Children are incredibly imaginative, and sometimes they are incredibly inventive as well. Children have probably been inventing things forever! I found this information amazing and entertaining—and I hope you do, too. Some bits helpful to writers even surface here and there!
Louis Braille, blind from age 3, learned of and simplified a method of silent communication created for the French military. Braille was born in 1824.
At the age of 15, Chester Greenwood set out to solve the problem of cold ears in winter, created the first earmuffs, and patented the invention 1877 at the age of 19. He improved the design and sold earmuffs for soldiers during the First World War.
Writers note: Earmuffs were his idea but his grandmother sewed the beaver skin pads.
In 1905, at age 11, Frank Epperson accidentally invented popsicles. He left a mixture of soda water powder and water in a glass and left in the stirring stick. After a cold night outside, he had the world’s first popsicle.
Writers note: He didn’t immediately do anything with the idea. In 1922, he served it at a fireman’s ball and the success led him to patent the idea, first under the name Eppsicle, but changed it to Popsicle because that’s what his children called it.
In 1921, at age 15, Philip (Philo) T. Farnsworth diagramed an electronic television system. It transmitted the first image six year later.
In 1922, Canadian Joseph-Armand Bombardier (age 15) unveiled the first version of a snowmobile to his family. It traveled half a mile. He continued to modify it, and by 1959, his efforts had resulted in the Ski-Doo.
At age 16, in 1930, George Nissen came up with the idea for the trampoline. He was struck by circus acrobats bouncing in their catch nets and set out to create something that would allow people to bounce higher. He started with canvas stretched on a metal frame, moved on to nylon, and eventually trademarked “trampoline.” He traveled the world demonstrating the trampoline and promoting his invention. At age 92, he could still do a headstand.
Writers note: Nissen completed the early work on his invention by taking over his parents’ garage for a workshop.
Alternate version: as a teenage gymnast, George Nissen and his coach created a bouncing rig of scrap steel and tire inner tubes to help him get the power and height to do a back somersault.
Writers note: Perhaps one of your characters contests the accepted story of some invention.
As a teenager in 1934, Jerry Siegel got the idea for Superman. His artist friend Joe Shuster made sketches. It took four years to find a publisher.
In 1962, 5-year-old Robert Patch used shoe boxes and bottle caps to make a vehicle the could be a dump truck, a flatbed, or a box truck. His father happened to be a patent attorney and applied for a patent in his son’s name. At the time the patent was granted, Patch was 6, the youngest patent holder ever at that time.
Abbey Fleck was inspired to create Makin’ Bacon at age 8. She and her dad created the prototype and patented their idea in 1993. It has been enormously lucrative.
Writers note: She had the idea, her father helped and supported her to make it happen, and her grandfather took out a loan to pay for the first 100,000 units.
In 1994, K-K Gregory (age 10) invented Wristies. These are fingerless fuzzy sleeves for the hands and forearms, worn under mittens. She tested them on her Girl Scout troop. Her mother worked hard with K-K to get the business going.
Writers note: At an early age she met with patent attorneys, shopped fabrics, and wrote license and sales agreements. After 16 years exploring options, she returned to business and is CEO of her company.
In 1996, on a trip to Hawaii, Richie Stachowski (age 10) lamented that he couldn’t talk to others underwater. Back home, he researched aquatic acoustics, worked on prototypes, and came up with the Water Talkie. Besides the people at the public pool who allowed him to test there, his mother helped him set up a company for inventing toys. Toys ‘R’ Us ordered 50,000 units. At age 13 he sold his company for a ton of money. Again, the kid inventor was seminal but not alone!
Kelly Reinhart (age 6) invented the Thigh Pack when her parents challenged their children, on a rainy afternoon, to draw a picture of an invention, promising to make a prototype of the winning idea. Inspired by holsters worn by cowboys, Kelly’s idea was a thigh-pack for kids to carry around their video games. They tried them with other children, refined the prototype, and patented it in 1998. The company Kelly started, T-Pak, sold nearly a million dollars’ worth of Thigh Packs and discussed possible military applications with the Pentagon before selling it in 2001.
Writers note: In 2002, she started a not-profit to teach kids how to become inventors. Maybe you have a character who learned from Kelly?
At age 11, Cassidy Goldstein invented a Crayon Holder, which she patented in 2002. This invention was intended to allow kids to continue to use broken, short crayons.
Writers note: The unintended consequence was to help kids with poor fine-motor skills handle crayons. Consider the unintended consequences of the invention of plastics.
Sarah Buckel, age 14, invented magnetic locker wallpaper in 2006. She asked her father, COO at MagnaCard to make magnetic wallpaper for her so she could decorate her school locker and not have to scrape off the decorations at the end of the year. He ran with the idea, Sarah helping with patterns and age-appropriate accessories.
Writers note: Like many of the inventors described here, Sarah’s father’s faith in his daughter’s idea significantly contributed to the success of the invention.
Hart Main (age 13) got the idea for ManCans in 2010. His sister was selling typical scented candles at a school fundraiser. Main teased that she should try more “manly” scents.
Writers note: His parents encouraged him to move beyond the tease. Hart used $100 from his newspaper route and came up with scents like Coffee, New Mitt, Bacon, and Fresh Cut Grass to add to his candles.
Another note: Hart uses relabeled Campbell Soup cans, after donating the contents to soup kitchens across Ohio.
In 2014, 12-year-old Shubham Banerjee, created a Braille printer from a LEGO Mindstorms set. Although Braille printers were available for $2,000, his printer cost $200.
Also in 2014, Alicia Chavez at age 14, in response to news stories of children who died with accidentally left in hot cars, came up with the idea of the Hot Seat. It’s basically a small cushion that the child sits on in a car seat that connects to the parent’s smartphone. If the smartphone moves more than 20 feet from the car and the child is still in the seat, it sounds an alarm.
Students at the Melania Morales Special Education Center in Nicaragua created their own language, a form of manual sign language entirely independent of any other language system. Before the establishment of a school specifically for deaf students in the 1980s, Nicaragua had no system of sign language; children were taught to read lips. Students created their own system to communicate with each other, with the youngest children generating most of the grammatical systems.
Bottom line: kids continue to invent. Why not one of your characters?