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Most of us have at some point in our lives dreamt of inventing something, an invention that could change the world. But then every time you come up with something incredibly clever, you realise that, actually, it already exists. Does this sound familiar?
Yet, there are some inventions that break through the barrier and change the lives of people around the world. And these world-changing inventions are not only big things like the computer, the car, or the train that we often talk about, but they can be the very small things you use every day without thinking about them – nor about the inventor behind them.
This invention takes us back to 1844, and although matches may invoke images of American cowboy movies and the Wild West, their history takes us to the mountains of Sweden.
These days, you may know them best simply as matches – the ”safety” part is left off (despite matches becoming safer over the years).
So then, who is this Swede who invented the match? It’s a bit of a trick question: the idea man behind the match, Gustav Pasch, did not earn as much as one would think, as he did not have the equity to develop it himself.
Instead, the brothers Carl Frans and Johan Edvard Lundstrøm stole the invention. And this meant that Gustav Pasch did not make a single penny, while the brothers got the lion's share. Today, the company is called Swedish Match, and it is the biggest producer of matches in the world, with an annual turnover of more than 1 billion USD.
Thus, Gustav really missed out on a good chunk of money.
So, if you cannot invent a revolutionary idea on your own, you could always do what these brothers did – steal, steal, steal.
Oh, certainly this is the ballpoint pen we all love. This is not an invention we take for granted! And the Hungarian inventor, Lazlo Biro, thought the same. Back in the 1940’s, the very delicate but prestigious fountain pen was at its peak of popularity, and Biro could no longer contain his idea to create a cheap ballpoint pen that was disposable. The invention quickly made most of the people in Europe bounce off the walls in excitement!
The cheap ballpoint pen made Laszlo Biro one of Europe’s richest men, and after more than a century, the company has an annual turnover of 1 billion USD.
With the disposable ballpoint pen as its charge, there’s no more to say than that the sales are exponentially increasing, and in 2005, they had sold over 100 billion ballpoint pens!
You can get pretty far with plastic and ink!
The little paper clip has immense potential: in contrast to its size, it can manage a thick stack of paper, and you can’t find one office today without a collection of bunches of paper clips. However, the paperclip has existed long before the modern office buildings we have today, as we can track it all the way back to the 1890’s in England.
Whether it had the same purpose at that time is unknown, but one thing is sure – with an annual profit of more than 75 million USD, it is safe to say that the paper clip is able to do something special!
There’s no party without ice cubes – that must be the first entry in the party rulebook. Ice cube trays are just too impractical, unless you have a huge freezer where they can be placed at the right angle, without any vegetable bags, meat or any other frozen goods in the trays.
The solution: The ice cube bag.
One would think that this invention would have happened in the sunny Mediterranean countries where ice cubes are as important as sunscreen, but we actually have to go north to find the creator of this invention.
The Dane, Erling Nielsen, is, in fact, the man behind the idea of ice cube bags, which originated in 1976. The first bags were sold in 1978 and just 10 years later, the success was not to be ignored. In 1989, a company named Schur bought all rights for the practical bag, and today they have sold more than 4 million of this kind.
We are not sure exactly how much the Dane made from the ice cube bags, but four zeros in the cheque is probably not enough!
The small pill with great powers. We can guarantee that you have heard about this kind of drug – although today the calendar shows 2019 and the chemical was produced for the first time no later than 1853. It is also said that when the French man Charles Gerhart discovered acetylsalicylic acid, he was not aware of how great of an invention he had in front of him, and that we believe!
It was not until 1989 that the big pharmaceutical company, Bayer, found out that the chemical was pain-relieving; hence, it was many years after Gerhard was no longer with us.
There are no doubts that this pill would have been exactly the right invention if one would like to earn some money – and at the same time be pain-free!
The tiny chocolate buttons have to be one of the tastiest things in the world, and they have also managed to earn a handsome sum of money.
The tiny, colourful bandits are actually some of the highest selling candies – and for the company, Mars Inc. that invented M&M’s, they have brought great success.
And that says a lot when the competitors are treats such as Mars, Snickers, Twix and Milky Way.
The American inventor Forrest Mars is not with us anymore, but each of his three children are worth around 14 billion USD, and as they still own the company, which has an annual profit of 22 billion USD. Their bank accounts are the closest thing to what we could call bottomless.
We are not sure whether Tetra Pak sounds familiar to your ears, but if you have ever drank milk from a carton, then you can thank Tetra Pak.
We are travelling one more time back to the Swedish landscape to find the inventor. In 1944, the Swedish man, Erik Wallenberg had a great idea. Unfortunately, he was only a small cog in a large machine, namely, the company Åkerlund & Rausing, which later changed its name to Tetra Laval.
So, it was actually not Erik Wallenberg who has earned the many billions from the smart product for milk storage; the Rausings got to deposit the money to their account.
We don’t know if the Swedes like to be scammed, or if they just are sneaky, but we can see a pattern among the blue and yellow Swedes.
If you read this on your work PC, there might be a yellow post-it staring at you. It is namely on work computers where these small yellow notes hang and make us feel guilty for things we haven’t done yet.
Post-it notes were developed in 1974, and more than anything, they were a random coincidence.
It was actually in an attempt to invent a superglue that Arthur Fry and Spencer Silver discovered the piece of sticking paper.
Silver invented the glue, and Fry splashed it onto a piece of paper: voilà, the post-it became a reality.
We don’t know exactly how much money the detachable sticky note made, but the company behind it has collected a profit of 21 billion USD yearly – and in spite of also being the owner of Scotch Tape, they have announced that most of their income is coming from the small piece of paper with weak glue.
It’s easy as that – something that seems completely silly can be lifechanging both for you and the rest of the world!
Believe it or not, but we have saved the best one for last.
The next invention is, in fact, one of the most famous brands in the whole world – and we perfectly understand!
The block that changed playing for ever: the LEGO block. The tiny plastic block that can stack to build big monuments, gigantic ships, etc. is as of today, the sixth most- known brand in the world and is only surpassed by gigantic brands, such as Coca Cola and Disney.
The Danish family behind the toy has a fortune of more than 7 billion USD today.
So even if the blocks originate from all the way back in the 1950’s, their popularity increases every single year, and there are not many homes today where you don’t have to worry about stepping on the itty-bitty toy pieces.
And that was it! 9 little inventions that fill more of the daily life than you would expect and have managed to cash in vast amounts of banknotes.
Have you found inspiration for what your next invention should be?
Emil uses his expertise to make a difference in the financial sector. He studied at the University of Southern Denmark and has been General Manager at Intelligent Banker since 2013, where he has helped more than 500,000 users from all over the world with their financial needs.