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Is Inventiveness Still In?

Jul 17, 2008
In 1906 a 21-year-old inventor from Nova Scotia went to work in the basement of his sister's home in New England. That's where Alfred Fuller intended to make "the best products of their kind in the world" and that's how he started the Fuller Brush Company. Since then the company has grown from the contents of one man's sample case to more than 2,000 products for home, business and personal care. Fuller had 3 rules for his products: make them work, make them last and guarantee them no matter what. With rules like that I wish Alfred Fuller had taken a brush at cleaning up politics.

Alfred Fuller wasn't the only basement inventor in the early 1900's. In 1912 Leon Leonwood Bean set up shop in his brother's basement in Freeport Maine. That's where he invented his famous, waterproof, hunting boot. He sold that boot through a 4-page, mail-order catalog. Today L. L. Bean sends out more than 150 million catalogs and those catalogs sell a wide range of sporting equipment and clothes. In 2006 the company had revenue of $1.78 billion. That's not bad for someone who pulled himself up by his own bootstraps.

1953 gave us the TV Dinner. It also gave Swanson & Sons a way to use its 270 tons of unsold, Thanksgiving turkey. Turkey, cornbread stuffing, peas and sweet potatoes were put in a compartmentalized, aluminum tray; and that tray was put in a cardboard box that looked like a TV. That dinner sold for 98 cents and had a first-year production estimate of 5,000. Swanson, however, sold more than 10 million in that time. Although Swanson stopped calling its invention TV Dinners in 1963, turkey remains its best seller - and Swanson is still talking turkey.

In 1975 Gary Dahl, a California advertising executive, was talking pets with some drinking buddies. Gary complained that cats and dogs were too expensive and too much work. He kiddingly suggested that a rock would be a perfect pet because it would be both cheap and easy to take care of. Gary Dahl sold over 5 million rocks at $3.95 each and became a multi-millionaire in 6 months. I helped Gary achieve that success. I was young, impressionable and trying to get over a fear of commitment. My Pet Rock stayed on my dresser for months. In fact, stay was the only command my Pet Rock ever understood.
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KNIGHT PIERCE HIRST takes humorous looks at life.
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