Do you know who invented the couch? Neither do we. Sorry, Baron Kristoff DeKouch, you are doomed to die in obscurity. Most of the things we use every day were just invented by "some guy," and we'll never know otherwise. But, then again, some things were not only invented by somebody you would know, but also done so by the absolute last person you would expect ...
From Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, the story of a whimsical candy manufacturer who is clearly a murderous sociopath, to Matilda, the story of a telekinetic girl who gains her powers from horrific domestic abuse, Roald Dahl was responsible for much of your implacable childhood trauma.
Alfred A. Knopf
Along with your irrational fear of GMOs.
Dahl was also the dual inventor of the Wade-Dahl-Till shunt, or the WDT, a medical device used to relieve pressure inside the skull after traumatic brain injury. Dahl wasn't exactly a doctor, but his interest in helping people with brain problems came about in 1960, when his son, Theo, was hit by a cab and suffered a fractured skull and swelling of the brain. The treatment is to insert a shunt into the victim's head to relieve the pressure, but, back then, the technology they used frequently got clogged up by brain stuff, which is exactly as pleasant an experience as it sounds. Dahl figured that he could come up with a better way, so he contacted a neurosurgeon named Kenneth Till and a toymaker named Stanley Wade to figure it out. Toss in a surly computer genius, and you've got yourself a crime-fighting team.
Roald Dahl/Kenneth Till/Stanley Wade
Or a crack team of bandits planning a heist on the human brain.
After working together for three years, Dahl, Till, and Wade came up with their patented device that not only resisted clogging better than the current technology, but was also cheaper and easier to make. Dahl's son recovered before the device was completed, so he didn't personally benefit from it, but the invention went on to revolutionize the field. Dahl never saw a cent from it -- not because he was screwed out of the patent, as is so often the case with these articles -- but because he offered it to the world for free. And so shines a good deed in a weary world.
Mark Twain surely taught your great-great-grandmother all her favorite racial epithets. But, you know what else he taught her? How to fuck. Probably. We assume. We know for sure that he taught her favorite non-bootylicious hobby, too: scrapbooking.
"Scrapbooking" was also one of the sex acts he taught her.
Twain was into scrapbooking in a tremendous way. He carried scrapbooks with him wherever he went so that he could fill them with photos of his travels, news articles about his work, and the pressed bloomers of all his sexual conquests. He was so invested in his hobby that the clunky process of applying glue to paper was really just slowing him down, so he thought up a better way.
A Like button for baby pics?
In 1872, he patented a scrapbook that already had glue applied to the pages. Each page was like a giant postage stamp, so instead of fumbling with Krazy Glue, you just had to lick the page up and down (something Twain had a lot of practice with, again, on your great-grandmother).
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Redbox is the last defiant holdout of the physical video industry. You would probably assume that it was Blockbuster's idea -- a frantic effort to tread water as the Internet tsunami washed away their profit margins -- but, no, Redbox was originally an idea by McDonald's.
George Frey/Getty Images News/Getty Images
It was the second nonfood item on the Dollar Menu, after the McNugget.
When profits started to decline in 2002, the fast-food company started exploring other things that they could make "fast." The first experiment was something called the "Tik Tok Easy Shop," a giant vending machine that sold everything from milk and eggs to diapers. The Tik Tok Easy Shop failed catastrophically, probably because people buying their diapers from McDonald's is the kind of dystopian parody world you would expect to read about in a George Orwell novel.
Their breakfast burritos, for comparison, were dreamed up by H.P. Lovecraft.
However, another experiment, a vending machine for DVD rentals, took off massively. Redbox was a huge success at its first location -- a McDonald's restaurant in Denver -- and they soon expanded to more. Eventually, McDonald's sold about half the company to Coinstar, and Redbox moved into supermarkets, pharmacies, and the hearts of people too old to understand the Internet.
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History has forgotten the first person to sport the mullet, though we have a pretty good guess about the quality of their personal hygiene. Luckily, we at least know who named the hairstyle -- hip-hop band the Beastie Boys.
"You've got to fight ... for your right ... to paaaaarty (in the back, business in the front)!"
Mullet head, don't touch the back
Cut the sides, don't touch the back
Cut the sides, don't touch the back
Cut the sides and don't touch the back
And then in Grand Royal, the Boys' official magazine, they dedicated an entire issue to it, featuring such articles as "Mulling Over the Mullet," and "Ancient History of the Mullet." The band's frontman Mike D takes credit for coining the term, and the Oxford English Dictionary officially recognizes Grand Royal as the first appearance of the word in print. Before then, it was just the name of a type of fish -- a party fish.
Jesse Grant/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images
Todd Rundgren is a legend in the rock world. If you don't know the name, you've still heard his work: He produced albums by Meat Loaf, Hall & Oates, Grand Funk Railroad, and the imaginatively named The Band. But, Rundgren was also a scientist, so when the Apple Company started making personal computers in the '70s, Rundgren was one of the people they contacted to help out.
"Can't we steal it from some other company?"
"Nah, no one's invented it yet."
Rundgren did a lot of the pioneering graphics work on early Apple computers, and it was during this time that he met Alvy Ray Smith (later the founder of a little company called Pixar), and, together, they began work on a device that would mimic a pen and paper to draw directly onto a computer screen with a stylus. In 1979, Apple released the first graphic tablet based on Rundgren's design, and used all of their creative manpower to call it Apple Graphic Tablet. It's no The Band, but it's a pretty catchy name.
Apple Graphic Tablet was soon discontinued, but it eventually came back into style in the form of the iPad. So, if you're reading this on one, you can thank the dude who brought you Bang The Drum All Day.
George Konig/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Chupa Chups founder Enric Bernat needed a fun, memorable logo for his candy company, so obviously he contacted melted-tit savant Salvador Dali in 1969. This was after Dali had established himself as an artist, by the way -- in case you think this design work was just to make ends meet until the world rewarded him for having such a fabulous mustache. Although Dali probably threw it together in seven minutes in between gallery showings and aardvark walks, his logo has survived the decades with only very minimal alterations:
"Chupa Chups" was also the name of another Mark Twain sex act.
Dali also suggested that they put the logo on the top of the lollipop wrapper instead of the side, to which the manufacturers agreed. It's a solid, simple, tasteful piece of design work -- and it came from the artist voted most likely to paint an octopus with a woman's face vomiting clocks onto an anvil made out of baby hands.
Matt Pass is a columnist at Paste Magazine and would like you to say hi on Twitter. Ruy Platt writes webcomics and appreciates when people compliment his suspenders on Twitter. Carolyn has never invented anything, but she tweets sometimes. Raoni is Flamengo, once Flamengo, always Flamengo.
It's funny what human beings are capable of. Check out 5 Unknown Schmucks Who Turned Into Superheroes in the Clutch and read about the housing supervisor who saved a baby from a burning building. Or learn about Roger Ebert's softcore porn career in 7 Celebrities Who Had Badass Careers You Didn't Know About.
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