#3. Mary Phelps Jacob (1892-1970)
Lived to See:
"Bra-burning" feminists calling it a symbol of oppression.
In 1910, Mary Phelps Jacob was struggling with her outfit, specifically with the whalebone corset that was showing through her sheer evening gown and out over the neckline. Picture a life jacket under a one-piece bathing suit and you can see just how not hot this must have been.
Displaying oodles of pluck and daring that's even more exciting once we realize she was probably topless at this point, Jacob refused to wear the corset, demanded that her chaperon bring her two handkerchiefs, a needle and some thread, and stitched together what she would call the "backless brassiere." Her friends gathered around her, inquiring excitedly about the new accessory, and soon all the ladies were back in the dressing room, giggling, tearing off their corsets and... oh, wait, that was actually a scene from Naughty Debutantes on Cinemax. Sorry.
In 1914, after years of selling the garments to her circle of friends, Jacob applied for and received the first-ever patent in the newly created category of "brassieres." The way women's boobs dressed changed forever.
Before the Internet, young men relied on the Patent Office for their porn needs.
Considering how incredibly freeing the brassiere she created was in comparison with the corset, Jacob must have been shocked that, by the time of her death in 1970, it was seen by feminists as a symbol of oppression, with a burning bra the classic image of women's liberation protests (and it was just an image, the actual burning of the bras never happened).
1968 Miss America Pageant protest. Shown: bra. Not shown: burning.
Even without the actual flames, the bra itself was socially charged, with the choice of whether to wear one being one of the simplest and most visible ways (well, depending on the temperature) that a woman could display her political views.
Knowing Mary Phelps Jacob (who lived one of the most interesting lives ever) been born 60 years later, there is no doubt that she would have gone braless. Hell, she most likely considered it back in 1910, except that it was probably a capital offense at that point.
#2. Robert Propst (1921-2000)
Revolutionary open-landscape offices.
Lived to See:
The cubicle farm.
While virtually unknown to the general public, designer Robert Propst's ideas have shaped our world, especially our offices. While working for a furniture company in the 1960s, Propst studied the workplace, finding it "tailored around equipment, rather than around the people that use the equipment," and concluding, "today's office is a wasteland. It saps vitality, blocks talent, frustrates accomplishment. It is the daily scene of unfulfilled intentions and failed effort."
Yeah, we know; we can't imagine what that must have been like.
In 1968, he published The Office: A Facility Based on Change, which we didn't actually read, but it gave us an excuse to take a break and watch the episode where Jim puts all of Dwight's possessions in the vending machine and makes him buy it with nickels.
But Propst's work led to the invention of the "Action Office," a revolutionary open-landscape office system with reconfigurable, low dividers. It incorporated lots of ideas to make your work life more pleasant, including bigger work surfaces and adjustable height desks that would give you the option to work standing up if you felt like it. Offices all over the world started adapting the ideas right away.
Robert Propst was completely aware that a lot of you are thinking, "Wait a minute... that's the asshole who came up with the cubicle?!"
While he regretted the part he played in the modern office's "monolithic insanity," he refused to take the blame for the soul-sapping evolution of his creation. It was a fair point. Whatever utopian workplace Propst had envisioned evolving from the Action Office was soon superseded by the ever-increasing white-collar workforce and companies that liked the idea of building much cheaper modular offices rather than permanent ones.
As more and more workspaces were jammed into offices, each cubicle became smaller and more uniform, and the idea of customization was lost. Voila, the dreaded modern cube farm, or as Propst referred to them, "hellholes" and "barren, rat-hole places."
Yeah, that's almost what a smile looks like.
These days, cubicles are linked to isolation, depression, stress, contagious illnesses and countless photos of your office manager's cats and nephews. However the Dilbert comic strip industry has been thriving ever since.
#1. Alfred Nobel (1833-1896)
Dynamite, for mining purposes.
Lived to See:
It used to blow the shit out of many people.
Alfred Nobel came from a family that liked to blow stuff up real good. His father, who had declared bankruptcy the same year Alfred was born, eventually rebuilt his wealth in the early 1850s selling explosive mines to the Russian military (still a great way to raise a few extra bucks, by the way). When the Crimean War ended and the Russian bomb cash stopped coming in, Alfred and his brothers began experimenting with ways to safely manufacture, transport and use the recently discovered explosive nitroglycerin.
"Safely" was the main issue. In 1864, the Nobel family's factory exploded, killing five employees and Alfred's youngest brother. It was this and numerous other deadly accidents that led to Nobel's invention of dynamite, a less dangerous, more easily transported form of nitroglycerin, in 1866.
#594 from the 1865 Topps trading card set "America's Wackiest Nitroglycerin Explosions."
Dynamite, as were all of Nobel's explosive inventions, was meant for industrial purposes such as rock blasting and mine excavation. While he certainly wasn't naïve enough not to be able to imagine their dismembering potential, he believed that it was precisely this capability that might prohibit their violent use. "My dynamite will sooner lead to peace than a thousand world conventions," he wrote. "As soon as men will find that in one instant whole armies can be utterly destroyed, they surely will abide by golden peace."
Sure, we can totally see that.
In the annals of regret, nobody holds a candle to Alfred Nobel, and not just because any flame near him would've ignited a huge freaking explosion. Nobel's regret is celebrated annually like Christmas, and bestowed upon worthy recipients like a laurel wreath.
In 1888, after a couple of decades of armies using dynamite in various ways to blow people into chunks, Alfred's older brother Ludvig died of a heart attack. A French newspaper, having received a jumbled report, printed an obituary of Alfred instead, and not one of those nice, cheerful obituaries.
It featured the headline "The Merchant of Death is Dead," and wrote that "his fortune was amassed finding new ways to mutilate and kill." So distraught by this evidence of how he would be remembered, and probably noticing the lack of the glow that his predicted "golden peace" would have given off, Alfred Nobel bequeathed 94 percent of his fortune to establish the prizes that bear his name, honoring those who "have conferred the greatest benefit on mankind."
Holy shit, newspapers should write nasty premature obituaries more often. It seems to really make people think.
To find out about some more inventions that were a result of dumb luck, check out5 Accidental Inventions That Changed The World. Or find out about some inventions that are just plain dumb, in The 10 Most Ridiculous Inventions Ever Patented.
And go to Cracked.com's Top Picks to see we reinvented the wheel (read: ass and titties).