Washington State: Innovations

If you’ve ever fought off the biting cold with a down parka, fired up a pellet stove in the dead of winter, punched out a term paper on a Windows PC or changed a disposable diaper, you can thank Washington State. Without fanfare, Washington’s residents, businesses and entrepreneurs have changed the world we live in, bringing fresh ideas to market that have captured our imaginations, improved our environment, reshaped entire industries, rekindled our hopes and every so often, changed the course of civilization with something so new and so bold, that it became a disruptive innovation. We’re extremely proud of this role we have played in making the world a better place through our innovations, our ideas and the pioneer spirit that has created legendary businesses and enduring products and services for more than a century. While space prevents us from listing everything “Made in Washington,” we’ve put together some of our favorites, from the groundbreaking to the breathtaking.

1880-01-02 00:00:00

Walla Walla Sweets

You can keep your Bermudas, Texas Sweets and Vidalias, too. We’re good with our Walla Walla Sweets, which came to the Walla Walla Valley at the end of the 19th century and were first harvested in 1900. Walla Wallas are only grown in the Pacific Northwest, must be 95% water and must be harvested by hand, not machine. Onion lovers can thank a French soldier, Peter Peiri, for bringing Italian sweet onion seeds with him when he emigrated from the Isle of Corsica. Careful cultivation and breeding created the super sweet and extremely hardy onions that have earned the Walla Walla Sweet Onion name. Today, only 30 farms on less than a thousand acres produce these highly prized onions.

1893-03-02 00:00:00

Pinking Shears

More than one sewing project came unraveled before the arrival of pinking shears. These little beauties cut fabric on the bias, which is a 45 degree angle to the weave. This zig-zag pattern, made possible by the saw-tooth design, keeps the fabric threads from unraveling. Used by hobbyists, quilters and professional tailors worldwide, the first pinking shears was the brainchild of Louise Austin of Whatcom County who received U.S. patent #489,406 on Jan. 3, 1893 for her invention.

1903-04-21 00:00:00

Automated Fish Cleaner

Edmund Smith was obsessed with finding a way to automate the process of cleaning salmon. After getting a stroke of brilliance, he went to work in his workshop, turning out the prototype in just 10 days. The resulting invention could gut, clean and can a salmon 55 times faster than humans could. Canneries were skeptical at first, but the raw processing power of the Automated Fish Cleaner was hard to argue with. In the time it took an experienced worker to process two fish, Smith’s machine could process 110.

1910-06-05 04:33:56

Father's Day

Celebrating fatherhood and fathers, Father’s Day was the brainchild of Sonora Smart Dodd, a Spokane native. After hearing a sermon about Mother’s Day she told her pastor that fathers should have a similar holiday. She initially suggested her father’s birthday as he was a single parent who raised Sonora and her five siblings. There’s wasn’t enough time to promote June 5 as the date, so the third Sunday of June was chosen instead. It wasn’t until the 1930s, when Sonora had finished school and returned to Spokane, that the celebration of all things father took off at a national level. Some folks were cynical at first of the idea of a day for fathers, feeling it was an attempt to replicate the commercial success of Mother’s Day. The day was finally made an official national holiday in 1972 when President Nixon signed it into law.

1912-12-12 07:33:34

Roman Meal Bread

Long before the nation had a health craze, a Washington State baker was creating bread that offered outstanding nutrition and solid health benefits. Based on a hot breakfast cereal of whole grain wheat, rye, bran and flaxseed, the bread was based on the diet Roman soldiers lived off of as they conquered the world – two pounds daily of wheat or rye. Though Dr. Robert Jackson came up with the cereal, it was master baker Henry Matthaei who created the bread recipe, which remains largely unchanged. Today, Roman Meal Bread is produced by 90 bakeries across the United States and abroad and is still a family owned and operated business that was dedicated to the health of families long before it was fashionable.

1914-02-03 00:00:00

Filson Cruiser

In a world where fashions change daily, it’s refreshing to know that the Filson Cruiser remains a popular fashion statement today. Patented in 1914, the jacket is named after its inventor, C.C. Filson. Still manufactured in Seattle, the Filson Cruiser (it’s also known as the Alaska Tuxedo), continues to be the company’s bestseller. It was originally designed for loggers who appreciated the tight woven fabric that kept them dry and warm on the job.

1918-06-20 02:57:58

Oberto Jerky

While the Oberto Sausage Company has been known for its salami, sausage and pepperoni over the years, it’s the jerky that has earned it lasting fame. Though the company didn’t invent jerky, they perfected it over the years, not only creating a world-class jerky, but the market for it as well. Demand soared once Safeway began to sell its products nationwide, becoming the leader in the natural beef jerky category within just five years. Six members of the Oberto family still run the company, which has become a national business legend with very local roots.

1920-05-04 00:00:00

Butter Cutter

William Ruttle’s butter cutter could slice one-pound blocks of hardened butter into 54 perfectly formed and sized pats of butter, so Betty Botter could buy that bit of better butter and make better squares with a Ruttle Butter Cutter. Sorry, we couldn't resist.

1921-03-18 11:18:12

Cycloidal Propulsion

The ability to control thrust in any desired direction was the dream of early aeronautical engineers, especially Frederick Kirsten. A lifelong inventor (see the Kirsten Pipe entry), the University of Washington professor devised a propeller that could do just that. Thrust could be delivered in any direction, thanks to the blades that could adjust automatically to conditions without loss of efficiency. The idea was so promising that Bill Boeing went into business with Kirsten, putting up $175,000 of his own money. The innovative propellers were even considered as propulsion of the U.S. Navy’s new generation of lighter-than-air aircraft carriers. Though they never found their way into the air, they did end up finding a use in the maritime industry. Used in tugs and other marine craft, the cycloidal propellers of today allow vessels to move in any direction without the use of a rudder.

1922-07-21 00:00:00

Backpack

Necessity is the mother of invention, so they say. It certainly was for Lloyd Nelson, who went on a rather painful hike one day, hauling around a traditional sticks and sealskin backpack. Knowing there had to be a better way, he devised a new pack with a wood frame that a canvas sack could be attached to with removable pins, so it could be cleaned. The shoulder straps bore the weight of the pack, creating more comfort for the hiker. Unfortunately, Nelson was a bit ahead of his time, since wilderness hiking wasn’t exactly popular in the 1920s. He ended selling his business to Trager Manufacturing and the rest truly is history. Today, Nelson is considered the father of the modern outdoor gear industry.

Washington State: Innovations

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