Having just returned from a trip to Washington, DC, I can tell you that you learn a lot about our nation's 16th president and Illinois' favorite son, Abraham Lincoln, just by walking around. The fact that Lincoln had a inventor's mind comes as news to some people.

Abraham Lincoln is the only U.S. President to hold a patent. In 1849, Lincoln was granted a patent for a device that would help heavily laden ships buoy over and through shallow water. Lincoln's "lighbulb moment" came when, as a young man, he watched crews unload and then reload cargo while crossing smaller streams and shallow rivers. The invention was never mass-produced, because the nation's attention was drawn toward other things, most notably the looming conflict between the states.

However, as Kevin Hoffman of Reboot Illinois points out in his article, there have been plenty of other Illinois folks who had a lightbulb go off over their heads, too. Some of the things that we take for granted had their origin right here in Illinois:

  • The zipper: Whitcomb L. Judson of Chicago was a mechanical engineer and creator of the zipper. Patented in 1893.
  • Barbed wire: Joseph Glidden of Dekalb received his patent in 1874, and went on to become one of America's richest men.
  • The cell phone: Invented by Martin Cooper in 1973 while working as the head of Motorola’s communication’s systems division in Schaumburg.
  • The vacuum cleaner: Invented in Chicago in 1868 by by Ives W. McGaffey. The first model was dubbed "The Whirlwind."

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