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The marvels of small things

Fri, Apr 18th, 2008
Posted in Commentary

Take a look at your desk/work table. Notice all the small, marvels, things you can hold with one hand, which make our lives easier. Many of them have been developed in my lifetime, or not long before. A few are very ancient. I wonder how many other patents have been registered for things that didn't catch on?

Without moving from my desk chair, these are some of the things I identified: The oldest helper you see is probably the paper itself, which began with papyrus in Egypt, at least 3000 BCE. Paper made from fabric-type matrials was developed around 100 CE in China.

It may surprise you to know that the next oldest item is the scissors. Scissors have been found in archeological digs dating back to the 2nd Century CE.

Pencils made of wood and graphite, for writing on paper, were first mass-produced in the 1660's, although models formed similarly to a stylus were individually made before that time.

Staplers were made back in the 1800's, and weighed several pounds. There are so many kinds, for home, office, industry and carpentry.

In the mid-1800's, that item on which we all depend, the safety pin, was developed, and the patent sold for $400.

Edison invented the electric light bulb in 1879. Do you remember when homes, especially in rural areas, still had kerosene lamps? And many urban dwellers had gas lights until electricity was installed. What a boon for our eyes and productivity.

The humble nail clipper was first made in the 1890's. So was the ubiquitous paper clip. Now clips come in many colors and shapes, but still with the same functions.

Paper tissues (still referred to by most of us as the brand name Kleenex) was developed during the 1920's. It definitely is more sanitary than cloth hankies, but may be harder on the nose, and uses up a lot of trees.

Cellophane tape (first made by 3M) and ball point pens date to the 1930's, partially replacing glue, and ink pens of all kinds. Many people still swear that really fine penmanship requires a fountain pen, and extremely expensive pens can still be purchased. How long has it been since you saw a bottle of ink?

Plastic bags and felt tip pens became available in the 1950's. Do you remember dry sandwiches wrapped in waxed paper? Now we have to try to find a place to recycle all the bags from the grocery and other stores, which came into wide use in the 1970's. And I recall trying to get a perfect result with a lettering pen and India Ink. That wonderful fluid that corrects mistakes was developed during the 1950's also. It now comes in many colors to match your paper.

Still more recent are the handy sticky notes, another 3M product, which was invented in the 1970's.

You can probably find even more inventions in your work place, the products of human ingenuity. We are thankful for people who think up such things and companies with the foresight to produce them.

These items are all of such small size, and they do not have the ultimate importance of the "un-things" which really matter in our lives: kindness, courtesy, love, friendship . . . .but aren't we glad they are here?

Jeanne Martin lives in Mabel

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