February 11, 2011

Feb 11 – Our Own Toy Stories

Kids just want to have fun!

I’ve got that Friday feeling; and the weekend is almost upon us. Do you remember when we couldn’t wait for Friday afternoons, knowing that we would be able to just play with our friends, for a good part of the weekend?

Did you ride your bikes to the end of the driveway and back, or around the cul de sac, for hours on end? Perhaps you had a new package of View-Master® reels to gaze at in wonder and swap with your friends? Or maybe you organized a huge water fight with all of the kids in the neighborhood, so you could test out your new SuperSoaker®?

Matthew Cherry Paved the Way for the Modern Bicycle and Tricycle

Matthew Cherry's Velocipede Patent

Matthew Cherry's Velocipede Patent

Not much is known about African-American, Washington DC resident and inventor, Matthew A. Cherry; but in May 1888, he patented an improved velocipede, which consisted of a metal frame upon which were attached two to three wheels.  Earlier models of a velocipede or bicycle, such as the Penny Farthing and Boneshaker, had existed for years, but Matthew created a version that was much improved and safer by being lower to the ground and having even wheels. His invention was the precursor for today’s bikes and trikes. 

Chuck Harrison Made the View-Master® a Toy Icon

Chuck Harrison with the View-Master

Charles (Chuck) Harrison is an industrial designer, professor and prolific inventor, who resides in Chicago. Born in 1931, in Shreveport, Louisiana, Chuck earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree, from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and a Masters in Art Education from the Illinois Institute of Technology. Following his studies, Chuck became the first African-American executive at Sears, in 1961 – eventually heading up its entire design group. He has been involved in the invention, or improved design of, over 750, household items, including toasters, stereos, portable hairdryers, sewing machines, power tools, fondue pots, a see-through measuring cup and the first plastic garbage can – changing the sound of ‘garbage day’ forever.  However, what Chuck is probably most famous for is heading up the design team for the Model F version of the View-Master®, in 1958. It was the first to use batteries to power an internal light, and became the basis for today’s View-Master®, which still elicits lots of ‘ohs and ahs’ from children of all ages, and most likely will, for decades to come. In October 2008, Chuck became the first African-American to be awarded the Lifetime National Design Award by Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, Smithsonian Institution.  Click here to see his fascinating website, A Life’s Design.
View-Masters Today

Lonnie Johnson Invented Hours of Water Fun with the SuperSoaker®

Lonnie Johnson with the SuperSoaker

Lonnie Johnson is literally a rocket scientist, who is clearly a kid at heart. Born in October 1949, in Mobile, Alabama, the son of an US Air Force civilian driver and nurse’s aide, Lonnie started building his own toys, with his brother, when they were both young.  Lonnie became interested in rocket science early on, and even created his own ‘rocket fuel’ from sugar and salt peter, which scarily exploded and burned part of the family kitchen. Thankfully, no one was hurt! As a high school senior, Lonnie won a national science competition, sponsored by the University of Alabama, with a remote-controlled robot named ‘Linex’, which he built from junkyard scraps and parts from his siblings’ walkie-talkie and reel-to-reel tape recorder. After college and graduate school, Lonnie worked for the Air Force, and then as a Senior Systems Engineer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, where he earned many awards, including for his work on the Galileo Probe and the Mars Observer. When working on a project for NASA, Lonnie ‘accidentally’ invented a powerful water toy, which could shoot water about 50 feet, and eventually patented it (with business partner, Bruce D’Andrade) in 1989. Larimi Corp. initially purchased it, and the brand is now owned by Hasbro. The cool toy was originally called the Power Drencher, but was renamed, SuperSoaker®, two years later.  It became an instant sensation, helped by the likes of Johnny Carson and Michael Jackson, who touted their fun; and within ten years, 200 million had been sold (still selling strongly today). Lonnie was inducted into the Inventor Hall of Fame in 2000 and currently lives in Marietta, Georgia, still inventing. Click here to see a short, CNBC interview with Lonnie about the SuperSoaker® .

Michael Jackson with the SuperSoaker

Ok. I need to get back to work; but hopefully, we will all find some time to play this weekend, and just be kids again. Have fun!

Sources: Wikipedia, About.com, Inventors.com, BlackInventor.com, YouTube/CNBC, Google Images, Getty Images

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