5 Things You Didn’t Know About Mass. Invention

February 22, 2013 6:15 AM

(credit: PHILIPPE HUGUEN/AFP/Getty Images)

For more than two centuries, Boston has built up its reputation as a hub of invention. With talent from top tier universities and a pool of eager investors, countless inventions have originated in and around Boston. The long list of “firsts” is endless; many of which we’ve heard of. But it’s the stories behind them that are sometimes lost. So here are five things you didn’t know about local inventions you probably already knew about.


Pricey Fluff
The communities of Somerville and Lynn have engaged in an ongoing dispute over which one gets to lay claim to “Fluff.” The truth is that both of them have some claim. Archibald Query invented Marshmallow Fluff in his kitchen back in 1917 in Somerville. But World War I forced him to abandon any grand plans. Around 1920, H. Allen Durkee and Fred L. Mower, both Swampscott High School graduates, scraped together $500 and bought the recipe. At a price of $1 a gallon, they made back their initial investment pretty quickly. Nine years later, they set up shop in Lynn, and have been there since.

(Photo credit: Chris Gobeille)

(Photo credit: Chris Gobeille)

Bell’s Work With Deaf Children
Alexander Graham Bell gets credit for inventing the telephone. You probably know that. But did you know much of Bell’s work was with the deaf? He came up with the idea for the first telephone while teaching at a school for deaf children in Boston. Another little known fact: Bell put Helen Keller’s parents in touch with the director of Perkins School for the Blind, who in turn put them in touch with Anne Sullivan.

No pain, plenty of gain

There’s a monument in Boston’s Public Garden dedicated to ether. October 16, 1846, Mass. General Hospital Chief Surgeon, John Warren performed surgery using ether as an anesthetic, something that had never been done before in public. The room where the surgery took place is a national historic landmark.
Historians credit local dentists, Dr. William Morton, Dr. Charles Jackson, and Dr. Horace Wells to varying degrees for the discovery. Morton’s gravestone says he was the sole discoverer of ether as an anesthetic. Dr. Jackson saw Morton’s gravestone inscription, he went insane and was put in an asylum in Somerville, where he died.

(credit: Thinkstock)

(credit: Thinkstock)

Life in Technicolor

Chelsea native and M.I.T. alumnus Herbert Kalmus was part of a trio of inventors who opened a Boston-based business in 1912 called Technicolor. The “Tech” in Technicolor was a homage to Kalmus and his partner’s alma mater. The trio invented Technicolor film, which was the first commercially successful color film. Their cameras were used in Hollywood for decades.

(Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

(Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Burning Rubber

Charles Goodyear spent years (and all of his money) trying to weatherproof rubber. Before his invention, rubber would melt into a sticky gum in the hot summer temperatures. It was in 1839 in Woburn, Massachusetts that Goodyear finally realized the proper formula, which included sulphur, when he accidentally burned it on the store’s stove. Despite the revolutionary invention, Goodyear was a horrible businessman, served several stints in debtors’ jail, and died 21 years later with $200,000 in debt. His descendants eventually were able to benefit from accumulated royalties. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. was named in homage to Charles, but had no family connections.

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