TALES OF THE ORDINARY

Do You Know Who Invented The Ballpoint Pen?


Published on May 14, 2024


Credit: Museums Victoria

Sometimes it’s easy to forget how behind every commonplace object there is an interesting story. Each of these invention stories stems from the need to solve a problem or make our lives a little easier.

Delve with us into the fascinating history of these 10 commonplace items that, in one way or another, have shaped our modern world.

1

Ballpoint Pens

Credit: Antoine Dautry

Where would we be without ballpoint pens? Still leaking ink everywhere, I assume. In 1938, Hungarian journalist Laszlo Biro patented the first successful ballpoint pen, inspired by the quick-drying ink used in newspaper printing. This revolutionary writing instrument provided a smoother, more reliable alternative to fountain pens, making on-the-go writing easier and more accessible.

2

Zipper

Credit: Nina Cuk

Zippers are one of those inventions that are absolutely everywhere, and our lives would certainly be more complicated without them. Imagine buttoning up a camping tent!

Initially patented in 1851 by Elias Howe, the zipper struggled to gain traction until Swedish-American electrical engineer Gideon Sundbäck improved upon the design in the early 20th century. Once intended as a fastening device for shoes, the zipper's versatility soon led to its widespread use in clothing, luggage, and beyond.

Credit: Diana Polekhina

3

Band-Aids

Who knew there was a love story behind the ubiquitous Band-Aid? In 1920, a Johnson & Johnson employee called Earle Dickson invented the Band-Aid as a solution to his wife's frequent kitchen injuries.

Combining adhesive tape with sterile gauze, Dickson created a convenient and effective way to dress small wounds. During World War II, millions were shipped overseas, popularizing the product everywhere and becoming the household staple we know today.

4

Safety Pins

Credit: Jacek Halicki, CC BY-SA 4.0

Safety pins are a straightforward invention - a clothespin that protects its user from the sharp point. Yet, this commonplace fabric fastener did not exist before 1849, when it was patented by American mechanic Walter Hunt. Hunt didn’t think much of his invention and sold the patent to W. R. Grace and Company for only 400 dollars, which made millions off his design.

5

Coffee Filters

Credit: Tyler Nix

German entrepreneur Melitta Bentz revolutionized the coffee industry in 1908 with her patented invention: the disposable paper coffee filter.

Tired of finding grounds in her coffee as well as of the bitter taste that most brewing methods of her time produced due to over-brewing, Bentz began experimenting with conical blotting paper filters. This led to her creating the simple yet effective filtration method that remains a staple of coffee preparation today.

Credit: Andres Siimon

6

Rubber Bands

Originally crafted from natural rubber, the first rubber bands emerged in the mid-19th century as a solution for securing bundles of papers and banknotes. Although many others had previously worked on the idea, British businessman Stephen Perry is often recognized as the true inventor of rubber bands. The first commercially successful version of the product was made simply by slicing hollow tubes of vulcanized rubber, almost the same process that is still used today.

7

Toothbrushes

Credit: Alex Padurariu

Before toothbrushes, people used just about anything they could find to maintain their oral hygiene. Twigs, feathers, animal hair, and even porcupine quills have been used in the quest for a shining smile.

But it wasn’t until the 1930s that the first practical nylon toothbrushes were invented, by American giant DuPont. Surprisingly, the first electric toothbrush was invented only twenty years later, by a Swiss company in 1954.

8

Scotch Tape

Credit: Mitchell Luo

After watching auto-engineers try different methods to achieve smooth painting on two-color cars, 3M engineer Richard Drew designed the first masking tape in 1925, later developing the product into the clear adhesive tape we know today.

With its transparent and moisture-resistant design, the Scotch tape revolutionized the world of adhesive products, finding applications in every field, from house repairs to industrial uses.

9

Matches

Credit: Rob Wicks

While their exact origin is debated, the widespread use of self-igniting matches dates back to the early 19th century. However, the first designs utilized highly dangerous white phosphorus, causing dangerous intoxications in both factory workers and users.

After a series of worker strikes and international bans, the industry switched to red phosphorus, a much safer alternative to produce and manipulate.

10

Air conditioner

Credit: Carlos Lindner

While the concept of cooling indoor air dates back to ancient civilizations - and even Benjamin Franklin experimented with various cooling methods - modern air conditioning as we know it was pioneered by Willis Carrier in 1902.

Originally designed to control humidity in a Brooklyn printing plant, Carrier's invention revolutionized not only industrial processes but also comfort in homes, businesses, and even hospitals.


OCEAN GIANTS

10 Big Facts About Whales That Will Blow Your Mind


Published on May 14, 2024


Credit: Andrew Bain

Whales are among the most majestic creatures to roam the oceans, captivating humans with their immense size, mysterious habits, and intriguing behaviors. From their extraordinary communication skills to their incredible migratory journeys, whales continue to fascinate scientists and nature enthusiasts alike.

Here are 10 captivating facts about these marine giants that will leave you in awe.

1

Whales Are Mammals, Not Fish

Credit: Will Turner

Despite their aquatic lifestyle, whales are actually mammals, belonging to the order Cetacea. This means that, just like us, they breathe air, give birth to live young, nurse their offspring with milk, and possess hair (albeit very little of it). And whales are more related to us than you would think. The evolutionary journey that leads from their land-dwelling ancestors to the oceanic behemoths of today is one of the most remarkable stories in the animal kingdom.

2

Blue Whales Are Earth's Largest Creatures

Credit: Georg Wolf

Blue whales hold the title of being the largest animals that have ever existed on Earth, ever. Take a minute to take this in. This means that they even surpass the size of the largest dinosaurs found. These magnificent creatures can grow up to a staggering 110 feet in length and weigh as much as 200 tons. To support their massive bodies, blue whales consume enormous quantities of krill, small shrimp-like creatures, every day during their feeding season.

3

Humpback Whales Have Unique Songs

Credit: Kelly Sikkema

Humpback whales are renowned for their haunting and complex songs, which can last for hours and be heard over great distances. These songs are believed to play a role in mating rituals and communication among individuals. What's particularly fascinating is that humpback whale songs not only evolve over time, with new phrases being added and old ones fading away, but also change according to the region, suggesting a cultural aspect to their communication.

4

Sperm Whales Are Deep Diving Champions

Credit: Alex Haney

Sperm whales are the deepest diving mammals on the planet, capable of descending to depths of over 10,000 feet for over an hour. Their ability to dive to such extreme depths is facilitated by their uniquely adapted physiology, including collapsible rib cages and lungs, and the ability to increase the amount of oxygen molecules stored in their muscles, among many other extreme adaptations to the immense pressures of the deep ocean.

5

Orcas Are The Apex Predators of the Sea

Credit: Thomas Lipke

Orcas, also known as killer whales, are apex predators that inhabit oceans worldwide, capable of hunting even the dreaded great white shark. Being formidable hunters, they prey on a variety of marine mammals and fish, and can even attack boats if they feel threatened. But while they are extremely fast swimmers and have sharp teeth over 3 inches long, their deadliest weapon, by far, is their complex brain. Orcas are highly intelligent and social animals, and their clever hunting strategies keep them at the top of the food chain.

6

Not All Whales Have Teeth

Credit: Steve Snodgrass, CC BY 2.0

Whales can be categorized into two main groups based on their feeding mechanisms: baleen whales and toothed whales. Baleen whales, such as humpbacks and blue whales, have baleen plates in their mouths instead of teeth. These are hair-like structures, which they use to filter small prey like krill and plankton from the water. Toothed whales, like sperm whales and orcas, instead have sets of ordinary teeth and use them to feed on larger prey such as fish, squid, and even other marine mammals.

7

Whale Migrations Span Thousands of Miles

Credit: Karl-Heinz Müller

Many whale species undertake epic migratory journeys covering thousands of miles each year. These migrations are driven by factors such as mating, feeding, and seasonal changes in temperature and food availability. For example, gray whales make one of the longest migrations of any mammal, traveling over 10,000 miles annually between their breeding grounds in warm tropical waters and their feeding grounds in cold Arctic seas.

8

Whales Play Vital Roles in Ecosystems

Credit: Humberto Braojos

As apex predators and key consumers in marine food webs, whales play crucial roles in maintaining the health and balance of ocean ecosystems. By controlling populations of both prey and predator species, they help prevent overgrazing of marine habitats and promote biodiversity. Additionally, their nutrient-rich feces support the growth of phytoplankton, which both serves as the foundation of marine food chains and contributes to carbon sequestration from the atmosphere.

9

Whales Were Hunted For Their Unique Resources

Credit: Gabriel Dizzi

Whales have long been hunted by humans for their meat, blubber, and other resources. During the beginning of the 20th century, many whale species were hunted for their oil-rich blubber, used as fuel for lamps in early industrialized cities. That led to a catastrophic decline in whale populations, with some species pushed to the brink of extinction. Fortunately, since commercial whaling was largely banned in the 1980s, whale populations are showing a steady recovery, though they are still threatened by pollution and the warming of the oceans.

10

Whale Watching Is A Thriving Global Industry

Credit: Davide Cantelli

We might not be actively hunting whales as in the past, but we still want to encounter these gentle giants of the ocean. In recent decades, whale watching has emerged as a popular and sustainable form of eco-tourism, providing people with the opportunity to observe these magnificent creatures in their natural habitats while raising awareness (and funds) for marine conservation.

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