Who can really say how names are formed? Well, some linguists may know the answer to that question, but not even they know the origins for each and every name in existence today. Nevertheless, we can (to a certain extent) know the origins for some things out there in the world. And the best examples of this are things that are named after people – either those things’ inventors, or named in their honor for one reason or another. Now, with that being said, let’s take a look at 10 of our favorites.
10. The Nobel Prize
The Nobel Prize is an annual event that takes place in both Sweden and Norway, and where the most prestigious academics, scholars, scientists, political and public figures are awarded for their achievements in the fields of physics, chemistry, medicine, literature, economic sciences, and peace. With the exception of the Peace Prize, which is held in Oslo, Norway, all the others are awarded in Sweden. The recipients are given a gold medal, a diploma, and a sum of money that is decided by the Nobel Foundation. As of 2017, the prize is set at $920,000.
The man after which this prize is named is Alfred Bernhard Nobel, a 19th century Swedish engineer, chemist, inventor, businessman, and philanthropist. Throughout his life, Nobel amassed a total of 355 patents for his inventions, the most notorious of which was dynamite. As a pacifist, he believed that his invention would bring about the end of war. In one of his writings he said that “When two armies of equal strength can annihilate each other in an instant, then all civilized nations will retreat and disband their troops.” Unfortunately, however, this was not the case – not when it comes to dynamite, at least. After his death, and unbeknownst to his friends and family (he never had a wife and children), he left most of his wealth of roughly $225 million in today’s money in a trust to fund for the annual awards that he created in his will.
Meant to honor “the greatest benefit on mankind,” the Nobel Prize awards aren’t without their fair share of controversy. Writer and philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre refused to take his prize, but his family tried to claim the money after his death. Chilean poet Pablo Neruda wanted a Nobel Prize so badly that he oftentimes entertained Swedish academics and other potential committee members at his seaside villa, and he eventually got one in 1971. Other Nobel Prizes have gone to inventions it turned out later didn’t work correctly. Not even Alfred Nobel himself escaped controversy and criticism regarding these awards. During his life, Nobel was also involved in the manufacturing and selling of weapons, and these prizes are said by some to be a means for him to improve his reputation after his death.
9. The Bowler Hat
There are several things that scream ‘English’ and the Bowler Hat is definitely one of them. Its history goes back to the mid-19th century, in 1849, when the first one was designed by London hat makers Thomas and William Bowler and created by Lock & Co. of St James’s. Edward Coke, the younger brother of the 2nd Earl of Leicester, wanted a hat that could be worn by game keepers when they were out riding and could protect their heads from low-hanging branches. These keepers usually wore top hats which were easily knocked off their heads and damaged. The Bowler Hat, or bob hat, as it is sometimes known, is a hardened felt hat with a rounded crown, and it is said that before accepting it, Edward Coke stomped on it several times to check its resilience. It is also reported that he paid 12 shillings for it.
The Bowler Hat was popular with the working class in the British Isles and in the United States, where it was known as the Derby. With the start of the 20th century and afterwards, its popularity caught on with the middle and upper classes as well; a popularity that ended sometime during the 1980s. In the American West, it was the so-called derby, and not the cowboy hat or the sombrero that was the preferred choice of headwear. American author and journalist Lucius Beebe called it “the hat that won the West.” Cowboys, railroad workers, lawmen and outlaws alike all preferred it for its sturdiness and because it wouldn’t blow off into the wind so easily. Bat Masterson, Butch Cassidy, Black Bart, and Billy the Kid all wore Bowler Hats. Marion Columbus Hedgepeth, another notorious outlaw of the Wild West, was also known as the Handsome Bandit or the Derby Kid. In South America, the Bowler became part of the traditional women’s wear among the Quechua and Aymara peoples. Lock & Co. is still selling around 4,000 to 5,000 Bowler Hats every year.
Tarmac is a type of material used in building roads, runways, and other similar surfaces. The material was discovered and then patented by English inventor Edgar Purnell Hooley in 1902. But this man’s name doesn’t sound remotely similar to tarmac, does it? Well, that’s because it isn’t named after him. To understand what’s going on with the word ‘tarmac’ we must first break it down. Tarmac is the short form for tarmacadam. Tar, as we all know, is a viscous liquid that can be obtained from a wide variety of organic materials such as coal, wood, peat, or petroleum, among other things, and it’s what gives our roads its black color, or non-color, if you really want to be technical about it. Tar is used to hold the rest of the materials that make up a road together.
Macadam, on the other hand, is made up of same-sized crushed stone layers that usually make up our country roads today. Macadam roads came into being around 1820, and were a far better alternative to the previous dirt roads, filled with potholes and prone to mudding. The inventor of macadam roads was the Scottish engineer John Loudon McAdam. Macadam, McAdam – you see the connection here. But while macadam roads were good enough during the days of the horse-drawn carts and carriages, by the time cars became common place, the macadam road was inadequate. Not only were the jagged stones the main cause for many flat tires, but the road also generated a lot of dust because of the increased speeds cars were now traveling. And because the stones weren’t fixed into place, the roads were still prone to forming ruts. By combining tar with macadam, these problems would disappear, and our modern roads came into being.
But surprisingly enough, this discovery came about by accident. In 1901, Edgar Hooley was working as a surveyor in Nottinghamshire County. Here he came across a smooth patch on the road. He noticed that the patch had solidified, keeping the entire surface into place. When he asked the locals what had happened, they told him that a barrel of tar had fallen from a cart and busted open in the road. The locals then added some slag from a nearby ironworks to cover up the mess, and the end result was that smooth patch. One year later, Hooley patented the discovery and the nearby Radcliffe Road in Nottingham became the first tarmac road in the world.
7. The Saxophone
Nothing is more representative of jazz music than the saxophone. The instrument is among the newest in the musical spectrum, being invented in the 1840s by the Belgian musician and inventor Antoine-Joseph “Adolphe” Sax. He was the son of Belgium’s own appointed chief instrument maker, and from a very young age, Sax learned his father’s craft, quickly surpassing him in both reputation and skill. When he was just 15 years old, Adolphe created two flutes out of ivory and a clarinet, something that was believed to be impossible at his age. In his twenties, he reinvented the original clarinet, making it into the instrument we know today. He is also credited for transforming the trumpet by successfully incorporating piston valves into it. And besides his engineering skills, he was also a masterful instrumentalist, trained at the most prestigious and finest conservatories in Europe.
Sax was, nevertheless, keen on coming up with a musical instrument that would combine the power of a brass instrument, the subtleness and elegance of a woodwind one, as well the versatility of a stringed instrument. By 1841, and after a long period of experimentation, he came up with the bass horn. After several more improvements and the instrument’s review in a debate journal in France, the instrument was renamed the ‘saxophone’ after its inventor. Sax also designed several variations, ranging in size from the small sopranino saxophone to the huge subcontrabass version. Now, even though the instrument was designed to work as part of an orchestra, and some composers did write some works to include it, the saxophone never really became a mainstream instrument here. Some say that it was because of Sax’s own proud nature and his desire to constantly improve on instruments that made a lot of his fellow musicians angry with him, which led to the saxophone never being successfully included.
Nevertheless, instead of fading into obscurity, this new instrument was picked up and even became a staple instrument in another unexpected field – the military. French Army bands began using the saxophone and it was such a tremendous success that other military bands began adopting it as well. This way, the sax started being heard all around the world, and this is also how it eventually made its way to New Orleans.
Even though today war is no longer the main driving force behind innovation, in the 19th century it still was. Back in the early 1800s, a man by the name of Charles Barbier, who served in Napoleon’s army, realized that many of his fellow soldiers were being killed during the night while trying to read combat messages. Having to use lamps, these men oftentimes gave away their positions, leaving themselves exposed to enemy attacks. Seeing this, Barbier came up with a unique system known as ‘night writing’. The system was based on raised 12-dot cells arranged in two columns of six dots each, which formed a letter of the alphabet or a phonetic sound. Soldiers would run their fingers along the lines and read a text in complete darkness. Though a literal life-saver, night writing’s biggest problem was the fact that the cells were bigger than the average fingertip and soldiers could not effectively read the letter with just one touch.
Then came Louis Braille, born on January 4, 1809 in a small French village. At the age of three, he accidentally blinded himself while playing in his father’s leather workshop. He began attending school by listening to the lectures and later he was enrolled in Royal Institution for Blind Youth in Paris. Here, he was introduced to several books that had raised letters. Not only were these books incredibly large and bulky, letters as we know them are suited for sight, not touch. After a while Braille heard about Barbier’s night writing and began studying and improving it. Braille adapted the system and shortened the cells from 12 to just 6 dots. This way, the reader could read each letter or phonetic sound with just one touch. In 1829, he published his first book in this new style of writing and by 1837 he had also created symbols for math and music. Braille passed away in 1853, at the age of 43, and one year prior to his system becoming the official French writing form for the blind. Only a few revisions have been brought to braille since then, mainly in developing some symbols for some contractions and the most common words. This way, books written in braille can be less cumbersome.
5. The Zamboni
For those who don’t know, a Zamboni is an ice resurfacer machine that we usually see on the ice rink in between periods of play during hockey games. The Zamboni came into being in 1949 with the Model A. Over the following years, several other improvements have been brought to it. By 2010 we had the Model 560AC, and the 552AC came along in 2017. Both have several improvements over the previous models, among which is that they are completely emissions-free, running entirely on electricity. With most ice rinks being indoors these days, there was an increased threat of carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide poisoning, so these ice resurfacers have been made to stop posing health-risks for the spectators and players.
Now, as its name suggests, the inventor of the ice resurfacer is engineer Frank J. Zamboni. Back in 1927, he and his younger brother began producing and selling blocks of ice in the LA suburb of Hynes, now part of Paramount. These blocks of ice were used by dairy businesses in the transportation of their products. But by 1939, with the advent of electrically operated refrigeration technology, their business was no longer financially viable and the Zamboni brothers decided to use their own refrigeration equipment to build an ice rink. The Iceland Skating Rink, as it was called, had an area of 20,000 square feet, could accommodate over 800 skaters at once, and was the largest ice skating rink in the world at the time. Business was going well, but when it came to smoothing the ice, it took 4 or 5 workers and a tractor over an hour to scrape the ice, remove the shavings and then spray another coat of water – which took another hour to freeze.
This is when Frank Zamboni decided to come up with a machine that would do all of that, but in a fraction of the time. He modified a tractor by adding a blade in front that would scrape the ice, a device that collected the shavings in a tank, and another mechanism that would spray a thin layer of water that would freeze in less than a minute. When practicing for an upcoming event at the Iceland Skating Rink, former Olympic ice-skating champion Sonja Henie saw the first-ever Zamboni in action and decided to take one wherever she went on tour in both the US and abroad. From that moment on, the ice resurfacer’s popularity began to soar, with more and more NHL teams buying one for themselves as well.
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the definition for the word boycott is “to engage in a concerted refusal to have dealings with (a person, a store, an organization, etc.) usually to express disapproval or to force acceptance of certain conditions.” The origin of the word goes back to 1880 during the Irish Land War, to a man by the name of Charles Cunningham Boycott, a retired British army captain who was now an estate manager in northwestern Ireland. Though not technically a war, this was a period of civil unrest where the Irish tenant farmers wanted a redistribution of land from the British landlords, especially those who were always absent… which were most of them, actually.
During that time, only 0.2 percent of the population, mostly British, held the nation’s land and were renting it out to the Irish. Those who wouldn’t pay their rents were evicted immediately. The Irish National Land League was formed in order to combat this poor state of affairs. One way to fight this situation was for the Irish to stop bidding on an evicted neighbor’s land. But instead of killing the farmer who would do that (as was suggested), Charles Stewart Parnell, the League’s leader, suggested that they should shun him in every way possible – basically to boycott him – even though they didn’t have the word at the time.
But only two weeks later, after it was evident that the crops that year weren’t good enough, the Irish tenants demanded that Charles Boycott lower their rents. After he refused their demands and began evicting some tenants who didn’t pay, the Irish decided against any violence towards Boycott. Instead they… well, boycotted him. In other words, nobody was willing to work with Boycott whatsoever. By the end of 1880 many newspapers in both England and the United States began using the term in reference to this form of protest. Eight years later, boycott even made it to the New English Dictionary on Historical Principles – which later became known as the Oxford English Dictionary.
3. The Jacuzzi
In the early 1900s, seven Italian brothers immigrated to the United States and ended up in southern California, picking fruit at an orchard. Later, these brothers moved north to the Bay Area, in Berkeley, to be more exact. Here, they established a machine shop and began manufacturing various things including airplane propellers. Among several other inventions, including the design for the first enclosed cabin plane, these seven brothers also created a pump that was able to lift large amounts of water. They then decided to open a business to mass manufacture the pump and sell it. This company became known as Jacuzzi and Brothers – Jacuzzi being their surname.
One of the brothers then had a son who developed rheumatoid arthritis when he was only two years old. The only way he could get any pain relief was to go to the hospital and use a large hydrotherapy tank. One day, the dad had an idea of creating a hydrotherapy pump, small enough to be used by people in their own bathtubs. This portable pump, though it only had a niche clientele, was sold in hospitals and schools as well. Roy Jacuzzi, a third generation family member who began working for the family business in his teens, sensed the American growing interest in health, fitness, and all sorts of leisure activities. In 1968, he had created the first fully integrated and self-contained whirlpool bath. By incorporating the pumps in the sides of the tub, Roy Jacuzzi made sure that his family’s name would live on.
“I invented all these machines… it resists your movements in just the right way so those inner muscles really have to work against it. That way you can concentrate on movement. You must always do it slowly and smoothly. Then your whole body is in it.” – Joseph Pilates
Born near Düsseldorf, Germany in 1883, Joseph Pilates was a sickly infant, suffering from asthma, rheumatic fever, and rickets. But through his sheer force of will, he overcame these ailments and went on to become a competent diver, skier, and gymnast. In his late 20s, he lived in England where he worked as a circus performer, boxer, and self-defense instructor. During WWI, he was detained alongside other German nationals in Britain, where he began developing his physical fitness techniques. During the second part of the war, he worked as an orderly in a hospital, helping those who were no longer able to walk. Here he developed a device that consisted of springs attached to the beds in order to support the patients’ limbs. This device, with some further modifications, later became known as the ‘Cadillac’ – which is still in use today.
Two years after the war ended, he and his wife Clara immigrated to the United States where they further developed the technique and then opened a ‘body-conditioning gym’ in New York in 1926. Many of the devices in his gym were enhanced versions of his rehabilitation apparatus used before. His studio became increasingly popular – especially with the dancing community, since his technique improved their own technique and helped recover from injury. Word quickly got around and many celebrities of the time were frequent visitors. Before his death in 1967 at the age of 83, his exercise method was known as Contrology, but after ’67 it became known as the Pilates method.
Now, even though he was the creator of the many devices and techniques, his wife Clara became the real teacher at the gym, ensuring that Pilates got a lot of apprentices and followers. She was the one who established the tradition of evolving and adapting the Pilates method to work with each individual’s needs. Mary Bowen, a trainee directly under Clara and Joseph, talks about how there wasn’t a lot of talking going on during their sessions. Since English wasn’t their first language, the two masters would mostly rely on hands-on corrections to teach their method. “They wouldn’t talk, they would sculpt you,” recalls Bowen. Today, the Pilates method has seen some improvements, but the core is still based on the techniques created by Joseph Pilates himself nearly a century ago. Due to its effectiveness, Pilates today has more than 12 million practitioners worldwide.
1. The AK-47
As arguably the most iconic rifle in the world, it’s an almost impossibility for someone not to have seen an AK either in real life, in a movie, or at least in a photo somewhere on the internet (look, there’s one above this sentence!). The AK-47 is the shortened form of Avtomat Kalashnikova, or ‘Kalashnikov’s Automatic Rifle’, or simply ‘Automatic Kalashnikov’. The number stands for the year manufacturing began in 1947. Now, even though we will never know the exact number of AKs manufactured over the seven-plus decades it and its other variants have been in production, estimates point to somewhere over 100 million. That’s out of a total of roughly 500 million rifles worldwide, making it the most produced and widespread such weapon in the world.
The designer, Mikhail Kalashnikov, was a man born to a peasant family in a small village in the Altai region of Russia, somewhat close to the border with present-day Kazakhstan. Born in 1919, Kalashnikov wanted to become a poet, but fate made him famous for something else entirely. He and his family were uprooted from their home under Joseph Stalin and in 1938 he joined the military, serving in a tank division during WWII. In 1941, he was wounded during a battle, and while in recovery, he began working on the creation of the AK. But do not let yourself be fooled into thinking that he designed it out of thin air, sitting in his hospital bed and imagining the whole weapon before his eyes. No, he had the full backing of the Soviet Union, giving him access to previous arms designs from all over the world, as well as all the resources he would need.
The end result was a brilliant weapon of, dare we say, mass destruction. Though not perfect, it was never intended to be. In customary Soviet style, the AK, like the T-34 tank of WWII, was designed to be, first and foremost, cheap to fabricate and easy to use. It was a ‘commodity’ meant to spread communism during the Cold War. The AK is a revolutionary’s weapon, requiring little maintenance and very little training. It can be assembled from parts, even by a child in an alleyway somewhere in a warzone. It works equally well in jungles as it does in deserts, and it fires even if it’s bent, full of sand, or submerged underwater. And because of these factors it spread like wildfire all across the globe. In a later interview, Kalashnikov expressed his regret when he saw the success his weapon had on the world stage, saying, “It is painful for me to see when criminal elements of all kinds fire from my weapon.”