Four Important Things That Were Invented Out of Sheer Pettiness
Unless you’re an actual deity (in which case, greetings, Ms. Knowles), you’ve almost certainly pulled some petty shit in your day. Slowed to a crawl in front of a tailgater, helpfully transferred your neighbor’s dog’s poop from your yard to theirs, squeezed all your roommate’s fruit after the third day of seeing their dishes in the sink — nothing life-ruining, just a risk-free outlet for your anger.
But have you ever been so annoyed, you changed the world? Someone, at some point in history, got so fed up that they invented…
The Myers-Briggs Personality Type Indicator
Ever had to take a personality test as part of a job application or school function that spit out a series of four letters to tell you whether you were a people person or an unfeeling robot? That was the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). It was also a fairly useless exercise, as the MBTI has been largely dismissed as pseudoscience, probably because it was invented by a stay-at-home mom with zero psychological qualifications to throw shade on her son-in-law.
You have to understand that Katharine Cook Briggs was way too smart to have been born a woman in 1875. She was accepted to college at 14 and completed an agriculture degree, but then she got married and obsessing over the psychology of child-rearing became her only means of intellectual satisfaction. You can imagine, then, how alarmed she was when her daughter grew up and brought home a man Briggs felt was “different” from the rest of the family.
It’s unclear exactly what about Clarence Myers was so perplexing, but we do know everyone’s respective Myers-Briggs types, and it’s a safe bet that she thought he was a cold fish with a stick up his ass. After all, she invented a whole system of personality categorization to describe him as such. She took over entire sections of the library as she embarked on a lifelong study of exactly what factors made her son-in-law suck so much, which her daughter finished after her death, which might have stung for poor Mr. Myers if he had any capacity for emotion.
Now, you have to tell a computer to tell your boss whether you prefer closure or leaving your options open, just because of Isabel Myers’s romantic choices.
The Automated Telephone Exchange
Back when phones were still used for calling people, it was taken for granted that you could dial a number and the person who picked up would be your mom or your side piece or whoever, but that wasn’t always the case. Back in the early days of the telephone, you had to call the operator, who would then put your call through to your mom or your side piece or whoever.
That meant the operator was basically Phone God. They knew who was calling who at all times, and they might even decide for you who you were calling, which must have been frustrating for people who asked for their side piece and got their mom. That was a problem Almon Brown Strowger kept running into in 1878. He was an undertaker living in Kansas City, and he just couldn’t figure out why his business was, uh, not as lively as it could be. After all, it was the 19th century — people were dying all the time.
It turned out one of the local telephone operators was the wife of another undertaker, and every time someone called for Strowger, she patched them through to her husband instead. Strowger probably could have gotten her fired, but instead, he decided to be the reason no one could ever have her job again. His automated telephone switching system wasn’t the first of its kind, but it was the first that could handle more than a few phones, allowing him to quit the undertaking business and ironically removing competition for that jerk’s husband. Apparently, one of those switches was a monkey’s paw.
If you, like us, were under the impression that Lamborghini was Italian for “too expensive for you, prole,” you might be surprised to find out that the first vehicles designed by Ferruccio Lamborghini were much less glamorous. By 1963, he’d made enough money selling tractors to buy himself a Ferrari, but after a few minutes tooling around and making “vroom-vroom” noises, he was dismayed to find the clutch was flimsy and broke easily. Knowing a little something about clutches, he drove to the next town over and knocked on Enzo Ferrari’s door, because in 1960s Italy and possibly today Italy, you could just do that.
Unfortunately, Ferrari wasn’t in the right headspace to receive suggestions and dealt Lamborghini a brutal kiss-off: “Let me make cars. You stick to making tractors.” As Ferrari went back to fingerpainting with chianti or whatever rich people do in the Italian countryside, Lamborghini began devising a plan. He assembled a team of disgruntled ex-Ferrari employees (it turned out Enzo wasn’t stingy with the sick burns) to build the Lamborghini 350 GT, the company’s first sports car. We’re not fancy enough to know whether it’s better than a Ferrari, but we do know it’s the one Goldie Hawn’s ex-husband drives in The First Wives Club, so that’s good enough for us.
Today, it’s a mark of being Kardashian-level spoiled to not even know how to use a dishwasher, but it was invented by a socialite essentially as an insult to the help. The socialite in question was Josephine Cochrane, the wife of a wealthy businessman living in Illinois in the mid-1800s. Her primary occupation was throwing lavish dinner parties, which were little more than an excuse to show off her heirloom dishes, so God help the servant who chipped one of them in the sink afterward. It happened often enough that Cochrane threw down her dainty white gloves and lowered herself to washing her own dishes, at which point she discovered that washing dishes suuuuucks. There had to be a better way, she thought, by which she meant “better than my useless servants.”
Soon, she was also widowed and left penniless, so she had to get rich quick if she was going to keep herself in the lifestyle to which she’d become accustomed. She pulled it off by inventing the first dishwashing machine that used water pressure and had racks for holding dishes in place, though she made sure to insult everyone involved at every stage of the process, from the servants who chipped her dishes to the engineers who helped her realize her prototype (who wouldn’t “do the things I wanted in my way until they had tried and failed in their own”) to her future customers (who have “not learned to think of (their) time and comfort as worth money”).
Unfortunately, she was born too soon to have a reality TV show.