The Top 5 Most Under-Appreciated Inventors

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We all know and honor the most famous inventors, those people who achieved pioneering, radical breakthroughs that forever changed the way we live. But for every Edison, Watt or Da Vinci, there are a multitude of gifted, accomplished inventors who created wonderful devices, perfected complex processes or synthesized new substances—in short, men and women who left a lasting mark on humanity—yet who lived and died in relative obscurity. No more! Today we shine a light bulb (yeah, thanks Edison) on five accomplished yet ignored inventors and celebrate their contributions to our everyday lives.

5 John Harrison and the Chronometer

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OK, books have been written about John Harrison, so perhaps he’s not exactly under-appreciated or unknown, but we still feel this brilliant man deserves more credit than he gets. Harrison revolutionized sea travel, therefore impacting exploration, trade, warfare and more, all by designing an extremely reliable timepiece. His clocks, often called chronometers, would keep time even at sea, where the motion of a ship often caused errors in other timepieces of the day – the day being the mid-1700s, by the way. With an accurate clock, navigators could judge their exact east-west location by checking the local noontime against the known time at a fixed location such as London.

4 Nicolas Appert and Canned Food

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Before 1795, Nicolas Appert was just another French confectioner creating and selling sugary treats to hungry Parisians. In that year, responding to a challenge issued under Napoleon for a better way to preserve foodstuffs, Appert began tinkering with methods of canning. Within a few years of his initial experimentations, Appert perfected the still-common method of boiling food in airtight jars.

3 Marion Donovan and the Disposable Diaper

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Parents, experienced babysitters, or any human being who likes the idea of human waste being removed from their proximity as quickly and permanently as possible owes a debt of gratitude to Marion Donovan. Before her mid-century invention of the disposable diaper, dealing with an infant’s mess was a messy affair. Amazingly, it took a while for this inventor’s seminal creation (she held multiple patents) to catch on, but thanks to her clever mind and dogged determination, we now have the disposable diaper.

2 Philip Vaughan and the Ball Bearing

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You could be forgiven for not spending a lot of your day thinking about ball bearings, but if they suddenly disappeared, you’d be left without everything from DVD players to vehicle engines to washing machines. Philip Vaughan, a Welshman who was both an ironsmith and a tinkerer, created the first modern ball bearings and accompanying fittings in the 1790s. His simple but inspired designs would go on to forever influence the way things with moving parts were designed.

1 Earle Dickson and the Band Aid

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Before Mrs. Josephine Dickson started cutting her fingers while preparing dinner, the only way to treat minor wounds was to wrap gauze around the injury and secure it using fabric and/or tape. One evening, though, her husband, Mr. Earle Dickson, had a flash of brilliance: He envisioned the now ubiquitous, then undreamt of modern bandage, complete with adhesive sides and sterile strip all in one little package! Earle took his new idea to work with him, and fortunately for both the Dickson family and the slightly wounded worldwide, that workplace was none other than Johnson & Johnson.

Steven John is a published novelist and competitive pole vault champion. (The latter is not true.) His writing runs the gamut from speculative fiction to essays fueled by a mix of mirth and derision. He has never been to Lisbon but, statistically speaking, is probably taller than you.

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