Iowa is famous for its charming little towns and farms, home to beautiful rolling hills and scenic prairies. But Iowa is also home to a strong entrepreneurial spirit that we find on the farms and fields as well as in the cities. Innovative Iowans have given us everything from trampolines and Pinterest to enjoy in our free time, to tractors and other technology that fuels our careers.
Here are some of the many great inventions coming out of the state.
Trampolining is a favorite pastime for kids and adults alike and is gravity defying fun, and we have Iowa to thank for all of our trampoline memories! A native of Cedar Rapids, George F. Nissen was the child of circus performers and had a penchant for tumbling and acrobatics. He wanted to share this joy with everyone and created his first trampoline prototype in 1931. In 1940 he manufactured and sold them full-time and finally opened a factory in 1947. He continued to make trampolines at the factory until the 1980s, when he sold the business.
The gas powered tractor
The history of the petrol-powered tractor goes back further than one might think. 1892, farmer John Froelich had an idea for a more efficient tractor engine. Steam-powered threshing machines were common at the time, but Froelich felt that gasoline would get the crops done faster. Working with blacksmith Will Mann, they built a simple single-cylinder engine to power their work. They immediately attracted interest from businessmen, but had problems getting the tractor into production themselves. It would take years of experimentation to perfect, but the company founded on his invention would eventually sell its gas-powered tractors to farmers far and wide.
In the 1930s, FA Wittern of Des Moines had a dream of building a machine capable of giving change back to customers. His company, Hawkeye Novelty, began with machines dispensing peanuts before switching to FAWN (an acronym of his initials) in the 1940s and expanding its offerings. Over the years, his simple peanut vending machine has morphed into vending machines of all kinds, from cigarettes and drinks to snacks and merchandising equipment. The company, although now renamed, still makes vending machines in Iowa today.
Many of us fondly remember an Eskimo pie on a hot summer day, but did you know we have an Iowa immigrant to thank for these warm-weather treats? In the small town of Onawa, the Dutch emigrant Christian Kent Nelson worked as a school teacher in 1920 and ran an ice cream parlor in the summer. Someday, the indecisiveness of a customer drove Nelson’s innovation. A little boy walked in and, torn between chocolate and ice cream, finally had to choose between just one. Nelson wondered why the two couldn’t be put together, so he began testing recipes. The Eskimo Pie was born and with it many beautiful summer memories.
The frozen ready-to-eat confection revolutionized the dessert and frozen food industry by opening up a world of possibilities for manufacturers. Many of the chocolate-covered frozen desserts we enjoy today can trace their roots to this snack.
Otto Frederick Rodwedder was born in Davenport, Iowa, and while he was a jeweler by day, his true passion was invention, and he spent his evenings tinkering and building. Eventually he created a promising prototype of an automatic bread slicer and sold his jewelry stores to fund its production. However, tragedy struck in 1917 and a fire destroyed his blueprints and prototypes, setting him back years. Eventually, however, he invented and marketed the bread slicer, and while he lived in Missouri at the time, Iowans often claim the invention because of his strong roots in the state. Thanks Rodwedderwe can now buy a wide range of sliced bread in the grocery store.
The invention of computers has a long, varied history, but an important part of that history took place at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa. There, between 1939 and 1942, the first digital electronic computer was produced by Professor John Vincent Atanasoff and graduate student Clifford Berry. Although both moved to other projects during World War II, their innovation laid the foundation for the development of computers today.
Ben Silberman, who grew up in Des Moines, invented Pinterest on Thanksgiving Day 2009. Before Pinterest, we didn’t have an easy way to create online bulletin boards, often referred to as mood or vision boards, that highlight different images, goals, and ideas. Pinterest allowed us to group links, images and more by category so they were easy to find. It took a while for the site to launch, but once people found it, it was a smash hitand is still an important part of our online culture today.
8. The helicopter
Iowan August Werner dreamed of being the first to build an airplane that could carry the weight of a pilot and a passenger. In secret, he began working on his plans before he and a passenger took off July 4, 1886. While his helicopter flew no more than a few feet in the air before the crash, he laid the groundwork for a successful future helicopter design — and he did so 17 years before the Wright brothers first flew at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina !
by Julia Skinner