By Michelle J. Hoppe

As we stand on the brink of a new millenium, we can only wonder at what the future will bring after all that has passed in the former millenium. They say necessity is the mother of invention. But add in some dreams, some inspirations and some aspirations, and it is easy to see that this world will be amazingly different a mere fifty years from now, much less 1000 years. So I leave you with your dreams. And I leave you with some amazing facts. And I leave you wondering what the world would be like if these inventions hadn't come about.  

How could we ever live without . . . The following inventions have become so commonplace, it is difficult to imagine life without them. And yet, there was life before the toothbrush. In fact, America was discovered before toothbrushes. And 1000 years from now, don't you wonder what people will be marveling at? What will be invented in 2498 that our millenium counterparts can't live without?

  • The Chinese invented the toothbrush in 1498. So why did it take Beecham's until 1892 to market the first toothpaste in a tube?
  • Chocolate was imported to Spain from Mexico in 1520, then to Italy in 1606, and France in 1660. The English had been drinking chocolate since 1657.
  • Sulphur matches were first mentioned in England in 1530. Is it any wonder Life Insurance policies followed in 1583?
  • The first graphite pencils were made in 1584. No mention is made as to whether they were No. 2 Pencils.
  • The first jeans were made by Levi Strauss in 1850. Rivets were added in 1874 so the pockets carrying all those rock specimens could hold up better.
  • The first regular manufacture of perambulators began in London in 1850.
  • D.M. Smith of Springfield Vermont patented the spring clothespin in 1853.
  • Heinrich Goebel invented the first form of the electric light bulb in 1854. And parents have been after their children ever since then to turn them off when leaving a room.


Can you believe it has been around this long . . . Some innovations have become so much a part of our everyday lives, that it is difficult to believe they have been around for centuries. Does it really seem plausible for something invented 400 years ago to still be in use today? Here is just a sampling.

  • The first Life Insurance policy was taken out on June 18, 1583 by London Alderman Richard Martin.
  • The first deaf mute to learn to read lips was Luis de Velasco in 1615.
  • The first submarine was built in London by the Dutch physicist Cornelius Drebbel in 1624. So if the sandwich was invented in 1762, when was the first submarine sandwich made?
  • Ice cream was a popular dessert in Paris by 1677. Do you suppose mint chocolate-chip was available back then?
  • The first weather forecasts appeared in the May 14, 1692 issue of A Collection for the Improvement of Husbandry and Trade. Based on previous year's records, they were neither scientific nor accurate. Has much changed over the years?
  • Joseph Merlin, a musical-instrument maker, wore the first roller skates to a masquerade in 1760. Too bad violins and roller-skates don't mix. Especially with mirrors.
  • The first reference to a jigsaw puzzle was in London in 1763, by John Spilsbury.
  • The first Traveler's Checks were issued by the London Exchange Banking Co. on January 1, 1772. I wonder if they were used to pay for holiday expenses?
  • A dry-cleaning process was discovered by M. Jolly-Bellin of Paris in 1849. Leave it to a woman to devise an easy way to clean clothes.
  • The first literary agency was founded in London by A.P. Watt in 1875. Do you think they represented romance?
  • Mrs. W.A. Cockran perfected the first dishwashing machine in 1889. Again, a woman had to think of this.


It seems like this has been around forever, but it's only been . . . On the other side of the coin are things which have become so much a part of everyday life, that we think they must have been around since the last millenium. Think again. Here are some things we encounter almost everyday, yet they've only been around for a century or so.

  • Tea was first drunk in England in 1650. Yet, the first tea shop didn't open there until 1884. Can you imagine an England without tea?
  • The rolltop desk was devised by Abner Cutler of Buffalo, New York in 1850. Somebody had to devise a way to hide all that clutter when company came calling.
  • The Teddy Bear, named after President Theodore Roosevelt, was created in 1902.
  • Nabisco introduced Oreo cookies in 1911. What is life without Oreo cookies?
  • Zipper fastenings were first used on women's dresses in 1930. How long do you suppose it took a man to learn how to unzip the fastening?
  • Tamper-proof (and often impossible to open) packaging for non-prescription drugs began in 1982.

And so it goes as we wait for the dawning of a new millenium, and the dawning of a new life.

For more on discoveries and inventions, I suggest the following references:

The Book of Firsts by Patrick Robertson, Clarkson N. Potter, Inc., 1974

Domestic Technology by Nell DuVall, G.K. Hall & Co., 1988

The Timetables of History by Bernard Grun, Simon & Schuster, 1991

Some are available for purchase in our on-line bookstore in the non-fiction section.

Also see the Researching the Romance page of Literary Liaisons for more suggestions.

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Copyright 2000, M. Hoppe


Copyright 1999, M. Hoppe