By Beth Clark • January 17, 2019
Refrigerator art and experimental LEGO cars are proof kids have vivid imaginations, but sometimes they have ideas for ingenious things that change the world, like popsicles (age 11), the trampoline (age 16), swim flippers (age 11), and earmuffs (age 15). What would you do if yours came up with a mind-bending invention that was actually viable? The parents of the kids below all answered, "Patent it, build it, and sell it!" Before we get into kidventors and kidtrepreneur, here are six books that will help get the ball rolling:
Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick
Rosie Revere, Engineer by Andrea Beaty
The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires
Audrey the Amazing Inventor by Rachel Valentine
Marvelous Mattie by Emily Arnold McCully
Oasis: In 2017, a heartbreaking accident that claimed the life of a six-month-old Texas girl named Fern when she overheated in a parked car. 11-year-old Bishop Curry was very sad and shaken by her death since she was the same age as his little sister...and it happened in his neighborhood. He wanted to come up with a way to prevent the 55% of heat-related car deaths that occur because parents don't realize they've left the child behind, so he invented a lifesaving device called Oasis. It detects when a child is left unattended in a vehicle, alerts both parents and authorities through an app, and blows cool air until help arrives. Thanks to generous GoFundMe donations, Bishop's device was patented in April of 2018 and is in the prototype stage. Also in April of last year, he gave a TEDx talk outlining his ideas and plans for Oasis that's very inspiring!
Hot Seat: When she was 14, Albuquerque, New Mexico teen Alissa Chavez was extremely upset by stories of babies and toddlers who died after being accidentally left in hot cars, and she wanted to do something to help prevent it from happening again. So, for her science fair project, she came up with the idea for the Hot Seat – a small cushion that goes in the child's car seat, with a sensor that connects to the parent's smartphone. If the cushion senses the smartphone is more than 20 feet from the car with the baby still in it, it sounds an alarm. Named a "Hometown Hero," Alissa was one of Glamour's Women of the Year Award recipients in 2014 and received her first patent that year. The first hot seat was sold in 2015. She also does speaking engagements and has been on the Today Show and others.
Both inventors are someone to keep your eye on!
Popsicles: Invented by 11-year-old Frank Epperson when left a cup full of water, powdered soda, and a stirring stick on the porch overnight and it froze. He named it the 'Eppsicle' but a few years later, his kids called it the popsicle, because soda pop + ice = popsicle, and it stuck.
Trampoline: Invented by 16-year-old George Nissen after he watched trapeze artists drop into a net at the end of their act and wanted to come up with a more exciting finale...like bouncing. He was a gymnast and a member of the diving team, and trampolín is the Spanish word for diving board, so he added an 'e' at the end and that was that.
Earmuffs: When Chester Greenwood was 15, his ears got cold while he was ice skating in Farmington, Maine (his hometown). Wrapping his scarf around them didn't work, so he decided to bend some wire in the shape of his head, make loops on each end, and ask his grandmother to sew fur-insulated beaver skin pads to slip over them. Voilà – earmuffs.
Swim Fins (this one's fun): An 11-year-old avid swimmer wanted to move through the water faster and tried using oval planks with grip holes for his hands in the middle as swim fins. It worked. The aqua-genius-inventor's name? Ben Franklin. The planks made his wrists tired, so he tried them on his feet, but moved on to invent things like street lamps, bifocals, the odometer, and the lightning rod before perfecting either.
Christmas Lights: The world's first electrically lit Christmas tree was spectacular in an era of trees illuminated with burning candles (!), but string lights were too expensive for most people ($2000 today) and required an electrician. Thirty-five years later, 15-year-old Albert Sadacca was compelled to adapt a string of lights from his parents' store to make them more affordable after reading about a tragic New York City Christmas tree fire. He convinced his parents to manufacture and sell his design and eventually founded NOMA Electric Company, which dominated the Christmas light industry for over 40 years.
The Water Talkie: Richie Stachowski went snorkeling with his dad on a family trip to Hawaii and felt frustrated about not having a way to talk to his dad about the sea turtles he saw while they were underwater. He found out nothing even close existed and started sketching. When their vacation was over, he researched underwater acoustics and tested prototypes in the public pool (management was intrigued and let him do his thing). His efforts paid off with the "Water Talkie" – a conical device that enabled swimmers to talk to each other underwater up to 15 feet apart. He and his dad pitched Toys'R'Us and walked out of the meeting with an order for 50,000 units, and his mom helped Richie start Short Stack, LLC (he loved pancakes). Three years later, he sold his company to Wild Planet Toys for $7 million...at the ripe old age of 13.
An Affordable Braille Printer: You probably know that Louis Braille, who was blinded by an eye injury as a toddler, invented the Braille system. You may not know he was only 12 at the time, making him a kidventor too. The first Braille printer came out in 1971, and evolved over the next four decades, but at $2000 and up, it was still too cost-prohibitive for most blind people. Until 12-year-old Shubham Banerjee built a Braille printer from a LEGO Mindstorms set for a science fair in 2014, that is. He named it the Braigo and shared a DIY plan online so anyone could build it...for just $200. But parents of blind kids wanted to buy it, not build it, so he created a prototype using an Intel WiFi Bluetooth chip. When Intel saw it, they invested in his company on the spot and gave him access to their R&D engineering department. It's expected to hit the market in the very near future.
ManCans: 13-year-old Hart Main became an accidental inventor after making fun of his sister for selling girlie-scented candles at a fundraiser and telling her she should sell more 'manly' scents. His parents heard him, and instead of scolding him for teasing, they told him to pursue the idea himself. Which he did, using $100 of his own money to buy wax and scents like Coffee, Bacon, New Mitt, and Burnt Rubber online. He decided to make his 'ManCans' in recycled soup cans, which he emptied by donating their contents to Ohio soup kitchens. In 2011, he sold 25,000 ManCans, and by the time he moved production to the Beaver Creek Candle Company a couple years later, he'd added the SheCan, which comes in scents like Awesome, Fearless, and Whimsical. He estimated his family washed 100,000 cans in their kitchen at home. BCC employs the developmentally disabled to make the candles, and now uses empty cans supplied by a canning company, and so Hart donates a portion of each sale to soup kitchens. Oh, and he wrote a book about it all called One Candle, One Meal to inspire other young inventors!
Hands-On Basketball: 9-year-old Chris Hass invented a basketball that made it easier for him—and all kids—to sink a shot. The ball has brightly colored stripes with two stamped handprints—one on each side—showing kids where to put their hands and how to hold the ball. Chris made the first one for an Invention Convention competition at his school, and he didn't win, but he's sold hundreds of thousands of basketballs worldwide, which we assume makes up for any defeat he may have felt that day.
One final young inventor is Robert Patch, who was only 6 years old when he was granted a patent for a toy truck that began as a prototype made from bottle caps and cardboard. It could be taken apart and rebuilt as three different trucks, which makes it an early Transformer of sorts, but what makes Robert a standout is that he's still the youngest U.S. patent holder ever.
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