The progress of Science & Technology has given you at your finger tips the everyday objects – paper, tissue, egg box, clothes peg, tea bag, zip fasteners…many more You take these for granted. Do you know who invented these?
The rawlplug that millions of us use in DIY jobs every day was invented in 1910 by an Engineer called John Joseph Rawlings. He had been contracted to install electrical fittings at the British Museum with the stipulation that the walls should be damaged as little as possible. He came up with a plug made out of jute fibres that had been saturated with glue.
Fifty years later a German inventor developed a plastic plug that used the same principle of “grip by expansion”.
You have the clothes hanger, which looks very simple, but 189 patents were issued for various models between 1900 and 1906.
Wire hanger was invented when Albert Parkhouse arrived at work on a cold winter’s day to find all the coat pegs taken – so on the spot he bent a piece of wire into a hanger.
Dr Sue Mossman, the Science Museum material sciences specialist says the aim of the exhibition is to make people think about things that they use every day.
The idea for Hidden Heroes came from a company called Hi-Cone which makes another simple but durable product, the plastic strip used to carry six-packs of drinks.
In collaboration with the Vitra Design museum in Germany, Hi-Cone selected 36 such products and mounted the Hidden Heroes exhibition, which is now arriving in London after winning all sorts of awards.
One striking thing about an exhibition of products that are used by everyone is that only one of the hidden heroes was invented by a woman. In 1908, German housewife Melitta Bentz invented an effective coffee filter by lining a perforated metal beaker with blotting paper.
More recent products that already look destined for longevity include the sticky note seen plastered on computer screens, notice-boards and documents just about everywhere.
In the late 1960s, when an American scientist at 3M’s research lab, Dr Spencer Silver, was trying to develop an extra-strong adhesive. Instead, he developed a weak glue that allowed things to be joined and taken apart equally easily. A decade later Silver’s colleague Arthur Fry, irritated by paper bookmarks, decided to coat them with the weak glue. The Post-It note was born.
You will not find anything that looks remotely hi-tech in the Hidden Heroes exhibition. From paperclips to Post-It note, simple and economical products have proved that they can have lasting appeal, and make some of their inventors very wealthy.
Today’s innovators may find inspiration for the products of the future in this exhibition of the hidden heroes of the past.