Underappreciated inventions of the 20th century

If you’d read the book, you’d know you’re wrong. Gideon Sundback was granted a patent for the zipper March 20, 1917. cite

I thought it was Elias Howe in 1851. Guess his “clothing closure” wasn’t zippery enough for historians, though.

Howe didn’t market his invention at all, most likely because he was busy making and selling shitloads of his sewing machines.

Whitcomb Judson later received a patent for a similar device, which he marketed with some success, but it was Sundback who came up with the design that we all know as the zipper. Sundback not only, by the way, invented the zipper, he also invented (and patented) a number of machines and devices used to make zippers. He was really an extraordinarily clever and inventive man.

Extendable/retractable dog leashes

The combination couch/recliner

DIY furniture



Garbage bags with drawstrings.

Offset printing (on paper).

Laser printing.

Inkjet printing.

TeX, LaTeX, PostScript, and DVI.

Stay-on-tabs for beverage cans.

Mute buttons.

Caller ID and *69

Collect calls

Skype et. al., finally we have video phones!


The electric light was 19th century as well.


The hand-held hair dryer.

The self-adhesive sanitary pad.

Are those 20th century?

PANTYHOSE! Too hell with girdles and garters.

Sports bras.

Umbrellas that open and close with the push of a button.

I’m gonna say synthetic fleece. Invented in 1979. Extremely cheap, light, and warm.

I b’lieve you got whooshed.

Ziploc™ bags

I actually have the patent drawings for that from 1976 in front of me. Henry Petroski has a chapter on the development of aluminium cans in his book Invention by Design. I wonder how many people are around that have never used a church key?

Petroski also has a chapter on zippers with drawings from Howe’s, Judson’s and Sundback’s patents.

The computer mouse.

The microwave oven.