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Repurposed Inventions

Did you ever wonder how many of the inventions we use every day are actually used for their original intended purpose? I mean, come on… do you really think floss started life as a dental product? No way. I looked it up.

The year was 1973, and Mr. Ronald Floss was just another inventor trying trying to make the next big thing in sewing technology in his basement. He went upstairs one day to lunch, as he always did, where Mrs. Floss served him up a big hearty bowl of left-over beef stew from the night before. Now, Mrs. Floss was a mighty fine cook, and that stew meat was just as soft and moist as you like, but still Mr. Floss came away with great big bits stuck in his teeth. Well, he went back downstairs to continue his inventing, but as he sat at the work bench he kept fiddling at the meat bits with his tongue. The inventions weren’t coming along very well that day, but after an hour or so he’d had some success dislodging all but the most stubborn bits. But as he worked he got more and more fed up with those last little bits right between his molars. Try as he might, his tongue was no match. So he switched to pawing around with his fingers. But despite their dexterity, the digits were just too large to get into the cracks between the teeth. In desperation, Mr. Floss looked around his shop. His eyes landed on the waxed string in front of him. He’d been intending it for a new type of waterproof garment — one that, sadly, never quite caught on — but just then it seemed to be just the thing. Cutting off a good sixteen inch segment, he wrapped it around his fingers to get a good grip, then pushed back into his mouth and dropped the thread between his teeth. For a moment it seemed that the thin line would surely break, but then, to his immense relief, the thread dropped down and dislodged the bit of meat. Mr. Floss sighed contentedly in his shop, spitting the offending bit into a dark corner — where it probably remains to this day — and got back to work.

Sadly, Mr. Floss never saw a dime for his invention. He tossed the bit of waxed string in the waste bin, never giving it a second though. Who would pay for waxed string to put between their teeth? He went about his life exactly as before. The only other time he ever thought of the incident was when he mentioned it in passing to his dentist as he lay back in the reclining chair at his next cleaning. The dentist, of course, immediately recognized the money-earning potential of the invention, but decided to keep quiet, instead giving Mr. Floss another particularly painful poke to the gums. After Mr. Floss left, the dentist quickly phoned up his lawyer, who got to work straight away on the patent application. In a final jab, the dentist decided to name the invention after the patient who had unwittingly given away his greatest idea.

And thus, floss as we know it was born.

Tons of things we use in daily life are like that. They come from all sorts of places, and rarely where you would expect. So the next time you’re walking around the house, take a look at the little gadgets around you, and think about where they came from, and what they were originally meant to do.

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  1. June 30th, 2010 at 22:39 | #1


  2. June 30th, 2010 at 23:02 | #2

    Okay, so I wanted to write about things that were *actually* not originally created for their eventual purpose, but I just got so tickled by the whole floss story that I ended up just going for that.

    I guess what I want to know is: Where *did* floss come from? Sure I could probably look it up on Wikipedia. But on second thought, I kinda prefer to have more mysteries in my life.

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