IF EDWIN SHOEMAKER and Edward Knabusch had assembled their adjustable wooden deck chair just a little bit later in the year, the world may never have known the supine pleasures of the La-Z-Boy. As it happened, the two Eds, a farmer and a woodworker respectively, came up with their deck chair in the spring of 1928, which was still too cold for porch sitting in Monroe, Mich. A neighbor--or, by some accounts, a furniture buyer from Toledo--suggested that the fledgling furniture designers take their chair indoors and upholster it.
That first chair begat a line of novelty furniture: the Gossiper, for instance, allowed busybodies to use the telephone in comfort and to store items in the chair's base. It was the ReclinaRocker, however, that was to make La-Z-Boy synonymous with American domestic comfort. The chair, introduced in 1961, allowed lazy boys to rock in cushioned comfort and to crank a ratchet handle on the chair's flank to recline into a nearly horizontal position. It was an immediate hit; in a decade sales went from $1.1 million to $52.7 million, leaving the two Eds very comfortable indeed.CLICK THE BROWNIE
THIS WAS THE CENTURY the camera went democratic. In 1899 George Eastman, who, among other things, invented the word Kodak, asked his industrial designer, Frank Brownell, to build a camera that was easier to operate and cheaper than any then available. The Kodak Brownie camera appeared on the market a year later. It was made of jute board and wood, with a two-element lens, cost about a dollar and used film that sold for 15 cents a roll. The Brownie was made to take pictures in average light, at an average focal distance, with a surprisingly quick shutter speed of 1/50th of a second. The camera's name derived from pixie characters created by Canadian illustrator Palmer Cox, and was chosen to emphasize its diminutive size (a child could hold it) and easy use (a child could operate it). The camera was an instant hit, selling 250,000 in its first year, and it stayed on the market for an amazing 80 years.
But the Brownie was designed for beginners. More advanced amateurs, not to mention the growing ranks of photo professionals, needed something small, precise, silent and capable of allowing small negatives to be enlarged into prints with little loss of sharpness. Oskar Barhack, an engineer of microscopes at the Leitz optical works in Wetzlar, Germany, had the idea in 1905 of converting a little machine that measured light exposures for movie film into a still camera. He made a prototype in 1918; the first Leica (a combination of "Leitz" and "camera") was introduced in 1925 at a Leipzig industrial fair. It quickly became the industry standard and the grandfather of today's 35mm cameras.LITTLE HELPER DISPOSABLE DIAPERS
MARION DONOVAN was tired of dirty diapers and crying babies. Her two daughters were soaking through their leaky cloth diapers and wetting their beds, and the poor air circulation around the babies' skin caused irritating rashes. So in 1946, Donovan, a Connecticut housewife with a flair for invention, solved the problem. She devised a cover made of nylon parachute material that could be slipped over a diaper, and designed it to hug the baby's legs and keep moisture in while allowing air to circulate. Plastic snaps replaced the pins that frequently pricked jiggly newborns. Thus was born the Boater, the world's first moistureproof diaper. Eventually, Donovan sold the diaper to stores, physicians and nurses at $1.95 apiece, and newspapers around the country hailed her as a supermom.
Ten years later, in 1961, a chemical engineer for Procter & Gamble named Victor Mills took her invention one step Further. He helped create Pampers, the first successful disposable diaper.OPEN SESAME THE POP-TOP
It was 1959. An engineer from Dayton, Ohio, named Ermal Cleon Fraze found himself on a family picnic without a can opener. Desperate for a beer, Fraze opened a can on his car bumper. Convinced there had to be a better way, he stayed up one night and devised the first easy-open can, using a ring that pulled off the entire top. Patented in 1963, it was the most important development in beverage containers since William Painter invented the crown cork bottle cap in 1892. Later Fraze improved on his invention: the "pop-top can" in 1965 used a ring to pull a prepunctured tab on the top of a can. In 1975 he patented today's commonly used "push in, fold-back" top, which eliminated the problem of millions of discarded tabs littering the landscape. Fraze sold exclusive rights to his inventions to the Aluminum Company of America (Alcoa) in Pittsburgh. In return, he received royalties for each of the 150 billion cans of beer, soda and juice guzzled every year in the United States. He died rich in 1989, secure in the gratitude of just about everyone except can-opener manufacturers.