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Fathers of Invention: Famous Dads Who Invented Things that Changed our Lives

Submitted by on June 15, 2012 – 7:06 pmNo Comment

Fathers who Invented the Air Conditioner, Adhesive Tape, Popsicle and More


By Kate Kelly

When we think of great inventors, we generally list the men like Alexander Graham Bell, Samuel Colt, the Wright brothers, and of course, Thomas Edison. (As a “fatherly aside,” Edison’s early work was on the telegraph, and he had telegraph-related names for his first two children: Dot and Dash.)

On a month when we focus on “fathers” and celebrate their day, it’s fun to think about some of the lesser-known fathers of invention who came up with everyday items that have changed our lives. This Father’s Day, let’s tip our hats to some men (fathers as well as fathers-to-be) who created some of these everyday items:

Air Conditioning

Imagine life without air conditioning…for most of us, our summers would be pretty miserable.

Being overly warm is uncomfortable for people but it can be disastrous for certain types of businesses. One of the turn-of-the-twentieth century businesses that did poorly hot weather was the printing industry, because the heat and humidity made the paper expand so the color printing distributed poorly during the warm months.

A recent Cornell graduate, Willis Haviland Carrier (1876-1950), came up with a formula (having to do with the balance between temperature, humidity, and dew point) that he was able to test with the printing plant, and it is still the basis for air conditioning today.  Willis got his first patent in 1906 and by 1915 he and six other engineers created formed the Carrier Engineering Corp.

Industries quickly began to use this new found formula to control the temperatures during production of film, tobacco, processed meats, medical capsules, textiles, and other products. In 1921 Carrier patented the first machine that could cool large spaces. By 1924 Hudson Department Stores in Detroit installed the machine and city residents flocked to the store to enjoy the cool air.

Photo above is Willis Carrier with the centrifugal chiller he invented.

Adhesive Tape and Clear Tape

Adhesive tape was invented by Richard G. Drew (1886-1982) who came up with the idea for both masking tape and clear tape. Masking tape was created first.

Richard Drew worked for 3M company, and at that time, they only made sandpaper; he was at an auto body shop where the painters were testing a new type of sandpaper but Drew noted that they were also struggling with the process of painting a two-color auto body pattern. He thought he might be able to come up with a way to make a clean line between the two paint colors, which led him to invent masking tape. Some painters still use the tape for that purpose though today there are many more uses as well. The clear tape was created five years later.

Tape Dispenser

And of course, the ease of which we use tape has to do with the dispenser. It was invented 1932 by another 3M fellow named John A. Borden who developed the first tape dispenser that had a built-in cutting edge.


In May 1886 Coca Cola was invented by Dr. John Pemberton (1831-1888), a pharmacist in Atlanta, Georgia, who was looking to create a tonic that would perk people up. Working over a small fire in his backyard, he mixed a tonic using coca leaves mixed with the caffeine-rich kola nut. Coca-Cola was first sold to the public at the soda fountain called Jacob’s Pharmacy in Atlanta on May 8, 1886.  That first year only about 25 gallons were sold.

Frank Robinson (1845-1923) worked for Pemberton Chemical Company as bookkeeper and secretary. He had beautiful penmanship and he not only suggested the name of the product but he scripted the words that are now the classic logo. The logo was registered as a trademark in 1893.

In 1887 Asa Candler (1851-1929), another pharmacist in Atlanta, bought the formula from Pemberton for $2300. Candler was very interested in marketing, as was Frank Robinson who took a job with Candler, and soon Coca-Cola was one of the country’s most popular fountain drinks.

Coca Cola set the business example of how most sodas are sold today. Formulas for the syrup are licensed to bottling companies who manufacture and bottle the drink.

Ice Cream and Cones

No American invented ice cream… this delectable treat was enjoyed by people in many parts of the world long before our country was settled. Even the Founding Fathers were known to serve and enjoy ice cream. As it happens, Dolly Madison Ice Cream was named for “historic” reasons as Dolley (correct spelling of the first lady’s name) was said to have asked that it be served at James Madison’s inaugural ball.

When it comes to ice cream and American ingenuity we can, however, claim that the ice cream cone was invented here. Several vendors served ice cream in some type of paper or edible receptacle at the St. Louis World’s Fair but the father who gets credit for inventing a cone that was carried down for generations was a Lebanese immigrant, Abe Doumar (1881-?), who modified a waffle iron so that he could create edible cones.


The popsicle was the invention of a future father. Frank Epperson (1894-?) was 11 and living with his family in San Francisco when he left a mixture of powdered soda, water, and a stirring stick in a cup on his porch. It was an unseasonably cold night and when he got up the next morning he found a tasty treat frozen around the stick. At the time he called it an Epsicle.

Frank had to grow older before he had an opportunity to experiment with whether this could be a future business. By 1923 he was a father and he lived near Neptune Beach, an amusement park in New Jersey, where Frank found that sales of Epsicles were brisk. His kids, however, prevailed upon him to change the name before applying for a patent. They wanted their pop to call it a Popsicle.

Velveeta Cheese

Emil Frey (1867-1951) was a young man working at a cheese company in Monroe, New York in 1918. His task was to find a way to use up the excess whey that was a byproduct from the cheese process. He stumbled upon the fact that if you mixed another kind of cheese with the whey it became velvety and very spreadable. By 1923 the company was known as the Velveeta Cheese Company and they sold to Kraft who expanded to sell nationally. According to Kraft, Velveeta was the first cheese product to get the American Medical Association’s seal of approval (the 1930s) because it was deemed “healthy cheese.”

Chewing Gum

People around the world had found various forms of tree sap and paraffin that they had used as chewing gum, but the story of America’s first mass-marketed gum is a particularly interesting one.

An American by the name of Thomas Adams (1818-1905) had come to know Mexican General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna who felt that chicle (sap from the sapodilla tree)  could be used to create commercially successful products.

Adams set about the challenge and tried making everything from toys to rain boots out of the product but nothing was working. In a speech given about his father, son Horatio told the following story:

“…after about a year’s work of blending chicle with rubber, the experiments were regarded as a failure; consequently Mr. Thomas Adams intended to throw the remaining lot into the East River. But it happened that before this was done, Thomas Adams went into a drugstore at the corner. While he was there, a little girl came into the shop and asked for a chewing gum for one penny. It was known to Mr. Thomas Adams that chicle, which he had tried unsuccessfully to vulcanize as a rubber substitute, had been used as a chewing gum by the natives of Mexico for many years. So the idea struck him that perhaps they could use the chicle he wanted to throw away for the production of chewing gum and so salvage the lot in the storage. After the child had left the store, Mr. Thomas Adams asked the druggist what kind of chewing gum the little girl had bought. He was told that it was made of paraffin wax and called White Mountain. When he asked the man if he would be willing to try an entirely different kind of gum, the druggist agreed. When Mr. Thomas Adams arrived home that night, he spoke to his son, Tom Jr., my father, about his idea. Junior was very much impressed, and suggested that they make up a few boxes of chicle chewing gum and give it a name and a label. He offered to take it out on one of his trips (he was a salesman in wholesale tailors’ trimmings and traveled as far west as the Mississippi). They decided on the name of Adams New York No. 1. It was made of pure chicle gum without any flavor. It was made in little penny sticks and wrapped in various colored tissue papers. The retail value of the box, I believe, was one dollar. On the cover of the box was a picture of City Hall, New York, in color.”

And of course, the product became what we now know of as Chiclets!

About the Author:

Throughout the year, Kate Kelly offers remarkable, little-known stories of America and its citizens at  Be sure to check out the site this summer for Kate’s profiles of America’s favorite dogs during her “Dog Days of Summer” series!  To learn more about the site or to sign up for newsletters, write Kate at

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