The Most Famous Invention from Every State
Which great American invention comes from your state?
Alabama: Windshield Wipers
On a trip to New York City in 1902, Mary Anderson realized what a nuisance the falling snow was for her streetcar driver. Anderson couldn’t drive, but back home in Birmingham, she sketched up her design for windshield wipers.
Alaska: Ranch Dressing
Plumbing contractor Steve Henson had to do double-duty working in remote Alaska by cooking for his crew in the 1950s. Spicing up buttermilk and mayonnaise with herbs, he hit on a recipe that made salads tastier. Once he and his wife moved to California, they kept serving the dressing at their new venture: Hidden Valley Ranch.
California scientist Jack Cover developed an early form of the TASER in the 1970s, but it used gunpowder for power, which made it tough to sell, and his business collapsed. Fast-forward to 1993, and two Arizona brothers reached out to Cover and asked him to help make one that could be marketed to civilians as self-protection. Cover agreed and developed a device that used compressed air instead of gunpowder. In 1994, the Scottsdale, Arizona, company started selling the Air TASER.
In the 1950s, Sam Walton opened a five-and-dime in Newport, Arkansas. When that business went well, Walton took it a step further and opened his first Walmart in Rogers, Arkansas, in 1962, with the goal of attracting customers with low prices.
Nevada tailor Jacob Davis was having trouble perfecting his invention of rivet-fastened canvas pants for miners, so he reached out to Levi Strauss, who was running a dry-goods store in San Francisco. Davis moved to California to become Strauss’s business partner, and the two patented their design, which would eventually focus on its denim trousers.
When a friend of general practitioner Dr. Earle Haas mentioned she controlled her period flow with an intra-vaginal sponge, the doctor decided to come up with an easier solution. He created a compressed-cotton instrument, complete with a paper tube applicator. Combining the terms “tampon” and “vaginal packs,” he marketed his patented product as Tampax in 1933. You need to see the coolest tiny home in each state.
Connecticut: Can Opener
The tin can was invented in the early 1800s, but it would take almost 50 years for Waterbury, Connecticut, native Ezra J. Warner to invent a two-blade device to open the container. Until then, foodies needed to use a chisel and hammer to get to the can’s contents.
In the 1930s, DuPont chemist Wallace Carothers developed the first man-made fiber. When nylon stockings were introduced to the Wilmington, Delaware, public in 1939, they sold out in three hours.
The popular sports drink wasn’t invented by a money-hungry corporation but by University of Florida scientists worried about the health effects the school’s football team’s excessive sweating. In 1965, they invented a drink to replace the players’ electrolytes, naming their product after the team: the Florida Gators.
In 1886, Atlanta pharmacist John Pemberton created a soft drink with the extracts of coca leaves—the raw material of cocaine—and kola nuts as “medicinal” ingredients. The result: Coca-Cola.
While it’s impossible to pinpoint the sport’s exact origins—other South Pacific groups had their own versions of surfing—Hawaiians are attributed with perfecting and popularizing the sport.
Philo Taylor Farnsworth was a teenager working on his family farm in Idaho when he had a vision for an invention. Other inventors working on televisions were toying with a mechanical-powered device, but he thought electricity would be a better choice. He later moved to Utah, then California, before his idea came to life, but Rigby, Idaho, still deems itself the birthplace of television. Plus: Check out the most expensive home in each state.
Illinois: Cell Phone
Motorola innovator Martin Cooper invented the first working cell phone in Schaumburg, Illinois, in 1973. The ten-inch, 2.5-pound device was nicknamed The Brick at that point and wouldn’t hit the shelves for another ten years.
Indiana: Rearview Mirror
You can thank NASCAR’s predecessors for rearview mirrors. In 1911, during the first Indianapolis 500, driver Ray Harroun didn’t bring a rider in his motorcar to check traffic behind him. Instead, he hooked a mirror up to his dashboard so he could see for himself—and ended up winning the race.
In the 1930s, teen Iowa Hawkeye Circus gymnast George Nissen used scrap steel and tire inner tubes to create a “bouncing rig” for his act. Nissen, whose nickname when performing in Mexico was Campeón de Trampolín, later started selling a portable version with his coach.
The owner of a Coffeyville, Kansas, Dairy Queen didn’t have a soda fountain, so he froze bottles of soda to serve to customers in the late 1950s. Five years later, he introduced the ICEE machine to whip up pourable frozen, carbonated drinks.
Kentucky: “Happy Birthday to You”
While the writer of the lyrics you sing over cake has been lost in time, its tune came from Louisville sisters Mildred and Patty Hill, which they used in their 1893 song “Good Morning to All.”
A 1916 article in the New Orleans Times-Picayune made the first known mention of “jas bands.” It’s impossible to pinpoint the first jazz player, but more than 100 years later, the city is still known as the Birthplace of Jazz.
Maine native Chester Greenwood couldn’t ice skate for as long as he wanted when he was young because he was allergic to wool caps, so his ears would get frostbite easily. He had his grandmother help him attach beaver fur or flannel pads—historians disagree which—to a wire ring. He was initially teased, but eventually the headpiece caught on, and he built a factory in the 1880s to mass-produce his earmuffs. Plus: Check out the incredible history of flags in each state.
Maryland: Bottle Caps
While Irish-born inventor William Painter was living in Baltimore, he noticed the cork, metal, and porcelain bottle stoppers used at the time were loose, meaning the fizzy drinks would flatten when customers took them to go—and some of the materials were even toxic. Painter mad the seal tighter in 1891 with a simple “crown cork,” designed as metal with a corrugated edge attached by hand or with a machine. A thin layer of cork kept toxins out of the drinks.
Springfield College instructor and grad student James Naismith’s students were restless in the early 1890s. Football and lacrosse let them burn off steam, but they couldn’t move those inside for the winter. Naismith, who was studying physical education, devised a game with the goal of getting a ball into peach baskets attached to rails.
Michigan: Automobile Assembly Line
Although Ford was also located in Michigan, it wasn’t the first car company to use a commercially successful assembly line. That honor goes to the often-forgotten Ransom E. Olds and his Curved Dash Oldsmobile, which was mass-produced in 1901.
Minnesota: Masking Tape and Scotch Tape
Both types of tape come from the same inventor: Richard Drew, an engineer for Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing (later 3M). To help auto body shop workers create clean paint lines on cars, he developed a masking tape in 1925, then branded as Scotch masking tape. Five years later, he’d create a waterproof, almost invisible tape. It was targeted for grocers’ food wrappers, but it appealed to Depression-era consumers looking to fix rather than replace old goods.
Chemist Harry A. Cole was living in a forested area near Jackson, Mississippi, in 1929, when the trees struck him with inspiration. He knew the pine oil could disinfect and kill odors, so he decided to turn it into a home product. Thus, Pine-Sol was born.
Missouri: Ready Mix
When Chris Rutt and Charles Underwood developed Aunt Jemima pancake mix for Pearl Milling Company in 1889, they didn’t just revolutionize breakfasts. Their creation was the first ready mix product on the market.
Montana: Portable Heart Monitor
In his hometown of Helena, Montana, biophysicist Norman Jefferis Holter founded the Holter Research Foundation. In 1947, he invented a wearable Holter heart monitor, allowing doctors to watch patients as they went about their normal activities and not just stuck in hospital beds. Plus: These are the most annoying pests in each state.
Nebraska: Ski Lift
Idaho’s Sun Valley Resort was the first destination with a ski lift in the 1930s, but the chairlift itself was invented in Omaha in 1936. Engineer Jim Curran based the design on a system that loaded bunches of bananas, though of course his creation swapped banana hooks for seats.
Nevada: Video Slot Machines
Pinball and slot machine company Bally created the first electromechanical slot machine in 1963, and Las Vegas-based Fortune Coin Co. built the first video slot machine 13 years later.
New Hampshire: Segway
Dean Kamen founded DEKA Research & Development Corp. in Manchester, New Hampshire. He’s invented the iBot, a stair-climbing wheelchair, and redeveloped that medical product as the Segway to attract a wider consumer base. It went on market in 2001.
New Jersey: Light Bulb
With Menlo Park, New Jersey, the home to Thomas Edison’s lab, we can thank the Garden State for light bulbs, phonographs, and motion pictures.
New Mexico: Atomic Bomb
Despite its misleading name, most work for the Manhattan Project, which focused on developing nuclear weapons, was done in Los Alamos, New Mexico. On July 16, 1945, the first successful atomic bomb tested successfully in Alamogordo, New Mexico.
New York: Toilet Paper
In 1857, entrepreneur Joseph Gayetty developed the first paper targeted specifically for use on the toilet. Surprisingly, his product didn’t catch on. He’d marketed his tissue as a hemorrhoids preventer, which didn’t have widespread appeal. Most consumers preferred wiping with catalogues, which they got for free.
North Carolina: Vicks VapoRub
Greensboro, North Carolina pharmacist Lunsford Richardson invented 21 home remedies in the 1890s, which he branded “Vicks” after the drugstore where he worked. Vicks Croup and Pneumonia Salve rose above the pack, and he later rebranded the menthol-based remedy as VapoRub. Plus: These are the states with the best housing market in the country.
North Dakota: Cream of Wheat
In 1889, newspaper editor Emery Mapes and farm manager George Bull bought a mill in Grand Forks, North Dakota. Desperate to stay afloat during the Panic of 1893, operation supervisor Tom Amidon had a novel idea: cook the whitest part of the wheat as a hot cereal. The company’s New York brokers flipped for the product, and the company shifted its focus to making Cream of Wheat.
Ohio: Traffic Light
Garrett Morgan, the son of a former slave, came up with a laundry list of innovations while living in Cleveland, Ohio, including a hair-straightening product and the predecessor for the gas mask. His best-known contribution, though, was an improved automatic electric traffic light, which stopped traffic from all directions briefly so drivers would have time to stop before the oncoming traffic was given the green light.
Oklahoma: Parking Meter
In the 1930s, Oklahoma City was dealing with a problem that wasn’t unique to its streets: too few parking spaces. As a solution, Carl Magee created a 5-cent-an-hour Park-O-Meter to encourage drivers to get in and out of shops quickly.
Oregon: Wiki Pages
In 1995, Oregon-based programmer Ward Cunningham had a vision: a website that allowed users to create and update new pages. He named his site WikiWikiWeb after the Hawaiian phrase “wiki wiki bus,” meaning quick bus, which would give way to the popular Wikipedia.
Pennsylvania: Bubble Gum
Walter Diemer was a full-time accountant in Philadelphia when he started toying with gum recipes in his spare time. While chewing gum itself was nothing new, the bubble-making formula Diemer stumbled upon in 1928 was unique. He chose pink for his invention simply because it was the only shade of food coloring he had on hand.
Rhode Island: Diner
Providence, Rhode Island’s Walter Scott is credited as the father of the modern diner. He started selling late-night food in baskets around 1858, and by 1872 he’d earned enough to quit his day job and focus on selling food from a horse-drawn wagon outside a newspaper office. Although most diners don’t fit the bill today, Merriam-Webster still defines a diner as a restaurant that looks like a dining car.
South Carolina: Filing Cabinets
It seems commonplace now, but the idea of hanging papers vertically instead of flat or rolled in pigeonholes was novel in the 19th century. In 1899, Edwin G. Seibels, who grew up around his family’s insurance firm, created (but never patented) a system that would hang envelopes upright, with labeled separators in between.
South Dakota: Modern Hot Air Balloons
While the first hot air balloon was created in France in 1783, the technology greatly improved over the next two centuries. In 1960, Paul Yost and other developers from Raven Industries in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, made a safer version. Its propane gas burner allowed longer flights, giving rise (literally) to modern ballooning.
Tennessee: Cotton Candy
Ironically enough, sugary cotton candy was invented by Nashville dentist William Morrison, who enlisted the help of local confectioner John C. Wharton. They patented the machine used to make it, and the confection earned its popularity during the St. Louis World Fair.
Texas: Handheld Calculators
The original electric calculators were expensive, weighing about 50 pounds and requiring an outlet. Texas Instruments wasn’t trying to solve that, though, when developers led by Jack Kilby created a small handheld calculator. Instead, the main goal of the 1967 device was to show off (and sell more of) the company’s integrated microchips.
Utah: Permanent Artificial Heart
Several inventors—including Paul Winchell, who also voiced Tigger of Winnie the Pooh—had created artificial hearts before, but early versions were temporary, some only lasting a few days. In 1982, though, Robert Jarvik, MD, of the University of Utah invented the Jarvik-7 artificial heart as a permanent solution.
Vermont: Modern Sandpaper
Although sandpaper can be traced back as early as 13th-century China, a Springfield, Vermont, inventor made it commercially viable by inventing a process for manufacturing the tool in 1834.
In the late 1890s, Dr. Charles Browne Fleet, known for inventing health products, introduced ChapStick to Lynchburg, Virginia. His product, which looked like a candle wrapped in tinfoil, didn’t take off, so he sold his invention to a friend in town, John Morton. His wife thought to sell the product in tubes, and business started booming.
Washington: Windows Operating System
In 1979, Microsoft moved from New Mexico to Bellevue, Washington. Two years later, the company introduced its first operating system on a personal computer, and Windows 3.0 made its debut in 1999.
West Virginia: Mother’s Day
Before the Civil War, West Virginia woman Ann Reeves Jarvis launched Mothers’ Day Work Clubs to teach moms parenting tips. Once the war was over, she started the offshoot Mothers’ Friendship Day to foster relationships between former Union and Confederate soldiers. Once Jarvis died in 1905, her daughter, Anna Jarvis, threw the first modern Mother’s Day in honor of her own mom.
In 1936, Wisconsinite Fred Osius demonstrated a sample of a motor-powered blender he’d patented three years before to big band conductor Fred Waring. The prototype didn’t work, but Waring improved the design and used the design as the basis for the Waring Blendor.
Wyoming: National parks
Hoping to expand west in the early 1870s, Northern Pacific Railroad Company saw the beauty of Yellowstone as a potential draw for tourists, who would, of course, use its trains, and lobbied for its expedition. In 1872, the Yellowstone Park Act gave the land to the government instead of individual owners, which would boost tourism and big railroad companies. Yellowstone wasn’t just the first national park in America—it was the first in the world. Plus: These 17 U.S. inventions were dreamed up by DIYers for DIYers.