At OVO we’re big fans of innovation in all it’s forms. To celebrate Kid Inventors' Day on January 17th, we thought it would be fitting to celebrate some of of our favourite young inventors - each of whom have developed world changing new inventions before they’re out of their teens.
After watching trapeze artists use their safety nets to rebound and perform additional tricks, 16 year old gymnast George Nissen had a brainwave. Seeing a chance to improve his tumbles, he built a prototype that would change the world of gymnastics forever.
George's invention - the trampoline - inspired a worldwide sport, as well as countless terrified parents at children’s birthday parties. When trampolining was finally made an Olympic sport in 2008, 94 year-old George was still alive to see it, attending as a guest of honour.
On a cold San Francisco night in 1905, Frank Epperson forgot to bring inside a mixture of powdered soda and water that he had left on his porch. When the next morning arrived, young Frank discovered that he'd left the serving stick in the mixture, which had frozen solid. Tada! The world's first ice lolly (or, ‘popsicle’, as Frank would eventually christen it.) Frank patented his invention in 1924, earning royalties from the popsicle corporation. Sadly, after the stock market crash of 1929, he was forced to sell the patent to Popsicle, denying himself decades of income before his death in 1983.
The cold is clearly a great motivator for invention. Chester Greenwood was fifteen when during an ice skating session in Farmington, Maine he grew irritated by the cold nipping at his ears. One trip to his grandmother (and her sewing kit) later and he emerged with two tufts of fur connected by a loop of wire. The earmuff was born, and embarrassed kids forced to wrap up warm by their parents cursed his name forever. Greenwood quickly moved into manufacturing his invention: in his most successful year, in 1936, his company cranked out 400,000 ‘Champion Ear Protectors.’ In 1977 the state of Maine declared 21 December as Chester Greenwood Day, while his hometown of Farmington celebrates his legacy with an annual parade on the first Saturday of December.
When Louis Braille was three years old, a tragic accident caused the loss of his sight. As a teenager studying at The National Institute for Blind Youth in Paris, he found that the school’s specially embossed books were unwieldy and difficult to read. After a visit from French soldier Charles Barbier in 1821, fifteen year old Braille was inspired to adapt Barbier’s code language ‘sonography’ - a system of feeling raised dots that allowed soldiers to communicate in the dark - into his famous system for visually impaired reading that is still used the world over.
Mattie Knight - often referred to as ‘the female Edison’ - was the 19th century’s most famous woman inventor. Credited with almost ninety inventions - including, most famously, the flat bottomed paper bag - she has been inducted into the American National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2006. Born in 1838, Knight came up with her first major invention at just the age of 12. Working at a cotton mill, she witnessed the unfortunate death of a young boy who was struck by the loose shuttle of a textile loom. Knight went away and developed a safety mechanism that prevented the shuttle coming free, a design that was so effective that it became universally adopted and saved countless workers from injury or death.
Many fifteen year olds spend far too much time watching television; at the same age, Philo T. Farnsworth was busy inventing it. Born in 1906, his teenage years Farnsworth had already completed a number of sketches and designs for instruments that would eventually be crucial to the invention of the television. Most famously, Farnsworth would go on to design the first video camera tube - or ‘image dissector’, as he called it. (Fun fact: He was also the inspiration behind the name of Futurama's Professor Farnsworth.)
All the inventors on this list made their breakthroughs a long time ago, but that doesn’t mean that the spirit of invention isn’t present in today’s young generation. Param Jaggi started working with environmental technologies when he was just 13, and a few years later while learning to drive he was inspired to build a device that converted the carbon dioxide emitted from a car into oxygen. His invention - the Algae Mobile - was patented in 2011 and has won countless awards, and has been tipped to potentially one day revolutionise air quality. He was recently included on a Forbes 30 under 30 list of innovators that are changing the energy sector.
We all remember the pain. You’re halfway through the greatest picture of a boat carrying a butterfly and your nan that has ever been drawn, when your crayon wears down to the nub, making it impossible to draw with. What’s a young artist to do? In 1999 Cassidy Goldstein of Scarsdale, New York was not to be beaten. Faced with a box full of worn out crayons, she went searching round her house for something to extend their life. Finding a tube her parents used for keeping flowers fresh that fitted her crayons perfectly, she was able to carry on drawing until the bitter end. She eventually patented her idea which can now be found in toy shops across the USA, leading her to win an award for ‘Youth Inventor of The Year’.
We often take access to healthcare for granted in the UK, but there are countless places in the world where it is much harder to come by. In many of these places computers and fully equipped hospitals can be scarce - but mobile phones are commonly found. Enter Catherine Wong, a 17 year old science student from Morristown, New Jersey who, in 2012, invented a tiny device that displays a patient’s heartbeat right on the screen of their phone. Using the device, they are able to undertake an electrocardiogram to check for any problems. The invention could potentially improve medical care for millions of lives.
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