We live in wonderful times. We can talk with anyone on the planet in mere seconds, get to anywhere in the world in less than 24 hours, have troves of items shipped to us in a few days. All these wonderful achievements of innovation are great milestones in human development, but somehow, only a few developments other than medicine, engineering, and science have made the “Innovation Hall of Fame.” The moon landing, the transistor, and penicillin are some of those products of innovation that have greatly changed our daily lives, but what about the more obscure that we couldn’t imagine life without? It is time to pay homage to the little things that make life bearable but don’t get the publicity they deserve, because they are taken for granted.
1. Toilet paper. Every year, the campus political debate shifts to the hot button issue of two-ply vs. single-ply. Even though I am a firm opponent of the singularity of plies in my hygiene products, one thing is for certain: I am eternally grateful that I don’t have to clean my business with foliage or my hands. It seems hard to imagine, but toilet paper wasn’t available in industrial quantities until 1857 when Joseph Gayetty invented modern toilet paper. In addition, we can all be thankful for splinter-free (ouch) toilet paper which was introduced to the market in 1930 by Northern Toilet Paper. All toilet paper trivia has been kindly provided by the Toilet Paper Encyclopedia.
2. Canned goods. At first glance, most Princeton students will think “Hey, I don’t really get my food out of cans!” However, unbeknownst to some, cooks in Dining Halls, independents who have determined not to go grocery shopping, and frat bros everywhere would have a much harder time preparing food if canned goods ever disappeared. A method originally developed by the French Army in the early 19th century, canned goods revolutionized the world by allowing for long-term storage of foodstuffs. Kitchens in Princeton and around the world are grateful because now they can nip into that mint can of Instant Soup from six months ago without the fear of getting botulism (yay!). On the other hand, frat bros can rest assured that the 30 rack they bought eight months ago for the Kappa Phi football tailgate party is perfectly safe to drink and the taste of their “brewski” will remain true and fizzy.
3. Salt Mines. We use salt everywhere: in our food, on icy roads, and when preventing our enemies from growing crops. However, nowadays, no one ever thinks of salt as a scarce item or an expensive luxury purchase for that matter. One can enter a dining area anywhere in the world and find little salt shakers on tabletops, from Princeton to Europe, the Middle East, and beyond. But this wasn’t always the case. In the early days (referring to the era of Roman Legionaries, and not Granddad in his glory days) salt was so valuable that it was used as a currency. It was so treasured, that words such as “salary,” still allude to its significance today.
4. Printing Press. How else would you get your fix of J.K. Rowling, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Snooki and all the other great thinkers in human history other than through the written word. Invented by Johannes Gutenberg under the Roman Empire, the printing press enabled mass communication through the distribution of texts — a development that changed the modern day as we know it today. While audiobooks and kindles have gained prominence, it didn't change the way that people thought — as the printing press did.
5. Gin and Tonic. Craftily created around 1825 by British soldiers, the gin and tonic is a staple at restaurants and bars worldwide. The soldiers who initially thought of the idea were stationed in India, where they were trying to quench their thirst and improve the taste of their malaria medication, which supposedly consisted of concentrated quinine extract. Surprisingly, the cocktail is not considered a superfood with the likes of kale and quinoa — after all, it managed to fight malaria, and perhaps may even address scurvy, with the simple addition of lime juice and twist!