A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Our Rich History: Regional inventors — legendary toys, everyday health, home and more

By John Schlipp
Special to NKyTribune

If necessity is the mother of invention, then perhaps your inventiveness might motivate you to come up with the next “fidget spinner” toy.

Maybe you’ll even appear on the popular television series Shark Tank.

Whirligig, patented in 1866

Inventors of the metropolitan Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky region have conceived some of the world’s definitive inventions, from medical innovations to timeless toys. Perhaps the following historic patented inventions from the Tristate will inspire you to prototype and patent your idea for a new creation.

Although the yo-yo appeared in historic records for hundreds of years, it was first patented in the United States by Cincinnati inventors, James Haven and Charles Hittrick. The unique rim-weighted design is probably what set it apart from earlier yo-yos. Named the whirligig (US Patent 59,745, granted in 1866), it was later trademarked as the “yo-yo” in the late 1920s, and then marketed by the Duncan Yo-Yo Company.

Play-Doh is another timeless toy that was invented in Cincinnati. Originally utilized as a cleaning tool for wallpaper, it soon appeared in classrooms around Cincinnati as a nontoxic play clay for children. Joseph and Noah McVicker were granted US Patent 3,167,440 on January 26, 1965. Play-Doh, initially made by Rainbow Crafts, merged with Kenner products in Cincinnati. Another Kenner innovative product included the Easy-Bake Oven, listed by TIME magazine as one of the 13 Most Influential Toys of All Time.

Kenner Toys ad for Star Wars toys.

The original Star Wars toy figures, produced by Kenner Toys of Cincinnati, are also included on the TIME list of Influential Toys. The Star Wars figures, and related toys, were one of the most lucrative franchise rights success stories ever. When the first Star Wars film was in production, other toy companies that marketed comic action figures could not foresee its impact in terms of movie merchandizing. However, Kenner in Cincinnati took a chance and licensed the exclusive rights with Star Wars for a mere $100,000! The force was indeed with Kenner, as they sold 40 million Star Wars toys the first year alone, for sales of about $100 million!

Two other regional inventors came up with remedies for health matters, including allergic reactions, and irritating hemorrhoids. While trying to find a cure for cancer, George Sperti invented a healing ointment (US Patents 2,320,479 and 2,320,478, granted in 1943) that healed scars, burns, and wrinkles. Eventually it was realized that the ointment worked very well to relieve the effects of hemorrhoids. Today, it is known today as Preparation H®. Another regional research scientist, George Rieveschl, invented Benadryl®, one of the first effective antihistamines (US Patents 2,421,714 and 2,427,878, granted in 1947).

US Design Patent 266,777 for a Star Wars toy vehicle, granted in 1982.

An African-American regional inventor, Frederick McKinley Jones, created the first successful mobile refrigeration device (US Patent 2,303,857, granted in 1942) for transporting fresh produce and meats. The invention helped to keep blood, food, and medications fresh during World War II. Jones was recently honored as a “Visionary Veteran” by the National Inventors Hall of Fame. As one of 200,000 African Americans serving his country in France during World War I, his engineering attributes were utilized as an electrician. Jones was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2007.

So what about our everyday Jane or Joe inventors? One of our region’s houseware invention success stories is for the highly popular Oxo® Angled Measuring Cup, where the volume can be read from above without bending over. As Steve Hoeting was preparing a favorite family brownies recipe, he found it awkward to hold up the measuring cup to view levels of baking ingredients. How could he make it easier to see the actual measurement levels of ingredients? Then eureka, an idea came to him to place a ruler at an angle within a measuring cup, allowing him to read capacity levels by looking straight down into the cup. This eliminates extra pouring, lifting and viewing, then pouring again. After a few prototypes and a patent application, Hoeting was granted US Patent 6263732 in 2001 for a measuring cup with a diagonal ramp on the inner cup sidewall.

US Design Patent 265,754 for Star Wars character, Yoda, granted in 1982.

Intellectual properties (patents and trademarks) are a vital aspect of many of the new products touted on the prime-time television series Shark Tank. The attainment of intellectual property for inventions, like those appearing on Shark Tank, often helps to assure financial success. Patent & Trademark Resource Centers (PTRCs) are available nationwide to assist inventors, entrepreneurs, and small businesses. PTRCs are able to show you how to search for patents to see if your invention has been patented or not, before applying for a new patent with the US Patent & Trademark Office. 

However, inventing and patenting are only part of the equation to success. The primary challenge is in determining what to invent for a viable market. Steps to help determine market viability include product evaluation, market research, licensing awareness, and helpful organizations, such as local inventor’s councils, business resources at PTRC libraries, Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs), etc.

Furthermore, beware of questionable advertised invention promotion firms that feed on an inventor’s enthusiasm about their invention. Many are unethical frauds and charge thousands of dollars for what an inventor may obtain for little or no charge at PTRCs, such as the Intellectual Property Awareness Center (IPAC) at W. Frank Steely Library at Northern Kentucky University.

To learn more about intellectual property, and business planning and marketing, consult the IPAC at NKU. The IPAC is also an official Patent & Trademark Resource Center (PTRC) representing the US Patent & Trademark Office.

John Schlipp is an Associate Professor and Intellectual Property Librarian at NKU’s Steely Library. He also directs the Intellectual Property Awareness Center (IPAC) at NKU, assisting everyone from inventors to musicians in becoming aware of their intellectual property.

US Patent 6,263,732 for Oxo Angular Measuring Cup, granted in 2001.

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