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Old Items/ New Purpose

Inventor Thomas Edison, 1847-1931

Kudos to inventor Thomas Edison. He’s the one who quipped, “Just because something doesn’t do what you planned it to do in the first place doesn’t mean it’s useless.”

Consider these everyday items you may have in your home.


Did you know Kleenex tissues were invented for soldiers in World War I as filters for gas masks?

In that era, people blew their noses on washable cotton handkerchiefs. However, during World War I the Kimberly-Clark company manufactured disposable tissues not only for lining gas masks, but also for medical use as bandages.

Then the war ended. Warehouses filled with boxes of unused tissues. Someone in the corporation marketed them to Hollywood actors and actresses for use with cold cream, to remove stage make-up. American women caught on and sales were up. Later, those same wives wrote letters to the Kimberly-Clark Corporation, complaining that their husbands blew their noses on their “cold cream kerchiefs.”

About that time someone invented a pop-up tissue box, and Kimberly-Clark marketed their former gas mask liners to a grateful American public.

The next time you sneeze, remember that the tissue you threw away today could be a successor of the one that saved your great-great grandpa’s life.


Did you know you can thank the military for duct tape?

During World War II, the army needed a waterproof tape for soldiers to keep their ammunition cases dry. So, originally the tape was army green. No one is sure why it was originally called “Duck Tape” unless it was because it shed water like a duck.

After using the new tape on ammunition cases, soldiers noticed it was good for holding things together. They used it to repair guns and jeeps and even aircraft. Medics noticed it was good for closing wounds.

So how did its name get changed to duct tape? And why did it change from green to silver?

The war ended, and soldiers brought home supplies of the marvelous invention. And, since the housing market was booming, a bright entrepreneur realized it was good for holding together heating and air conditioning ducts. He changed the color to silver to match the ducts.

Someone discovered later that duct tape became brittle and sometimes emitted toxic smoke, so some locations banned its use for AC and heating ducts.

And…one for the record: Missourians at a Walmart store in Springfield buy more duct tape per person than any place on earth, earning the title Duct Tape Capital of the World.


Your ancestors probably heated their homes with coal stoves. And they most likely cleaned the coal soot off wallpaper with a putty-like substance, the forerunner of Play-Doh.

After World War II, washable vinyl wallpaper was invented, and it looked like Noah McVicker’s putty was destined to go off the market.

Fate intervened, however, in the form of a phone call to Noah’s nephew, Joseph McVicker.

Joseph’s sister-in-law Kay was a nursery school teacher and heard that people used Uncle Noah’s cleaning putty in art projects. (Regular modeling clay was too hard for small children to handle.) Could Joseph and Uncle Noah create a children’s toy putty?

They could and they did. Joseph named it Play-Doh and the first batches, off-white, sold in one-and-a-half pound cans. A year later the company offered Play-Doh in primary colors. Now parents buy it in several bright hues.

Over 700 million pounds of Play-Doh have been sold. And--for those wishing to impress kindergarten teachers, the Demeter Fragrance Library offers a Play-Doh-scented cologne.


When someone asked Thomas Edison why he failed so many times in his inventions, he quipped, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work”

The take-away in all this? Failing really isn’t failure; it’s just opportunity ratcheted up a few notches.

Your turn. What are your thoughts on new uses for old things? Join the conversation below.


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