Saturday, August 18, 2007


Kids are full of ideas, and some of them turn out to be great inventions. Chester Greenwood of Maine came up with the idea for earmuffs while out skating in 1873, when he was 15 – and later made a fortune selling them to U.S. soldiers during World War I. The Popsicle was accidentally created by 11-year-old Frank Epperson when he left a sugary drink with the stirring stick still in it on his back porch during a cold snap in 1905. And in 1963, Tom Sims built the first snowboard in his eighth-grade shop class. Today you’ll find all kinds of websites on inventors of the past and present, as well as information, games, and contests to help inspire inventors of the future. Here’s just a sampling of what’s out there:

If you’d like to find out about inventions and inventors, Enchanted Learning’s page of brief but inclusive descriptions includes gadgets ranging from adhesive tape to zippers and US and Canadian notables from Mary Anderson, developer of the windshield wiper, to Frank J. Zamboni, who perfected his ice resurfacer in 1949. The Virtual Museum of Ancient Inventions at Smith College is a collection of impressive student-made replicas of artifacts dating back thousands of years, including household items like looms and candles, as well as a battery from 250 BCE and a steam engine from the first century., the website of the National Inventors Hall of Fame in Akron, Ohio, contains biographies of nearly 400 innovative honorees from the 1700s to today. Among the present and past names added to the list this year were King Gillette, famous for his razors, and stained glass lampmaker Louis Tiffany. And since 1996, six bright minds have been added every year to the National Gallery for America’s Young Inventors, where you can read comic strips explaining how each inductee came up with their award-winning idea.

Some invention websites don’t just talk about the subject, they let you participate as well. When you’re done browsing the Inventor of the Week archives at MIT’s Invention Dimension, you can try your hand at games that look at the connections between inventions, test yourself with “Which Came First, or take a trivia challenge. There’s also links on science and invention education, news, and contests. The MIT program was established by Jerome Lemelson, one of the world's most prolific inventors, and his wife, Dorothy, who also are behind the Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation at the Smithsonian Institution. The Center’s website, Invention at Play, shows how fooling around leads to new discoveries. Along with inventors’ own stories and articles on the importance of play, and an online exhibit of toys, the site has all kinds of interactive opportunities for solving puzzles, doodling, writing collaborative stories, and more. Then there’s The Great Idea Finder, from the Vaunt Design Group. It’s not only full of invention resources on the Web, the bookshelf, and the screen (TV and DVD, that is), there’s even an Idea Wish List, where you can suggest something – sugarless chocolate, hair straightening shampoo, or a tool to make your hamster quiet at night – that YOU would like to see someone invent. (My only quibble with the site is that the grammar in the articles is sloppy.)

Inventors can share their ideas with the world through contests, online, and even on TV. (The Ellen DeGeneres Show invites kids 5 to 10 years old to show off their inventions.) By Kids For Kids goes further, by actually researching, developing and marketing kids’ ideas, for free. But the first step in selling an invention is to protect your idea, so you’ll get the credit due AND the profits! The US Trademark and Patent Office Kids Page walks you through the steps (and it’s also lots of fun – try the Trademarked Sounds page). So get your family thinking – you’ll never know where it’ll lead!

Family Online Picks:

Enchanted Learning - US and Canadian Inventors and Inventions

Smith College Ancient Inventions

National Inventors Hall of Fame

National Gallery for America’s Young Inventors

MIT Invention Dimension

Invention at Play

The Great Idea Finder

US Trademark and Patent Office Kids Page

Ellen DeGeneres

By Kids For Kids

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