The Great Depression, which started in 1929 and lasted for ten years, had a profound impact on almost every area of people’s everyday lives worldwide, with the United States being particularly heavily struck. Families lost their life savings, businesses closed, and unemployment in the US skyrocketed to about 25%. Food became limited in many areas, particularly when the Great Plains experienced a severe drought that resulted in the Dust Bowl agricultural disaster. Innovation was also impacted by this challenging time. Large inventions also assisted in keeping firms and inventors afloat during the lean times. Independent inventors found themselves with less finance, and many enterprises shied away from hazardous endeavors. Certain technologies, like the revolutionary new glue that could fix almost anything, became successful precisely because of the economic crisis. For some, despite the crisis, success arrived. These are five Great Depression-era technologies that continue to influence our daily lives.
A century ago, if someone wanted a sandwich or a slice of toast, they had to get out a bread knife. That changed in 1928 when Otto Rohwedder’s invention—a bread-slicing and wrapping machine—made its premiere at a Chillicothe, Missouri, bakery. The device turned out to be so well-liked that Rohwedder struggled to meet the demand from other bakers. The narrative has a happy conclusion, but as the Great Depression arrived, he was compelled by economic realities to sell his invention to a larger manufacturing business. The inventor was employed by the proprietors as the vice president and sales manager of a newly established division dedicated to his equipment. Wonder Bread began promoting its own sliced bread in 1930, and as the idea gained traction, Rohwedder’s bread-slicer sales skyrocketed, despite Wonder Bread using its own equipment. Eighty percent of bread sales by 1933 were made up of sliced bread. The term “the best thing since sliced bread” was coined to describe the creation, which is still used to laud modern marvels.
Brushes and Stockings Made of Nylon
Prior to the Great Depression, the DuPont Chemical Company ran a program known as “fundamental research,” which involved a group of experts working on expanding scientific understanding as opposed to creating particular projects. However, when the economy soured, the division narrowed its emphasis. Neoprene was created by it, however it wasn’t very helpful at the time. It was also working on synthetic fabrics. They had also worked with rayon, which was only half manufactured and wasn’t a very good replacement for silk. When DuPont created nylon in 1937, it was a very promising development in light of the agricultural difficulties of the time. Nylon was the first completely synthetic fabric that was genuinely useful.In 1938, nylon began to emerge in toothbrushes. At the 1939 New York World’s Fair, DuPont introduced the world to its new fabric as hosiery. About 800,000 pairs of nylon stockings came off the shelves on the first day they were made accessible to the general public. DuPont’s investment in fiber technology during the Great Depression paid off; by 1937, items such as lucite, freon, and neoprene that had not been there before 1929 accounted for 40% of the company’s revenues.
The man who invented Scotch tape, Richard Drew, got his start in the business by making masking tape in his leisure time. Delivering sandpaper samples to automakers during his first lab tech position at 3M (then known as Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing), he overheard auto painter complaints about their homemade masking solutions and made the decision to create the ideal tape. He started working on it at 3M, but he finished it at home after receiving a reprimand and being ordered to get back to work. Eventually, in 1925, Drew received a significant promotion after creating his masking tape out of crepe paper, cabinetmaker’s glue, and glycerin.Soon after, he became aware of another industrial issue: bakeries were employing freshly developed cellophane for packaging, but they lacked an eye-catching seal to go with it. Drew then began playing around with a transparent tape. He had to create a new kind of glue since the ones he used on the masking tape became brown and prevented the tape from remaining clear. The end product was a cellophane tape with rubber, resin, and oil-based adhesive. According to legend, the nickname “Scotch tape” originated from an early iteration of Drew’s masking tape that only had adhesion on the edges. This led an auto painter to inquire as to why Drew was so “Scotch,” a colloquial epithet that disparages Scottish people. When Scotch tape first came out in 1930, just at the beginning of the Great Depression, it was a much-needed product as more and more homes had to become inventive and frugal in order to live. Scotch tape was utilized for a variety of purposes by people, such as sealing milk bottles, patching garments, and even fixing cracked eggs.
Chocolate Chip Cookies from Toll House
A Massachusetts cook called Ruth Wakefield decided to take a big risk in August 1930, during the early days of the Great Depression, and pursue her ambition of founding an inn and restaurant. At initially, it was hit or miss. In the first month of the Toll House Inn, there was only $10 left over, or slightly more than $180 today. However, the company had become so well-known by the end of the year that it required 12 staff members to meet demand. Against all odds, Wakefield had to enlarge the inn at the end of the Depression to accommodate about 1,000 diners every day. Comfort food for drivers on a congested route, together with complimentary second helpings, proved to be a winning tactic.Wakefield discovered a recipe that was popular with diners at the Toll House Inn, and it is widely acknowledged that this is how the chocolate chip cookie was invented. The cookie, which was first offered as an ice cream topping rather than as a meal on its own, turned become the restaurant’s most popular invention. Wakefield was featured in publications and radio programs discussing the popular dessert. It was once known as the “Toll House cookie” or the “chocolate crunch cookie.” Around 1939, the recipe was changed to “chocolate chip cookie” since it required actually chipping the chocolate off the bar.Speaking of chocolate chipping, Wakefield gave Nestle permission to utilize his recipe, and soon after, the cookie began showing up in advertisements. It became so well-liked that it began to have an impact on new product development. Nestle first introduced a semisweet chocolate bar that was divided into 160 pieces. The business then introduced their “morsel” chips, or chocolate chips as we know them today, in 1940.
Paul Galvin and his brother Joseph co-founded a radio components manufacturing firm in 1928. Galvin had to act quickly to rescue his firm since homes stopped purchasing non-essential products like radios when the Depression struck. Observing that people had become dependent on their cars and that car sales had not decreased, he reasoned that creating an automobile radio may be a wise venture. (Previous attempts at car radios by other businesses failed because they were too costly and inconvenient to be commercially successful.) Galvin and his crew installed the new radio on his automobile and traveled all the way from Chicago to Atlantic City, New Jersey, to attend the 1930 Radio Manufacturers Association Convention, after settling on a strong design at a price that would really sell. They simply parked the car and turned on the radio—they didn’t even grab a booth. Though it may seem paradoxical that a high-end accessory would flourish at a period of severe financial difficulty, car radio sales surged. The crew named its radio the Motorola, and in due course, their business adopted the same moniker.