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Early in 1924, 34-year-old Edwin Armstrong returned to Columbia University, the scene 11 years earlier of his breakthrough invention of the regenerative circuit, while only a sophomore. His device had amplified radio waves a thousandfold and made radio practical. This time he had set his sights on eliminating static from radio, a problem most felt was insoluble. “Static, like the poor, will always be with us,” declared the chief engineer of AT&T.

In early 1945 Laurence Marshall contemplated the imminent financial ruin of his company. Raytheon had enjoyed a lucrative business supplying the U.S. military with magnetrons, electron tubes that generated microwaves, a key component in the nascent technology of radar and the detection of enemy airplanes. But World War II seemed likely to end soon, and with it Raytheon’s lucrative military contracts. Raytheon needed to come up with something it could sell to civilians.

Serial doodler, drafter, and brainstormer, New Hampshire–born Earl S. Tupper was an inventor obsessed with improving everyday household objects. His rough sketches, scrawled with a fountain pen over rapidly yellowing notebook paper, include an eyebrow shield to allow more precise penciling; adjustable glasses; hairpins that wouldn’t fall out; and garter hooks that remained fastened. “My purpose in life [is] to take each thing as I find it and . . . see how I can improve it,” he wrote.

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