Sunday 17 December 2017

The chocolate bar that doesn't melt – and other great inventions

Joe O'Shea on the breakthroughs the world didn't really need... but now can't do without

In the great sweep of history – developing a chocolate bar that won't melt in the desert is unlikely to rank up there with the discovery of penicillin or the invention of the internal combustion engine.

We really only lionise the great inventors, the Alexander Flemings (penicillin), Rudolf Diesels (the diesel engine) or Thomas Edisons (claimed at least, to have invented just about everything else).

But Cadbury's can claim to have made a great leap forward by coming up with a chocolate bar that retains its structural integrity in temperatures of up to 40 degrees Celsius.

Scientists at Cadbury's research and development facility in Bourneville, near Birmingham in the UK, have just applied for a patent on their miracle "Temperature Tolerant" choccy-bar.

And while the Nobel Committee for Chemistry is unlikely to take much notice (it never really gets that hot in Norway), the No-Melt Dairy Milk can now be added to a long list of small but significant inventions.

It is a roll-call of minor honour, a list of men and women who have laboured long and hard to make breakthroughs that the world sometimes didn't really need but often cannot do without.

And the list includes some surprising entries, including many from Irish inventors who have made their own contributions to the forward march of civilisation.

It includes;

The Cheese And Onion Crisp

Forget the no-melt chocolate bar and try to imagine a world without the cheese & onion crisp, invented by Dubliner Joe "Spud" Murphy, considered by leading snack historians to be one of the great crisp pioneers of the 20th Century.

Spud Murphy founded Tayto in 1954, courageously taking on the tired orthodoxy of Plain and Ready Salted with his own flash of cheddar-related genius. The rest is history. Very tasty history.

The Teabag

It would have to have been an Irishman.

Tea merchant Tom Sullivan of New York took the original teabag idea (hand-sewn, silk "purses" filled with leaves that began to become popular towards the end of the 19th Century) and developed what we would recognise as the modern teabag in the early 1900s. Sullivan was soon shipping his new-fangled "tea bags" around the world.

The Tattoo Machine

Invented by New York-based Irishman Samuel O'Reilly, a successful tattoo artist who transformed an art that had basically remained the same for millennia, when he developed the first electrically powered tattoo needle and ink feed system in 1891.

O'Reilly based his patent on the rotary technology of Thomas Edison's auto-graphic printing pen. The basic design has hardly changed since then. O'Reilly died in 1908.

The Ejection Seat

Relied on by jet fighter pilots and James Bond, the first, practical ejection seat was unveiled in 1946 and was developed by an engineer called James Martin from Crossgar in Co Down.

Martin and his colleague, Captain Valentine Baker, founded the Martin-Baker company, which remains one of the leading manufacturers of ejection seats. Baker was killed while testing a prototype fighter-plane they had developed for the RAF in 1936. It was the death of his best friend and business partner that lead James Martin to devote the rest of his life to pilot safety.

To date, a total of 7,407 lives have been saved by Martin-Baker ejector seats.

The Pot Noodle

The man known as "Mr Pot Noodle", Tawainese-born, Japanese food-magnate Momofuku Ando sadly passed away in 2007.

Ando had first come up with the idea of ready meals involving noodles in the devastation of post-war Japan, where food and fuel shortages led to real hunger. His great legacy, the polystyrene cup containing a slab of pre-cooked noodles or rice that only needed hot-water, was developed in 1971.

The Windscreen Wiper

American lady Mary Anderson was the first person to fit what became known as a windscreen wiper to her car, in California in 1903.

Ms Anderson came up with the idea of a rubber blade on a hinged metal road, operated by hand from inside the car, when she became tired of trying to drive in the rain.

Mary successfully applied for a patent but when she tried to sell the idea to a major motor manufacturing company, it was turned down as "having no commercial value". It was not until the 1920s, after her patent had expired, that the windscreen wiper became a standard piece of equipment on cars.

The Electric Kettle

Take a bow, Arthur Leslie Large, who first came up with the idea of putting an electric heating filament into a standard kettle in Birmingham, England in 1922. However, it was not until 1930 that the American company General Electric developed the automatic cut-out switch for electric kettles.

Irish Independent

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