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10 Everyday Things Invented For Totally Different Purposes

by Elizabeth S.Anderson
fact checked by Jamie Frater

Our lives are surrounded by various objects, many of which we’ve seen nearly every day. As mundane as many such items may seem, they often have surprising, and considerably more interesting, origins. Many were originally invented for completely different purposes than what they are currently used for.

10 Vibrators

The vibrator is an item that almost every woman owns, though few may admit to it. Interestingly, it was not invented for . . . you know what. Instead, it was invented by doctors to “massage” women suffering from “hysteria,” which today is simply identified as sexual frustration. Symptoms of hysteria included chronic anxiety, loss of sleep, nervousness, irritation, and a heavy feeling in the abdomen.

Back then, women suffering from hysteria often visited a doctor who would perform a “pelvic massage” until they reached a state of “hysterical paroxysm.” (Hopefully, you know what that means.) Considering the “treatment” involved, it isn’t really surprising that as many as 75 percent of women suffered from this hysteria and scheduled many doctor visits. The doctors themselves soon got tired of performing pelvic massages, and they invented the vibrator to do it in their place. Since they were regarded as medical instruments, vibrators were kept in hospitals and operated by medical personnel. With time, they got smaller and changed from hysteria-curing devices to . . . you know.

9 Ties

What actually was the first tie is somewhat disputed. It could either be the “trajanuscollony,” which was a cloth worn around the neck to protect its wearer from cold and also double as a handkerchief. Or it could be the piece of clothing that Croatian soldiers participating in the Thirty Years War wore around their necks to allow them identify each other on the battlefield and to keep their shirt collars together.

After the war, French soldiers introduced the tie to France, where it was often worn by the rich upper class. It was regarded as part of a man’s clothing but was adopted by women during the 1920s and 1930s when female actresses began wearing it. Ties only took their present form in 1924, when Jesse Langsdorf patented the method by which most of today’s ties are made.

8 Pillows

The pillow was invented so that bugs would not crawl into the noses, ears, and mouths of people while they were sleeping. The pillow was first used in what is present-day Iraq over 9,000 years ago. Back then, it was carved from stone. Ancient Egyptians also used pillows because they wanted to protect their heads, which they believed were the most important parts of the body. Ancient Chinese used hard pillows (although they knew how to make softer ones) because of the belief that soft pillows depleted the body’s energy and were not effective at repelling demons.

Africans believed that using pillows while sleeping would connect the sleeping person with his ancestors and also allow spirits visit them in their sleep. Japanese geishas used small, hardened pillows so that their delicate hairstyles would not get scattered while they were asleep. In Europe, pillows were seen as a symbol of weakness, so men rarely used them. In fact, they were banned for use by anyone except pregnant women by King Henry VIII. Pillows only became softer and common during the Industrial Revolution, when they were mass-produced by textile industries.

7 Coca-Cola

Coca-Cola was invented by John Pemberton, a pharmacist and US Civil War veteran, who had been injured in the Battle of Columbus. Just like every other injured soldier back then, Pemberton began using morphine to reduce the pain of his injuries. And just like every other injured soldier back then, he became addicted to it. The issue of morphine addiction after the US Civil War was so serious that it was called “the army’s disease.”

While searching for a cure for his addiction, he invented a drink called “Pemberton’s French Wine Coca,” which was an alcoholic wine mixed with cola nut and coca plant, from which cocaine is derived. His drink was similar to another drink called “Vin Mariani,” which was a mixture of wine and cocaine. Both drinks were meant for curing morphine addiction.

John Pemberton stopped using alcohol in his French Wine Coca in 1886 when new legislation in his county restricted the sale of alcohol. He sold the new, non-alcoholic drink made from a mixture of cane sugar, coca leaves, and cola nut as a medicinal drink and cure for morphine addiction. He set up a company to produce the drink but later sold his shares. The new owners toyed with several names including “Koke” and “Yum Yum” before settling on Coca-Cola.

6 Bubble Wrap

Bubble Wrap
Bubble wrap is that nylon-like polymer filled with air bubbles that everyone, or at least almost everyone, loves pressing. That popping sound that it makes gives us some form of satisfaction. Today, it is used to wrap items to prevent them from damage during handling and transportation, although it can also be used to save the life of someone suffering from hypothermia.

Bubble wrap did not start off as a material for protecting goods while in transit. It was invented in 1957 when Alfred Fielding and Marc Chavannes sewed two shower curtains together. Their plan was to create a wallpaper that would have some air-bubble space within. (The 1950s and 1960s were a time when people covered their walls with all sorts of things, ranging from bamboo to fabric.) The wallpaper was a flop, and the two inventors went back to the drawing board, where they decided to sell the bubble wrap as a greenhouse insulator. That also failed. Later on, a marketer called Frederick Bowers advertised bubble wrap to IBM as a protector for their IBM 1401 computers during shipping. IBM bought the idea and used bubble wrap to wrap and ship 10,000 of their computers, changing the destiny of the wallpaper.

5 High Heels

High Heels
The first high heels were made for Persian soldiers in the 16th century. They were not designed for walking, as is clearly evident even today. Instead, they were made to give cavalry soldiers improved stability so that they could shoot their bows with improved efficiency while riding on horses.

High heels made it to Europe in the 1600s, when they were worn by people of higher class. It was common knowledge that such a shoe, which was not meant for walking, could only be used for walking by someone who did not have to work, which could only mean that the wearer was a member of the upper class. Women began wearing heels in an effort to look more like men. Men wore fatter heels, while women wore slimmer heels. Men only stopped wearing heels because it was no longer regarded as a status symbol for them since women were also wearing it.

4 T-Shirts

The first T-shirts were made for US Navy personnel during the Spanish-American War. They were intended to be worn as undershirts beneath the standard-issue uniforms. Submarine crews used them as work shirts because they were more suitable for their work and did not restrict movement. Also, they were less itchy than wool. The design was soon adopted by the US Army, which often issued it to recruits. Because the T-shirt was cheap and easy to wash, mothers began buying it for their children to be worn as a play and chore shirt.

With time, the T-shirt changed from being an undershirt meant for work and play to an outerwear and fashionable item. In the 1950s, Tropix Togs began the use of T-shirts in advertising when they secured exclusive rights from Disney to use images of several of their characters, including Mickey Mouse, on their clothes. By the 1960s, several designs, including V-necks, A-shirts, camisoles, and polo shirts, were also introduced as the T-shirt became more popular.

3 Black Dresses

Black Dress
A “little black dress,” or “LBD,” is regarded as a must-have in the wardrobe of many women. However, black dresses did not have a very rosy history. Prior to the 1920s, they were only worn by widows, widowers, and their relatives to show that they were mourning their husband, wife, or family member, respectively. Men wore dark suits, and women wore black dresses. The clothes were worn for at least two years. Queen Victoria even wore black for 40 years to mourn the death of her husband, Prince Albert.

Black dresses only went from being a mourning dress to fashion item in 1926, when Coco Chanel created a short, black dress known today as the little black dress. The dress was called “Chanel’s Ford” because (just like Ford’s Model T) it was affordable by all women, regardless of their social class or status. Black dresses were also popularized by Hollywood actresses and during World War II, when they became a uniform for women heading to their workplaces.

2 Listerine

Listerine is a well-known mouthwash brand, but it didn’t begin life as such. Listerine was originally a surgical disinfectant. It was made by the Johnson brothers, who were looking for a way to make surgeries safer and were inspired by English surgeon Sir Joseph Lister. In 1879, they came up with an antiseptic liquid which they called Listerine after Sir Lister. Listerine was advertised and sold as a surgical disinfectant that could also be used to treat wounds, dandruff, athlete’s foot, and even insect bites. In one instance, it was even sold as a deodorant.

The Johnson brothers later teamed up with pharmacist Jordan Wheat Lambert and began selling Listerine to dentists for use as an oral antiseptic. Lambert’s children are responsible for making Listerine into the mouthwash we know today after they asked the company’s chemist to tell them all the things Listerine could be used for. The chemist included bad breath (also called halitosis), and the company began advertising it as such.

1 Corn Flakes

Corn Flakes was invented by the Kellogg brothers, John Harvey Kellogg and Will Keith Kellogg. The brothers, who were of the Seventh-day Adventist faith, had a strict lifestyle that forbade the consumption of meat, alcohol, tobacco, tea, and coffee. Milk and eggs were to be taken in limited quantities. Their parents were also against them getting an education because they believed that Christ would come sooner than expected. Nevertheless, John still earned a degree in medicine and soon became the head of a treatment center run by Seventh-day Adventists.

He was strictly against masturbation, which he viewed as an act of madness. He even suggested that the foreskins of men caught in the act should be sewn, and carbolic acid should be poured on the clitorises of women found guilty. He also believed that red meat was one of the causes of sexual desires, which subsequently led to masturbation, so he worked on a food rich in cereals. He came up with Corn Flakes—a cereal-based meal meant more to prevent us from shagging ourselves to death than to fill our stomachs.

Elizabeth is an aspiring writer. You can like her Facebook page and follow her on Twitter, where she would be dropping several mind-blowing, super-interesting facts everyday. Thank you.

fact checked by Jamie Frater