The Bottom Line: Inventions Big and Small

December 17, 2012
By Maryann Lawlor
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The History Channel recently featured a series titled “The Men Who Built America.” A mixture of narration, interviews with historians and successful business people, and dramatic reenactments, the episodes brought to life the incredible forethought five entrepreneurs possessed. It also demonstrated how much they were willing to risk on businesses and inventions they were confident would succeed and move the United States forward after the Civil War.

Cornelius Vanderbilt understood the value of railroads to expanding the frontier. John D. Rockefeller’s investments in oil lit up America. Brilliant financier J.P. Morgan capitalized on inventors’ hunger to grow. Andrew Carnegie’s influence is unmistakable in the skylines of every American city. And Henry Ford not only made car ownership affordable but also demonstrated the value of the assembly line, the five-day work week and fair wages. It is impossible today to look around the United States and not see these men’s gigantic footprint.

The advancements developed during the past century have had at least an equal impact on life, not just in America but around the globe. Computers, the Internet, smartphones and tablets have revolutionized communications and industry.

But these monumental inventions aren’t the only innovations that affect day-to-day life. Some products and services, though seemingly minute in comparison, are so pervasive today that we can’t imagine living without them. In no particular order, here are just a few.

  • Wheels on suitcases: Obvious. Logical. Who can travel without them?
  • GPS: Created by the U.S. Defense Department and Ivan Getting at a cost of $12 billion, it’s worth every penny.
  • ATMs: Yes, asynchronous transfer mode but more importantly, what would we do without the automatic teller machine on a Saturday at 11 p.m.?
  • Keurig coffee makers: Peter Dragone and John Sylvan found another way to make money by playing on the expectation of expedience today.
  • EZ Pass: Or whatever allows you to breeze through tollbooths where you live. No more digging in car seat cushions for two dimes and a quarter.

The bottom line is that while these inventions don’t hold a candle to the innovations made possible by the men who built America, they have become solutions few can live without today. They prove that creativity and risk-taking is alive and well today. Aside from your cell phone and computer, what recent inventions do you use almost daily that you could not imagine living without? Share your can’t-do-withouts and why. TV remote control? Microwave oven? And what do you wish someone would invent? We want to hear your ideas.

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