The phrase “modern convenience” has been around since before we moved restrooms indoors. But over the decades, we’ve developed more and more ideas and inventions that make it a little bit easier to navigate the world. It’s easy to think of the automobile or most major appliances when you consider this concept, but what about the little things? What about the tiny gizmos that just make the day a little less difficult? Here’s a tribute to the indispensable conveniences that you never knew you needed, but can’t live without.
The Snooze Alarm: Savior and/or bane of college students everywhere, the snooze alarm was first introduced 65 years ago this month. Some experts claim that hitting snooze is bad for you, but anyone that’s ever had a bad night of sleep (or a morning they aren’t looking forward to) would probably disagree.
The Garage Door Opener: The Ford Model-T was considered the first affordable automobile. It debuted in 1908, which means that it took less than 20 years for people to get tired of manually opening the garage door. The electric overhead garage door opener made its first appearance in 1926, created by C.G. Johnson. The invention really took off after World War II, and units that worked with remotes were pervasive by the 1980s.
The Refrigerator Light (and Automatic Lights): Gibson Appliance (which is part of Electrolux today) claims that they invented the refrigerator light. It’s a fiendishly simple idea, and hugely effective (or highly enabling) for late-night snackers. Seriously, has anyone outside of Susy Hendrix from Wait Until Dark ever complained about having light in the fridge? While we’re here, let’s also praise the two cousins of the fridge light: automatic lights (of all kinds, yard or otherwise), and the auto-off switch for headlights.
Remotes of All Kinds: The TV remote might feel like a relatively new thing, but Zenith actually put out the first one in 1955; it was called the Flash-Matic. Since that groundbreaking moment in the history of Remaining on the Couch, all manner of remotes have become available. Like the aforementioned garage door opener, we’ve had remotes for stereos, car door locks, even pitching machines. Of course, those are all the godparents of today’s smart home systems like HomePod, Google Home, and Alexa, that control almost everything you ask them to.
Sunglasses: Going low-tech for a moment, but no less indispensable, consider sunglasses. With a history that goes back to 12th century China, humans have spent almost ten centuries breaking or losing their shades.
The Entire Idea of the Microwave Oven: Any kitchen appliance is, by definition, a convenience. The fridge, the freezer, the oven, the stove-top, the kitchen sink . . . these were all pioneered to take an existing job and make it easier. In some ways, the microwave was the great leap forward in making the United States an even less-patient society. “You mean it takes eight to ten minutes to boil four cups of water? Tell you what; I can give you three at best.”
Windshield Wiper Sprayers and Fluid: The windshield wiper itself is more than a century old, having first been added to cars in 1913. The first version to incorporate the windshield washer concept came around in the 1930s. It’s not a perfect invention (otherwise we wouldn’t have squeegees at every gas station) but it’s definitely good in a pinch.
Electric Blankets: The electric blanket is even older than the windshield wiper; it was invented by Samuel Irwin Russell in 1912. Original electric blankets were placed under the mattress to warm the whole bed.
Sleep Timer: The Snooze Alarm’s media cousin, the sleep timer was patented in 1991 by James Hailey and John Chaney. So far, no one’s come up with an invention to counteract the phenomenon of waking up five seconds after the timer turns off the TV.
Seat Warmers: Possibly the next-best addition to cars after defrost, seat warmers almost drift into necessity in the Midwest and Northeast. They certainly feel like a reward after you’d had to chip your car out of the first, or one-hundred-and-first, frost of the year.
Cordless Phones and Hands-Free Devices: It’s funny how we went from amazement at the idea of the telephone to the point where we were sick of the cord getting tangled. By the 1980s, cords began to vanish, but society also decided it wanted to be totally unencumbered. Enter headsets, speaker phones, voice-text, and more. Are we just happier NOT holding things, or are we all consumed with the need to be doing other things while we’re talking?
Resealable Anything: Perhaps it’s appropriate that Ziploc bags and Pringles potato chips debuted in the same year (1968), but they were both the ideological children of Tupperware, which first appeared in 1946. Certainly resealable packaging was a boon on the health and freshness front, but it also make you wonder why conventional chip bags haven’t made the jump where nuts, croutons, and various frozen chicken products all have.
Wireless Mouse: The Logitech Mouseman Cordless arrived in 1991, saving countless people from repetitive stress injury born from swiping their mouse in a circle over and over again in an attempt to escape the cord.
The Debit Card: Maybe the ultimate in items that has become truly indispensable, the debit card has simultaneously relieved people of being short on cash and making ATM withdrawals less and less of a thing. Granted, some businesses, like fast food chains, were slow to adopt the cards in the 1990s, but today, there are only handfuls of cash-only establishments. The best part about a debit card? They made the frustration of not having exact change irrelevant.
Featured image: Elena Elisseeva / Shutterstock
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