What Took So Long?, 0421 COBJ, Vol. 50, No. 4 Pg. 12

PositionVol. 50, 4 [Page 12]

50 Colo.Law. 12

What Took So Long?

No. Vol. 50, No. 4 [Page 12]

Colorado Lawyer

April, 2021



History is full of anomalies in the form of time delays. As we all know, over four score and seven years passed between the founding of our country until persons of color, as U.S. citizens, gained the right to vote (15th Amendment to the Constitution, ratified February 3, 1870). Women finally achieved the same status (19th Amendment, ratified August 18, 1920) 50 years later. In hindsight, of course, one wonders what took so long.

Worth their Wait

Similarly, technology has its share of time delay anomalies. The time between the invention of the wooden pencil by an Italian couple, Simonio and Lyndiana Bernacotti (1560), and the pencil eraser assembled as part of a pencil (Hymen Lipman U.S. Patent No. 19,783, March 30, 1858) was about 300 years. In other words, someone finally thought of a convenient way to erase pencil marks made by wooden pencils that had been used for three centuries. The U.S. Supreme Court later invalidated the U.S. patent, as it turned out, stating that the patented article was only an aggregation of separate elements (Reckendorfer v. Faber, 92 U.S. 347 (1875)).

To replace glass containers, the metal can—actually made of iron lined with tin—was invented in 1810 by Peter Durand to store food. How long do you think it took for the can opener to be invented after metal cans were introduced?

a) 1 year

b) 5 years

c) 10 years

The answer is an astounding 48 years. Ezra Warner patented the first can opener on January 5, 1858 (US Patent No. 19,063), almost 50 years after metal cans appeared. Warner designed a tool with a cutting blade and a guard that prevented the blade from penetrating too far into the contents of a can. The guard could swing out of the way so a second curved blade could cut around the top of the can with a saw-like action. But after the top of the can was removed, the upper portion of the can had a jagged edge. It wasn't until December 29, 1931, that Charles Arthur Bunker received U.S. Patent No. 1,838,525, which described the first modern can opener most of us now use.

Slow and Steady

Sometimes inventions are solutions looking for a problem. Consider the photocopier. Chester Carlson, a patent attorney as it turned out, worked in his mother-in-law's kitchen developing the first photocopier and obtaining U.S...

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