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The origins of our favorite summertime inventions     Send a link to a friend

By Paul Niemann

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[AUG. 5, 2004]  As the dog days of summer are soon approaching, what better time to ask where all of those great summertime inventions came from. You know -- the things that make summer what it is, like baseball, ice cream and swimming.

The staff and I here at Invention Mysteries World Headquarters, just south of Quincy, decided to dig up some evidence about the origins of our favorite summertime inventions. Here's what we came up with:

The origin of ice cream is uncertain, but it was probably invented in China approximately 4,000 years ago -- I think it was on a Wednesday around 2 p.m. Fast forward to the 1600s, when King Charles I of England enjoyed ice cream on a regular basis, freshly prepared by his chef. In fact, Charles had his chef keep the recipe a secret.

After he was beheaded in 1649 (Charles I of England, not the chef, because they usually don't do that to chefs), the chef let the cat out of the bag. Ice cream's U.S. origins began in the 1700s, when a very successful inventor named Thomas Jefferson (yes, that Thomas Jefferson) introduced it to America.

Nancy Johnson developed the first hand-crank ice cream maker in 1847. She received a patent for it and sold her rights to William Young for $200, which was pretty good money in those days. Young named the machine after the inventor, calling it the "Johnson Patent Ice-Cream Freezer."

The ice cream cone could have been invented by any of a number of different ice cream vendors; the only thing we know for sure is that it first became popular at the World's Fair in St. Louis in 1904.

The rules to America's pastime were created by bank clerk Alexander Cartwright, although he may have loosely based his version of the game on an earlier version by Nelson Doubleday. Doubleday, who fired the first shot in defense of the Union during the Civil War, was long credited for inventing the game of baseball. The modern baseball glove was invented by Cardinals pitcher Bill Doak and licensed to Rawlings Sporting Goods in 1919. More than 100 years would pass before the Cubs would win another World Series (trust me on this one).

Nearly every major league sports team has a Gatorade cooler near the bench. Gatorade was invented in 1965 by Dr. Robert Cade, a medical researcher at the University of Florida. One of the school's football coaches wanted something to help keep his players performing well in the hot weather, so he asked the team doctor, who worked with Dr. Cade, for help.


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After trying a number of different formulas, they came up with what became known as Gatorade. Why "Gatorade"? The school's team name is the Gators. Sales of Gatorade took off when the football team won their first Orange Bowl in 1967, and the sports drink now rings up billions of dollars in sales each year. Incidentally, Cade had offered the school the rights to his Gatorade patent, but it turned him down. Big mistake.

What would summer be without swimming? The inventor of the bikini, Louis Reard, named it after the Bikini Islands in the Pacific Ocean in 1945, near the end of World War II. You would think that he came up with the name after seeing women wearing the little two-piece swimsuit there, but that's not the case. It's a mystery why he named it the bikini, but it may have had something to with a major event that happened there -- the explosion of the world's first nuclear bomb nearby.

The bikini led to the need for sunscreen, which was invented by Miami Beach pharmacist Benjamin Green in 1944, who created it to protect soldiers serving in the South Pacific. Green brewed his successful formula of cocoa butter and jasmine on his wife's stove and, being bald, he tested it on his own head. The sunscreen that he developed became known as Coppertone.

Green had competition, though, when 25-year-old high school teacher and part-time lifeguard Ron Rice concocted his own natural tanning formula of coconut, avocado, kukui and other secret natural oils in his garage and named it Hawaiian Tropic. Rice began selling Hawaiian Tropic in 1969 on the beaches of Florida. That sounds like the perfect summer job!

Next week, we'll reveal the origins of the different sports being played in the Summer Olympics, which begin next weekend in Greece.

[Paul Niemann]

Invention Mysteries is written each week by Paul Niemann, whose favorite summertime invention is the game of baseball. He can be reached at niemann7@inventionmysteries.com.

Copyright Paul Niemann 2004


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