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.

Bread Clips

Flying home on an airliner one day, Floyd Paxton opened his bag of peanuts, only to find that he couldn't reseal it. Carving a rudimentary clip from an plastic card he had in his wallet, he came up with the idea of the bread clip. When a local fruit packer wanted to replace rubber bands with a better bag closure for its new plastic bags, Floyd offered up his new clip. Though he was never granted a patent for his invention, his resulting company, Kwik Lok, did quite nicely and became the #1 manufacturer of bread clips in the world.

Snap Lock Beads

Helen Herrick Malsed was hardly a one hit wonder. In addition to the Slinky Dog, Helen also created the giant jewel shaped blocks that could be snapped together and licensed them to Fisher Price. They are still a children's favorite today!


With Keurig-like ease, the PicoBrew brings home brewing to the casual beer lover. Invented by a former Microsoft employee and some friends, this countertop craft beer appliance allows users to slip in a cartridge and brew up a batch of delicious craft beer, all without the fuss and muss of traditional beer making. A new product, introduced in 2107, takes it a step further, adding dishwasher-safe accessories to make cleaning up a snap and an app to let you know how your beer is doing while you’re away.

Vaccine Vial Monitor (VVM)

Heat sensitive vaccines, such as the ones used to prevent polio, lose their potency without proper refrigeration. To help heath care workers identify viable vaccines in the field, PATH developed the vaccine vial monitor. The technology, which uses a small circle sensor printed on each vial of vaccine, was originally used in the food industry. The World Health Organization now requires all vaccines purchased through UNICEF to use VVMs.

ARKTEK Passive Vaccine Storage Device

Each year, approximately 1.5 million children die from vaccine-preventable deaths. To allow vaccines to be stored in regions where there is no electricity or refrigeration, Intelligent Ventures developed the Arktek™, a passive vaccine storage device that uses technology developed for space exploration to keep vaccines usable for up to a month in a controlled temperature environment.

Bass Guitar

Rock ‘n’ roll may have never rolled without the invention of the bass guitar. While Leo Fender often gets credit for perfecting the bass, it was actually Paul Tutmarc of Seattle who made the first modern electric bass guitar. The Audivox was a solid body, bass guitar made out of walnut and came on the scene in 1936, 16 years before Fender brought his to market. It was distributed by the L.D. Heater Music, Co. of Portland, Oregon and was the first bass that could be held and played horizontally, as opposed to stand up models.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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