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Why were Xerox, Monopoly and Pepsi initially considered failures?   By Paul Niemann

"I think there is a world market for maybe five computers."

(Who said it? Read on...)

[NOV. 18, 2004]  Chester Carlson, Charles Darrow and Caleb Bradham. You might not recognize their names, but you know their products.

Chester Carlson's working career began early in life, as he became his family's main provider before he started high school. A few years later, Carlson was working as a patent clerk for Bell Labs in New York when inspiration struck.

Tired of having to manually retype patent descriptions and redraw patent drawings whenever copies were needed, he set out to devise a method of making photocopies. Carlson patented his method in 1937. It took 22 years for him to become an overnight success, after teaming up with a small paper manufacturing company named Haloid. The product became known as the Model 914, and Haloid soon changed its name to Xerox.

Where would some of America's largest office products companies like Staples and Kinko's be without Chester Carlson's invention? They would be nonexistent.

Despite all of Carlson's success, he was rejected at first.

IBM, Kodak, General Electric and nearly 20 other companies rejected his idea.

The precursor to Monopoly was a 1904 game called "The Landlord's Game," which taught people the unfairness of realty and tax systems. Soon people were customizing the game to reflect their own neighborhoods. After Charles Darrow of Germantown, Pa., played one of these games at a friend's house, he changed the game to what became Monopoly and began manufacturing the games himself and selling them for $4 apiece.

Despite all of Darrow's success, he was rejected at first.

Parker Brothers rejected it in a big way, citing 52 fundamental flaws. So Darrow did what any determined inventor would do -- he continued selling the game himself. When Parker Brothers saw the success he was having during the Christmas season of 1934, they agreed to buy the rights from him.

North Carolina native Caleb Bradham created Pepsi in 1893, although it wasn't originally called Pepsi. He named it after himself and called it "Brad's Drink." He poured a sample of his mixture into a beaker and gave it to his assistant to taste it. When Bradham saw his assistant's face light up upon tasting it, he knew he had created a winner.  He later renamed it Pepsi Cola, after its two main ingredients: pepsin and the cola nut.

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Pepsi Cola was successful until sugar prices went bad in 1923. Eight years later, the Loft Candy Company purchased a bankrupt Pepsi Cola Company.

Despite all of Pepsi's early success, it was rejected at first.

When the Loft Candy Company struggled with Pepsi just like its founder did, they offered to sell it to Coca-Cola. Unfortunately for Coca-Cola, they rejected it without even making a bid.

So the common theme here is… ?

That's right; each invention was rejected before the world figured out what a great invention it was.

You can't really blame the companies that rejected them, though. Chester Carlson's Xerox technology, with terms like "electrostatics" and "photoconductivity," was so new and so different from anything that had ever been created that no one else understood it.

Monopoly made Charles Darrow the world's first millionaire board game inventor, even though he wasn't the person who designed the original version of the game.

Pepsi, on the other hand, was just one of many cola companies of that era, and its early bankruptcy made it less than an ideal prospect.

From the Department of Useless Trivia, Pepsi spawned the first advertising jingle in history. Called "Nickel Nickel," it referred to both the quantity and the price. The jingle then became a hit record.

Who was it who made the quote at the beginning of this column?

Former IBM chairman Thomas Watson, in 1943. And despite all of his success, his comment was rejected at first.

[Paul Niemann]

Invention Mysteries is written each week by Paul Niemann. He can be reached at niemann7@aol.com.

© Copyright Paul Niemann 2004

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