#3. A 17-Year-Old Designed the 50-Star American Flag
Most of us have grown up hearing that the first American flag was designed and sewn by America's Grandma, Betsy Ross. But now, even that much is being debated, and as the nation's most bored historians argue over who sewed the first flag, they're ignoring who made the most recent one.
After all, it's not like we're still using that design anyway. Each little hunk of land America seized or bought eventually got declared a state, and each time, the flag had to change, because frankly, at that point putting stars on a flag was the only way to keep track of all the new states.
"Montana? Really? Are we even sure that's a real place?"
Most recently, the United States added Alaska and Hawaii as its newest states, and when that happened Congress turned designing the next flag into a nationwide cut-throat contest. Fifty stars had to be crammed onto that flag somehow, in a manner that didn't look completely stupid.
Ol' Construction Paper and Glue/How we love you.
In Lancaster, Ohio, 17-year-old Robert Heft had put hours of effort into a new U.S. flag for his history project, only to receive a B-. To most of us, that's pretty decent. But Heft had just worked his ass off toiling on his mother's sewing machine, and thought he deserved more. He approached his teacher, who dared him to submit it to Congress, we assume sarcastically, and said if it were selected as the new flag he would get his A.
Heft was going up against 1,500 other designs by accomplished artists all over the country, each trying to design their way into being the next Betsy Ross. And like the end of a Lifetime movie, he actually won. President Eisenhower liked Heft's flag better than all the rest.
"But the puckering anus one is a close second."
The experience led Heft to successes such as becoming the mayor of Napoleon, Ohio, and traveling around the world for decades as a motivational speaker. All because he resisted his natural teenage temptation to arrange the stars in the shape of a dick.
#2. A 15-Year-Old Invented the Snowmobile
Snow: Depending on where you live, it's either a seasonal annoyance or a rare gift. But back in the days before central heating and fancy Japanese sweaters, snow often meant death.
This leads us to Joseph Bombardier, who was born in Quebec in 1907. Which means he had to spend his winters trapped by massive snow drifts that not even his unbelievably badass name could part. By the time he was 15, young Joe was through with winter shitting all over him. He plotted his revenge, in the form of a souped up Model T his father gave him to keep the family car out of Joseph's hands.
"Er, son ... can I get a lift?"
The addition of a sleigh frame and a hand-whittled propeller transformed the old junker into something new. The snowmobile was born.
Unfortunately, Joseph's father wanted him to stop studying all that useless mechanical engineering and switch over to something lucrative, like God! The snowmobile was dismantled so the young Bombardier could prepare for seminary.
When the church didn't work out, Joe was allowed to turn back to his true love: giving winter the finger. He founded the world's first snowmobile company and became one of Canada's most successful men, side-by-side with Dudley Do-Right and Bryan Adams.
That leaves just enough room in this 12-man vehicle for people who actually matter.
#1. A 15-Year-Old Invented Braille
At the age of 3, little Louis Braille cut his eye screwing around with daddy's tools and ended up blind from a horrible infection. Since this was the 1800s, his options for treatment included "sucking it up" and "dying of syphilis like everyone else." Fortunately, Louis was born in France, host to the only school for blind kids on earth. He earned a scholarship at age 10, but there was only so much he could learn by listening to lectures. If little Louis wanted to read Charles Dickens books one day, he'd have to invent his own system of writing.
His efforts have been immortalized via this disturbing doll-child.
Louis was inspired by a French army captain, one Charles Barbier de la Serre. He'd developed an eyes-free system of writing for French soldiers to use during times of utmost sneakiness. Barbier had the advantage of eyes, which gave him the disadvantage of not really knowing what works best when you're trying to see with your hands. His system, Sonography, didn't work very well, but it inspired preteen Louis to dedicate three years toward making it look like a bitch.
Yeah, raised dots? You like that?
By age 15 he'd invented modern Braille -- an entire alphabet that you can read by running your finger across it. Not bad, kid.
Mohammed Shariff can also be found at MoviePlotholes.com.
For more unlikely sources of change, check out 5 Accidental Inventions That Changed The World and 5 Bizarre Accidents That Helped Invent Modern Medicine.