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Toy Trains, Post-it Notes and the Art of Thinking Outside the Box

While interacting with the world around us, it’s sometimes easy to forget that the products we use and enjoy were first created in the mind of an inventor. From the phone or computer screen you’re using to read this blog, to the bed that you will later fall asleep in, our day-to-day lives are shaped in large part by the contributions of individuals who believed they could create something that would benefit others.


Innovative Model Trains

Often, inventors must think outside the box to transform an idea into reality. Take National Inventors Hall of Fame® (NIHF) Inductee Joshua Lionel Cowen, for example. After spending many years experimenting with different uses for electrical current, he envisioned using a small electric motor to move a miniature train around a set of handmade tracks. He pitched his idea to a local toy store and the owner ordered several sets. By 1906, Cowen began selling preassembled track and an assortment of model trains, later marketed as Lionel trains.


The Success of the Post-it Note

In 1968, when Hall of Famer Spencer Silver was working as a research chemist at 3M, he discovered a reusable acrylic adhesive that had unique properties. Though at first he had a difficult time convincing others of the potential of his discovery, that all changed in 1974 when he met chemical engineer and fellow NIHF Inductee Art Fry, who was looking to develop new products. By thinking creatively, Fry realized that Silver’s adhesive could keep the paper bookmarks in his hymnal from falling out while singing in church. Because the adhesive was gentle enough to prevent the pages from tearing, the two realized the potential real-world use of Silver’s formula.  In 1980, 3M began selling Post-it® Notes nationally and the product became a runaway success. Billions are now sold across the world each year.


Encourage Your Child to Think Outside the Box

Invite your child to think outside the box by challenging them to develop creative solutions to common problems they encounter on a day-to-day basis. Perhaps they could invent a robot that helps keep their room clean or a toothbrush that could brush their teeth for them.

If your child likes video games, they’ll love our free hands-on STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) activity, Outside-the-Box Thinking! By following the steps, they can design, invent and pitch their own video game console. Plus, they can try recreating their favorite video game in real life and writing a short story or graphic novel about video game characters they find relatable.


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