#6. George Crum: THE POTATO CHIP
All sorts of motivations can be a spark for an invention, even spite.
1853, Moon’s Lake House Restaurant, Saratoga, New York. The chef, a man by the name of George Speck (also known as Crum) served a portion of hot French fries to a hard-to-please customer, whose culinary grievance had to do with the thickness of the fries. “Too thick, too soft”, they guy said again and again. Chefs are nothing if artists and artists want are easily offended, but that’s because they need to feel appreciated. George felt offended that night, but didn’t make a fuss. Instead, he went back in to the kitchen and sliced the next batch of potatoes razor-thin, so that they fried instantly and became what’s now known as “Chips”. This new invention quickly became the restaurant’s special, a hit so huge, that George ended up opening a whole new restaurant. He called them “Saratoga Chips”.
He never got around to patent them and now they’re everywhere, like it’s not a big deal.
#7. Sir Christopher Cockerell: THE HOVERCRAFT
How can a person get that illusive title “Sir” in front of their name? Well, if you’re a citizen of Britain, there are a number of ways, one of which is inventing the hovercraft and not making any money off of it.
This is what happened to Christopher Cockerell in 1955.
Cockerell was an owner of a ship yard and his hobby was tinkering with the ships. One problem he found really annoying, was delays. Ships, he thought, ought to go faster. But there was this little problem, called ‘water friction’. If he could just take that out of the equation, everything would go smoother.
So he got to work and developed his theory, on which basis he started experimenting with vacuum cleaners and tin cans. That took him years, but in the end he built a prototype and filed for a patent. The design proved to be unmarketable, so as a last resort, he sold it to the government as part of their military covert work. His design got classified and that was the end of Cockerell’s money income from it.
Some years later, based on his work, the first hovercraft emerged. Didn’t earn Cockerell any cash, but it did add that ‘sir’ in front of his name.
#8.Douglas Engelbart: THE COMPUTER MOUSE
1968 was a big year for Douglas Engelbart and for the world of computer innovations. A solid piece of his portfolio that he shared with the world included the basis for hypertext, the granddaddy of windows, shared computer screens and video chat, to list a few. This guy owns tens of patents, but the one he doesn’t, sadly was one of the biggest ever – the mouse. Why? Because he never figured its commercial potential and only developed it as an periphery device to the computer.
At that point in time he was knees deep in the science of computers and how to be used as a shared tool. And the mouse? Steve Jobs stole it from Xerox Park, after the guys from SRI practically gave to Apple. The licensing alone was worth $40,000 at that point and Engelbart never saw a dime from that.