History is full of smart young inventors who, still full of childhood's energy and yet unafraid of failure, have innovated, invented and changed the way the world works. It's a good thing for all of us: invention isn't always successful the first time around, so the more time to tinker can mean more successful inventions for the rest of us to use and enjoy.
TUTORIAL: World's Greatest Investors
Earmuffs at 15 Years Old
A teenager into ice skating isn't very unusual, and it doesn't necessarily mark that teen out for future financial success. In Chester Greenwood's case, his love of the winter sport was hindered only by the bitterly cold weather that hurt his ears. After experimenting with a few quick solutions, Greenwood enlisted his grandmother's help. He made wire circles, she sewed velvet and fur on them, and the first earmuffs were created. That was back in 1874, and Greenwood was only 15 at the time. (For related reading, see 7 Women Inventors And Their Indispensable Designs.)
The Popsicle at 11 Years Old
Maybe it's something about ice that spurs kids to inventive thinking. Frank Epperson left his soda water outside overnight and it turned to ice. The next morning, behold, the first Popsicle had been invented. Epperson was only 11 years old at the time, though he didn't patent his invention until almost 20 years later, in 1923. He later sold his rights to the Popsicle.
The Crayon Holder at 11 Years Old
Cassidy Goldstein, at 11 years old, was working on a writing project using crayons. She had trouble using the bits and pieces of broken crayon, and improvised with a clear plastic tube meant to hold flowers. Her simple solution of the Crayon Holder ended up being commercialized, and it is sold by major retailers. Goldstein herself was named "Youth Inventor of the Year" in 2006. (For related reading, see Ridiculous Ideas That Made People Millions.)
The Helicopter at 20 Years Old
Igor Ivanovich Sikorsky, a native of Ukraine (then Imperial Russia), was born in 1889. Just 20 years later, he invented and built the first helicopter. It could lift itself off the ground, but it couldn't hold up a pilot; Sikorsky's second helicopter, built a year later, was able to do both. Sikorsky didn't stop with the helicopter. In 1913, he built the first four-engine airplane. After immigrating to the U.S. in 1919, he organized a corporation in 1923, the Sikorsky Aero Engineering Corporation, which continues to operate. Sikorsky received numerous awards and accolades during his lifetime.
The "Makin' Bacon" at 8 Years Old
Abbey Fleck had just reached the ripe old age of 8 years old when she invented her first consumer product, Makin' Bacon. This invention is a simple dish that cooks bacon in the microwave while allowing the fat to drip down into a reservoir. After inventing the cooking device, Abbey worked with her father to start a company that produces and distributes them to retailers such as Walmart.
Thigh Pack at 6 Years Old
Eight years old is extremely young, but Kelly Reinhart was even younger when she invented a thigh pack. The pack was a riff on holsters worn by cowboys. Kelly's idea was that kids could use an accessible, lightweight pack for their stuff. She was thinking of important stuff for kids her age, like candy and video games. Kelly and her dad went on to found TPak International. With annual orders around $1 million, Kelly's early inventing has not only brought her financial success, but some startling inroads for a little girl. She has met with the Pentagon to talk about possible use of the TPak for military applications. (For related reading, see 6 Unusual Ways To Make A Living.)
The Bottom Line
Hearing stories about a young Benjamin Franklin or teenaged Thomas Edison playing with electricity and changing the future can be discouraging for current generations of aspiring inventors. After all, it was so long ago, times were different and kids are different these days. Except, as it turns out, kids are much the same. They're curious, full of questions and they're also full of ingenious solutions to a multitude of everyday problems. Some things may change, but the creative power of youth is still the same.
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