Most Underrated Inventions of All Time
The word "invention" usually brings elite tech inventors to mind. Without Thomas Edison, we wouldn't have light. Without Steve Jobs, we wouldn't be able to get text updates from the DoorDash driver.
Many of the best inventions, however, are much more nondescript. That toilet paper everyone hoards? Yeah, someone invented that, along with ballpoint pens, spray bottles and dozens of other everyday items we take for granted.
These are some of the most useful inventions ever. You probably don't even think about them, but you'd definitely miss them if they disappeared.
23. Sliced Bread
When it was invented: 1928
Who invented it: Otto Frederick Rohwedder
Why it’s underrated: Who has time to bake fresh bread these days? If you've ever bought a fresh baguette, you know how quickly it goes stale once you slice it.
If you have enough people around to eat it fresh, a hand-baked loaf is 100 percent the way to go. For quick grilled cheese sandwiches, however, nothing beats grabbing a couple of slices of your favorite, pre-sliced sourdough.
Toast would be so much harder without sliced bread. The man who invented it was also an engineer and a jeweler, but sliced bread was definitely his most important work.
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22. Ice Packs
When it was invented: 1959
Who invented it: Albert A. Robbins
Why it’s underrated: Admittedly, ice has been around for far longer than ice packs have, and it does basically the same thing: keep stuff cold.
Ice packs, however, contain the ice so it doesn't melt all over the place. Use ice packs to reduce swelling from minor injuries or to keep your packed lunch from going bad without your lunchbox turning into a bucket of slush.
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21. Tin Cans
When it was invented: 1810
Who invented it: Peter Durand
Why it’s underrated: Tin cans have lined the shelves of grocery stores since before any of us were born. While cardboard alternatives are likely healthier to eat from than cans, cans were one of the first methods that allowed food to be mass-produced and preserved for months.
It's still bizarre how long canned goods last, with some vegetables lasting up to five years, but we're not complaining.
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20. Water Bottles
When it was invented: 1973
Who invented it: Nathaniel Wyeth
Why it’s underrated: Imagine going to the gym without a water bottle. Who wants to drink out of that nasty drinking fountain? Yuck.
Staying hydrated is so important, and doing so would be infinitely harder without water bottles. While plastic water bottles have been incredibly useful during natural disasters and other emergency events, reusable ones are where it's at for school, work or your next hot yoga session.
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When it was invented: 1888
Who invented it: Marvin Stone
Why it’s underrated: Like plastic bags, plastic straws are a faux pas today, but remember digging into a Capri Sun with those flimsy, pointy little straws? And juice boxes on field trips? Those were the days.
Some cities have now outlawed plastic straws, but reusable straws are just as convenient and fun. Paper straws are a bit flimsy, but silicone and metal straws hold up for years.
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18. Ziploc Bags
When it was invented: The early 1950s
Who invented it: Borge Madsen
Why it’s underrated: Let's get one thing clear. The impact of single-use plastic bags on the environment is terrible. Sea turtles can choke on them, and they take 1,000 years to break down. The usefulness of plastic bags, however, is undeniable.
It's so easy to throw some snacks in a Ziploc for school lunches or work, and large Ziplocs can be used to store leftovers in the freezer.
Fortunately, there are now reusable silicone storage bags that work just as well.
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When it was invented: Otto Bayer
Who invented it: 1937
Why it’s underrated: Would you prefer to wash dishes with your bare hands? Yeah, that's what we thought.
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16. Paper Towels
When it was invented: 1879
Who invented it: Irvin Scott
Why it’s underrated: Paper towels aren't the most eco-friendly option around, but they're so handy. Having kids or pets without paper towels would be so much harder. Use them to soak up spills, wipe faces or soak up pet messes from the carpet.
While we recommend using highly absorbent microfiber towels to dry dishes and hands and cut down on wasted paper, paper towels are too useful not to have around.
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15. Shower Curtains
When it was invented: 1953
Who invented it: Janus B. Wittrup
Why it’s underrated: Try showering without a shower curtain. Have fun cleaning up the quarter-inch of water flooding the bathroom floor, and then go buy a shower curtain.
Admittedly, they weren't needed when people only took baths, but those days are long gone.
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14. Mechanical Pencils
When it was invented: 1822
Who invented it: Slavoljub Eduard Penkala
Why it’s underrated: At one point, not even wooden pencils existed. Originally, people scratched letters into tablets of clay.
Wooden pencils, invented in 1812, were a huge improvement, but they need to be sharpened frequently. The invention of mechanical pencils made it possible to always have a sharp pencil without ever having to sharpen it.
Even in elementary schools, most kids now use mechanical pencils. Without them, they'd be stuck using the black, wall-mounted hand sharpeners that we grew up with.
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When it was invented: 1858
Who invented it: A British engineer named Edward Nairne
Why it’s underrated: Erasers are so commonplace that most of us never think twice about them, but at one point, erasing mistakes wasn't an option.
Just picture taking trigonometry or writing a first draft of an essay without an eraser. Or learning to sketch, but every crooked line was permanent.
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When it was invented: 500 B.C.
Who invented it: The ancient Romans
Why it’s underrated: They smell good, they add ambiance and they provide light if there's ever a zombie apocalypse. Most people don't use them for light today, but a world without gorgeous candles that fill the house with the scent of mulled red wine would be a sad world indeed.
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11. Paper Clips
When it was invented: 1901
Who invented it: Johan Vaaler
Why it’s underrated: It's safe to say that every household and office has at least a few paper clips lying around. They're such a simple invention, yet they're pretty ingenious when you think about it. A few inches of wire twisted in just the right way to secure an entire stack of papers? Pretty cool.
Without paper clips, every office would be a little less organized. Don't even get us started on staples.
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When it was invented: Around 2000 B.C.
Who invented it: The Indus Valley Civilization
Why it’s underrated: Early buttons were made as decorations well over 1,000 years ago, but functional buttons first appeared in Europe during the 13th century.
They were a predecessor of the zipper and one of the first methods used to easily secure clothing. It allowed for more fitted styles, since clothing didn't have to fit over shoulders or hips.
Your favorite white button-down wouldn't be a thing without buttons. What would people wear to work?
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When it was invented: 1869
Who invented it: O.A. North
Why it’s underrated: If we had to guess one object that can be found in every American home, a hanger would be a safe bet.
How would closets work without them? You'd need a coat rack to hang anything up. Everything else would have to be folded in drawers or on shelves.
Imagine the wrinkles.
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8. Super Glue
When it was invented: 1942
Who invented it: Dr. Harry Coover
Why it’s underrated: Super glue was made completely by accident. In the middle of World War II, Harry Coover was working with chemicals called cyanoacrylates in hopes of developing a clear plastic for military use. Cyanoacrylates turned out to be obnoxiously sticky, but as soon as they made contact with water, they bonded with whatever surface they came in contact with.
While cyanoacrylates didn't work for their original purpose, they worked like a charm as a heavy-duty adhesive. Super glue has since been used as a surgical aid and for repairing virtually anything.
How would we live without it?
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When it was invented: 1845
Who invented it: Dr. Horace Day
Why it’s underrated: The first tape was made by Dr. Horace Day, a surgeon, who applied a sticky, rubber adhesive to strips of fabric. This was the first-ever surgical tape, and it was the father of all future tape. Scotch tape, duct tape, packing tape, masking tape, you name it.
Tape is handy for everything from wrapping presents and hanging artwork to repairing airplanes. The crew of "Mythbusters" even made a (sort of) functional bridge out of duct tape.
No tape, no duct tape prom dresses, either.
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When it was invented: Around 1500 B.C.
Who invented it: Ancient Egyptians
Why it’s underrated: Scissors have been found in classrooms for decades. Without them, childhood crafts wouldn't be a thing. How would one cut fabric without them? Or hair, for that matter?
Scissors also make it possible to open those impossible, anti-theft packages that kids inevitably get on every birthday.
Thank you, ancient Egyptians.
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5. Rubber Bands
When it was invented: 1845
Who invented it: Stephen Perry
Why it’s underrated: There isn't a wrong way to use a rubber band. The number of applications is endless. It's one of those items you don't even think about until you need one and don't have any.
Small rubber bands are even used for orthodontics these days.
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When it was invented: 1913
Who invented it: Whitcomb L. Judson
Why it’s underrated: Zippers are the kind of thing we use all the time, but no one gives them a second thought until they break. Trying to fix a broken suitcase zipper isn't even worth it. Just get a new suitcase.
They're used on everything from apparel to backpacks, and they're particularly important for outerwear. Jackets with buttons weren't nearly as weatherproof as jackets with zippers. Zippered pockets are also more secure, and way easier to use than buttons or snaps.
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When it was invented: 1826
Who invented it: John Walker
Why it’s underrated: This one might be one of the most basic underrated inventions ever. Sure, man discovered fire before they discovered matches, but unless you're Bear Grylls, the odds that you could start one without a match are close to zero.
For most of us, no matches = no fire. In an emergency situation, no fire means no heat. Which might mean no life, either.
Next time you go camping, don't forget your matches, kids.
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2. Toilet Paper
When it was invented: 1857
Who invented it: Joseph Gayetty
Why it’s underrated: Maybe underrated isn't the right word for this one. Remember when everyone ran to stock up on toilet paper? Maybe we developed more of an appreciation for what an amazing, albeit gross, invention toilet paper is.
While some people in the U.S. are taking a page from Europe's book and giving bidets a try, most of us are still devoted to TP. Without it, life would stink.
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1. Reading Glasses
When it was invented: 1285
Who invented it: Salvino D'Armate
Why it’s underrated: The majority of people need reading glasses between the ages of 40-60. Before corrective lenses were invented, people were stuck holding small objects at arms length to see them clearly.
The next time you go to a restaurant and forget your readers, just think of how nice it is that someone invented them in the first place.
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