patents of the rich and famous

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PRINCE AND THE COLOUR PURPLE - What would Prince have done without the color purple? 

In 1856, William Perkins, a London chemist, was trying to synthesise quinine, a malaria treatment made from the bark of the cinchona tree.

He didn’t succeed in his attempts, but when he was doing so, he mixed coal tar extracts with ‘aniline’, a substance used in making dyes and explosives.

The resultant combination was a strong purple colour.
Until then, purple dye was so expensive to produce that only royalty and bishops could wear it. [Hence the color purple’s traditional association with kings, queens, and–more than anyone else–a certain famous Prince.]

Perkins patented his invention and opened a factory in London where he worked with his father and brought purple to the masses. The colour purple made him a rich man.

Celebrity Invention: Jim Henson’s Proto-Muppet

It’s a very adorable googly-eyed puppet. Patented in 1959, this puppet was pre-Muppets era – Henson created the doll while studying applied arts at the University of Maryland. Unlike many puppets created during the time, Henson used foam rubber covered in fabric.The flexibility allowed the characters to express more emotion than conventional wood creations.

Wilkins Coffee asked Henson to produce their local ads. Henson created two puppet characters to star in the commercials: The cheerful Wilkins who liked the coffee and the grouchy Wontkins (!) who did not like it. Henson produced 179 short spots, like these, for the company.

Read more at The Atlantic

Celebrity Invention: Paula Abdul’s Microphone Stand

It’s a microphone stand. But, unlike an old-school flat stand, the pole is stuck into a hemispherical apparatus. From the patent:

“An apparatus comprising: a base having a concave-shaped bottom portion that is positional on a surface; a compartment in the base that stores an adhesive material; a base cover that is positioned over the base and covers the compartment such that weight of a user positioned on the base cover applied in a direction causes the base to tilt with respect to the surface in the direction; and a rod member

It works like one of those punching-bag clowns: the support is weighted, restricting the tilting of the base, allowing the performer to stand atop the stand and sway around as they belt a tune.”

Rationale Behind Invention: A microphone stand restricts a singers ability to dance around while maintaining optimum mouth-to-microphone positioning. If a performer wants to dance while singing, they sacrifice sound quality. Abdul’s system allows the performer to sing and perform complicated dance moves, without moving too far from the mic.

Read more at The Atlantic

Celebrity Invention: Lawrence Welk's Accordion-Shaped Ashtray

Some of you might remember Lawrence Welk as the face of his variety show, The Lawrence Welk Show, which ran for almost 30 years. Having started his career as a musician, Welk often performed with the show’s guests, and reserved one number for his own accordion solo. Since his show went off-air almost thirty years ago, our younger readers likely recognize Welk (or the idea of Welk) from Fred Armisen’s impersonation in this Saturday Night Live parody of his variety show.

Along with maintaining an old-school–but popular–variety show, Welk extended his brand, patenting various Welk-themed paraphernalia.