Mothers of Invention

“You see things and you say, ‘Why?’  But I dream things that never were & I say, ‘Why not?'” George Bernard Shaw

It is said that necessity breeds invention, and I’m sure we all have our favorite examples. There are, of course, accidental inventions of some quite popular items.

Then there are the curious cases of inventions that await applications.  Hero’s Boiler jumps to my mind – the ancient Greeks used this device that converted the energy released by boiling water into rotary motion as a temple “wonder,” to illuminate the hearts of the faithful and allow them to “discover a divine truth lurking in the laws of the heavens.” (Ten Books on Architecture, Vetruvius, 1st Century BC)  It took almost two thousand years for the steam engine to come of age as the primary means of ocean-going vessel propulsion, as well as a most efficient means of electrical power generation.

Grilling enthusiasts (well, those like me who shun gas in favor of charcoal anyway), may know that the charcoal briquette was patented in the late 1800’s, but didn’t become viable until Ford Motor Company’s factory started providing tons and tons of the basic material needed for briquette production: scrap wood.  Henry Ford and a relative (man by the name of Kingsford) exploited this in one of the greatest recycling success stories ever.

Scientists at Bell Labs claim to have invented the transistor 20 years after a Canadian scientist filed a patent for one, but it was another 20 years before young boys all over America were able to stay up way past their bedtimes, listening to the play-by-play announcer of their favorite baseball team, on transistor radios hidden away under their pillows.  The technology behind faxes predates the telephone by 33 years.  And since you’re probably reading this on a computer screen, let’s not forget Babbage’s Analytical Engine.  That’s fascinating to me; the guy who “invented” the computer was alive when George Washington was President of the United States.

We get a lot of calls about a very popular item in the EXAIR product family – the Vortex Tube – especially this time of year.  This is a prime example of both an accidental invention, and one that predated its successful application.  The principle of operation was discovered by a French physics student in the 1920’s, while he was working on something completely different.  It was a number of years before the technology was successfully exploited, but now, it’s a staple of our Compressed Air Product catalog.  If you want to protect sensitive electronic components in an enclosure, our Cabinet Cooler Systems are an inexpensive, easily installed, low-maintenance solution.  Would you like to replace a mist/spray liquid coolant system with a clean, dry alternative?  Check out our Cold Gun Aircoolant Systems.  Anywhere you need localized cooling (soldering, welding, brazing, etc.), we can help you incorporate a Vortex Tube into your system.  Our Adjustable Spot Coolers and Mini Coolers are ready to use, out of the box, with magnetic swivel bases for quick and easy setup.

If you’ve got a favorite accidental invention, or invention-before-its-time, leave me a comment, either below, or on this blog’s Facebook post.  Or, if you have a heat removal application in mind, give us a call.  Send us an email to  Or drop by our website for a chat.  We’d love to hear from you!

Russ Bowman
Application Engineer
EXAIR Corporation
(513)671-3322 local
(800)923-9247 toll free
(513)671-3363 fax

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