Did you know that the popsicle, ear muffs AND the trampoline were invented by kids? And, more than a few kids have become rich off of their inventions before they even graduated high school.
“Kids are natural innovators,” said Jon Dudas, who used to work for the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office but is now the president of FIRST, an organization designed to help foster innovations by kids in science and technology.
One of the youngest inventors, Dudas recalls, was just two. “Her parents had sort of sectioned off a place where she couldn’t open the cabinet doors. She used suction cups and an extension,” Dudas explained. “Her parents thought it was a neat idea—to use for people in wheelchairs with limited movement,” he said. The child had a patent by age four!
Kids have been inventing things for hundreds of years and now, thanks to organizations such as FIRST and "By Kids, for Kids," a group that connects kids with contests for young inventors, they’re feeling more inspired and more confident to invent. Turning their products into sales is also becoming more of a reality.
Click here for more than a dozen innovative and inspiring inventions by kids.
By Cindy Perman
30 September 2011
One Saturday morning in 1991, eight-year old Abbey Fleck was making bacon with her dad. They’d run out of paper towels, so he put it on the classified section of the newspaper. Mom wasn’t too pleased, prompting dad to growl, “I could just stand here and let it drip dry.”
Ding! Young Abbey thought if they could make a rack to hang the bacon, with a dish underneath, they’d never need paper towels. And so, the Makin’ Bacon Dish for cooking bacon in the microwave was born. Not only does it save on paper towels, it’s healthier because the grease drips out.
Today, the Makin’ Bacon dish costs less than $10 and is sold in Walmart stores — next to the microwaves. Abbey is now 27 and lives in Los Angeles where she works with special children. She’s married to a man who sells the Deflecktor, fuel-saving wheel covers for trucks, that her dad invented.
Crayon Holders are clear plastic tubes that hold your crayons so they can still be easily used even if they break. Crayon Holders were invented by Cassidy Goldstein at age 11. She was working on an art project and when she went to her box of crayons she realized they were all broken. Cassidy was inspired by the little plastic water tubes that are used to keep roses fresh.
At age 12, she interviewed a bunch of patent lawyers (oh, to be a fly in that room!) and they got her idea patented. Then, they licensed the idea out to another company that handled the manufacturing and marketing. Cassidy’s dad founded a company called By Kids For Kids that helps kids get started inventing and they started selling the crayon holders through BKFK.
The invention earned Cassidy enough money to pay for most of her college education and get her set up with an apartment in New York City after college.
Today, Crayon Holders are sold on BKFK.com for $2 for a pack of two. Cassidy, now 23, works in product development for jewelry designer David Yurman.
Don’t you just hate when you’re outside and, even though you’re wearing mittens, the snow gets down the sleeve of your coat?
Most of us just complain about it, but one winter’s day 10-year-old KK Gregory was outside building a snow fort and decided to do something about it. She created the first pair of Wristies — a fingerless glove made of fleece that goes halfway up your arm, keeping your wrists warm and dry. You can wear them with or without mittens.
Wristies were a hit with her Girl Scout troop, so she decided to get a patent and start her own company.
KK’s mom helped her run the company while KK was in school, college, and during years immediately after graduating, when she traveled the world from California to Southeast Asia. KK, now 28, is back in Maine as the president of the company. Wristies are sold for $10 to $25 in select stores, on Amazon.com, Wristies.com, and in Plow Hearth magazine.
Hart Main’s sister was selling candles for a school fundraiser, but the candles were “really girlie scents” like apple cinnamon, lavender, and cotton, the 13-year-old said. He thought, “Why don’t we make candles people actually want to buy?!” Hart meant it as just a joke, but his parents thought it was a good idea and encouraged him to start making the candles.
And so, Hart created Man-Cans, candles in more “man-friendly” scents, such as coffee, sawdust, dirt, grass, new mitt (for baseball) and campfire that are sold in recycled soup cans. (The “can” in Man-Cans.) The soup is donated to homeless shelters. Hart started the company with $100 he made from delivering newspapers.
Today, the candles are sold for $9.50 in about 40 stores across the country and on their site, www.Man-Cans.com. Hart, now 14, is a freshman in high school. He made enough money to do what he set out to do: Buy a road bike to compete in a triathalon. The rest of the money he poured back into the business. Someday, he’d like to attend the Naval Academy and is considering a career in law. Hart’s currently writing a blog, Teen Business by Hart (teenbizbyhart.blogspot.com), to offer other kids advice on starting a business.
Sarah Buckel invented magnetic locker wallpaper when she was in eighth grade in DuBois, Penn. She wanted a colorful locker that looked like the ones of the kids who starred in TV shows on the “Disney Channel,” but didn’t want to have to deal with peeling off the gummy residue of contact paper at the end of the year.
It just so happened that right around that time, her father became the CEO of a company called MagnaCard,which made magnetic business cards. Sarah asked him if they could make up some of her designs for magnetic locker wallpaper ($7.99 for three sheets) and they were quickly a hit. In the first year, Sarah made more than $1 million. What did she do with the money? Buy a house? A fast car? Nope, she and her family bought the company.
Today, they’ve expanded the product line to include mirrors ($2.99), shelves ($6.99), message boards ($3.99), calendars ($2.50), photo frames ($3.50 to $5.99), organizers ($2.50 to $8.99), locker-sized rugs — and even magnetic, battery-powered chandeliers that blink in 7 colors ($12.99)! All to deck out your locker. Their products are sold in major retailers including Walmart, Staples, Target, OfficeMax, and on www.AllAboutYourLocker.com.
CJ Senter, at age 9, was flipping through the TV channels with his dad when they came across an infomercial for an exercise video. He turned to his dad and said, “They should make videos like that for kids. Can I make one?” CJ’s dad said sure.
They had a cousin who helped shoot the initial video and eventually, they connected with a professional video-production company that knew a great idea when they saw one. CJ and his family didn’t have the money to start mass producing and marketing the tapes, so the video company put them on a payment plan and helped them get their idea noticed.
They’ve already sold several thousand copies of the video, which features CJ and some of his friends on a funky set that looks like a boy’s bedroom with graffiti-covered walls. It features some of his signature moves such as “Power Jacks” and “The Shredder.”
The video is available on their website, www.workoutkid.com, for $19.99. They also sell workout kid gear, including the WK mat, WK T-shirt, and WK backpack. CJ is now 10 years old, and he’s working on getting schools to use his video in gym class.
Oink-a-Saurus is an iPhone and iPad app to teach kids about finance, money management, investing and the stock market. It tracks your Web browsing and buying habits, has a “what if” simulator to show you what you could have saved if you hadn’t spent that money, and also includes a social network feature showing stock picks and ideas from other kids, a kid-friendly news service for market and investing info and a link to a kid-friendly stock broker.
It was invented by Fabian Fernandez-Han when he was just 12 years old. He won a contest put on by BKFK and the New York Stock Exchange for the idea. He didn’t really know much about creating an app, but he came up with the concept, the components and design and worked with a team of developers who brought his idea to life.
Fabian got interested in stocks at a young age after looking over his Dad’s shoulder while he was looking at his E*Trade account. Fabian asked if he could buy some stocks with his own money and guess what? His dad said yes. Now, he’s giving his dad stock tips.
Alas, the app is free, so he’s not a millionaire — yet. But, he did win $2,500 to start his own portfolio and he has a heckuva resume, at the ripe young age of 13. Oh, and for his next act, he’s putting together a Technology Entertainment and Design conference in his home state — Texas.
The Tic-Tac-Tag is a game where players wear a vest with a tic-tac-toe board on the back. Each square has a light on the back that goes on when it is tapped. If you tap three lights in a row on another player’s back, you win!
It was invented by 18-year-old Nicholas Fornario. He won Sports Authority’s “Move It” Challenge, a competition in conjunction with BKFK that was designed to encourage kids to be more active and physically fit. He won $10,000 and Sports Authority is in the process of manufacturing the vests to sell in their stores.
The Inventioneers are a group of six teens from LondonBerry, N.H., and, while some of them can’t even drive yet, they’ve invented a device to help curb distracted driving.
It’s called the Smart Wheel and it stands for “Safe Motorist Alert for Restricting Texting, Tweeting, Typing, Touch screens, and Touch ups,” said Tristan “T.J.” Evarts, a 15-year-old member of the Inventioneers. It’s basically a cover for your steering wheel with sensors and LED lights that determines when you don’t have both hands on the wheel.
The kids, winners in First Robotics’ “First Lego League” competition for several years running, have a provisional patent on the device, one of four patents the teens hold on various inventions.
Sometimes inventions by kids are amazing technological innovations and sometimes they’re just plain practical ideas that make you wonder, “Why didn’t I think of that?”
The Popsicle, that staple of summer, was created in 1905 by 11-year-old Frank Epperson — by accident! Epperson had left a mixture of powdered soda, water and a stick in a cup on his porch overnight — and it was a cold night. He woke up the next morning and it was a frozen treat on a stick, Popsicle.com explains.
He initially called it the “Epsicle,” which was quite popular with the other kids at school and later his own kids. They kept asking for “Pop’s ‘sicle” and that, Jimmy, is how the popsicle was born. He got a patent on it in 1923 and then sold the rights to a bigger company. Today, the brand is owned by Unilever and they sell more than two billion Popsicles every year.
Here’s another fun fact: The double popsicle was invented during the Depression so two children could share it and it would only cost one nickel.
Wristies may be a modern invention but more than 100 years ago, another kid had an idea for how to keep warm — ear muffs.
The year was 1873 and 15-year-old Chester Greenwood was testing out a pair of ice skates. He was getting frustrated because his ears were so cold. He tried wrapping his head in scarf but it was too bulky and too itchy. So, he took wire and bent it into two round loops, then asked his grandmother to sew fur on them. He connected them with a steel headband and got a patent on his invention — Greenwood’s Champion Ear Protectors, according to Maine.gov.
He sold a ton of them to U.S. soldiers during World War I. To this day, Greenwood’s hometown, Farmington, Maine, is known as the Ear Muff Capital of the World. They even have a parade every December to celebrate his birthday — and his invention.
By the time he died in 1936, Greenwood had more than 100 patents, including a tea kettle, an advertising match box and a steel-tooth rake. “There truly was a lot more to Chester than just being the inventor of ear protectors,” wrote Nancy Porter, a volunteer with the Farmington Historical Society.
You know what kids like besides being warm? Jumping!
Try to act surprised — the trampoline was also invented by a kid.
It was 1930 and 16-year-old George Nissen, a member of his high school gymnastics and diving teams, was goofing off in his parents’ garage when he decided to stretch canvas over a rectangular steel frame, using materials he found in a local junkyard, according to MIT. Seven years later when he was in business school at the University of Iowa, he and his gymnastics coach refined the invention with nylon and started a traveling acrobatics troupe called the Three Leonardos.
They initially called it a “bouncing rig,” but after traveling through the Midwest and Southwest, they learned the Spanish word for diving board, “el trampolin” and changed the name to Trampoline and got a patent.
Maddie Bradshaw of Dallas, Texas (pictured left) says her family has always been creative — and into recycling. When she was 10, she wanted to decorate her locker. So, her uncle, who had an old Coke machine, gave her 50 bottle caps. She painted them and put magnets on them, and even gave some to her friends, who loved them. She liked them so much she decided to turn them into necklaces so she could take them anywhere with her.
With the help of mom, Diane, she withdrew $300 she had saved up from birthdays, Christmases and the tooth fairy, and went out to buy supplies. She took about 50 of the necklaces, called “Snap Caps,” to the local toy store, and they sold out in a few hours.
She made her first million by age 13. Today, Snap Caps are a must-have for tween girls. The company, m3 girl designs, has 40 employees and sells over 60,000 necklaces per month in over 2,500 stores. They also make Snap Cap hair bows and Snap Cap “Huggers” to decorate your Ugg boots.
You might think that a sophisticated system to help the blind read and write would have to be invented by an adult.
But Louis Braille invented Braille, an alphabet using raised dots, at the age of 15. Prior to that, each letter was raised and to read, one had to feel out each letter. The books were heavy and took a long time to read.
Braille was actually born with sight but became blind at age three after an eye injury. At the age of 10, he entered the Royal Institute for the Blind in Paris and five years later, invented Braille. He was offered a full-time teaching job at the institute at age 19. The Braille method didn’t become widely used until after Braille died at the age of 43, according to the Louis Braille School.