Tag Archives: inventor

Innovations in the Fire Industry

Innovations in the Fire Industry

Last month I had the pleasure of being the innovation keynote speaker for the Southeast Michigan Fire Chiefs Association on “Fire Industry Leadership in the Age of Disruption”. It was an honor to be among so many heroes, and what I didn’t know is that 69% of all firefighters in the U.S. are volunteers.


All industries, including the fire industry, are constantly having to deal with change and disruption. According to the National Volunteer Fire Council, there is a long list of problems involving recruitment and retention of firefighters today. Some of those include more demands on time, both parents working, more demanding training, more alarms to respond to, less community pride, and failure of leadership to manage change.


All change can be seen as an opportunity for new inventions and innovation. Just like the military, the fire industry is full of innovation. From the early days of the simple bucket brigade, fire industry professionals have been dreaming up new ways to fight fires.


In 1824 Charles Dean invented a Medieval-looking device called a smoke helmet after experiencing fires on ships at sea. He obtained a patent for it and eventually sold the patent. But the idea never really caught on, so Dean refashioned it into a diving helmet for the diving industry, which did catch on.  Sometimes an idea that is meant for one industry will become even more popular in another industry.


A Danish inventor came up with an invention called the Fire Express, a compact, mobile device that uses 93% less water to fight fires. Because of its precision accuracy, the Fire Express only uses 5 gallons of water to put out a car fire. The patented dual nozzle is able to produce micro drops of water or foam at a range of up to 15 metres.


Two engineering students from George Mason University have figured out a way to put out fires without all the messy chemicals by using low-frequency bass sound waves. It works on the principle of focusing deep sound waves, a type of pressure wave, in a specific direction, instead of spread out like music. Right now the invention is only effective at putting out small fires, but they’re working on a device that could be used on a larger scale for forest fires.


The Dubai Civil Defense launched a fire innovation called Dolphin, which is a water jetpack that enables firefighters to put out fires on bridges, boats, and shoreline buildings.


Firefighter Peter Thorpe was tired of responding to unattended stove fires that could have been avoided. So he invented Fire Avert. It’s a simple product that shuts off your stove if it’s left unattended. Fire Avert automatically shuts off the stove when the smoke alarm goes off.


Boston firefighter Rob Duffy invented the Quick Step Anchor after his friend fell off a roof. Many times firefighters are also dealing with less than perfect conditions like ice and snow. Rob’s invention anchors into a roof so you have better traction while up there fighting fires.


Inventor and firefighter Jeff Stroope came up with the idea for Hy-Conn after dealing with the problem of connecting fire hoses to fire hydrants. It’s a time and labor-intensive process for firefighters. Hy-Conn cuts down on the time it takes to hook them up.


It’s hard to say what will come next in the fire industry. I’m sure robots will probably play a big part in firefighting in the future. But, I look forward to seeing many more innovations coming from the fire industry.







Inventor of Scotch Tape – Richard Gurley Drew

Inventor of Scotch Tape – Richard Gurley Drew

As a creativity keynote speaker, one of the things I talk about is serendipity, or finding something valuable that you’re not looking for. Scotch brand tape was one of those serendipitous ideas that was invented to solve one problem and ended up solving many more.


One way many inventors come up with ideas for inventions is by seeing a problem that needs solving. Usually it’s your own problem, but in the case of Richard Gurley Drew, inventor of scotch tape, it was a problem bodyshop owners had.


He had dropped out of college where he had been studying engineering and gotten a job at the 3M company, when he spotted a problem that would change the trajectory of his career.


Cars with two-tone paint were popular in the 1920’s, but it wasn’t a very easy job for the people who painted them. Richard was making his rounds delivering sandpaper samples to bodyshops when he overheard the guys painting those two-tone cars complain about the process. They would paint the car, then cover the painted part by gluing newspapers to part of it or using tape. But the tape didn’t work very well.


With a limited knowledge of chemistry, and an enormous amount of hutzpah, he promised the painters he would invent a type of tape that would help solve their problem.


He set out experimenting with different types of oils, resins and glues. Like all inventions, there were a lot of failures. Either the adhesive was too strong or not strong enough. Eventually he came up with a tape that would adhere strongly and strip off easily.


About that time Dupont had invented cellophane, which was used to package baked goods, but they didn’t have an effective way to seal the bags. Drew thought he could figure out a way to make the tape so it would seal the cellophane bags seamlessly. It wasn’t as easy as he thought, and by the time he finally got the tape to work, Dupont had already started using a self-sealing material.


It was now the first full year of the Great Depression, which was the worse time possible for a company to be launching a new, untested product. But serendipity was once again at play because Scotch tape turned out to have many valuable uses to people who were struggling during the Depression. The tape helped them prolong the life of items they couldn’t afford to replace, like books whose pages were torn, window curtains with tears, or even torn clothing.


Though customers loved the product, they complained about the tape disappearing into the roll once it was used. It was hard to find the end of the tape. So another 3M employee invented a solution to that problem… the tape dispenser.


Sales manager John Borden experimented with it for about 18 months and finally came up with a snail-shaped tape dispenser that had a built-in cutter blade, so each tape use was perfectly cut and ready for the next one. That shape hasn’t changed much since it’s invention in 1939.


This is a good example of inventing an add on product for a particular product or line of products. This alone can generate an enormous amount of money for a company.


While other companies were laying off employees during the Great Depression, 3M was one of the few in the world that didn’t. All thanks to the success of a serendipitous invention and an inventor who saw opportunity where others only saw a problem.


Primitive Creativity and Innovation

Primitive Creativity and Innovation

Creativity and innovation cover such a wide spectrum, it’s hard to say when it all actually started. Since the beginning of mankind we have had a propensity to come up with new ideas, and constantly improve on existing ideas. The need to create is built into our DNA.


Some of the most primitive ideas generated by mankind were the controlled use of fire, farming, language, tools, and the wheel. Creativity and innovation were used to create the first tools to hunt animals, farming to grow food, fire to cook the food, and devices to build shelter. But the art that decorated their caves was purely aesthetic. Creativity and innovation continued long after basic needs were met.


This didn’t happen overnight, but over thousands of years of evolution. The most dramatic burst of creativity occurred between 50,000 and 70,000 years ago with a sudden increase in brain size, which was favored through natural selection. This brought about an increase in more complex tools and art. It’s possible that a larger brain allowed for more memory capacity or more complicated pattern recognition, which is needed for innovation.


As population growth hit a critical mass, creativity and innovation began exploding since more people were generating more ideas and connecting to each other, which also improved the chances of coming up with great ideas. The more ideas you are exposed to from more sources, the more chances you have of combining ideas and improving existing ideas to generate new and innovative ones. Today we would call that crowdsourcing, the practice of engaging the collective wisdom of a group in order to solve problems.


Population growth wasn’t the only reason creativity and innovation progressed, but was just one factor, along with social and biological changes.


As an inventor who speaks on inventing and innovation, I usually get at least one person who says that everything that could be invented has been invented. That’s not even close to the truth. We haven’t yet scratched the surface of innovation. With the invention of so many devices that keep more people than ever connected and sharing ideas, I predict a new explosion of innovation in the coming years. We can’t even imagine now exactly what the future holds. But it will be interesting.



Inventor Spotlight – Garrett Morgan

Inventor Spotlight – Garrett Morgan

Garrett Morgan proves that you don’t have to be a scientist or an engineer to be an inventor. You also don’t have to have a college degree. But there is one trait you must have if you want to be an inventor, and that’s curiosity.


Garrett Morgan was the son of former slaves who set out at the age of 16 with a 7th grade education and headed into Cincinnati, Ohio to find work. He was good at repairing things since he had spent his teenage years working as a handyman. He found work repairing sewing machines for a clothing manufacturer, and that’s when his curiosity really took shape. It’s not surprising that he would come up with his first invention during this time.


Before the war women would tend to invent the things that they were exposed to everyday. So, in the beginning those inventions were things that made their work at home easier. Once they started working on assembly lines in factories, they were exposed to different problems and would create inventions to solve them.


Since Garrett was exposed to the problems of fixing sewing machines, that’s where his focus was. Inventors solve problems. It usually starts with a problem of your own and a great need to fix it. Garrett sold his first invention, a sewing machine belt, which helps improve the machine’s efficiency, for $50. Besides just being a clever inventor, he also had a knack for business. He opened his own sewing machine repair shop, and eventually his own tailoring shop, which employed 32 people.


This would have been enough for most people, but Garrett Morgan was just getting started. In 1914 he was granted a patent for a gas mask and set up a manufacturing company to produce them. The product was called the Morgan National Safety Hood. Garrett traveled across the country pitching his invention by wearing the mask in a smoke-filled tee-pee, and proved that he was quite a showman. If he was around today, he probably would have done his own infomercial.


His mask was put to the test when he used it to save over a dozen men from a tunnel explosion below Lake Erie. He put on the mask and went into the tunnel to save the trapped men. He was awarded a gold and diamond medal by a group of citizens in Cleveland for his heroism.


Ever concerned about safety, Garrett noticed the increasing number of accidents at intersections, since horse-drawn carriages had to share the road with cars. One in particular involved a young girl. This was the impetus for him to figure out a way to do something about it. He received the first patent for the three signal stoplight in 1923, and eventually sold the rights to General Electric for $40,000.


Garrett Morgan would go on to invent other things and would start his own newspaper. He was a prolific inventor, but always considered himself an entrepreneur first.



Bra Inventor and Art Patron Caresse Crosby

Bra Inventor and Art Patron Caresse Crosby

Caresse Crosby lived the life of an upper class debutante in New York and Connecticut growing up. One night while she was dressing to go out to another ball, she put on her customary whalebone corset under her evening gown. Disappointed in the way it made her dress look, she called her maid to help her fashion another garment to wear underneath.


She stitched together two handkerchiefs which accented her bustline, instead of the clunky corset women were wearing.


At the ball she was mobbed by women intrigued by her new invention. When a stranger offered her a dollar for one, she realized she might have a valuable product on her hands and she set out to patent it.


Her patent claims stressed that it didn’t interfere with evening gowns and was suitable for a variety of different customers. It also stressed the versatility of uses from evening wear to tennis wear. The patent and trademark office granted her a patent. She called it the Backless Brassiere.


She decided to manufacture the product herself and formed the Fashion Form Brassiere Company where she hired women to sew the garments. At the request of her new husband, who had a very generous trust fund, she closed the shop and sold the patent to the Warner Brothers Corset Company for $1500. They went on to make over $15 million on the product throughout the years. The “crosby” bra that Caresse had manufactured was manufactured and sold by Warner Brothers for a while, but the style never caught on and it was discontinued.


Caresse and her new husband, Harry Crosby, went on to live an adventurous and exciting life, traveling around the world in a whirlwind of art and decadence. They became publishers and art patrons who rubbed elbows with the likes of Dorothy Parker and Salvadore Dali.


Inventor Spotlight – Ann Moore

Inventor Spotlight – Ann Moore

Inventor and pediatric nurse Ann Moore proved that you can make an old idea new again. It was during her time in the Peace Corps in West Africa that she first saw mothers carrying their babies around on their backs in fabric harnesses. The babies seemed very content with the emotional bonding they received, and when Ann gave birth to her daughter, she wanted the same kind of bonding with her baby.


She tried to replicate the idea by taking a piece of cloth and wrapping the baby in it. Then she added a pouch to keep the baby from slipping out. When the garment needed some sewing improvements, she recruited her mother to help her out.


Holes were cut so the baby’s legs could fit through, and a waistband was added that tied in the front to make it more secure. Soon, mothers were stopping her in the street to find out where they could get one. Moore was making several of them a month on her kitchen table and selling them on her own. She found that she sold a lot more after improving the head support.


The product was originally put in her mother’s name, but later was assigned to Moore as sales of the product skyrocketed from a few a month to a few hundred a month. Part of the reason for this was that the family was touring the country doing public speaking on topics like natural childbirth. It was because they were face to face with their target customers that really helped push Snugli over the edge.


This is a good lesson for inventors, who have to step out of the creative mode once their products are ready for market, and put on their marketing hat.


Also, Moore saw a bigger picture than just inventing a product. She envisioned a deeper bond between parent and child. This is another good lesson for inventors, who want to make a bigger impact in the world beyond just their inventions.


She eventually sold the company to Gerico, who have since expanded the product line with different models and updated styles.

Innovation Lessons Companies Can Learn From the Pilgrims

Innovation Lessons Companies Can Learn From the Pilgrims

A pilgrim is someone who makes a long and difficult journey. As an inventor and innovator I have definitely found that journey to be a rough and rocky one, that has never gone as planned, and I’ve learned a lot of innovation lessons along the way.


For the 102 pilgrims that sailed from England to their new home in America, their journey didn’t go as planned either. To begin with, they arrived about 150 miles north of their destination and eventually ended up at Plymouth.


They faced many hardships, and over half of them wouldn’t survive. But the ones that did used their bootstrapping innovation survival skills to not only survive, but thrive in a foreign land many miles from home.


Here are some of the lessons they can teach companies about innovation:

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Inventor’s Spotlight – Frederick Walton

Inventor’s Spotlight – Frederick Walton

It’s hard to image that at one time people walked on bare boards in their homes. Rugs had been around for centuries, but a mass-produced, easy to clean floor covering didn’t exist until the mid 1800’s. That was until British inventor, Frederick Walton, invented and patented the world’s first synthetic floor covering.


It all started when Walton noticed solidified linseed oil that had formed on a can of oil-based paint. Knowing that the natural process would take too long, he sped it up by heating it up with zinc sulfate and lead acetate.


His initial idea was to sell the varnish to manufacturers of water-repellent fabrics. But as all inventors know, the invention process doesn’t always turn out the way you plan. The varnish didn’t work on cotton and it took way too long to complete the process. He also had other setbacks, such as his factory burning down and painful, persistent rashes.


He reformulated his varnish and applied for another patent. By this time he had competition from other floor covering manufacturers, who had a cheaper product. He was still able to secure a good amount of the market share and began exporting his linoleum product to the U.S.


One of those competitors started using the name linoleum and was sued by Walton for trademark infringement. Unfortunately Walton had failed to trademark the name and he lost the lawsuit. But he would have lost anyway since the term linoleum had become a generic term by that point and became the first product to become a generic name.


For many years linoleum was considered a luxurious material, but was eventually replaced by less expensive, artificial vinyl. The original linoleum fell out of favor and was stripped out of homes and forgotten for years.


But today linoleum is making a comeback because of its eco-friendly properties, and its durability and versatility. It’s bio-degradable, anti-bacterial, recyclable, fire-resistant, hypo-allergenic, and can last up to 40 years. Plus, there are no environmental toxins involved in the manufacturing process.


Women Inventors – Tabitha Babbitt

Women Inventors – Tabitha Babbitt

I’ve heard too many times that women inventors tend to invent “girlie” things. Sometimes that might be true, but not always. Take the case of the shy and quiet inventor Tabitha Babbitt, who invented the circular saw, which is certainly far from being a girlie invention.


One day Tabitha was watching two men use a pit saw. They were expending a huge amount of effort going back and force. Tabitha noticed that half of the motion was being wasted, since the saw only cut one way. The rest of the motion was just wasted.


They say inventors tend to invent what they know or at least they tend to use what they know in their inventions. Tabitha made her living as a weaver, so she took her knowledge of the weaving machine she used to spin her fabrics and created a circular saw blade which she put onto a fast-spinning axel. This greatly increased productivity and cut down on labor.


She improved the spinning wheel process by coming up with a double spinning head. This allowed women to spin twice as much as they normally would spin.


Tabitha also helped to create the process of cut nails. Instead of making them one at a time, she came up with the idea of cutting multiple nails from a sheet of iron.


Tabitha was a prolific inventor, who believed in increasing productivity through mass production. Through her invention of the circular saw she helped increase production in the lumber and furniture industry.


But since Tabitha was a member of the religious organization, The Shakers, she never patented any of her brilliant inventions as this went against the religious beliefs of the Shakers.


She was also working on the idea for a false teeth manufacturing process, but died before the idea was fully finished.




Why Kids are so Creative

Why Kids are so Creative

Today I spoke at the Girl Scout Conference on the topic of women inventors/women innovators. The session was sponsored by the people at THQ who make the U Draw Game Tablet for the Nintento wii.


Then the Girl Scouts had a unique kind of roundtable area where the Girl Scouts could sit and talk to a woman who had excelled in some kind of career. Mine was inventor.


At first I thought there weren’t any girls that were even interested in being an inventor. But I ended up having quite a few. The first group felt that inventing was just too hard and they could never do it. So when the second group came by I tried to coax ideas out of them and convince them that anybody could be an inventor by giving examples of kid inventors that had come up with successful products, like Abbey Fleck, who invented the Makin’ Bacon rack for the microwave. She came up with the idea after running out of towels to soak up the bacon grease. She became a million by the time she was a teenager. Now, that’s what they wanted to hear. Someone their age who had actually done it.


Once I got them to start talking they couldn’t stop coming up with bigger and better ideas. The sky’s the limit with kids. They don’t have much of a filter on their imagination. Once I asked them to start coming up with problems to solve, they just kept going. And they would also come up with many different ways it could be done. Adults will tend to analyze an idea and eventually figure out ways it wouldn’t work before it’s ever had a chance.


If adults could take the filters off and dream big like kids do, they could solve more problems.