Invention Myth Trivia: Baseball, football and bulletproof vests

Truth or consequences. Today we give you the story of three longstanding truths (or myths) concerning three key inventions. We report. You decide.

Former New York Yankee first baseman Wally Pipp. When he came down with a headache, do you know who replaced him? (Library of Congress collection)

CHARLOTTE, N.C., Oct. 28, 2015 – It’s a potpourri of trivia delights today, as we delve into inventions, baseball and famous toys, so let’s get started.

1 – Who was Wally Pipp? Old-time baseball buffs should already get this one. But there is, as frequently happens with trivia, more to the story.

Wally Pipp is known as the “man who had a headache that ended his career.” In 1925, a young player out of Columbia University named Lou Gehrig started at first base for the New York Yankees.

Gehrig got the assignment that day because regular first baseman Wally Pipp arrived at the park with a headache and asked to sit the game out.

Pipp never got his position back. Gehrig went on to play the next 14 seasons without missing a game. In so doing, he established an astounding streak of playing in 2,130 straight games before coming down with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a fatal disease that is commonly referred to as “Lou Gehrig’s disease” today.

Since Gehrig’s time, former Baltimore Orioles infielder Cal Ripken finally surpassed his predecessor’s record in 1995. Three years later, Ripken ended his own streak at a record 2,632 games. Given the structure of modern baseball, Ripken’s milestone is one that will never be beaten. Nor will Gehrig’s runner-up status, for that matter.

The trivial aspect of this story, however, is that most people believe Gehrig began his trek toward baseball history on the day he took over at first base for Wally Pipp. The truth is that Gehrig’s record-setting stretch started the day before. You see, Gehrig was a pinch hitter in the previous game on June 1, 1925.

Pipp, by the way, was traded at the end of the season, and he is now primarily remembered only as a footnote in baseball trivia.

2 – What do windshield wipers, fire escapes and bulletproof vests have in common? Some trivia enthusiasts might say this tidbit is only 67 percent accurate, but others will argue otherwise. Here’s the background. We report. You decide.

All three of the inventions listed above were created by women.

We’ll commence with Mary Anderson, because there is no dispute about her contribution, the first item on our list. Anderson received a patent for the windshield wiper in 1903 after getting her idea from watching a trolley driving around with the windows open on a chilly morning. The driver had been unable to see through the window because his vision was marred by frost. Later Henry Ford incorporated the idea in his Model A automobile.

Things begin to get a bit cloudy with regard to our second invention, because Joseph Winters invented the fire-escape ladder in 1878. Later, a portable fire escape ladder was created by Daniel McCree of Chicago in November 1890.

But three years earlier, Anna Connelly patented the modern fire escape, an exterior staircase whose design still largely remains in use today. Though other systems existed before Anna Connelly’s idea, the outside exit is what distinguishes her invention from the others.

And finally, a real controversy surrounds invention number three. There are several examples throughout history of bulletproof-type vests, but Norval V. Cobb appears to have gotten the credit for the idea.

The dispute lies in the fact that Stephanie Louise Kwolek did extensive research on high performance chemical compounds for DuPont − research that ultimately led to her discovery of a synthetic material today known as Kevlar. Kwolek’s invention was five times stronger than steel, did not rust or corrode and was extremely lightweight.

Though Cobb may get the honors for his concept, Kwolek’s material is still standard issue for bulletproof vests today.

So now the choice is yours.

3 – The origin of Super Balls: Once again we step back in time a bit. Kids today have no idea what a “Super Ball” is because they cannot take their eyes off their iPhones and video games.

Just a little over 50 years ago, chemist Norman Stingley invented a type of synthetic rubber that he attempted to market. Rubber companies rejected the material because it lacked durability, but Stingley persevered and took his creation to the Wham-O toy company.

What made Stingley’s product so desirable as a toy was its incredible springiness, which allowed it bounce back or rebound with a high degree of intensity that could returned it back on the rebound almost to its original starting location. It took Wham-O nearly two years to design a method to keep this amazing ball from flying apart en route. Once that problem was solved, the toy became an immediate hit with kids and sold in the millions.

As usual, there is more to this story. After watching his children playing with a Super Ball, Lamar Hunt, who founded the American Football League − now the American Football Conference (AFC) of the National Football League − wrote a letter to then-League Commissioner Pete Rozelle about his idea about a name for the merged league’s new “AFL-NFL Championship Game,” a name said to have been inspired by his kids’ favorite toy.

The media picked up on the name “Super Bowl,” and it has been the official name of the professional football championship since the third annual game. And so the story goes, despite occasional media sniping regarding just who was responsible for the term.

Bob Taylor has been traveling the world for more than 30 years as a writer and award-winning television producer focusing on international events, people and cultures around the globe.

Taylor is founder of the Magellan Travel Club (

Read more of What in the World and Bob Taylor at Communities Digital News

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