Coddle That Bump of CURIOSITY! (Aug, 1950)

Cute article explaining why you should act on your curiosity because you never know when you’ll get rich off of it. Examples include the inventors of: saccharine, synthetic dyes, the carburetor, Kraft pasteurized cheese, mayonnaise, safety razors and my favorite: Thomas Edison’s voice activated sewing machine (top left image on the page.)

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Coddle That Bump of CURIOSITY!

Don’t stifle your urge to inquire about the nature of simple things —you may be cutting yourself out of a million-dollar windfall.

LABORATORY assistant Constantic Fahlberg was late for his lunch so he didn’t stop to wash his hands. To his astonishment, when he ate a piece of bread it tasted sweeter than the sweetest cake he had ever eaten.

So, he questioned the waitress. No, she said, the bread was unsweetened and the butter was the ordinary unsalted variety. Then he touched his tongue to his unwashed fingers: they were many times sweeter than honey! Thinking back, he concluded that his fingers must be invisibly smeared with the crystalline compound he had been mixing just before lunch hour.

All agog with curiosity, Fahlberg hurried back to the laboratory and tasted the mixture. Sure enough, it was sweeter than sugar—five hundred times sweeter! More experiments followed, and soon the medical profession had wonderful news for diabetics—saccharine!

How big is your bump of curiosity? Are you inquisitive about the world you live in? Well, don’t stifle your natural urge to inquire into the little things that catch your eye and puzzle you because maybe they’ll mean millions to you. For instance, one man’s inquisitiveness about honey led to the development of a valuable commercial process. Once, while dipping a spoon in a jar of honey, he noticed that when he pulled the spoon out quickly a lot of honey came with it. He tried slow motion. Most of the honey drained off in a hair-fine taper at the end of the spoon. Curious, he dipped and pulled again, and noted that the tapering effect varied with changing rates of speed. Interesting! You see, his company Devoe & Raynolds, Inc., had been trying without success to find a simple process for making finely tapered bristles. Maybe this was it.

What would happen if a thread were pulled through a bath of a synthetic material, thick and gooey like honey, at changing rates of speed? Would the coating taper finely at the end of the thread? He tried it and—it worked! Today this company makes its tapered bristles by the “honey process,” the direct result of one man’s curiosity at the dinner table.

A curious man, W. E. Gaine, was intrigued when he saw what happened to a sheet of cotton rag paper that fell accidentally into a pan of sulphuric acid. Most of us would have cast aside the ruined paper. But Gaine noticed that the sheet was no longer opaque or absorbent. It was now translucent and completely resistant even to boiling water. The curious fellow threw more paper into the acid: the result was always the same. Thus was born Gaine’s Paper, today commonly known as vegetable parchment, a godsend to every seller of food.

An equally curious man, William Perkin, gave the world its first synthetic dye. One day he was trying, with no luck, to synthesize quinine. His experiments resulted only in black, tarry solutions of no apparent usefulness. But it was strange-looking stuff, and Perkin’s curiosity wouldn’t let him dump it down the drain. Maybe it was good ior something! Just to see what would happen, idly he dipped his silk handkerchief into the dark liquid. To his amazement, out came the fabric dyed a beautiful deep purple that resisted fading when washed! Perkin’s curiosity had paid off— and is still paying off.

The truly curious man, layman or scientist, delights in what Charles Darwin called “fool’s experiments.” Latex was developed because a man wondered if rubber as well as metal could be drawn through an old wire-drawing machine he saw rusting in the corner of his shop. Cold rubber came about because somebody wondered what would happen if synthetic rubber were “cooked” at a low instead of a high temperature. Somebody else, worrying about intestinal adhesions, wondered if the talc used on surgical gloves was absorbable in human tissues. His curiosity was dramatically rewarded—the talc was not absorbable and its inflammatory effect was often the cause of adhesions. After more than a hundred experiments a perfectly absorbable powder, now used by all surgeons, was developed.

David Burpee wondered what would happen if he crossed two radically different kinds of snapdragons, one a German variety, the other an English one. Nobody had ever tried such a marriage, and probably nothing would come of it, but Burpee was curious. Two years later his curiosity paid off: the mating yielded two new varieties—one a gorgeous double flower that comes from a single seed, the other the tallest snapdragon ever grown. Just because a curious man wondered!

Idle curiosity—a casual observation—led to a train of thought that made millions for Charles E. Duryea. Impatient to be off to the theater, he twiddled his thumbs while he watched his wife spray herself with a perfume atomizer. He fell to wondering how gasoline would behave if it were atomized into the cylinders of the new automobile engine he was developing. Sure enough it worked, and his chance idea resulted in the world’s first practical carburetor!

It was Irving Langmuir’s inquiring mind that produced the tungsten lamp. He wondered, out of sheer curiosity, what would happen if he introduced certain gases into a lamp bulb. It was a chance idea—a non-sensical one—and Langmuir had little faith in his odd notion. But his curiosity refused to be stifled, and in the end he had a lamp that is saving the world millions of dollars on its light bills every night. And making millions for Langmuir!

In 1903, twenty-nine-year-old James L. Kraft was peddling cheese from door to door. Cheese, in those days, wasn’t anything to cheer about as a commercial product. Frequently soiled, fly-specked and dried out, it wasn’t the immaculate and wholesome food we know today.

The only cheese generally known was the huge wheel sitting on the grocer’s counter. Two wheels were seldom the same in quality so the sampling of wary customers took a heavy toll of profits.

Peddling cheese from his wagon, Mr. Kraft would see the safe, pasteurized milk which the milkman left on doorsteps. Why couldn’t the same thing be done for cheese? Could it be pasteurized and packaged successfully so that it would be more uniform in flavor, more sanitary, dependable in quality and non-perishable? He wondered.

So, he began experimenting with the blending and pasteurizing of cheeses. His first tests were made in a 69c double boiler. After long days of selling cheese by day, he spent his evenings blending and pasteurizing cheese over a home cook-stove. Experiments soon proved that the cheese peddler had the right idea, and before long he was marketing pasteurized cheese in sanitary packages.

Today, James L. Kraft, thanks to his idle curiosity, heads the largest cheese business in the world.

Speaking of food, consider the origin of the succulent oyster cocktail. It was the invention of an irritated old mining prospector. Just off his diggings, his taste buds hankering for something with zip and zing, he eyed with distaste the oysters which were the only food the bartender had to offer. Under the startled gaze of the barman, the old miner angrily ladled out a few of the gray bivalves into his highball glass and poured over them liberal portions of tomato catsup, horseradish and tobasco, Curious, he tasted the concoction—and something new had been added to the joy of eating!

We have mayonnaise because of Due de Richelieu was as fond as Darwin of fool’s experiments. In celebration of his victory over the English at Port Mahon, the Duke, no mean cook, decided to make the sauce for the meat. Alas, the royal cupboard was bare of cream, an absolute must for the sauce. But the Duke, always a curious man, fell to wondering. Why not olive oil instead? No harm trying. The result? The distinguished guests rolled their eyes in ecstasy. One celebrant proposed in a toast that the duke’s masterpiece be named “Mahonnaise” in honor of the victor of Port Mahon. Curiosity, they say, is a form of ignorance. But for Charles Kettering, one of the world’s foremost scientist-engineers, it’s the kind of ignorance that pays off. He lets his curiosity lead him to solutions to simple problems which other people often ignore and then makes millions from them. Kettering wants to know why grass is green, and he has spent thousands of dollars trying to find out. He says that if we could discover how the green in grass captures energy from the sun’s rays, we might build a machine that would capture enough energy to run all the machines in the world!

Maybe you’re no genius with tools, no scientist, no worker in a laboratory. So what! King C. Gillette, inventor of the safety razor, was a salesman of bottle caps when he thought up his idea. The inventor of the typewriter was Christopher Sholes, a piano-tuner. Lewis Waterman, inventor of the fountain pen, was an insurance salesman. Susan Stavers, inventor of “Minute Tapioca,” was a waitress in a Boston restaurant. Eugene F. McDonald, Zenith Radio sparkplug, began his inventive career as a lad repairing doorbells door-to-door. They didn’t have the technical training but they did have curiosity.

Most of what is valuable in life has come out of childlike inquiry. The man who is constantly prodded by an urge to dig into things,

to discover their whys and hows, finds that every day is an exciting adventure in living.

“Daddy, why does a top stand up when it spins?” was the question the young son of Elmer Sperry put to him one day. Sperry thought about the query and stumbled about for an answer.

Then, he went to work. And eventually, this chance remark, the result of a boy’s idle curiosity, led to the invention of a fabulously useful and profitable invention—the Sperry Gyro-Compass.

So, coddle that bump of curiosity. The kind of inquisitiveness that prompted young Sperry to ask “Why, Daddy?” may win you fame and fortune, too.

1 comment
  1. Stannous says: December 23, 20068:01 pm

    “Coddle that bump” or just screw your partner:
    From Wikipedia:
    Saccharin’s sweetness was accidentally discovered by Ira Remsen, a professor at Johns Hopkins University, and Constantin Fahlberg, a research fellow working in Remsen’s lab.
    In 1879, while working with coal tar derivatives (toluene), Remsen discovered saccharin’s sweetness at dinner after not thoroughly washing his hands, as did Fahlberg during lunch. Remsen and Fahlberg jointly published their discovery in 1880. However, in 1884, Fahlberg went on to patent and mass-produce saccharin without ever mentioning Remsen. Fahlberg grew wealthy, while Remsen merely grew irate.
    On the matter, Remsen commented, “Fahlberg is a scoundrel. It nauseates me to hear my name mentioned in the same breath with him”.

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