Common Inventions with Uncommon Beginnings

Inventions come in all shapes and sizes and spring forth from some very unique situations. Sometimes, the most common things that we know and use today are born from interesting origins.

Behind every invention is a creative mind and today, we wanted to take a look at some of these inventions and their beginnings!

Green Bean Casserole– Every Thanksgiving, amongst the juicy turkey and all the fixings is usually a delicious dish called green bean casserole. Although you might have thought that some grandma years and years ago invented the recipe, you might be surprised at its real origin. In 1955, the Campbell Soup Company created this famous recipe to help improve the dwindling sales of their Cream of Mushroom soup. We think that it’s safe to say that their recipe invention has definitely bolstered the sales!

Santa Claus– Who wears a red suit, has a snow white beard and is busy around the month of December? If you guessed Santa Claus, you are correct! But, did you know that prior to the 1930s, Santa was depicted more like a bishop than the playful, jolly man that we know today? In 1931, Archie Lee, from the D’Arcy Advertising Agency was working with Coca-Cola in order to create a campaign that would show a wholesome Santa who was both realistic and symbolic. So, they hired Michigan-born illustrator Haddon Sundblom to invent advertising images using Santa Claus.  Inspirations for these images were taken from Clement Clark Moore’s 1822 poem A Visit From St. Nicholas. Although some people believe that Santa wears a red coat because red is the color of Coca-Cola, Santa appeared in a red coat prior to Sundblom paining him. These re-invented paintings debuted in 1931 in Coke ads in The Saturday Evening Post as well as in Ladies Home Journal, National Geographic, The New Yorker and others! The ad was paired with the slogan, The Pause that Refreshes. These ads re-invented the way that we know Santa, today!

Boxed Cake Mix- You can have your boxed cake mix and eat it too! Sometimes, there is nothing quite like a slice of delicious cake. However, the idea behind the invention of boxed cake is a little unclear. Two invention stories swirl around, one of which was that they were an invention that came after World War II when companies had too much flour. Another story that surrounds this invention is that boxed cake mixes were invented in the 1930s when a Pittsburgh company (our hometown!) P. Duff and Sons had too much molasses. On December 10, 1930, John D. Duff applied for a patent for an “invention [that] relates to a dehydrated flour for use in making pastry products and to a process of making the same.” The first Duff baking-mix patent was granted on October 24, 1933, but, by that time, the Duff Company had already been perfecting their formula. By June 13, 1933, the company informed the U.S. Patent Office that they had made a major update to their invention, which is perhaps the biggest in cake-mix history- a cake mix that required the home baker to add fresh eggs. To this day, sometimes all that you need is a slice of cake and the idea of boxed cake mix is still serving up a slice of invention history!

Although these inventions span a wide range from green bean casserole to boxed cake mix, all the way to jolly old St. Nick, these inventions show that although they are common and we may not take a second glance at them, their initial ideas came from curious situations!

But, as we always say, the invention world never stops and as we speak, invention ideas are sprouting from interesting situations!

Copyright Davison 2014



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This Inventor’s “Wheel” Was Turning

You’ve seen them at local fairs and amusement parks and the largest in the world is set to be built by New Year’s Eve, 2015. At 688 feet, the Dubai Eye will be the largest Ferris wheel in the world.

As summer winds down, there is still plenty of time for families to enjoy themselves at local amusement parks and fairs, and more times than not, the Ferris wheel is the most popular attraction.

Inventor, George Washington Gale Ferris Jr., was a graduate of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and was a Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania bridge-builder.

Ferris understood the growing need for structural steel and founded G.W.G Ferris & Co. in Pittsburgh; this firm tested and inspected metals that were used for railroads and bridge builders.

Ferris was an ambitious inventor and had an idea to invent a structure that rivaled the unveiling of the Eiffel Tower, at the Paris Exhibition of 1889.

He began drafting plans for an “observation wheel,” which he had hoped would appear at the World’s Columbian Exhibition in 1893.

The Observation Wheel also was referred to as the Chicago Wheel and stood at 264 feet and was the largest attraction at the World’s Columbian Exposition, where it was opened to the public on June 21, 1893.

The wheel rotated around an 89,320-pound axle that was manufactured by the Bethlehem Steel Company of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The structure could accommodate 2,160 passengers at one time.

In order to turn the giant wheel, Ferris created a power plant with two, 1,000-horsepower reversible engines. One was the primary power and the other acted as an emergency backup. Both were connected to a 20,000-pound sprocket chain that turned the wheel.

Although Ferris can be credited with inventing the Ferris wheel, he did not, however, invent the concept of the wheel.  In fact, the vertical passenger-carrying wheels had been around for more than 200 years.

William Somers received the first U.S. patent for the “Roundabout” in 1893, of which he created three wooden, fifty-foot wheels in 1892 at Asbury Park and Atlantic City, N.J. and Coney Island, N.Y.

Ferris, however, was the first person to build one in steel and on such a massive scale. This feat set the example for amusement park designers. Unfortunately, he found that he was the target of an array of patent infringement lawsuits. Ferris managed to ward them off, but he died a few years later in 1896 at the age of 37.

Although Ferris died at a young age, this inventor’s idea to outshine the unveiling of the Eiffel Tower has endured and has become a favorite at local fairs and amusement parks around the world.

Copyright Davison 2013







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Sharing Well “D”eserved Community Thanks

Often times, we share community events, fundraisers and benefits that we think you may be interested in helping with. And, just as often, the Davison Team comes together and makes incredible contributions to support the various causes.

walk to defeat als davison contribution

Most recently, our team pulled together in less than two weeks to donate toys for the 2012 Marines’ Toys for Tots drive. Thanks to our efforts, nearly 224 children were able to receive holiday gifts this season.

We’ve also just received two awesome “thank you’s” from a couple other causes we contributed to last year. And, we were so moved by the thanks, we just had to share.

Last September, Mr. Davison supported the Walk to Defeat ALS®. Walk organizers were more than grateful for the donation:

“Mr. Davison & Inventionland Crew,

Thank you very much for your generous support of the Pittsburgh Walk to Defeat ALS! Enclosed is a thank you video with scenes of Walk Day, thank you cards from some family members and walk t-shirts for the staff. This is just a small token of our great appreciation of your support! We also enclosed information about the 2013 Walk. We hope to work with you again on this great event.

With heartfelt thanks,
Jenni Franz

Another community project, the Aspinwall Riverfront Park Project, sought our help so that they could even keep their mission alive. Their “thank you” gesture was absolutely moving!

davison supports aspinwall marina pittsburgh

Mr Davison,

Thank you for your support and [for bringing] such creativity into the world.

“In 2011, when we decided to purchase the Aspinwall Marina to turn it into a park, many thought it impossible. Simply put, the odds were not in our favor. The facts were: the sale was complex, large and sophisticated companies had tried to buy the property and failed, and last, but not least, $2.3 million would need to be raised in a matter of months. Chances were that a small, grassroots effort, backed by the Fox Chapel District Association and Friends of the Riverfront, would be able to pull it off “when pigs fly.”

As I write to you, it’s been a little over a year since our community proved that we have what it takes to make pigs fly. Once again, what we’re trying to achieve seems entirely unrealistic to some. The odds are challenging. It takes most communities ten years to build a park – and we don’t intend to build the average park. The deadlines we have now are ones we put on ourselves. Our model isn’t typical. Instead of relying on taxpayers, we’re building an endowment and healthy business that will pay for the park’s upkeep (and we’re doing this at the same time we’re trying to build the park no less). The economy is sluggish. We all have many important things competing for our time, money and attention.

davison supports aspinwall marina pittsburghBut, like you, we believe in possibility. And, big audacious goals. And, the potential to create something wonderful and lasting. When I look in the eyes of the kids who mowed lawns and sold lemonade, the hundreds of volunteers this year who planned parties, planted flowers, and removed thousands of pounds of concrete, weeds and garbage from the property – it’s crystal clear that our work is even more important this time around. We need to build Aspinwall Riverfront Park, so that kids who worked so hard can enjoy it while they are still kids. Our goal is to have some portion of the park open to the public by the end of 2013. We’re looking forward to working with you to reach it.

It’s the greatest privilege to be part of something that will be a permanent gift to this generation and the ones to come. Thank you for your on-going support that makes what seems impossible possible.

With gratitude and our best wishes for the happiest of holidays,
Susan Crookston and the Board of Aspinwall Riverfront Park (Davitt, Chip, Kevin, Tim, Trish, Tim, Scott)


Thank you to all members of the Davison Team who so willingly contribute to these great community causes! Keep up the great work!

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Medical Innovation: Pig’s Bladder Regrows Muscle of Wounded Marine

Ronald StrangRonald Strang was serving in Afghanistan with the Marines when an explosion took half of his left thigh muscle.

Now, the 28-year-old from Pittsburgh, Pa., has grown back 10 percent of the lost muscle and is running again, thanks to cells from a pig’s bladder.

To regrow Strang’s muscle, surgeons implanted an extracellular matrix, a type of “cell glue,” which includes the growth proteins from the cells of bladder.

“If you take the bladder or small intestine and scrape away all the cells, what you’re left with is structural tissue, like collagen, and functional molecules, such as growth factors. There are literally hundreds of these proteins, all housed in the ECM. They instruct cells on how to behave — whether to multiply or migrate or differentiate into different types of cells. They tell cells at the site of a wound what to do. Equally important, they recruit cells to the wound site that wouldn’t normally be there, such as stem cells. I wouldn’t be smart enough to put them all together, but I can harvest what nature has done,” explains Stephen Badylak of the McGowan Institute.

Strang was struggling with a cane for about a year and a half before he heard about the possibility of re-growing his muscle from pig bladder.

“It was amazing to hear that this was even possible and that this could help me re-grow some muscle. That really excited me to the impact this study will have on so many people, especially since there was nothing else that could be done, and I would be stuck using a cane for the rest of my life,” Strang tells us.

The procedure took less than a week, and Strang said he felt almost immediate improvement.

“I was admitted to the hospital for four days — the first being the surgery. They put me under anesthesia and cut open through the scar on my leg, peeled back the skin and scar tissue and put the ECM in against some muscle that was left.”

“When they put the ECM in, it was attached to a small amount of muscle by my hip and to the rest of the quad above my knee. This gave a connection to the muscles and gave me immediate improvement. It took about a month to notice any strength increase.”

Strang is once again able to enjoy some flag football as well as the freedom of unencumbered movement that most of us take for granted. Strang’s journey is a great example of an admirable story and fantastic science.

Stephen Badylak is Deputy Director, DVM, PhD, MD, Professor in the University of Pittsburgh Department of Surgery and Director of the Center for Pre-Clinical Tissue Engineering within the Institute, which is participating in the study for the U.S. Army Institute for Surgical Research in San Antonio.

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Innovative Bug Repellent Finds “AWAY” into Local Press

Just as we’re about ready to close the books on one of the hottest summers on record, one of the hottest new bug repellents (that Davison helped to develop packaging) has been featured in a local Pittsburgh media outlet!

AWAY Bug Repellent and the company’s founder, Phil Boxwell, (along with Dan Simbeck, Davison’s VP of Business Development and Licensing) were featured in the ”Neighborhoods” section of the Tribune Review’s “Trib LIVE.”

In the article, Boxwell helps tell the story of how AWAY came to be:

A mosquito bite led Phil Boxwell to a new business opportunity that he hopes to expand outside the Pittsburgh area.

While playing golf several years ago, Boxwell, of Aspinwall (suburb of Pittsburgh), was bit by a mosquito. That bite led to a hospital stay and the need to fend off insects. Because of previous medical issues, Boxwell couldn’t use many of the products available.

“I’m really not supposed to be putting any type of chemicals on my skin as in bug repellents,” Boxwell said.

With the help of a friend with a chemistry background, Boxwell began working to develop an alternative. The result, Away Bug Repellent, underwent testing for two summers before it reached local stores last year.

Just like we all hope 2013 takes stinkbugs and other pesky insects AWAY, Boxwell explains how he hopes the year carries AWAY into many major retailers.

Boxwell said he expects to focus on marketing full time during the next year and plans to attend trade shows to promote the products. He expects to spend a good portion of his time getting them in stores nationwide.

“It has to be non-stop, 24/7,” Boxwell said.

Boxwell also explains how part of that non-stop promotion has included enlisting Davison’s help!

Earlier this year, Boxwell began working with Davison in O’Hara Township to better market the product.

Dan Simbeck, of Davison, said the firm’s role will be to help get the product into larger stores.

They have also worked on creating new delivery systems including a door hanger and sticker that gives off the smell.

Congratulations to Boxwell, AWAY and everyone at Davison who has helped launch this innovative repellent to success! Read the entire Trib LIVE article here!


Disclaimer: This client has not realized a net profit on this product. A typical project does not get a royalty agreement, sell in stores or generate a profit.

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Let Your Bowl Runneth Over During National Brownies at Brunch


The marriage of the spoon and cupcake frosting has been one of the naughtiest temptations to capture the hearts and minds of Americans. Then someone had to go and wed brownies to brunch and make it a month-long celebration!

August is National Brownies At Brunch 
Month, and Davison has a love connection of its own to celebrate – brownies and bowls. Licensed by Chicago Metallic, Davison’s Brownie Bowl bakes delicious, fillable brownies, eliminating the messes made by trying to pour milk or scoop ice cream on top of the sweet treats.

christine walker brownie bowlUse the Brownie Bowl to create a never-ending assortment of exciting brownie combinations. One “Love From the Oven” blog reader suggests: “chocolate brownie bowls, filled with a chunky peanut butter frosting, topped with a chocolate drizzle!” Another recommends “a chocolate mousse filling.” But the beauty of this creative bakeware is in the eye of the beholder.

The Brownie Bowl was born out of necessity as inventor Christine Walker tells it. Christine saw her high school boyfriend and his teammates making messes with gigantic cafeteria cookies soaked in milk and knew there had to be a better way.

“I was horrified and thought, ‘I need to put a stop to this,’” Walker says about her boyfriend’s dessert habits. “I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be better in the shape of a bowl?’ That would solve the mess, but still be delicious.”

So treat your Brownie at Brunch guests to an unforgettable smattering of goopy desserts this month without blowing your budget on moist towelettes.



A typical project does not get a royalty agreement, sell in stores or generate a profit.

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Davison Featured in Pittsburgh’s Soul Pitt Quarterly

soul pitt quarterly davison blog


Davison was featured in an article in the summer edition of Soul Pitt Quarterly, Pittsburgh’s Premier Minority A&E Magazine. In the piece, Soul Pitt’s writer (Mimi Gray) spoke with CEO and Founder George Davison, President Frank Vescio, Senior Director of New Products Steve Smith and Director of New Products Hassan Walker to pick their brains about what it takes to be an inventor and to work at Davison.

george davison inventionland soul pitt quarterlyMr. Davison, who admits to Soul Pitt that he’s had inventions that were “total flops,” cautions inventors that creating a product won’t happen overnight. “You have to decide how dedicated you’re going to be. And what kind of effort you’re going to put into your project. Nothing ever goes easy, and you better be prepared for some setbacks along the way. The question is: Are you willing to get back up and keep trying?”

And few know the true meaning of falling off the horse and getting back on like Mr. Davison, who shared a personal story of his own inventing failure with Soul Pitt. Davison spent $30,000 producing a toothbrush sanitizer that he would later find was already on the market. Someone had beaten him to the idea. But he turned that anger and frustration into action and created Inventionland, a one-stop-shop for research, product development and licensing.

Soul Pitt was interested in what kind of people work at Inventionland, so Mr. Davison shared his hiring process for the bounty of creative thinkers, tinkerers, designers and engineers. First, is the creation of new ideas your passion? Second, do you have the talent and skill? Finally, do you possess the ability to follow through with a project?

“People that pursue ideas have a certain amount of trust that they are putting forth saying, ‘I’m trusting you with not only my idea, but my feelings, my morals, lennell parks theraped inventormy spirit and you have the chance to either empower me and inspire me or shoot me down,’” says President Frank Vescio. So Davison procures a supportive staff. “We internally look for those types of individuals that want to help and inspire people,” says Vescio.

Steve Smith emphasized that there are no barriers at Davison. “The diversity here has improved greatly since I started in 2007. If you have the desire, commitment and determination, you can succeed at Davison.”

Mimi Gray, who wrote the article for Soul Pitt (read the entire article), concludes her piece with a call to action. “Dare to Invent, and join the ranks of great African-American inventors like Frederick McKinley Jones, Garret Morgan and Davison’s own Lennell Parks, inventor of the TheraPED.”

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“Dare to Invent” Caps Off Season One with a Twist!

It’s nearly time to say “so long” to season 1 of our innovative “Dare to Invent” webisode series; but, before we send it swirling into history, we’re capping it off with the twisted tale of toilet bolt success!

Tonight’s webisode, the 13th and final episode in the first season of “Dare to Invent,” features Pennsylvania’s own Gary and Ruth Frazer, inventors of the Twister Bolts and Twister Caps, along with our own captivating cast of Inventionland Creationeers.

While she was cleaning her bathroom one afternoon, Ruth became annoyed with the loosely-fitting toilet bolt caps that were easily broken and could get carried away by her grandchildren or pets (like her son’s dog).  After conversing with her husband, Gary, the couple decided to flush away the gross annoyance by taking matters into their own hands.

The Frazer’s designed and patented a new and safer bolt cap that had a little more staying power, but the original designs and patent were simply not going to work.

They had put the cart before the horse and spent money before doing their homework.

After Gary and Ruth learned the hard way, they brought their bathroom-beautifying idea to Davison’s Inventionland, where Mr. Davison and our Creationeers quickly got to work, giving a new twist to the Frazer’s already awesome idea.

Together, the team created a cap that is threaded on the inside and screws directly onto a toilet bolt, to securely fit to a toilet’s base.  Designed with an adapter, Twister Caps easily fit most common sizes of toilet bolts.  The Davison Team even took Gary and Ruth’s idea one step further, with Twister Bolts, which include both the bolt and matching cap.

Although the idea didn’t immediately swirl into success, Twister Caps and Twister Bolts were licensed by Danco and have sold in national home improvement and hardware stores, like Lowe’s, Home Depot and several other major retailers.

Secure a seat and tune in to the season finale tonight at 7:00 p.m. on and and watch Gary and Ruth “Dare to Invent!”


Check out these fun photos from tonight’s twisted tale below!


A typical project does not get a royalty agreement, sell in stores or generate a profit.

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“Dare to Invent” Pours Over the Creation of the Brownie Bowl

dare to invent brownie bowl

Grab a half cup of flour, one cup of water, 2 eggs and lots of creativity!  This week’s all-new “Dare to Invent” episode hits the kitchen to whip up some exciting baking innovation.

dare to invent brownie bowl 2Tonight’s webisode is the twelfth in our 13-episode series and features Christine Walker, inventor of the Brownie Bowl – a delicious dessert solution that enables bakers and chefs to create fill-able brownie, cookie, cake, and bread bowls.

Christine came up with her Brownie Bowl idea in high school, when she witnessed her boyfriend at the time sloppily soaking the cafeteria cookies in milk.

“I was horrified and thought, ‘I need to put a stop to this,’” Walker says about her boyfriend’s dessert habits. “I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be better in the shape of a bowl?’  That would solve the mess, but still be delicious.”

dare to invent brownie bowl christineChristine shared the idea with her mom, but it wasn’t until she moved to New York City to attend performing arts school that she decided to take action!

Around 2008, Christine, a self-proclaimed obsessive baker, had baked a batch of cookies for her personal trainer.  She told him about her “dunked cookie” idea, not realizing that he already had a connection that just might help her out.

“He said, ‘You have to pursue this!’ He had a friend, who had worked with Davison; [so], I was actually referred… and I took his advice,” said Christine.

With the help of the Creationeers at Davison, Walker’s solution for sloppy sweets is now being sold nationally and on Silicone Brownie Bowl Forms were created by Walker to turn already delectable treats into self-contained snack traps.

dare to invent inventioland george davison brownie bowlThe bowls’ silicone design means the forms are able to cook at pretty much any temperature with any recipe, are dishwasher safe and can cook cakes, breads, brownies, muffins, and, of course, cookies evenly every time.

Join us tonight (on and to find out how Christine’s idea morphed from an answer to her ex-boyfriend’s sloppy snacking to a delightful QVC product and baking-blog darling.



Enjoy the photo gallery below from the Brownie Bowl episode!


A typical project does not get a royalty agreement, sell in stores or generate a profit.

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Designing for the Visually Impaired… From Creationeer Extraordinaire, Lucky!

(Courtesy of Team Reveal)
When Dieter Rams set forth his 10 Principles of Good Design, he based them on 20+ years of experience and acclaim in the world of Industrial Design. The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 had not been conceived yet, and during those 20+ years of experience, he never had to consider designing for those that might be impaired in some way, be it mentally or physically. Since most of his principles are based around the visual, what does one do to design with the visually impaired in mind?

According to Lighthouse International, it is estimated that 17% of persons age 45 and older in the United States report some form of vision impairment, representing 16.5 million people. Approximately 21% of people age 65 and over also report some form of vision impairment, or about 7.3 million people. It is estimated that by 2020, that number will rise to 11.3 million. According to the World Health Organization, over 285 million people worldwide are visually impaired (VI). Of those, 39 million people are completely without sight.

(Photograph by Abisag Tüllman, courtesy of Vitsœ)

“Good design makes a product understandable… At best, it is self-explanatory.” – Dieter Rams. For a product to be understandable to someone who is visually impaired, it means something totally different than for someone who has fully functioning eyesight. One major problem for the VI is the ability to see colors. Those who are colorblind cannot distinguish colors the way most people can. They will generally see less contrast, and by lightening the light colors, and darkening the dark colors, its visual accessibility will increase. It also helps to exaggerate lightness differences between foreground and background colors, and avoid using colors of similar lightness next to one another, even if they differ in saturation or hue.

(Courtesy of Lighthouse International)

The ubiquity of smartphones has made accessibility for the VI easier than ever, providing a platform for designers to create tools to assist in everyday tasks, including navigating the digital world. A group of Drexel grads recently created a set of mobile apps design to make life easier for the VI. It started as a college senior project and turned into a set of five apps, backed by research and real world testing with the Overbrook School for the Blind, under the umbrella name VisAssist. Contrastinator uses a smartphone or tablet camera to magnify text, and increase contrast. Another app acts as an overlay for Facebook and Twitter and provides an uncluttered experience that, by using each site’s API, will remain unchanged despite any formatting changes the individual site may undergo. As one of the designers, Nate Bomberger, explains, “They can use these things without having to relearn the user interface every time. For a person who can’t see, that’s important.” The apps also include a customized non-QWERTY keyboard that uses text-to-speech prompts to guide the user to the right letter.

The designers at Team Reveal, in collaboration with PANTONE, have explored how color can redefine or revitalize an object or space with a social cause in mind. In other words, they developed a way for the blind to “see” color. Using a series of raised geometric shapes, Reveal creates an alphabet of color, much like Braille does for letters. Symbols for six basic colors; Yellow, Blue, Red, Orange, Purple, and Green; can be used to convey the color of an object, and modified by symbols for White and Black. Along with Brown, it creates a character set of twenty two colors to establish a color language. These raised symbols, in conjunction with Braille, can be used by packaging designers to denote color on labels, hang tags, and packages. When used in conjunction with a smartphone app, the VI will be able to better make informed decisions about the products they’re purchasing .

The VisAssist apps are available here through Google Play for all Android devices, and for iPhone users, a list of recommended apps for the VI can be found here.


(Photo Source:  Courtesy of Team Reveal)

[Source: Reveal, VisAssist, CBS Philly, Lighthouse International, Vitsœ.]

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