Posted by: Brad Nixon | July 7, 2010

Mom’s Biggest Invention

There are an uncountable number of stories about inventors of fabulous devices who could not get their ideas produced, or had them stolen, or watched in frustration as someone else came out with nearly the same thing or even the same thing and, for whatever reason, got the credit. This is one of those stories. 

Many years ago, as we dwelt quietly in our humble log house in the great wilderness of Ohio, my mother had An Idea. Now, she was full of Ideas, and although many of them were ideas about things I should have been doing and was not, or should not have been doing and was, this particular idea was an invention. All mothers think about things like soap and toothpaste and their proper use, but that penchant is even more pronounced in those mothers who also are Registered Nurses and have been drilled day in and day out during their training about hygiene. Add to this the fact that she came into the world less than a year before the Great Depression and spent her childhood, along with tens of millions of others, in the dire straits of that era, and you have someone who thinks not only about soap and toothpaste but about not WASTING same. For the heads of a household of seven people trying to make every dollar count, waste of anything was a real issue for Mom and Dad, Depression or not. I wish to tell you, though, that I NEVER, in my recollection, suggested that we could save money by not washing or brushing so often. I have been foolish many times in my life, but not suicidal. 

Therefore, there wasn’t much that was more irritating to Mom than the sight of that big tube of Crest (which has been shown to be an effective decay-preventive dentifrice when used in a conscientiously applied program of oral hygiene and regular professional care ((I can still recite THAT piece)) ) squeezed partly from the middle so that lots of unused dentifrice remained at the bottom of the tube. Waste! From Mom’s reaction to this outcome, I assumed that not only were children starving in China, but they also lacked sufficient dentifrice, since we were wasting ours. 

I’m guessing that the epiphany came one day when she was opening a can of Folger’s or Maxwell House coffee (I forget if there was a preferred brand in the house, but I think only two brands existed in those pre-Starbuck days of yore). Those of you younger than 40 or so will have to trust me on this, but back then you opened a can of coffee like this: on the bottom of the can was a metal key. You pulled that key off. The shaft of the key had a slot in it. You pulled loose a little metal tab from the top rim of the can, inserted it in the slot of the key and then WOUND the key around, taking up a thin strip of metal and unsealing the can. This allowed you to re-use the top of the can, where a regular can opener would not. Later, of course, plastic was invented, and a new world of seals evolved. I know it seems amazing, but we had a lot of amazing things then. If you’re quiet and promise to go right to sleep, I’ll tell you some time about never having to wear seat belts or the radios that played music all day long and not bozo talk shows. 

Mom was very smart and very creative. And she had a great idea. What if there were a similar key that fit over the end of a tube of toothpaste? You could roll up the toothpaste very tight from the bottom of the tube, squeezing out ALL the toothpaste! Man, was she excited about this idea. Anyone who knew her remembers this enthusiasm and energy as one of the most engaging and charming things about her. And here, it was hard to do anything except agree flat-out with her. So she wrote to the manufacturer of Crest and told them about her idea. I’m pretty sure she typed this letter, although I’m not certain that we HAD a typewriter in those pioneer days. I know we had one later when I was in high school, but never mind. 

She did get a letter from the company, declining her offer of this mighty invention. I can still picture that letter in my mind. For all I know, Dad may still have it somewhere. It had that company’s well-known satanic symbol logo on the top of the letterhead. That this refusal of her idea would come from a) the mightiest of all consumer products companies and based right in her own home town and b) the employer of one of her brothers was a real blow. It’s not that she became embittered and depressed or litigious or anything, but she certainly didn’t understand why they didn’t pick up this obviously fab idea. 

In retrospect I know that this is one of those things for which one finds a fabricator and a marketer and produces it oneself and becomes fabulously rich. Not much time or money to pursue something like that when there’s so much else to do to hold down jobs and take care of families and such. So the years went on. 

I hadn’t thought about this episode for some time, though occasionally over the years we’d remember it with Mom, who maintained steadfastly — rightly — that it WAS a great idea, darn it. Then, this weekend, I was in an art supply store with The Counselor, who needed painting supplies. Now, anyone knows that the coolest thing about being an artist is all the groovy STUFF that artists get to buy. But I’m going to write more about that, maybe tomorrow. While The Counselor weighed the respective merits of 47 varieties of oil paints, I wandered through the art supply store, looking at all the cool art stuff. 

I saw these. 

Mom's Idea become realilty

Mom's Idea become reality

You put them over the end of a paint tube and roll up the paint from the bottom of the tube. 

Since a picture says a thousand words, I will say no more. 

A follow-up note on the recent blog about trash cans (boy, I’ll write about anything, won’t I?) from a few days ago, HERE. Proving what an incredible garbage dump of worthless spam the Internet is, that post got a “comment” from some firm from the UK or somewhere offering ” blue round polypropylene waste paper tubs with 14 litre capacity.” I guess the idea is that if they get a hit this site, the orders will pour in. It’s chaos out there.  One of the benefits of signing up with one of these do-it-yourself blogging providers is that they catch some of this dross and keep it off the site, or at least give one the option of deleting it. 

Happy 70th, Ringo.


  1. Nice piece about our Mother. Plus two things I would like to say: 1) Folgers – it was made by said corporate conglomerate in said home town. 2) I too can recite the Crest toothpaste claim.


    • Doh! I should’ve known! Company town. As for the slogan — TOO MUCH TV!


  2. Fascinating (which uncle worked for P&G?).

    But, wouldn’t such a device result in fewer sales and consequently lower demand and production? It’s that pesky economics and designed obsolescence/inefficiency thing. I suspect someone has defended a PhD. on the whole issue.

    PS – happy 150th Gustav.


    • Tom Wharton was an exec at P&G. And thanks for the Mahlerian note. Not as big as the Beatles, but big.


    • And, yes, that might be the reason the company itself might’n’t’ve wanted to do it and why an entrepreneur probably could’ve sold it independently.


      • and happy birthday to Pinetop Perkins.


      • So the score is Gustav 150, Pinetop 97 and Ringo 70. Gustav is ahead, but he’s not playing as well as Pinetop and Ringo lately. Quite a day.


  3. Another fine blog – thanks! Kathy mentions that our toothpaste roller was provided at no charge, courtesy of her health provider at work; I think Mom would have been pleased with the health industry for distributing her invention.


  4. I quizzed Mark on the Crest motto and since he couldn’t recite it he sang the “super chicken” jingle, which I believe, were both before my time.


    • If he remembers the Super Chicken theme, he’ll remember this:

      “There’s a man in the bathtub”


      • Too funny! 49 cents? OMG


  5. You mean people can use those tubes of paint before the flimsy metal bottoms break off and you have to invent a way of reverse-squeezing the tube while simultaneously holding the tiny plastic cap on the other end? I clearly have much to learn in my painting career.


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