The unsung heroes of summer

From Dr. John Gorrie, the father of air conditioning, to Steve Hartman, the inventor of the pool noodle

Try to imagine getting through summer without once enjoying the sticky sweetness of a Popsicle, or being able to pelt people with water balloons. It's hard to fathom not having the chance to cool off inside an air conditioned room on a sweltering day, isn't it?

There are hall of fames for everything — baseball, rock 'n' roll, toys, insurance (insurance?!) — and there should be one for the unsung heroes who shape how we spend our summers. If I were to create a Summer Hall of Fame, located in a building where the A/C is on full blast and the gift shop only sells beach balls, beach blankets, and Beach Boys CDs, these would be my picks for the inaugural class of inductees:

Dr. John Gorrie — the father of air conditioning

We need to put this man's face on a coin, chisel him into Mt. Rushmore, and have a day in his honor, preferably one during the apex of summer. Dr. John Gorrie wasn't just a physician — he also served as postmaster and bank president of Apalachicola, Florida, and is considered to be the father of air conditioning and refrigeration.

While treating his patients for malaria and yellow fever, he thought it was best for them to be kept in a cool room, which could be difficult as ice had to be brought down from the Northern lakes. Gorrie started tinkering around, and in 1851 found himself with U.S. Patent No. 8080 for an ice machine. Sadly, he died just four years later, after struggling to find investors for his product. The next time you're shivering in the house even though it's 105 degrees outside, say a silent thank you to Dr. Gorrie.

Frank Epperson — inventor of the Popsicle

We have a tired 11-year-old to thank for summer's most iconic treat. It was 1905, and after a long day of playing, Frank Epperson went to sleep, totally forgetting that he left a cup of soda with a stirring stick out on the porch. It was winter, and his drink froze overnight; when he went to eat it the next day, Epperson discovered that his icy concoction was pretty tasty.

Smushing together his last name and the word "icicle," he dubbed his accidental creation the Epsicle, and started selling it to friends in his San Francisco neighborhood. In 1923, he began peddling his Epsicles at a local amusement park and applied for the patent in 1924. At that point, his kids convinced him to change the name to what they called it — Pop's 'Sicle, or Popsicle. Unfortunately, in the late 1920s, Epperson was flat broke and sold the rights to his product to the Joe Lowe Co. He didn't end up a bajillionaire, but at least his creation is still adored by millions.

Sam Foster — first vendor of mass-produced sunglasses

Sam Foster may have founded his plastic molding and manufacturing company in 1919 in order to make women's hair accessories, but fame and fortune came in 1929, when he sold his first pair of modern, mass-produced sunglasses on the Atlantic City boardwalk. Soon after, sunglasses were all the rage, with celebrities wearing them to keep their eyes protected on set, and also to try to disguise themselves while in public; regular people just wore them to keep from squinting in the sun.

In 1936, Edwin H. Land put his Polaroid filter on a pair of spectacles, resulting in polarized lenses, and that same year, Bausch & Lomb launched Ray-Ban, which created the Aviator line of sunglasses to help pilots cut out glare. Sunglasses remain an every day accessory for most people, letting wearers to show off their individual style while protecting their peepers.

Ellsworth B. A. Zwoyer — first patent for charcoal briquettes

If Ellsworth B. A. Zwoyer had an E! True Barbecue Story about him, there would be a lot of sad music and interviews with people shaking their heads, wondering where it all went wrong. You see, in 1897, the Philadelphia man patented a design for charcoal briquettes. Cooking over an open flame was nothing new, but this invention certainly was, and now people all over the world use briquettes while barbecuing.

It may have been Zwoyer's idea, but Henry Ford usually receives credit, after he started making briquettes in 1921 with old wood scraps and sawdust from his assembly lines. He called his company Ford Charcoal, and sold the product at his dealerships. After Ford's death, the company was sold and renamed Kingsford Charcoal, in honor of E.G. Kingsford, Ford's friend and the husband of his cousin.

Franz Greiter — sun protection pioneer

Never wanting to experience a burn as bad as the one he got while climbing a Swiss mountain in 1938, chemistry student Franz Greiter spent eight years working on a product that would provide effective sun protection. His wife Marga was a beautician, and she assisted him with the research and development. In 1946, they introduced to the world Glacier Cream, which promised safety from the sun.

Benjamin Green also deserves an honorable mention in this category. A World War II airman and pharmacist, Green used red veterinary petroleum jelly as a barrier between his skin and the sun. Once the war was over, he took the "red vet pet" and combined it with cocoa butter and coconut oil. This was the origin of Coppertone's suntan cream, which had the tagline "Tan, Don't Burn," which, in 2019, seems so quaint.

Loretta Scott Crew — first person to share recipe for s'mores

The Girl Scouts have long had the cookie market on lock, so of course it was a troop leader who first thought to write down the recipe for s'mores. Loretta Scott Crew is credited with putting the three-ingredient recipe (marshmallows, chocolate, graham crackers) in the 1927 guidebook Tramping and Trailing with the Girl Scouts. It was called the "Some More," and the instructions were simple: find an open flame, toast marshmallows to a "crispy, gooey state," slap one on top of a chocolate bar, then smush everything together between two graham crackers. A campfire staple, the humble s'more remains one of summer's true delicacies.

Edgar Ellington — inventor of the water balloon

Without trench foot, the water balloon as we know it wouldn't exist. In 1950, Edgar Ellington set out to create a waterproof sock to keep the painful condition at bay. His first idea was to cover a cotton sock with latex, and he tweaked the design several times. During one test, he filled his creation with water, and saw it was leaking from the side. Frustrated, Ellington threw the sock on the table, and watched as water exploded everywhere. 

This actually delighted Ellington, and he shifted gears, abandoning the trench foot sock in order to sell his "water grenades" to children. The name was ultimately changed to the much-friendlier "water balloon," and they've been drenching kids ever since.

Steve Hartman — inventor of the pool noodle

Now they can be found everywhere, but three decades ago when Steve Hartman first tried to get stores to stock his invention, he was constantly rejected. When asked what the pool noodle did, "we said, 'Well, you float around with them, you hit your brother with them,'" Hartman told Marketplace in 2014. "It was a tough sell."

Hartman, the president and CEO of Industrial Thermo Polymers, came up with the idea after joining the family business. His company makes backer rods, which are used to build high-rises, ramps, and roads. His dad used to bring the foam rods home, and they always ended up in the pool. For construction purposes, the rods are gray, so Hartman decided the pool versions would be painted bright colors. After a year of hearing "no," Canadian Tire finally took a chance on the pool noodle, and they started flying off the shelves. Hartman estimates the company now sells six to eight million pool noodles a year.


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