Retrospective 1969-1970: My First Invention

Introduction

The story told here is real. However, I have added a bit of humor to it for entertainment purposes. The actions taken, timeline, and responses to it are real, the description of it is a dramatization of actual events to make it more fun to read. No names have been changed.

Background

As a kid, I glued and painted everything. Making stuff from wood and found objects was the greatest form of entertainment around, next to stinking up the house with unsupervised chemistry set experiments. The reasons are pretty obvious:

  • No computers or video games
  • 3 channels on antenna TV
  • The only thing streaming in 1969 was water, down actual streams
  • No smart phones and all the trappings that go with them

So, I made things. Gokarts from wood and lawn mower take-off wheels, to walking stilts made from scrap 2 x 4’s. Wenatchee was the center of the Wenatchee Youth circus, so you walked on stilts and rode unicycles – including delivering newspapers on them. The place was a bit bizarre, but wonderful to grow up in.

Problem Definition

The glue of choice in those days was Elmer’s Glue-All. The problem was, at the time, the stuff came with one of two caps designs. The separate little press on cap, and the twist cap design.

The go-to glue and carpet destroyer of youngster’s pre-digital existence.

The separate glue cap frequently became separated, and the glue did one of two things: 1.) Dried to clog in the neck of the bottle, or 2.) spilled on the carpet, when the bottle fell off the table – often made worse from being stomped during the search for the missing cap.

The twist cap – invented around 1966 – about the time I was just becoming a heavy glue user.

The twist cap was an improvement. However, it too frequently clogged, mainly from forgetting to twist it closed. This often resulted in the little nozzle pin inside breaking off in the dried glue trapped inside the cap, as one forces the twist cap off to clear the clog – leaving a bottle capped with a cover that has a hole in it and no pin to plug it… so the issue of clogging continues.

The issue of keeping the bottle clog free, while also being leak free, was a market need unsatisfied, in my 11 year old mind. So, began my first engineering project. The year was 1969, it was winter.

Invention and Prototype 1969 style

The following is a reenactment using images created in Solidworks, and are meant to illustrate the work of the time. Solidworks would not available for another 20 years, 3D printing 25 years away, and there were no selfies being taken at the time… as digital photos were three decades into the future – so rather than wait, I decided to carry on in my primitive universe regardless.

The problem bottle on hand. The little cap that loved to disappear, leaving the bottle exposed to spillage, and the glue to set and clog the delivery cone.

Using what I had available at the time, which was mainly found objects comprised of a prescription bottle with cap, and a roofing nail, I constructed my version of a glue cap. The design would push a rigid pin through the delivery hole on attachment, keeping it clear – which the original cap did not do.

After some filing, the medicine bottle fit tightly to the original bottle cap. The center delivery cone was discarded (probable filled with hard glue.)
The finished prototype (not actual image), showing the use of the cap and nail to close the bottle.

Once completed, I set out to write my description of the invention to Elmer’s, in my very best hand writing – which was almost legible to adults at the time.

Disposition

Lacking the ability to email my proposal (something that would not be available to me for 20 more years), I put the cap prototype on a clean empty bottle, boxed it up, and, with my father’s assistance, sent it to Borden for their consideration, accompanied by my 2 page, long-hand description of the reasons for its existence.

Response

After a few months, I received a very nice letter from Borden, thanking me for using their product and taking the time to suggest the cap design – would I please find the enclosed bottle of glue as a token of their appreciation. The bottle had the twisty top closer. The year was 1970. I was happy to have the glue, but a little miffed that they had not jumped into a product development cycle to produce my design and send me a prototype of their own for review and approval. What can I say, at 12 I did not have a good feel for how NPD processes worked. Some days, I still don’t understand why things take so long.

A Surprise Ending

By 1976, I had moved on from my glue dispenser invention interests to other things (girls, cars, skiing, girls, etc..) Yet, I was still making things, so bought adhesives regularly. I was surprised when I came upon a new product from Borden/Elmer’s, called Carpenters Glue. The new cap design intrigued me.

The new bottle and cap for carpenter glue – 1976 Ad

I could not help but see the similarity between my design, sent 7 years earlier, and this new cap.

The new cap design uses a flat cap with a blade (not a roofing nail of course) that penetrates the end of the dispensing tube to keep it clear and secure it in place. The larger size allows more glue to flow, and is easier to find.

I realized that there was very little chance of any connection between my proposal and this new design, nor did I see any advantage in pressing the case in attracting girls. Regardless, I was satisfied thinking my approach was validated, and well ahead of the rocket scientists at Borden – so I smiled about it. However, I did set the bottle back on the shelf and purchased some TiteBond out of spite, which I favor to this day.

If only I had a 3D Printer at the time, and solid modeling capability, and email, and perhaps a patent attorney. Who knows, I could have become the glue dispenser cap king!

Author: kwillmorth

I am an artist in lighted objects and product designer.

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