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The best of the best. (Short Takes).

What do disposable diapers and Post-It Notes, the printing press and telescope, rubber bands and the atomic bomb have in common? These are just a few of the 325 inventions considered to have had a profound effect on human life--for better or worse--as listed in the "Encyclopedia Britannica's Great Inventions," from the company's 2003 almanac.

Along with the major life-changers, such as the automobile and the light bulb, the editors included the small items that make everyday living that much easier, like Scotch tape and frozen food.

"In school we learn about the epoch-making inventions--the telephone, the steam engine and the airplane," said Charles Trumbull, editor of the Encyclopedia Britannica Almanac 2003.

"They're important, of course, but what about all the other items we use every day, like e-mail, coat hangers and mirrors? These things didn't just fall from the sky Someone had to invent them."

The alphabetical listing of items includes many previously unrecognized inventors whose work has made a significant impact on everyday life. One is Marion Donovan, who invented the disposable diaper in 1950. While she never received any acknowledgment for her creation, perhaps, as the editors surmise, because of the "indelicate function" of her invention, Donovan made the list "because her handiwork has been such a boon to parents."

Although the majority of the inventions are from the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, some date back much further. Britannica reports that vending machines were invented by the Egyptians and the boomerang was created 15,000 years ago by the Aboriginal peoples of Australia. Carbonated soft drinks have been around since 1772, and people have been able to flush toilets since 1591.

Noting that "great" does not necessarily equate to "good," the list also includes "some of the human imagination's more dubious bequests, such as the guillotine, the atom bomb and the slot machine."

Showing their sense of humor, the editors also included such popular derisions as AstroTurf and Muzak, albeit, with a bent on education. "The measure of an invention is its utility," Trumbull explained. "AstroTurf may not win any awards for aesthetics, but try playing baseball indoors without it."

"Encyclopedia Britannica's Great Inventions" is available at
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Publication:Rural Telecommunications
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 1, 2003
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