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5 Great Inventions by Young People | Staples®

Kids Make the Darnedest Things: 5 Great Inventions by Young People

When you consider that Frank Epperson invented the Popsicle® at the age of 11, 13-year-old Louis Braille, inventor of his eponymous system of reading for the blind, seems like a downright slacker.

What had he been doing all his life?

Dig into the annals of history and you discover some pretty significant innovations conceived by remarkably young brains. Then ask Daniel Reilly, Staples' director of design and innovation and an inspirational force behind Staples' new Designed by Students program (more on that below), what parents and teachers should do to nurture that energy. He'll tell you to encourage kids to take risks and to emphasize their potential to craft the future.

"One of the biggest learning experiences for kids," Reilly says of Designed by Students, "is that every decision about an object that we create is a made decision. It doesn't just happen. Someone is deciding this, and if someone is deciding it, why couldn't it be me?"

Fashioning the future

Consider, for example, these inventions dreamed and realized by creative young minds:

  1. The Popsicle: The story goes that it was a cold night in 1905 when a young Californian named Frank Epperson left a cup of water, powdered soda and a mixing stick on his porch. Next morning? Voilà: the "Epsicle," later renamed the Popsicle. The first twin pop came along during the Great Depression, allowing two kids to share a treat for just one nickel.
  1. The trampoline: In 1930, 16-year-old Iowa gymnast George Nissen was watching circus trapeze artists complete their routines by dropping into a safety net. His idea? A "bouncing rig": a canvas stretched across a steel frame, or what we know today as the trampoline, a name derived from the Spanish word for diving board. During World War II, the military used trampolines to train pilots to better orient themselves in the air.
  1. Earmuffs: 15-year-old Chester Greenwood of Farmington, ME, was out ice skating one day in 1873 when his ears got cold. A natural inventor, he played around with a few notions to remedy the situation, settling on beaver skin pads he got his grandma to sew onto a wire frame. The world was thereby introduced to earmuffs. The young man would later invent the steel-tooth rake. Fun fact: Farmington is now known as the Earmuff Capital of the World.
  1. Braille: At age 3, Louis Braille was blinded in one eye. Ten years later, in 1824, while attending the National Institute for Blind Youth in Paris, he organized a series of dots into what we now know as the Braille system. His inspiration was the "Ecriture Nocturne," a code created to allow the military to read messages in the dark while on the battlefield.
  1. Swim fins: You know Benjamin Franklin as one of our nation's foremost inventors, but did you know he commenced conjuring at 11? That's when he came up with the idea of placing flappers on his hands to increase his speed while swimming. His invention was later moved to the feet and evolved into today's swim fins. For his contribution, Franklin, an avid swimmer, is in the International Swimming Hall of Fame.

Fueling innovation

In most of the above examples, the young person took the initiative unprompted, but not everyone is struck by a flash of inspiration.

Designed by Students provides a framework to guide students through the creative process. Designers deploy to classrooms to offer expertise while gaining insights into their own research by watching the kids at work.

Ten products have come out of the project. Among them is the Transformer Backpack, which has a removable pouch at the bottom.

"You can put your gym clothes in it and it's ventilated," Reilly says. "If you don't want to carry your gym clothes around all day, you can just unzip it from the bottom and chuck it in your locker."

Then there's the Super Folder, which includes a zipper pouch, clear pockets for class schedules, a pencil sharpener, sticky notes and a writing pad.

"It's a different way of storing things," Reilly says. "They can just pull this thing out and put it on their desks, and they have everything they need."

Take a risk

"I'd like parents and teachers to know that projects like this start from a group of individuals willing to take a risk," Reilly notes. Teachers' willingness to devote time to the program "allowed unique perspectives to come together and find synergies. Some things didn't work perfectly, and that's OK. Together we made the program come to life."

So be heartened: An innovative spirit is alive and very well among today's youth. Our next Ben Franklin will emerge — perhaps from your family or classroom community!

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