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Could one of these young inventors become the next Edison?     By Paul Niemann

[DEC. 2, 2004]  Last week, we looked at the contributions of several successful young inventors. We stay true to that theme for this week's story. While the inventors featured in last week's column were teenage inventors, the six inventors in this week's column hadn't even celebrated their 12th birthday by the time they achieved some success.

Rich Stachowski invented Water Talkies™ in 1996, when he was just 10 years old, as part of Wild Planet's Kid Inventor Challenge contest. He formed his own company to make more toys when he saw how popular his invention had become. Wild Planet then acquired Rich's company. Now he can go back to being a kid again.

Young Shannon Crabill invented what she called the "Create-your-own-message-alarm-clock," also as part of Wild Planet's contest. Wild Planet changed the name to "Talk Time." Think that's impressive? Oprah Winfrey sure thought so, so she invited Shannon to be a guest on the show and she featured her in Oprah magazine.

Thanks to 10-year-old Stephanie Mui (that's pronounced "Mui"), it's now easier to remove splinters and ticks. Her invention, called "See and Tweezz," combines an all-in-one magnifying glass, tweezers and light. It even comes with a cute little name. Way to go, Stephanie.

Eleven-year-old Tessanie Marek invented "Easy Crutches." This pair of crutches allows a person to rest his or her foot while walking instead of having to hold it up. How does it work? Easy Crutches contains a pedal that is screwed to the crutch in a way that supports the foot. Very few people are on crutches at any given time, but wouldn't it be great to have the Easy Crutches when you need them?

Then there's 8-year-old, Matthew Nettleton, who invented the "Pin Picker." The Pin Picker helps you find and pick up sewing pins that have dropped on the floor. It works on both hard floors and rugs. 'Atta boy, Matthew!

While the Pin Picker might not be for everybody, the next invention is. Eleven-year-old Paul Simmons invented the Anti-Soggy Cereal Bowl. It's a double bowl with springs, and it keeps your cereal from getting soggy by helping you use just the right amount of milk.

I can see the letters and e-mails pouring in already: "But these aren't life-altering inventions. What's so great about a Pin Picker or an Anti-Soggy Cereal Bowl?"

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Since I usually answer critics' questions with an equally annoying question of my own, I ask, "What were some of the more famous inventors doing in their early years?"

Thomas Edison created his first important invention, a telegraphic repeating instrument, while working as a telegraph operator in 1865. He was 18 at the time. Three years earlier, he had begun publishing a weekly newspaper, which he printed in a freight car that also served as his laboratory.

What about Ben Franklin? While he was Ben Franklin the Inventor, he was also Ben Franklin the Publisher and Ben Franklin the First U.S. Postmaster General. Not to be outdone (by himself), he was also Ben Franklin the Signer of the Declaration of Independence, as well as Ben Franklin the First Person to Appear on a U.S. Postage Stamp.

While you might not recognize the names of these next two inventors, you probably used their inventions when you were a kid.

In 1873, 17-year-old Chester Greenwood applied for a patent for his earmuffs. Nothing significant about that, except that his factory made these earmuffs for the next 60 years, and Greenwood went on to create more than 100 other inventions.

Then there's the story of 16-year-old George Nissen, who built a rectangular frame with a piece of canvas stretched across it in 1930 and called it a trampoline. George had designed it in his parents' garage and built it out of steel materials from a junkyard.

Could any of our six young inventors turn out to be the next Thomas Edison or the next Marie Curie? Who knows, but they're off to a pretty good start if they decide to continue inventing.

[Paul Niemann]


Paul Niemann is the author of "Invention Mysteries -- The Little-Known Stories Behind Well-Known Inventions." He can be reached at niemann7@inventionmysteries.com.

© Copyright Paul Niemann 2004

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