but his children refused to use that name, since none of them called their father Epp. They began calling them Popsicles instead, and the treat was patented as such.
The fact that they’d originally been made with home-mixed soda pop was a total coincidence. (These products were invented out of necessity.)
The Super Soaker … by a NASA Geek
We assume that the fine folks at NASA spend their busy days occupied with very important science stuff way above our pay grade. Like engineer Lonnie Johnson, who helped build the Mars Observer spacecraft at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, California. But his most important life’s work: making a water gun.
In 1982, Johnson had the idea of making a new type of heat pump that worked off water alone (instead of Freon gas, like the rest of them did). When he switched on the pump, water fired out, and the idea of heat transfer suddenly seemed a whole lot less interesting than shooting someone right in the face with H2O.
So Johnson turned his new pumping system into the Super Soaker. The result? Nearly a billion dollars and decades of sales. Johnson has used that money to do the responsible thing: His research company developed novel methods to convert heat into electricity and more efficient ways to store energy in batteries.
The Bulletproof Vest … by a Pizza Delivery Guy
Let’s be clear: This pizza guy was also a Marine. But Richard Davis’s years on the battlefield didn’t inspire his design for the Kevlar vest. No, that came from a much more dangerous activity: delivering Italian food in Detroit.
Davis was dropping off a pizza on July 15, 1969, when he realized that the call had directed him to a dark alley occupied by three armed men. He was shot twice but escaped with his life. The experience left Davis shaken, and he started looking into how he could protect himself.
So Davis carved out the first vest made of all Kevlar, which was much stronger than military nylon. To test the result, Davis put a phone book behind a prototype and opened fire. The book pulled through unscathed.
Still, nobody was biting, so Davis devised a more dramatic display. When he met with prospective buyers, he’d put the shaky prototype vest on, aim a pistol at his chest, and pull the trigger.
That, ladies and gentlemen, is called a salesman.