The Land of 10,000 Innovations
A Timeline of Minnesota’s Inventive History
Going With Your Gut
Few things hold a teenager’s attention like food, so let’s start with the stomach. Here are some food-related firsts:
1859 – Winter-hardy alfalfa. Farmer Wendelin Grimm developed a strain that could withstand Minnesota’s cold winters.
1912 – Handled grocery bag. St. Paul Grocer Walter Deubener came up with the idea.
1919 – Pop-up toaster. Stillwater mechanic Charles Strite invented the Toastmaster, a brand still produced today.
1922 – Haralson apple. Developed by F.B. Haralson at the University of Minnesota.
1923 – Milky Way candy bar. Candy maker Frank C. Mars invented the gooey treat in Minneapolis.
1925 – The Green Giant. The well-known mascot of the Minnesota Valley Canning Company in Le Suer made his first appearance.
1926 – Canned Ham. The first product of its kind in the United States was produced by Hormel.
1931 – Bisquick. The first premixed biscuit mix was produced by General Mills.
1947 – Packaged cake mix. Betty Crocker’s Ginger Cake, the first product of its kind, was produced by General Mills.
1951 – Turkey roll. Willmar-based Jennie-O for this poultry loaf.
1979 – Crisp-crust frozen pizza. Restaurateur Rose Totino patented frozen pizza dough.
A Whole Lotta Fun Stuff
Over the years, Minnesota inventors and companies have given the world a whole lot of fun.
1922 – Water skis. The brainchild of a bored Ralph Samuelson, who fashioned skis out of two 8-foot pine boards.
1947 – Tonka trucks. Founded by a group of schoolteachers, the Mound Metalcraft Company (which later took the name Tonka) manufactured some of the nation’s most popular toys.
1948 – Cootie. Was one of several games (Don’t Spill the Beans, Ants in the Pants and Don’t Break the Ice) created by postman Herb Schaper.
1962 – Front-engine snowmobile. Ed Hetteen, founder of Polaris and Arctic Enterprises, gave the Arctic Cat its snow claws.
1964-ish – Twister. Originated in St. Paul at a company called Reynolds Guyer House of Design.
1969 – Nerf ball. The famous indoor-safe foam ball was invented by Reyn Guyer.
1980 – Rollerblades. Collegiate hockey player Scott Olson came up with the idea as a way to practice in the summer.
1993 – Magnetic poetry. Aspiring poet Dave Kapell invented the word magnets to help him write.
Medical Marvels and Breakthroughs
There’s really no way to count all the lives that have been saved by the inventions and discoveries of Minnesota’s world-class medical inventors and researchers.
1931 – Wangensteen suction tube. Created by Dr. Owen H. Wangensteen at the University of Minnesota. The device removes deadly gas and fluid buildup during abdominal surgery.
1948 – Cortisone. Nobel Prize-winning researchers Dr. Edward Kendall and Dr. Philip Hench developed this anti-inflammatory “wonder drug” that is widely used today.
1952 – Open-heart Surgery. Surgeons C. Walton Lillehei and F. John Lewis performed the first successful open-heart surgery on a five-year-old girl.
1955 – Blood pump. Dr. Richard DeWall and C. Walter Lillehei made surgery safer with this device that puts oxygen into a patient’s blood during open-heart surgery.
1955 – In-ear hearing aid. Minnesota firm Dalhberg, Inc., was the first firm to market the device.
1957 – Pacemaker. Working in his garage, electrical engineer Earl Bakken developed the implantable pacemaker and started the world-renowned company today known as Medtronic.
1960s – Mechanical heart valve. C. Walton Lillehei helped design two valves that are still in use today.
1960s – Anesthesia monitor. Physicist Alfred Nier and others developed this operating room technology.
1966-68 – Organ transplants. The first pancreas transplant, and the first successful kidney and bone marrow transplants were done at the University of Minnesota.
1996 – Transgenic mouse. Hoping to give researchers a tool to help understand the development of Alzheimer’s disease research, neurologist Dr. Karen Hsaio Ashe bred a mouse genetically disposed to inherit the disease.
1998 – Ziagen. Chemist Robert Vance developed the compounds that led to this medication for treating HIV/AIDS.
2001 – Anthrax test. The Mayo Clinic developed this DNA test, which can detect anthrax in less than an hour.
Gizmos and Technological Wonders
Minnesota companies have not only made life easier with technology. In many cases they’ve revolutionized it.
1865 to 1881 – Milling innovations. Gradual reduction milling and the invention of the automatic roller mill increase production from red spring wheat. Pillsbury builds the world’s largest flour mill.
1885 – Furnace thermostat. Inventor Albert Butz’s heating control device was the birth Honeywell.
1888 – The union suit. Not really a technological wonder. But when winter rolls around, thank heavens for this full-body set of long underwear.
1899 – Concrete grain elevator. Constructed by the Peavey grain company, became an industry standard.
1921 – Wet/dry sandpaper. 3M’s improvement on basic sandpaper.
1925 – Masking tape. 3M inventor Dick Drew developed the only slightly-sticky tape for use in auto body shops.
1926 – Closed-cabin aircraft. Northwest Airways debuted the nations’ first closed-cabin commercial plane, a three-passenger craft.
1940 – Uranium separation. Physicist Alfred Nier helped develop the atomic bomb by separating uranium isotopes 235 and 238.
1942 – Electronic autopilot. This Honeywell invention helped guide World War II bombers.
1947 – Magnetic recording tape. Developed by 3M, it became the industry standard.
1951 – Walk-behind snow blower. Thank Minnesota’s Toro for helping homeowners clear their drifted driveways every winter.
1952 – Computer tape. Another 3M innovation.
1952 – First scientific computer. Known as ERA 1103, also known as the Univac 1103, this computer was developed by St. Paul-based Engineering Research Associates.
1953 – Data flight recorder. More commonly known as the “black box,” this aviation innovation was a product of General Mills.
1955 – Taconite process. Edwin W. Davis’s taconite pellet process allowed for the use of lower-grade iron ore and breathed new life into Minnesota’s iron range.
1960s – Ring laser gyroscope. Designed by Honeywell, this invention stabilizes and helps guide airplanes, rockets, submarines and spacecraft.
1962 – ALVIN. The world’s first deep-sea submarine. Developed by General Mills’ Mechanical Division, it explored the wreck if the Titanic.
1963 – Retractable seat belt. Engineer James Ryan developed this restraint that self-tightens during a crash.
1964 – Supercomputer. Developed by Control Data Corporation, this fast-thinking machine was used by the government to simulate nuclear explosions, break codes, and ponder many other complex problems.
1970s – Tissue culture technology. Ronald L. Phillips and a research team at the University of Minnesota paved the way for genetic engineering of crops when they regenerated whole corn plants from a tissue sample.
1976 – CRAY-1 supercomputer. Designed by computer genius Seymour Cray.
1980 – Post-it Notes. 3M’s Art Fry invented the sticky yellow pieces of paper we just can’t live without.
1990 – Gopher Internet portal. The first software for navigating the Internet, created at the University of Minnesota.
1994 – Polylactic acid polymer. Scientist Patrick Gruber figured out how to produce this biodegradable plastic polymer derived from corn. It’s used to make all kinds of environmentally friendly plastic products that can breakdown.