Man’s Greatest Invention

[Originally written in 2000 while working in the United States – still relevant]

The weeks preceding the end of the 1900’s and beginning of the 2K’s have seen a plethora of polls and pronouncements regarding the Best This or Best That of the Millenium. While curiously enough 98% of the ‘greatest’ were invented between 1990 and 1999, according to the polls, one great invention of man has been ignoble in its’ abscence.

Certainly the wheel should be considered one of man’s greatest inventions; after all how else would that great American invention, The Indianapolis 500, ever have come to be? Imagine the eardrum rending sound of 400 horsepower automobiles screaming around the track at 200 miles per hour… on skids.

Another candidate for greatest invention of all is fire. Certainly without fire I would never have been able to sample the pleasures of Winston Light 100’s. And how else would Mrs. O’Leary’s cow have achieved infamy. Nero would have been known as a ‘so-so’ fiddler and napalm simply environmentally hazardous goop spread over half the forests of Indo-China.

Right up there on the ‘alltime greatest list’ are the atomic bomb (cha right… like we needed that eh?), submarines (Remember the Thresher?.. ’nuff said there) and the airplane (which is the worst fate – hijacking or the chicken dinner in economy?).

No, the greatest invention known to man is the paperclip.

Although certainly before the recollection of the Gen-X’rs who stuffed the cyber-ballot box of the Top 10 polls, the mighty paperclip is only a recent arrival in millenial terms. According to the Acco Company’s website, the paperclip was actually invented just 100 years ago by the Norwegian, Johan Vaaler. Now this fact is quite interesting in itself, given the relative obscurity of Norway on the high technology frontier. When I read this tidbit of valuable information my first image was of a large copper clip holding together neat bundles of pickled herring.

“Ja, vee haff dot type off herring, Missus Yonson.” “Olaf, hand me doone dot clip off pickled smelt!”

Reading further it seems that at the time Norway didn’t even have a patent office, so young Vaaler was forced to patent his amazing invention in Germany. I can see it now, pointy hatted Prussians rubbing their hands in glee at having stolen this remarkable invention!

“Ja, mein Kapitan, vee haff zee means zu kontrole zee verld mit zee V-1 Paper-Klippen!”

Thankfully for the balance of world power, at about the same time Cornelius J. Brosnan (how about that for an All-American name?) of Springfield, Massachusetts invented something called the Konaclip. Hmm… that sounds more like something I would have used in my younger years to keep my Maui Wowee from burning my fingertips.

The form of paperclip we know best today was produced shortly thereafter by the Gem Manufacturing Company of England, where it is known to this day as the… Gem Clip (ruddy original these Brits what?). Other types followed with names like The Non-Skid, the Ideal and my unfavourite, The Owl. The latter was produced for the primary purpose of NOT tangling with other paper clips. I have only one word for that… Borrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrring! Who the heck wants a paper clip that never tried to have orgiastic relations with its’ fellow clips? I know I have spent many a pleasant hour untangling a large wad of paper clips.

All history aside the paper clip is man’s greatest invention simple because of its’ ingenuity. You can do things with a paperclip that are unheard of with other implements. For example, could you imagine cleaning the wax out of your ear with say, a Hoover upright vacuum cleaner? or a Leatherman tool? How about Vice Grips? Lord the ramifications of that would be incredible!

Simple tasks we perform every day call for first rummaging through the desk or that jumble drawer at the end of the kitchen counter for those invaluable, ubiquitous little copper trombones. Anything from cleaning your fingernails to wholesale carburettor repairs can be effected quickly with the mighty paper clip. In fact a few weeks ago Mike and I were able to make a quite satisfactory repair to the air intake system of the Bomb using 2 paper clips and about 7 feet of black electrical tape. You won’t see that in the VW Golf repair manual!

Even Hollywood is the better for the ignoble paper clip! It would be preposterous to think of a Melvyn Douglas movie in which he didn’t pull a paperclip out of his waistcoat and root about in his pipe; at least twice! The presence of the paper clip adds sagacity to any Hollywood scene. Imagine how much more powerful Gone With The Wind would have been if Rhett Butler had been picking his teeth with a paper clip while uttering the immortal words “Frankly Miss Scarlett…” Imagine a James Bond movie where he didn’t save the world at least once with a well placed paper clip! Small and essential, the paper clip carries on in almost total obscurity, dwarfed by other ‘greatest inventions’, such as the Intel Microprocessor and the electric chair.

Perhaps it is time we all paid homage to the wee marvel that young Johan gave to the world just 100 years ago. Next cocktail party how about straightening out a few clips and using them for canape pokers? In the pickled herring of course…

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