St. Louis’ Long History of Invention

    St. Louis is no stranger to invention. The ice cream cone, toasted ravioli, provel cheese, gooey butter cake – we’ve heard of the city’s most famous food inventions. But St. Louis, and the state we reside in, can claim many more – iced tea and 7up were both invented in St. Louis – as well as more impressive inventions.

    Susan Elizabeth Blow opened the first Kindergarten in Des Peres School in 1873. Blow directed and taught a class of forty-two students – all paid from her own pocket. About 150 women volunteered to work at Blow’s kindergartens between 1876-1877.

    Annie Turnbo Malone moved to St. Louis in 1902, and the skilled chemist quickly became a millionaire by developing and marketing hair products for black women. She donated most of her wealth – particularly to causes that advanced the African American community in St. Louis.

    In 1885, George C. Hale invented a new type of suspenders for firemen that were treated with a fireproof chemical. They were intended to allow a firefighter to retrieve a rope from the ground so they could lower themselves to safety if trapped on the second floor of a building.

    And we’re still inventing. St. Louis can claim recent inventions making a difference in the health field including a better blood glucose monitor for people with diabetes, a better breast pump for new mothers, and “cancer goggles” that may revolutionize cancer treatment and surgeries.

    There are also inventions created elsewhere but whose inventors were born and raised here. Aunt Jemima pancake flour was invented in St. Joseph, Missouri and became the first ready-mix food sold commercially in 1899.

    The designer of the Lear Jet airplane and inventor of the 8-track stereo (William Lear), the inventor of the micro-chip (Jack Kilby), and George Washington Carver (who discovered three hundred uses for peanuts and sweet potatoes) all spent their earliest days in Missouri.

    So was the inventor of LCD technology. James Fergason was born in Wakenda, Missouri in 1934 and graduated from Mizzou. He was awarded more than 100 patents during his lifetime – including the aforementioned LCD technology.

    What causes inventors to create? What lead St. Louisan Bob Chandler to build the first monster truck in the mid-1970s, or in 1981, to videotape his “Big Foot” truck crushing two normal sized cars as a promotion for his truck shop? Whatever the reason, two years later he had a sponsorship from Ford Motors; the rest is history.

    The question of what drives inventors to create is one we explored on our Explore! Invention! program – a program that made us curious about local inventors and inventions.

    It lead us to learn that Dr. John S. Sappington, a physician, farmer, and medical pioneer in central Missouri, developed an anti-malaria pill that helped save the lives of countless others who lived along rivers and in swampy areas back in the 1800s.

    Or are you familiar with Rose O’Neill? O’Neill lived in the Missouri Ozarks off and on throughout her adult life. She built a successful career as a magazine and book illustrator and, at a young age, became the best-known and highest-paid female commercial illustrator in the United States – in addition to writing novels and poetry. O’Neill earned a fortune and international fame by creating the Kewpie, the most widely known cartoon character until Mickey Mouse (whose creator also hails from Missouri) entered the scene.

    Lastly, we can’t forget two incredibly famous Missourians who could be considered inventors in their own right – Scott Joplin & Joseph Pulitzer.

    Scott Joplin’s musical career began in Sedalia, Missouri where he released his most famous piece “The Maple Leaf Rag” – ragtime’s first and most influential hit. He then spent six years in St. Louis creating other musical masterpieces before settling in New York.

    Joseph Pulitzer hailed from St. Louis for part of his life and his storied newspaper career began here. Pulitzer is considered the father of proper journalistic style (still in use today) and created the Pulitzer Prize. Mixing thought-provoking editorials and news with crime and public interest stories, Pulitzer made the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and the New York World profitable papers.

    Invention comes in many shapes and sizes and from every corner of the world, but at HEC we focus on the inventors and inventions shaping the world that come from our own backyards.

    We can claim quite a few here in St. Louis, and in the wider state. Explore our site to learn even more about Missouri inventions!