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EUREKA
CELEBRATE ALL THOSE LITTLE INVENTIONS THAT MAKE LIFE EASIER

Imagine a kitchen without paper towels. A yard without a garden hose. And a den without a television remote or La-Z-Boy.

While these and other everyday objects may not rank up there with indoor plumbing, central heating, electric lights and other great inventions of all time, they certainly make life around the house more convenient.

As the 20th century comes to a close, what better time to applaud the simple things that someone took the time to invent?

Even if they did so entirely by accident.

The following is a look at some of the ordinary but handy items that have landed on our doorsteps over the past 100 years or so.

What would we do without them?

Information came from "Panati's Extraordinary Origins of Everyday Things" by Charles Panati (Harper & Row), "The Origins of Everyday Things" (Reader's Digest), assorted product histories published on company Websites and other sources.

Paper towels. We can thank a factory goof-up in 1907 for this one. It appears that one of the large rolls of paper routinely delivered from a mill to the Scott Paper Co. arrived too heavy and wrinkled to be cut down to bathroom tissue size, as was the norm.

"Unfit for bathroom tissues, the product was scheduled to be returned when a member of the Scott family suggested perforating the thick paper into small towel-size sheets," writes Panati in his book.

Initially, Sani-Towels, as they were called, were used in classrooms and public restrooms. Eventually, homemakers scooped them up. The name was changed to ScotTowels in 1931; a roll of 200 sheets sold for 25 cents.

The garden hose. Although garden hoses made from fabric tubes date back to the 1400s, rubber hoses didn't appear until more than 400 years later.

Benjamin Franklin Goodrich, a physician and rubber industrialist, was one man who envisioned an easier way to tend to lawns and flower beds than hauling around water in containers.

After starting the B.F. Goodrich Co., in Akron, Ohio, in 1870, he began producing rubber garden hoses, as well as hoses for fire-fighters.

In 1871, the garden sprinkler was patented -- by J. Lessler, of Buffalo, according to Reader's Digest.

The La-Z-Boy chair. It began as a reclining wooden lawn chair sometime after 1927, when cousins Edward Knabusch and Edwin Shoemaker set up a handcrafted furniture business in a small garage in Michigan.

People sat up and took notice. The young men built a factory and, two years later, they added upholstery to their recliner.

They named it La-Z-Boy -- after much deliberation, no doubt.

Tupperware. It's become a household word, but the handy containers that seal with a burp began as an experiment in the 1930s by inventor Earl Tupper of Berlin, N.H.

Tupper, who manufactured plastic gas mask parts during World War II, later began molding polyethylene -- a soft and pliant plastic -- into food containers.

His products featured a unique, airtight seal that protected food from the drying air of refrigerators.

Initially, he sold his line to department stores, but it was the in-home sales parties -- launched in the late '40s and fueled by flamboyant saleswoman/single mom Brownie Wise -- that made the Tupperware name famous.

Patterned sheets. TeleTubbies have not always danced over bed sheets. It wasn't until the 1940s that things started shaking in the textile and printing industries, with new innovations enabling colored and patterned sheets to be mass-produced.

Safety pin. Although a version appeared in ancient times, the safety pin was reinvented in 1849 by Walter Hunt. He was twisting pieces of wire, and the rest is history.

Television remote. The first TV remote was developed in 1950 by Zenith. Its name was Lazy Bones. It was wired -- a cable ran from the TV set to the viewer -- so people, of course, kept tripping over the cord.

The first wireless remote was introduced about five years later.

Stainless steel flatware. It's tough enough getting the kids to clear the table. Imagine asking them to help keep the silverware polished.

Before stainless steel was invented some time around 1913, polishing was what people had to do. Flatware was made of carbon and steel, which discolored. .

Stainless steel changed all that. Rust-free knives were introduced in 1921. Stainless steel flatware took off on tabletops in the years after that.

Pop-up toaster. While electric toasters appeared after the turn of the century, the pop-up toaster -- invented by Charles Strite in 1919 for commercial purposes -- did not debut in the home until about 1926.

Strite used a clockwork timer to turn off the current and spring-release the toast.

Not surprisingly, it was not perfect. Toasters still aren't perfect. But at least they still pop up.

Laundry detergent. It's hard to believe that laundry soaps, so convenient today in their liquid form, were totally flaky until 50-some-odd years ago.

This was not good. Powdered soap flakes were not ideal, neither sudsing nor rinsing well.

So just about the time that automatic washing machines became popular, replacing wringer-washers, detergents arrived. These were formulated differently than soaps and performed better.

Tide made its debut in 1946.

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