In 1945, Harold “Matt” Matson and Elliot Handler created a garage-based manufacturing business. They named it by combining their first names, Mattel. First, they manufactured picture frames. Using the leftover pieces of wood, Elliot built dollhouses that sold well. Soon, Matson dropped out of the business leaving it solely owned by Handler and his wife, Ruth.

Ruth and Matt created a toy ukulele that sold well, the company’s first major success. In 1955, they licensed the rights for popular “Mickey Mouse Club Products.” Licensing pop-culture characters for toys was an emerging and popular business model. In 1955, they patented the toy cap gun. The business wasn’t spectacular but the Handler’s were doing well.

Dolls during this era were babies or children. However, Ruth noticed her own daughter, Barbara, playing with dolls and assigning them adult roles. In 1956, the family took a trip in Europe and purchased a German toy doll called Bild Lilli that looked like a small woman rather than a child. Originally marketed to adults, Lilli was more popular with children.

Back in the US, Ruth decided to make her own grown-up doll. The doll should look fun, she reasoned, rather than realistic. It had an unusually large bust, a slim waist, and full-size hips. Ruth named it Barbie, after her daughter Barbara.

On March 9, 1959, Barbie was introduced to the world at the American International Toy Fair in New York. She wore a black-and-white one piece and came in blonde or brunette. The “Teen-age Fashion Model” was wildly successful, selling about 350,000 during her first year. Ruth died in 2002 and Eliott in 2011 but, in 2019 at 60 years-old, Barbie is still very much alive.

Genetic Testing

Genetic testing identifies genetic patterns, including irregularities. In 2019, genetic testing is typically used to search for abnormalities and susceptibilities. However, new treatments under development target the specific traits of patients or disease. These treatments attack and cure at the genetic level. In addition, genetic testing is entertaining. People find unknown relatives or trace family origin.


In April 1953, James Watson and Francis Crick worked with Rosalind Franklin to discover that DNA is a double-helix. They explained how DNA self-replicates and encodes hereditary information. Eventually, Watson & Crick won the Nobel Prize for their work (Franklin died, rendering her ineligible). However, while they accurately described the form of DNA they did not explain the chromosomes that render our biological blueprint.

In 1956, Joe Him Tjio and Albert Levan released the first substantive work on chromosomes, the core of genetic testing. Particularly, they found human DNA contained 46, not 48 as previously believed. Almost more importantly, they identified how to read information from chromosomes.

Not long after, the earliest genetic testing began. Eventually, reports emerged concurrently identifying the genetic abnormality responsible for Down syndrome. Next came reports tying Turner and Klinefelter syndromes to genetic anomalies.

Markedly, progress identifying genetic differences proceeded slowly until the 1980s. Eventually, new technologies lowered the cost and increased the value of the information. By the 1990s, these techniques increased in speed and decreased in cost.

Human Genome Mapping

In 1990, scientists started a project to map the entire human genome, the Human Genome Project. It finished in April 2003, and cost about $2.7 billion USD. By late 2018, one company ran a sale to sequence an entire human genome for $200. The full price was $999 though the company, Veritas, predicts the retail price for a full DNA sequence will be $99 by 2024 at the latest.

Countless DNA sequencing companies exist that read and report partial DNA results. For example, 23 and Me offers a “Health + Ancestry Service.” For $199, customers receive over 125 gene-related health reports plus a fun family history report. The family history report, “Get a breakdown of your global ancestry by percentages, connect with DNA relatives and more,” costs $99 alone.

Heart-Lung Machine / Cardiopulmonary Bypass

Heart-Lung machines temporarily do the work of the heart and lungs allowing surgeons to operate on the heart or lungs. Despite the sci-fi nature, it was a husband-wife garage invention.


In 1931, surgeon John Gibbon lost a patient he felt sure would have lived if he could temporarily keep blood circulating and oxygenated. He worked with his lab assistant, Mary Hopkinson, to develop a heart-lung machine. More than the machine progressed, and John and Mary eventually married.

The Gibbon’s experimented on cats. By 1935, they were able to keep a cat alive for 20 minutes while their machine replaced heart and lung function. However, the machine damaged blood cells and virtually no cat lived longer than 23 days after surgery.

Gibbons’ machine relied largely on a blood oxygenator. This was a series of rollers, developed in 1885 by von Frey and Gruber, that thinned out blood and exposed it with oxygen. The rollers mimicked the surface area of the lungs. Additionally, it was a challenge to find a pump as strong as human hearts. Patients’ blood must be saturated with heparin to prevent coagulation, which would gunk up the machine.

By 1945, Gibbon included other researchers and expanded their research to dogs. They found that by adding filters to remove blood clots and applying suction to prevent air from entering the bloodstream survival rates dramatically increased.

On May 6, 1953, Gibbon and his team decided their machine was ready for use on people. Gibbon operated on Cecelia Bavolek, bypassing her heart and lungs with his machine for 45 minutes. She lived and fully recovered from the operation. Unfortunately, Gibbon’s next four patients died and he abandoned heart surgery.

Walton Lillebei

Walton Lillebei picked up where Gibbons’ left off. He tried a radically different approach, connecting one person to another whose heart and lungs would do the work for two. Typically, a child would be connected to one of their parents. Lillebei also invented the bubble oxygenator, replacing the rollers used in Gibbons’ machine. Finally, the heart-lung machine was reliable.

Despite the success, there was one major problem: the heart kept beating during the use of the machine. This caused a literal bloody mess, making it difficult for surgeons to see. Returning to animal research, they found it was possible to stop a heart while a patient was connected to the machine and restart it later. However, the lack of blood in the heart caused tissue damage. Surgeons operated with beating hearts until the 1980s when researchers at St. Thomas Hospital found that cooling the heart below 28°C (82°F) and treating it with a combination of drugs kept the heart healthy and intact. Today, this technique is used for extended operations where a heart must be stopped and also to transport hearts for transplanting.

Windshield Wiper

Windshield wipers are a vital component of a car.

Inclusion Criteria

However, countless other components in cars are also important. Excluding the vast majority of auto components from innowiki is a purposeful decision. Undoubtedly, these components are oftentimes enormous markets. However, they do not teach us about anything especially important. They are components in a larger machine.

Accordingly, we’ve tried to separate cases from the meaning behind the cases we make a special exception for windshield wipers. They illustrate the difficulty of personally profiting from one’s work, even after successful commercialization.

Particularly in the case of windshield wipers, auto companies refused to pay, declaring the invention was “obvious” after-the-fact. Different patent offices around the world carry differing definitions of “obviousness” creating a slippery slope. Undeniably, countless inventions intuitively feel obvious after-the-fact. And, arguably, countless innovators were lucky with timing. To read more, switch over to the analytical part of the site.

Windshield Wiper Inventors

All three major windshield-wiper inventors had their patents blatantly infringed.

Noticing that it was difficult to see, Mary Anderson realized the need to keep windshields dry in the rain. Subsequently, she invented a hand crank to wipe the water off auto windshields. She hired an engineering firm to perfect the device and patented it in 1903. However, nobody purchased nor licensed the patents.

Charlotte Bridgwood invented and patented the automatic electric wiper in 1917; nobody paid her either.

Robert Kearns invented and patented the variable speed wiper in 1969. Nobody paid him either until he engaged in a prolonged series of lawsuits and prevailed against Ford ($10.1M), Chrysler ($18.7M initially – $30M in final verdict after $10M in legal fees).

Kearns served as his own lawyer for much of the litigation though at least four firms he hired throughout quit, saying he was too difficult to work with. He lost cases against GM, Mercedes, and Japanese companies on technicalities usually related to filing deadlines. The 2008 movie Flash of Genius is about Kearns and his legal battles.

Milking Machine

Milking machine safely and effectively milk cows. They vastly reduce the cost of milking a cow.


Nobody likes milking cows by hand. It’s time consuming, laborious, and they poop.

Early attempts at something better involved inserting catheters that would let the milk slide out. However, if not used perfectly these hurt the animal. Catheters often infected cow udders. This caused the co-mingling of infected and good milk leading to sickness in people. American Agriculturist magazine, the trade journal way back when refused advertisements for milking catheters.

Eventually, suction-based machines, that work more like hands, came along. American Anna Baldwin patented an early suction-based milker that, while sub-optimal, was a substantive step on the way towards the modern milking machine. S.W. Lowe built on Baldwin’s machine, sucking from four teats at once.

Finally, L.O. Colvin, cited as “America’s most famous inventor of early milking machines” created a hand-cranked machine that mimicked hands, the modern milking machines.

Women Inventors

A brief digression: we study countless historic innovations, the ones we write about and many more we do not believe are eligible for inclusion. We have never seen so many innovation histories where the inventors use initials for their first name. Way back when milking cows was often a women’s job, milkmaids. We know that Anna Baldwin created and patented one early machine. However, we believe many of these other initials-only inventors were also women. Using initials hid the fact from patent applications, news articles, and men who purchase farm equipment. With this in mind, we refer to these inventors using feminine pronouns.

Colvin’s milk machine received favorable press and sold widely. She sold the English patent rights for $5,000. This was an enormous amount of money in 1860 when the average wage for a skilled laborer was $8/week.

Using iterative development, the modern milking machine came into being. Hand-cranks operated earlier one’s whereas later versions relied on electricity. However, they all operated with a similar mechanism.

At least one publication raises a good question about why it took 50 years from the earliest patents to a fully-functional machine when the grain harvester moved much faster. The answer, they speculate, is that cows are not wheat: they are living animals farmers refused to experiment upon.

Clusters of Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats (CRISPR)

CRISPR is like a word processor for DNA. It allows easy and inexpensive gene editing. Edited genes are passed to future generations, making mutations permanent.

Doudna and Charpentier

Doudna and Charpentier worked on and invented the technology as a team. First, they worked on plants and, later, on animals.

History becomes murkier with the involvement of Feng Zhang. Depending on the origin story he either modified Doudna and Charpentier’s work or invented a new version that works on humans. In an initial ruling, the US patent office ruled that his work was original and awarded him a patent for the use of CRISPR in humans as opposed to plants and animals. Like similar histories in innowiki, there will no doubt be appeals and lawsuits for many years.

Charpentier and Doudna are professors at the University of California at Berkeley. Zhang is a professor at MIT.

Zhang is a founding member of The Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT. As of 2018, they have the sole right to use CRISPR in humans. They have announced academic researchers may use the technology freely, but commercial uses must be licensed.

There were many precursor innovations to CRISPR but most articles suggest it was Charpentier’s 2011 discovery, that the technology could guide gene selection, which is the core value of the technology.

Designer Babies

In late 2018 Chinese researcher He Jiankui announced the use of CRISPR to genetically alter the DNA of twin girls. He allegedly fabricated ethics approval and claims he edited the genes to make the girls immune to HIV. In any event, the Chinese government declared the work illegal.

Based partly on He’s claim, scientists now say CRISPR is not as accurate as they initially believed. They say it works “more like an ax than a scalpel” for genetic manipulation. In any event, some form of CRISPR is likely to eventually have an enormous impact.


Virtualization enables the separation of an operating system and the physical device, the chips that it runs on. An imperfect but close enough metaphor is auto rental. Rather than purchasing a car, that may be too big for many tasks and too small for others, a user can rent just the right size car or hail a car-sharing company. Virtualization reduces overall computing costs.


In virtualization, one CPU/RAM/disk stack may run multiple operating systems concurrently, with each separated from the others. In another example, multiple CPU’s are tied together and virtualized as one seemingly enormous computer.

Separating the computer from the operating system enables end-users to rent only the computing power they need for a given task lowering overall costs. It also enables the fast cloning of extra computers.

For example, if a class needs 30 identical computers for 30 students for an exercise, they could use 30 virtual machines with students using only physical screens and other input/output equipment. After completion, the push of a button deletes 30 computers. The school pays only for the time used.

Similarly, if a researcher needs one enormous computer for a large data project they could rent one for the time required that consists, somewhere, of many CPU’s tied together. This is far less costly than purchasing the machine and leaving it idle.

Most virtual input/output devices connect to the physical machines via the web. However, some applications, especially banking or the military, might use private networks. For example, a bank might offer employees virtualized computers where the physical machine isn’t much more than a screen and keyboard. This saves space, a premium on the trading floors of investment banks, and is also more secure.


Virtualization is similar to the large centralized “timeshare” computers dating back to the 1960s. Those were rented on an as-needed basis by businesses who did not want to purchase or maintain the large, expensive, and finicky machines. However, the ability to string together multiple parts of a computer, not just one big central computer itself, make virtualization different. Virtualization is key to “the cloud” – a computer that exists only “in the ether.”

Husband/wife team Diane Greene and Mendel Rosenblum co-founded VMWare, the inventor of virtualization.

Modern Computer Programming Languages

Early computers were programmed by literally connecting wires then turning the machine on. Eventually, that evolved to assembly language; a one and zero type exercise telling the computer exactly what to do. Modern computer programming languages are more like English. Programmers write in an English-like language and a computer program turns that into the ones and zeros computers understand.

FORTRAN (“Formula Translation”), invented in 1957, was the first modern programming language. But Fortran was a non-standardized language for scientific work. Jack Backus was the lead engineer developing Fortran.

Towards the late 1950s computer use was exploding. The US Department of Defense (DoD) operated 225 computers. There were open orders for 175 more. Each computer was custom programmed at enormous cost. Industry was also ordering an ever-expanding number of computers, programming each individually.

Eventually, a consortium of government and private industry computer users created a series of conferences to develop one general-purpose computer language. By using one language, programmers could switch from one computer to another, with no need to understand the internal nuts-and-bolts of a computer.

Early computer programmers were overwhelmingly women. Programming was “women’s work” because, before computers, women did computations. Indeed, the term “computer” referred to a woman’s job doing computations, not to a machine.

Consortium participants soon settled on an early programming language, FLOW-MATIC, developed by computer programmer Grace Hopper. They extended her language to make it more general-purpose. Two other languages, COMTRAN by IBM and AIMACO by Univac, also contributed.

COBOL became the standard after much haggling. Subsequently, the new language ran on multiple computers demonstrating platform independence.


Communist spitfire Ida Rosenthal came from a line of Jewish intellectuals in what was then Russia and is now Belarus. She returned from college an outspoken communist revolutionary and with a boyfriend, William. Threatened with jail, the army, or both they fled to the US in 1905 and married in 1906.

Ida, who was 4′ 9″ (145 cm.) bought a Singer sewing machine on credit and worked as a dressmaker. Her business grew slowly.

During WWI, the army stopped the production of corsets because of the metal they used. Instead, women started using bandages to hold their breasts and eventually came up with a flat-chested look, the flapper that was popular in the 1920s. Ida did not like the look and came up with an invention so that women could wear her dresses and show their figures without a corset, the bra.

She initially sold bras only as part of a dress. Women started asking to buy them separately and she obliged, selling them for $1 each. The business grew. She teamed with Broadway legend Enid Bissett, leveraging Bissett’s popularity to increase prices for dresses and raise awareness of bras.

Her company, Maidenform, advertised heavily, believing that brand strength would keep away competitors. During WWII, the army ordered bras for all women in the military. After the war, the business busted out. Ida, the tiny outspoken communist, somehow transformed into an American industrialist and created an enormous business that exists to this day.

Maidenform, run by Rosenthal’s offspring, went public in 2005 with a valuation of $350 million and was taken private, and sold, to Haines in July 2013, for $575 million.

Image result for early maidenform commercials

Niche Marketing

Walker, daughter of freed slaves, is the first self-made millionaire woman and the first self-made millionaire African American (maybe – tax returns suggest it was $600K but she did very well for herself). She invented beauty products for Black people.

Walker was born in a sharecropper’s cabin. She is orphaned at seven. A freelance launderer, she married at 14, is a mother at 17, and a widow at 20. She never attended school but self-taught herself to read.

At 35 she is still a freelance launderer but bald; her hair fell out. Pope figured out this was due to the use of goose fat and other meat-based products, and strong soaps, that Black women used to style their hair. Pope who set up a hair products company and hired Breedlove as an early sales agent.

Breedlove, by then in her late 30’s (the average lifespan for non-white women was 35 years), formed her own company. She claimed to have invented her own beauty products from scratch using money from sales commissions.

Flamboyant and well dressed, Breedlove always focused on selling. She gave generously and openly to charities. At one point, a $10,000 gift to the then young NAACP was the largest donation in its young history. Sales and charity fundraising determined commissions.

“I am a woman who came from the cotton fields of the South. From there I was promoted to the washtub. From there I was promoted to the cook kitchen. And from there I promoted myself into the business of manufacturing hair goods and preparations. I have built my own factory on my own ground…”

Sarah Breedlove “C.J.” Walker