Kansas is known for a lot of things like the aviation industry and “The Wizard of Oz,” but if you live in Kansas, you're probably aware that it has far more to offer than a handful of bad yellow brick road jokes. What you might not know, however, is that over the years, Kansas has been home to some of history's great inventors. Check out these five inventions whose inventors called Kansas home.
Inventor of basketball, James Naismith, was hired by the University of Kansas in 1898, just seven years after his invention of basketball. Although Naismith was working at the YMCA in Springfield, Massachusetts when he invented basketball as a means to occupy the students during the winter, he brought the game to Kansas when he was hired by the University to teach physical education, serve as a chaplain, and, for the first time in KU history, coach basketball. The game was originally played with peach baskets, and the rulebook, penned by Naismith, contained only 13 rules. The sport became widely popular, and made its first appearance at the Summer Olympics in 1936. To this day, the Jayhawks play on James Naismith court.
In the late 1800s, New Yorker Almon Strowger had settled in Kansas, after fighting in the civil war. Strowger worked as an undertaker, and he received steady business as he was the only undertaker in town. When business suddenly decreased, Strowger found that, not only was there a new undertaker in town, but also that this new undertaker was married to the phone operator—who had been directing calls for Strowger to her husband! Strowger did not think that the idea of an operator connect calls was necessary, and created an invention that would allow people to contact each other directly. Though many other people had this idea, Strowger was the first to create a working model. Strowger relocated to Kansas City, Missouri before applying for a patent.
Omar Knedlik, a Coffeyville Dairy Queen owner in the late 1950s, did not have a soft drink fountain in his store. As an alternative, he froze bottles of soda and sold them to his customers, still frozen. He decided he wanted a machine that could produced frozen, carbonated drinks, and within five years, Knedlik had built the first ICEE machine himself. Within the next 10 years, about 300 ICEE machined had been produced.
First Patented Helicopter
Co-invented by William J. Purvis and Charles A. Wilson, the first helicopter to receive a patent was built in Goodland, Kansas, in 1909. The two men took donations and with $30,000 in hand, began Goodland Aviation. Though this was an astounding amount of money at the time, funds ran out in 1911 and the men sold their assets, just before the United States granted them a patent in 1912. By this time, however, the men had gone their separate ways and never saw each other again. Although Goodland Aviation was unsuccessful, the concept of its oddly shaped, two-story “gyrocopter” was revolutionary.
The style of Mead's current Five Star Zipper Binder closely resembles that of the original Trapper Keeper.
While it may have been invented elsewhere, the Trapper Keeper was introduced in Wichita on Aug. 1, 1978, when Mead used Wichita, Kansas as a test market for its new product created by E. Bryant Crutchfield. The first televised commercial for the product was aired in Wichita, as well. The product came to be known nationwide on Jul. 29, 1981, when print advertisements and a primetime television commercial launched. In 2001, “South Park” featured an episode called “Trapper Keeper” about a computerized Trapper Keeper, and in 2005, Trapper Keeper makes it to the big screen when Jon Heder uses a Trapper Keeper in his portrayal of high school student Napoleon in “Napoleon Dynamite.” Trapper Keepers were later featured in “Family Guy” and “The Perks of Being a Wallflower.” Trapper Keeper re-launched in May of 2014 with a full line of products.