Hidden Heroes – The Genius of Everyday Things opens at the Science Museum, London

By Culture24 Reporter | 09 November 2011
A photo of a woman in black and white against a bright yellow background in a retro advertisement
© Leitz
Exhibition: Hidden Heroes – The Genius of Everyday Things, Science Museum, London, until June 5 2012

From the ring binder and the rubber band to adhesive tape and the egg box, the Science Museum's major new show is a back-to-basics homage to the inventions we couldn't live without.

And while there's delight to be had in simplicity, the underlying message also resonates.

"At a time when celebrity is king, it gives all of us at the museum enormous satisfaction to celebrate the truly uncelebrated," says Dr Susan Mossman, a materials science specialist who has worked on The Genius of Everyday Things.

"It will shine a light on a group of outstanding inventions and inventors, revealing the supposedly mundane to be nothing short of remarkable."

It's not just the origins of the show – created by the Vitra Design Museum on the River Rhine – which give it the Vorsprung durch Technik feel.

For bubble wrap, to pick one item inspired by and evolving to aid technological forward-thinking, the engineers Al Fielding and Marc Chavannes were experimenting with textured plastic wallpaper.

Midway through a flight, Chavannes spotted that the clouds appeared to be cushioning the plane he was on as it descended.

Several years later, having pursued the realisation that air inside plastic film could provide consummate packing material, the pair began mass producing their discovery, which remains the stuff of packages across the world to this day.

Elsewhere, coffee filters are revealed as the inventions of early 20th century Dresden housewives and corkscrews turn out to be patented to a British clergyman, Samuel Henshall, from way back in 1795.

Condoms were once made from animal intestines (the first rubber number was introduced in 1870), and a competition led by Napoleon resulted in the mighty tin can.

Who knew? Rawl Plugs and coat hangers have never seemed so deceptively entrancing.


More pictures from the show:

An image of an old advert for a pencil
The Castell 9000 pencil: Pencils date back to the 16th century, when a graphite deposit was discovered in Cumberland. Nicolas Jacques Conté developed the method used for pencil production, hardening a core of clay and graphite in a kiln, then encasing it in a wooden holder
© AW Faber-Castell Corporate Administration Archive and Collections
A photo of a stomach covered by a piece of clothing made up of zips
The Zipper Dress (by Chilean designer Sebastian Errazuriz, 2005): In the early 20th century, Swedish-American Gideon Sundback - employed at the Universal Fastener Company in New Jersey - spent seven years perfecting the interlocking principle of the zip
© Sebastian Errazuriz
A photo of a blue shipping container
Shipping container: 1950s American shpping entrepreneur Malcolm McLean came up with the idea of loading complete trucks and trains onto ships, then separating the containers from their transport vehicles
© Vitra Design Museum. Photo: Andreas Sütterlin
A black and white photo of a man in a hat and coat looking over a shipping port
McLean's invention is vital to global trade these days, revolutionising freight transport and becoming a symbol of globalisation in the process
© Maersk
A photo of an advert for eardrops in German
Ohropax earplug advertising panel (1928): Berlin pharmacist Maximilian Negwar began developing wax plugs surrounded by cotton wool for hearing protection at the start of the 20th century. Ohropax - combining the German word for "ear" and the Latin for "peace" - were supplied to German soldiers during the First World War
© Ohropax
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