Invention is all around us — from the technology that we use and enjoy each day, to even the food that we eat. The next time that you prepare your child’s lunch, consider sharing with them the contributions of a few of our National Inventors Hall of Fame® (NIHF) Inductees whose work has changed the way food is made, transported and preserved.
George Washington Carver
Contrary to popular belief, 1990 NIHF Inductee George Washington Carver did not invent peanut butter. However, he did develop 325 different uses for peanuts, ranging from cooking oil to ink. Carver is also credited with creating crop-rotation methods for conserving nutrients in the soil and discovering new uses for sweet potatoes and pecans that included using them to enrich depleted soil. When he passed away, Carver donated his life savings to establish a research institute at Tuskegee Institute.
If you have ever seen a crop circle, then you’ve seen the work of 2021 NIHF Inductee Frank Zybach, whose development of the center-pivot irrigation systems transformed the agriculture industry. By providing water to crops in large circular patterns, center-pivot irrigation machines significantly increase the efficiency of growing crops by eliminating waste and helped transform the Great Plains region of the United States into a hub for agriculture. Much of the produce found in the grocery store was produced thanks to Zybach’s invention!
Margaret E. Knight
Inducted into NIHF in 2006, Margaret E. Knight is credited with inventing a machine that could automatically cut, fold and glue flat-bottom paper bags. Previously, flat-bottom bags took upward of 30 people to make, and the process was done at great expense. Knight’s invention allowed this common bag design to be mass manufactured and replace less reliable paper bag designs. Her machine was so revolutionary, an updated version of it was still in use at the end of the 20th century.
2005 NIHF Inductee Clarence Birdseye is credited with increasing the nutritional value of the American diet by providing high-quality foods for long-term preservation without drying, pickling or canning. He was able to do this by developing specialized rapid freezers that allowed food to retain its original flavor and texture. This realization led to the creation of an entirely new industry: frozen foods.
Sylvia Blankenship and Edward Sisler
Together, 2021 NIHF Inductees Sylvia Blankenship and Edward Sisler identified 1-methylcyclopropene (1- MCP), a novel compound that significantly extends the freshness and storage life of fruits and vegetables, as well as cut floral products. Their product, SmartFresh™, was approved for use in the United States in 2002 and today it is used on more than 30 crops, including 50 to 70% of apples harvested in America, to prolong their freshness.
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