July 30, 2009
In today’s world, multi-tasking is almost fundamental to living a functional life. But sometimes it seems that the list of tasks is so overwhelming it causes more stress, rather than a sense of accomplishment. With Simplify Your Life Week (August 1-7) right around the corner, we took a look at the collections at the National Museum of American History to see what inventions have helped to create a simpler life.
The Sewing Machine: Invented in 1846, Elias Howe, Jr., patented the first sewing machine and ever since, hands have suffered fewer needle pricks. Howe’s machine faded out the mechanical process of sewing and reduced the amount of time it took to create clothing. Following his lead, Isaac M. Singer created the first domestic sewing machine in 1854, paving the way for the ready-made clothing industry. With this invention it was now possible to run to the store and grab whatever clothing necessity was needed, rather than taking the time to stitch a garment by hand. So, despite what many members of the opposite-sex might argue with, thank you Isaac Singer for inspiring that stress-reliever known as shopping. (If only he had invented some way to reduce credit card bills too).
The Blackberry: While it may be overwhelming to be connected to the world 24/7, it’s nice to have those daily reminders and list of contacts right at your fingertips. The blackberry simplifies life by combining every form of communication into one, as well as, providing a place to write tasks or check a calender when planning for future events. Even functioning as a grocery shopping list, versus carrying around hundreds of sticky-notes, the Blackberry is the perfect, modern-day organizational tool. But do remember to set the ‘crack’-berry aside every once in a while and take some alone time to unwind.
The Measuring Cup: Trying to figure out how many ounces are in a cup or how many cups are in a quart? Perhaps not the most grandiose of inventions, it certainly makes life simple for all the non-mathematicians who just want to cook. Most famously remembered at the Smithsonian as a staple item in Julia Child’s kitchen, the measuring cup was invented by Fannie Farmer. Before her invention, many recipes would list the quantity of ingredients as “some,” “a bit,” “a pinch” or “a little.” Farmer simplified the process of cooking and made recipes precise and repeatable by becoming the first to create a standardized set of measuring devices. The measuring cup can be viewed in Julia Child’s Kitchen, in the Science and Innovation wing of the NMAH.
The Light Bulb: Let’s face it, this list wouldn’t be complete without Thomas Edison’s illuminating invention. Simple tasks would take twice as long if we were still carrying around candles, not to mention the painful burn marks we’d have to endure. Although not the first to create the light bulb (there are several who were in competition at the same time), Edison invented the first practical light bulb in 1879. The reason Edison survived his competitors is partly due to the materials he used and partly due to to the fact that he developed an entire electric power system that generated and distributed electricity. Definitely a man with a good business plan, Edison paved the way for future inventions that would let us live a simpler life. See the lightbulb and other electrical innovations, in the Transportation and Technology wing of the NMAH.
What simplifies your life? Tell us in the comments area below?
Sign up for our free email newsletter and receive the best stories from Smithsonian.com each week.