Great Inventions from the Heartland

From agriculture to high tech, sports to personal comfort, inventors from America’s heartland and Canada have given us great inventions.

A Canadian gym teacher from Almonte, Ont., James Naismith, is credited with creating the game of basketball in 1891.

St. Louis, Mo., native John S. Thurman devised the world’s first powered vacuum cleaner in 1898 and named it the “pneumatic carpet renovator.” The enormous gadget had an internal combustion engine and traveled from house to house on a horse-drawn cart as part of a mobile cleaning service.

In 1913, aviation pioneers William Purvis and Charles Wilson were awarded a patent for the world’s first helicopter which they developed in Goodland, Kan.

Quebec-born Arthur Sicard produced the first snow blower in 1925, and today he is hailed from January to March by Canadians trying to clear their driveways.

And probably no one gave the world such a lift as Moses (Moe) Nadler. The Montreal-born Nadler invented the Wonderbra. Nadler was the founder and majority owner of the Canadian Lady Corset Company.

Women have been using improvised tampons for thousands of years – for instance, soft papyrus was the material of choice in ancient Egypt – but the first modern tampon featuring a tube within a tube applicator was invented by Dr. Earle Hass in Denver,Colo., in 1929.

One of the most notable and important Canadian inventions ever, insulin, was created by Dr. Frederick Banting, an Alliston, Ont., native and Nobel laureate. He shared credit with his colleague Dr. Charles Best.

A colossal 90% of land in Iowa is dedicated to farming, so it’s only fitting that the gasoline-powered tractor was invented in the state. John Froelich built the very first one in Clayton County back in 1892.

Next time you take out the trash, thank Winnipegger Harry Wasylyk, the man behind the modern-day garbage bag. He, along with Larry Hansen of Lindsay, Ont., invented a disposable green polyethylene garbage bag – they were first intended for commercial use at places like hospitals and quickly became a household must. The invention was marketed by Union Carbide as the Glad bag.

In 1936, Omaha’s James Michael Curran invented the first ski lift, without which the modern ski industry couldn’t function. Before Curran’s invention, skiers had to use tow ropes powered by horses or engines to get up the mountain. Seems strange that this one comes from a flat-lander!

Look! Up in the sky! It’s a bird, it’s a plane, no, it’s Superman, a hero across the globe but one who was created by American writer Jerry Siegel and Toronto-born artist Joe Shuster in 1932.

Heart patients the world over have engineer Earl Bakken of Minnesota to thank for developing the implantable pacemaker. The battery-powered device was invented by Bakken in 1957 at the Medtronic workout in Fridley, following a blackout that killed one of his patients, who was dependent on a large, mains-operated pacemaker.

The classic breakfast cereal Cream of Wheat was first manufactured in 1893 by wheat millers in Grand Forks, N.D., and the semolina-based porridge fast became America’s most popular breakfast staple, enjoyed in homes up and down the country.

South Dakota-born nuclear scientist Ernest Lawrence was awarded the 1939 Nobel Prize in physics for the cyclotron, the particle accelerator he patented in 1935, and the precursor to CERN’s Large Hadron Collider.

Known as the “Space Suit Father,” innovator Siegfried Hanson of Wisconsin developed the early Mark I space suit during the 1950s, playing an important role in the Space Race, which began in August 1955 and continued up until the early 1990s.

Illinois engineer Engineer Martin Cooper developed the first handheld mobile phone in 1973 while working at Motorola in Schaumburg, Ill. Dubbed “the brick,” the bulky device measured 10 inches and weighed a hefty 2.5 pounds.

Fake ‘Facts’ You Learned

Think back to everything you learned as a kid. Think harder and you’ll probably realize how inaccurate a lot of those “facts” were. Much of what we’ve always assumed as common knowledge is flawed. Here are a few of the lies many of us have believed since we were kids.

Chameleons camouflage to blend in. Nope. The real reason chameleons change color is to control their body temperature and to express mood. As you can guess, darker colors absorb more light, so they’ll swap to a lighter color to stay cool. In terms of emotion, they’ll darken their shade when they’re scared and brighten when they’re excited.

Vincent van Gogh cut off his own ear. Probably not. But historians believe the real story is that van Gogh actually lost his ear in a heated argument with his friend and fellow artist Paul Gauguin. Apparently Gauguin, also a fencer, severed his ear off with his sword. The Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam stands by the original story, but several books dedicated to the artist’s life support this lesser-known theory.

Dogs have cleaner mouths than humans. Really? Dogs do not brush their teeth or floss, so no, their mouths are not cleaner than ours. You won’t find humans eating trash or licking out of toilet bowls, either. It is true, however, that the healthier the dog, the cleaner they are. It’s believed the clean mouth myth comes from the fact that dogs’ wounds heal after they lick them. It’s not their mouths are especially clean, it’s just a similar practice to us washing a wound to prevent infection.

You know the expression, “Blind as a bat” but did you know bats can see almost as well as humans. In fact some larger nbats see much better than humans. However, at night, their ears are more important than their eyes – they use a special sonar system called ‘echolocation,’ meaning they find things using echoes.

Pluto isn’t a planet. Don’t believe that, the ninth rock from the sun was reclassified in 2006 as a dwarf planet, but that nonetheless is still a planet.

Goldfish only have a three-second memory. Bull. The evidence shows that fish are just as smart as birds and mammals. According to studies, they can remember things for three to five months.

Isaac Newton discovered gravity when an apple fell on his head. Not quite. It is somewhat true that he discovered the law of gravity one day when he was sitting beneath an apple tree. But the revelation didn’t come to him because of one hitting him on the head. He did see one fall from a tree, which made him wonder why apples fall straight to the ground instead of sideways.

The blood in your veins is blue. Nope, it’s red, like all blood. Despite what you see when you look at your forearms, blood is red. Your veins may appear blue because of how light reflects and how it’s absorbed by your tissue. Your veins pump deoxygenated blood, which absorbs more red light and as a result appears more blue. The deeper the vein, the bluer it looks.

Bulls get angry at the sight of red. No, they are aggressive to a waving object of any color.

Camels store water in their humps. The humps are fat which provides them with about three weeks of energy. Camels’ kidneys and intestines do retain water.

Your nails keep growing after you die. Fingernails can only grow if new cells are produced, which is not possible long after death. Once the heart stops beating, nerve cells die within three to seven minutes.

The North Star is the brightest star. Nope, the North Star, aka Polaris, is actually 46th in brightness. But it is the closest brightest star to the north celestial pole.

You can see the Great Wall of China from space. While parts of the man-made structure can be seen with radar imagery taken from space, the Wall’s materials are too similar in color and texture to its surroundings to be distinguished from space.

Dogs are color-blind. If Rover could talk, he’s call that a fake fact. Man’s best friend can see the world in more than just black and white. Dogs can actually see in combinations of blue and yellow, which includes a lot of grayish-brown varieties. Their sight can be compared to a human with red-green colorblindness.

Thomas Edison invented the lightbulb. He was the one who filed a patent for it, but several others contributed to its invention before him.

Christopher Columbus thought the world was flat. Contrary to what you were probably taught in elementary school, Christopher Columbus was smarter than what we give him credit for. The Italian explorer knew the world was round even before embarking on his expedition. The fact that the world was a sphere was actually known 1,300 years before Columbus set sail. It is true, however, that many Europeans started to believe the flat earth rumors during the Middle Ages.

Fortune cookies were first made in China. Only if you spell China as California. Fortune cookies were an American invention, not Chinese, though there are debates about who was the originator. One well-known version is a Chinese immigrant living in Los Angeles created the cookie, while another claims that a Japanese immigrant started it in San Francisco.

Heat mostly escapes your body from your head. Your parents probably told you to wear a hat so you don’t get sick. While it can help keep you warm, your head doesn’t allow for any more heat loss than any other part of your body does. Any exposed part of the body will release heat equally.

Have Some Eclipse Fun

When midday becomes night on Monday, Aug. 21, more than 80 million Americans have a chance to see an eclipse of the sun. Aside from the frantic hunt for eye-protecting glasses with which to view the eclipse, here are some simple questions to help put you in the mood.

(Answers are at the bottom)

1. In 1953, Catholics rushed to the movie theaters after their priests said the Legion of Decency had condemned this movie.

2. Andy Williams enchanted the masses with his 1961 hit scored by Henry Mancini with lyrics by Johnny Mercer.

3. An additional full moon that appears in a subdivision of a year: either the third of four full moons in a season, or a second full moon in a month of the common calendar is known as?

4. When was the last time any part of the country experienced a total solar eclipse?

5. When was the last total solar eclipse to cross the entire country?

6. Frankie Laine topped the charts with what sunny tune in 1949?

7. When was it the dawning of the Age of Aquarius with a medley including a sunny tune?.

8. An appropriate song for today first came out in 1939 and has become a favorite through the years. The title?

9. Stephen Foster gave us this gift in 1852. If you follow the horses, you hear it on TV every year. The lyrics include “The sun shines bright…”

10. Who told us “The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow”?

Answers below:


Going, Going, Gone!

When we think of how far we’ve come since the year 2000, it’s easy to focus on what we’ve gained. We’ve gotten iPods, smart phones, driverless cars, text messaging, GPS, social media, Wikipedia, nearly every TV show and movie in human existence available on demand and an AI-based computer that can lick just about anyone at Jeopardy.

At the same time a good many things are going, going, gone! These are things that everybody took for granted in the 20th century but have become almost entirely obsolete today.

Computer labs
In high schools and even colleges, there was a specific room on campus where they kept all the computers. Nobody had their own computer. Back then that was as absurd as saying “I could fly commercial, but I prefer to fly my own plane.” So you went to these rooms and used one of the computers, and then you left and you didn’t have access to a computer again until you went back to that room! Nowadays everyone has their own computer of some size.

The busy signal
It’s really strange the things you miss. Back in the days of landlines, calling somebody and getting a busy signal used to be annoying. But today, in an age of digital phones, we’d be glad to hear a busy signal. Because if you heard one, you had some solid information. The person you were trying to reach was home, just on another call. Going straight to voicemail can mean anything. But that beep-beep-beep was a reason for hope!

Watching crappy daytime TV on sick days
You know why so many people who came of age in the late 20th century have such fond memories of former Price Is Right host Bob Barker? Because when we stayed home sick from school and watched TV all day, we always ended up watching The Price Is Right because it was the only thing on. It was that or some terrible soap opera or the local news. Can you imagine anyone today watching a game show they were vaguely interested in over and over and over because it was the only option?

DVDs arrived in the U.S. in 1997, and it didn’t take long for the new format to make VCRs feel like cave drawings. It looked bad when The Washington Post gave the antiquated technology a tongue-in-cheek obit in 2005 – “It passed away peacefully after a long illness caused by chronic technological insignificance and a lack of director’s commentary tracks” – but when Japanese newspaper Nikkei rang the death knell for VCRs last summer, it was officially over.

Getting film developed
Walking past a “film processing” desk at a pharmacy can be downright creepy. It’s like driving by an abandoned drive-in movie theater. You want to crane your neck just to get a better look, as if maybe you’ll see the ghosts of former customers, picking up their photos and saying, “I can’t believe I got these developed in under 24 hours!” Next time you’re there, take three dozen photos of the film-developing station with your phone, then look at them immediately, just to remind yourself how far we’ve come.

Dot matrix printers
The only places where perforated printouts still reign supreme are at thrift-store “electronics” sections and car rental offices. Even though they were a pain during their prime, especially when they jammed (which was, you know, always), we can’t help but get a little misty-eyed when we hear the purring of a dot matrix in action.

Television static
If there’s no picture on your TV in 2017, it just means you didn’t pay your cable bill. But even then, we never get the electromagnetic noise that was so frustrating (and weirdly comforting) for several generations of TV watchers. It seems that younger generations often don’t even have cable because everything is available from streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime.

Slide projectors
Is it possible that future generations will never know the horrors of sitting through an aunt’s vacation photos in a living room slide projector show that feels like waterboarding torture in which you have to pretend to smile? How is that remotely fair?

Fax machines
When was the last time you actually sent or received a fax? About as close as you get to that today is seeing a fax number on someone’s old business card. Nobody needs a fax machine anymore since everything is done over email.

Polaroid “instant” pictures
Kids today have it so easy. For them, an “instant” picture is any image they capture on their smartphone, and it’s accessible nanoseconds after taking it. But with Polaroids – which ceased making instant film in 2008 – “instant” meant “in a few minutes, after you shake the photo violently for some reason and then wait and wait and wait for what seems like an eternity for the image to slowly appear.” It’s hard to believe that we were ever so patient.

Phones were once connected to walls with fiber optic cables. No, I’m totally not kidding. They worked just like any other phone, except there was no screen, or Internet connection, and it didn’t tell you the time, and it had zero apps.

Dial-up internet
To connect to the Internet once required a landline phone which you would plug into your computer. Then your computer would attempt to “call” the Internet. Sometimes your connection would get interrupted if somebody in the house picked up another phone, and you’d yell, “Mom! I’m trying to check my email!”

Getting lost
Before every car and cellular phone came with their own global positioning systems, it was entirely possible that you could venture out into the world and not have any idea where you were. It was called “being lost,” and you either had to find somebody to give you directions or find a map. Or maybe you’d just stay lost, and keep wandering until you stumbled onto something familiar, or just figured out where you were going out of dumb luck. Being lost wasn’t so bad, if you can believe it. It was a weird thrill to have no clue when, or even if, you’d arrive at your destination.

CD case binders
There’s a whole lot that feels conspicuously absent now that music has become digitized and is no longer a physical thing. Nobody owns a Walkman or Discman anymore. But the weirdest disappearing act is the CD binder, which you’d fill up with CDs before a car trip or any outdoor excursion, and then invariably realize too late that you forgot the one CD you wanted to hear.

“Blind” dates
There was a weird thrill to showing up for a first date and having no idea what the other person looked like. No more. Thanks, Tinder.

Cursive writing
Kids today not only can’t write in cursive, some of them can’t even read it. Does it matter? Other than signing a check (another thing we have nearly stopped doing), cursive might very well be a lost art. Sure it’s cool, but it’s cool like being able to read Beowulf in the original Old English is cool. It doesn’t have real world applications.

Floppy disks
Pre-2000, a cloud was a collection of condensed water vapor hovering in the sky. It’s what made rain, not where you stored all of your computer files. If you wanted to save important documents, you needed something like a floppy disk, which could hold up to 240 MB of memory. But then came the floppy-less iMac in 1998, and eventually the iCloud, which made floppies seem adorably quaint. If you still have dozens of floppy disks, maybe you could repurpose them as plant holders or drink coasters.

Library card catalogs
You know what would be a far more entertaining version of The Hunger Games? A bunch of kids from 2017 compete in a death match where they have to find a book in the library using only the Dewey decimal system. In the end, everybody gets paper cuts and nobody finds their book.

More Is NOT Always Better

When it comes to supplements, more is not always better. Vitamins and minerals are essential to health, but that doesn’t mean that megadoses will keep you out of the hospital or make you live longer. Some, in fact, may be harmful.

Reader’s Digest reminds us that in most cases it’s preferable to get these nutrients from a balanced diet. High doses of certain vitamins and minerals may be appropriate for certain people, though. Talk to your doctor about supplements if you are a woman of childbearing age, are a vegetarian or vegan, have limited exposure to the sun, are an athlete in training or suspect for any reason you may be malnourished.

Here’s the lowdown on eight common supplements – most of which are vitamins you probably don’t need.

For most healthy adults, the recommended daily allowance of beta-carotone (in the form of vitamin A) is 3,000 IU for males and 2,130 IU for females. Some of its highest food sources include carrots, spinach, kale and cantaloupe. Some people take is as an anti-cancer antioxidant, but the supplements can actually increase risk of lung cancer in smokers and hasn’t been shown to prevent any other form of cancer.
Recommendation: Don’t take it.

Folic Acid
Aim to get 400 micrograms of folic acid a day. It’s found in fortified bread and breakfast cereal, legumes and asparagus. Because it’s been shown to reduce the risk of neural tube defects in newborns, some women take it while pregnant. But some doctors warn supplementation of food with folic acid could be fueling rising rates of colon cancer.
Recommendation: Only women who are pregnant or may become pregnant are advised to take it.

Aim to get 55 micrograms of selenium from natural sources like Brazil nuts, tuna and beef. Some people take selenium to prevent cancer, especially prostate cancer. But those good intentions could actually be working against you – one major study found that taking selenium could actually increase risk of high-grade prostate cancer in men who were already high in the mineral. Selenium could also be one of the worst supplements for diabetes. Another 2007 study found a 50% increased risk of type 2 diabetes in people who took 200 micrograms a day.
Recommendation: Don’t take it.

Vitamin B6
Adults between 19 and 50 should aim to get 1.4 milligrams of vitamin B6 from baked potatoes, bananas and chickpeas daily. After age 50, you should aim for 1.5 milligrams. Some use it to prevent mental decline and lower levels of homocysteine (an amino acid associated with heart disease), but the studies are mixed. Two studies failed to show cognitive benefits, and while B6 does reduce homocysteine, it’s not clear whether this prevents heart attacks.
Recommendation: Take it only if your doctor recommends it.

Vitamin B12
Vitamin B12-rich foods include fish and shellfish, lean beef and fortified breakfast cereal. It’s a vitamin vegetarians and vegans tend to be low in. Aim to get 2.4 micrograms from those sources every day. Vitamin B12 deficiency, which can cause anemia and dementia, is a problem for some seniors, so supplements can help. However, high doses of B12 have not been proven to prevent cognitive loss, and they don’t boost energy.
Recommendation: Take it only take if your doctor recommends it.

Vitamin C
Vitamin C can be found in citrus fruits, melons and tomatoes. Adult males should get 90 milligrams a day, while women should aim for 75 milligrams. Some people take it to protect against the common cold, but a review of 30 clinical trials found no evidence that vitamin C prevents colds. There are some exceptions though. It may reduce the risk in people who live in cold climates or experience extreme physical stress, such as running marathons. Smokers may need extra vitamin C. Studies haven’t backed up claims that high doses of vitamin C can fight cancer and heart disease.
Recommendation: Most people don’t need C supplements.

Vitamin E
Vitamin E – found in vegetable oil, nuts and leafy green vegetables – has been thought to prevent heart disease, cancer and Alzheimer’s disease. Try to get 15 milligrams a day from food. Not only have studies failed to show that vitamin E supplements prevent heart attacks or cancer, but high doses may increase the risk of strokes. One study found that vitamin E from food – but not from supplements – helps prevent Alzheimer’s disease.
Recommendation: Don’t take it.

The daily recommended allowance for zinc – found in oysters, lean beef and breakfast cereal – is 11 milligrams for males and 8 milligrams for females. There are claims that the mineral can prevent and treat symptoms of the common cold, but the evidence doesn’t hold up. A few studies suggest that cold symptoms are less severe and resolve sooner in zinc users, but others show no benefit. High doses can actually weaken the immune system.
Recommendation: Don’t take it except for occasional use of zinc lozenges or sprays for colds.