Category Archives: History

Extraordinary Ordinary Things: Toothbrush

Do you remember when you were a child, every evening your parents would say: “Don’t forget to brush your teeth before you go to bed!” Or the slogan of oral hygiene professionals, “Brush your teeth twice a day; see your dentist twice a year!”

Both slogans are still current today, as is the trusty toothbrush needed to execute the admonitions. The fact is, the humble toothbrush is a virtually indispensable feature of our everyday life; however, the toothbrush isn’t really all that humble. The designs and materials used in its various manifestations are the result of decades of careful scientific investigations. And development continues apace. Today if we so fancy, we can even choose computerized versions of the toothbrush that link to the internet to provide aspects of oral hygiene previously never even imagined.

Given its ubiquity, hygiene, and social importance, the toothbrush unquestionably deserves a place of honor on the list of what I like to call “extraordinary ordinary things.”

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Extraordinary Ordinary Things: The Wristwatch

“Say, what time is it?” If you are like most people, you will take a glance at your wristwatch and quickly give the answer.

Today, the wristwatch is almost as much a part of us as our skin; however, just over a century ago, this wasn’t the case. In earlier agricultural populations, few people were concerned about the exact time because they didn’t need to be. Concern about approximate, if not exact time, was essentially in the domain of kings and emperors, servants of such royal personages, and the aristocracy, who represented only a miniscule fraction of the population. It is really only since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution in the mid-18th century that knowing the exact time has become a significant concern to a significant portion of the population.

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Extraordinary Ordinary Things: Rubber

Rubber is one of the most common substances in the modern world, and certainly one of the most undervalued. If you ask someone to quickly name a product made of rubber, you are likely to get a reply such as a pencil eraser, rubber band (“elastic band” in Britain), rubber bathmat, rubber stamp, rubber toys, rubber balloons, etc. On further reflection, the person might add objects such as garden hoses, aprons, surfing wet suits, gloves, etc.

By themselves, none of these things have radically changed our social environment and how we go about our lives in it. However, take away any one of them and we are likely to feel a significant difference. This is why I believe rubber justifiably deserves to hold a place in the list of what I like to call “extraordinary ordinary things.”

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Benjamin Franklin close-up from one hundred dollars bill

Extraordinary Ordinary Things: Money Moves

The theme of this series explores items that have become so integrated into our lives that we barely notice them; yet have completely transformed how we live. The first item in the series was the elevator—try to imagine modern high-rise cities without them. The second item was the pre-printed adhesive postage stamp—try to imagine sending and receiving letters and other things through public postal services without them. The third item was going to be about money, specifically the credit card. This  little bit of plastic  ensures we  always have access to money to buy virtually anything we want virtually anywhere in the world. Continue reading