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It’s January 17—and do you know what that means? It’s Kid Inventors Day! That’s right, today’s the day we celebrate the amazing imagination and innovation of children. You may not be aware, but some of the items you use and enjoy every day were actually invented by kids. Today we want to share with you a few of our classic favorites. Enjoy!
Earmuffs: Maine can be a chilly place, and that was certainly true in 1873 when 15 year old Chester Greenwood invented the earmuffs. While ice skating on a local pond, Greenwood’s ears became cold—and his scarf just wasn’t doing the trick. So Chester went home and constructed two ear shaped wire loops, and asked his grandmother to sew some fur into them for him. It worked like a charm. Four years later, a steel band was added to the design and Greenwood's Champion Ear Protectors were patented. Greenwood also set up Greenwood's Ear Protector Factory and made a great deal of money selling earmuffs to soldiers in World War I. To this day, Farmington Maine is the earmuff capital of the world. If you head there on the first Saturday of December, you’ll also be able to catch the Chester Greenwood parade. Even the school buses and police cruisers will be wearing earmuffs!
Braille: French born Louis Braille was only three years old when he was blinded in an accident in his father’s leather workshop, while trying to use a leather piercing instrument called an awl. Young Braille was bright and smart, and at age ten he was sent to the National Institute for Blind Youth in Paris. The children were taught using the Huay system, which consisted of tracing the outlines of Latin letters with one’s fingers. Needless to say, Braille found the system cumbersome and limiting. In 1821, Braille first heard of “night writing”—developed by Captain Charles Barbier so that soldiers on the battlefield could share messages in the dark without speaking. The writing consisted of dots and dashes that were indented onto thick paper. The system was too difficult for the kind of usage Braille wanted to put it to, so for the next three years Louis Braille developed his own system. In a strange twist of fate, he used an awl (the tool that originally blinded him) to create the raised dots for his system. By the time he was fifteen, it was largely completed. The system was published five years later, in 1829, and later modified in 1837. A universal braille code for English was formalized in 1932 and is still in use today.
The Popsicle: In 1905 11 year old Frank Epperson invented the Popsicle. On a cold San Francisco evening he accidentally left a glass of homemade soda outside on his porch with a stirring stick in it. The next morning the drink had frozen, and he pulled it out by the stirring stick and found he had a delicious frozen treat! Fast forward 17 years and Epperson began to sell his frozen confections at an amusement park in California. By 1924 he realized just how popular his invention was becoming, and applied for a patent for The Epsicle Ice Pop. He went on to sell his patent and royalty rights after the stock market crash in 1929.
The Trampoline: This kid favorite was invented in 1930 by 16 year old gymnast George Nissen. While watching trapeze artists at the circus (and seeing how they bounced off the netting at the end of their routines) Nissen was convinced that something similar should be created for gymnasts. When he finished high school George worked tirelessly in his parents’ garage to create what he called a “bouncing apparatus.” He salvaged steel materials from junk yards to create a frame and then stretched canvas across it.
After finishing up at the University of Iowa, Nissen began travelling the country with two friends and his bouncing apparatus. Their group was called The Three Leonardos and they travelled all over the country performing their act. When performing in Mexico George Nissen learned that the Spanish word for diving board was ‘el trampolin’—and so his homemade bouncing apparatus became the Trampoline. Nissen went on to create the Nissen Trampoline Corporation and married a dutch acrobat named Annie. He continued inventing throughout his life, and passed away in 2010.
Water Skis: In 1922, 18 year old Ralph Samuelson invented water skis in Lake City, Minnesota. Though he technically wasn’t a kid any more we think his story is just too interesting not to share! An avid skier thanks to all the Minnesota snow, Samuelson was convinced that skiing could also be done on the water. He tested out his snow skis behind a boat, but they were no good. Next, he took some 8 foot x 9 inch wide pine boards and curved the end of each one before attaching leather foot straps. He then purchased 100 feet of cord and had a blacksmith make him a ring which he turned into a handle. After a few failed attempts he was skiing on water! Unsurprisingly, Samuelson’s antics became the talk of his small town. As he developed daring new tricks the crowds began to gather and he hosted weekend waterskiing exhibitions. Samuelson’s daredevil tricks included jumps, slalom skiing, and even being pulled behind a plane.
After breaking his back in 1927, Samuelson hung up his skis and wasn’t heard of for a number of decades. Not until a young journalist named Margaret Mason came to the area and found Samuelson’s old skis hung up in a local bathhouse in 1963. She wrote an open letter in her news column entitled “YOUR OLD WATER SKIS ARE GREAT, MR. SAMUELSON—MR. SAMUELSON?” in which she wrote, "Where are you now, Mr. Samuelson? I wish I knew. So do Simons and a lot of other Lake Cityites who are proud of their native son." Ralph and his wife were living on a small island outside of Lake City, and a delighted Mr. Samuelson read the article and shared his story with the young journalist. For many years Samuelson was overlooked as the father of water skiing, since Fred Waller of Huntington, N.Y. patented them in 1924. After discovering Samuelson through Margaret Mason’s pieces on him, the American Water Ski Association acknowledged Ralph Samuelson as “the fairy godmother of water skiing" and he is now recognized as their rightful inventor.
Pretty impressive what kids can come up with, right? If you want to learn more about what kidventors are up to these days, you can also check out our kids in the toy business feature from from one of our prior blogs.
Thanks for reading, talk to you again soon!
We’ve spent much of the last few months sharing our very favorite toys with you. Today, however, I won’t be introducing you to a brand new toy…instead we’ll be introducing you to some brand new store owners! Back in November we had Learning Express Toys open up in both Wayne, NJ and Shreveport, LA.
Local residents Brandy and Robert Stroud kicked off their grand opening celebrations the weekend of November 2, and the festivities included hourly prize drawings, balloon animals, and special visits from Elmo and Abrakadoodle Face Painting.
“As the parents of six children, we understand how important it is to provide the young people in our community with the very best toys, books, and games on the market. And beyond that, we want Learning Express Toys of Shreveport to be that special place where kids can go and just be kids,” Brandy told us. “We want it to be interactive and memorable—we want kids to walk through the door and feel like our store is a place made just for them. Growing up, I can remember walking into a toy store and having it feel so magical. That’s what we aim to create at Learning Express.”
The holiday season was a busy one for Brandy and Robert, and even included a special visit from the Elf on the Shelf! January is shaping up to be no less exciting: Shreveport is hosting weekly story times, Rainbow Loom classes, and offering a special 20% discount on all puzzles to celebrate National Puzzle Day on January 29. Shreveport also has an active Facebook presence, so be sure to connect with them there if you want to find out more!
On November 30, Learning Express re-opened its doors under new ownership in Wayne, NJ. Longtime customers of the Wayne store, Hana and Peter Farewege were disappointed to hear their favorite toy store was closing. “We were so sorry when the former owner retired but it turned out to be an ‘aha’ moment for us,” said Hana.
The Fareweges are no strangers to the world of retail. Peter’s family owned and operated a retail furniture center for 75 years, and Hana has over 25 years of experience in the business. “When I was a child, my father owned a toy store,” Hanna told us. “Owning a Learning Express allows us to replicate the charm and customer-centric focus of the neighborhood toy stores of yesteryear. Our goal is to delight children with educational and stimulating toys, while providing a convenient, hassle-free shopping experience for customers.”
Grand opening weekend at Wayne was a big success, and included raffles, free glitter tattoos, and avisit from Spiderman and a Princess. Mayor Vergano was in attendance and officially opened the doors (and cut the ribbon!) at the ribbon cutting. Residents of Wayne were clearly pleased to have Learning Express back in the community, with one Facebook fan commenting, “So glad to have Learning Express Back in Wayne!!! Thanks for coming back just in time for the holidays!!”
The holidays were hectic at the store, and both the Grinch and the Elf on the Shelf managed to stop by. Be sure to connect with them on Facebook if you want to learn more about Learning Express of Wayne!
We hope you’ll join us in welcoming the Strouds and the Fareweges to the Learning Express family. We are so delighted to have them on board.
Talk to you again soon!
Greetings, Learning Expressions Readers!
Today I want to introduce you to two new members of the Home Office, as well as two of our favorite new exclusive products here at Learning Express. If you ever stop by our Devens, MA headquarters you’ll most likely be greeted by the one and only Doyle Derse. Doyle is a 13 week old golden retriever, and he can be usually be found carrying his favorite dog toy (currently a pink Monstaz) around the office. You may also bump into Maggie Davies if you come and visit us here. Maggie hangs out a couple of times a week in the Marketing Department and loves to chase squirrels and eat leaves during her lunch break.
While they’re not dozing under desks, Doyle and Maggie love to sniff out new products. This week, they took a look at two Learning Express Exclusives: The Zebra Chair and the Get Wired Kit.
The Zebra Chair:
Moon chairs are the perfect addition to any tween’s room. They are cute, comfortable, and super sturdy. Doyle and Maggie are both big fans of this particular item! The Learning Express Zebra Chair comes to you in one piece but consists of two parts: the frame andthe cushion. The ultra-comfy cushion is bright pink on the underside and has a soft-to-the-touch zebra print pattern on the other. The metal base can quickly be folded down for storage or easily opened up for lounging around. The cushion includes a handy built in pocket that’s perfect for storing a magazine or even some dog toys. The chair is 30 inches in diameter and can hold up to 220 pounds.
All in all, we think the Zebra Chair is the perfect pick for any style discerning tween on your shopping list this season!
The Get Wired Kit:
When we decided that Maggie and Doyle should definitely have matching friendship bracelets, making them with the Get Wired kit was a no brainer. While playing around with some electrical wire last year, our product developer Sandie (who we will be interviewing next week) had an Aha! moment. Why not create a kit that uses telephone wire to create fun jewelry?? Thanks to a collaboration with the folks at The Orb Factory, the Get Wired Kit was born! Let’s take a look at how it works.
The Get Wired Kit comes with a number of different pieces, as shown here. They include: 105 feet of telephone wire, a wire styler, 2 coiling rods, elastic cord, and jewelry finishings.
To get started, you need to snap together the two pieces of the wire styler, stick it to your work surface with the provided suction cups, and then insert the end of the coiling rod into the top of the styler. Once that’s set up, attach the ends of your wire to the coiling rod (we experimented with one piece, two pieces, and three pieces but you can use up to five).
Hold the pieces of wire in one hand and then turn your rod with the other. In no time, you’ll have made a unique, gorgeous bracelet! There are lots of different styles you can experiment with, and the included jewelry finishings make it easy to transform your colorful coils into earrings, necklaces, rings, and more!
We hope you enjoyed learning a little bit more about this week’s exclusives— Maggie and Doyle give them both two paws up!
Talk to you again soon!
Greetings Learning Expressions Readers!
This week, we’d like to introduce a kit that’s flying off the shelves at Learning Express stores around the country. It’s a kit that produces treasures so intriguing they’ve become the new medium of exchange for expressing thanks and commemorating friendships. There’s no doubt that the Rainbow Loom Kit, formerly known as the Twistz Bandz Kit, is a hit! With the kit, kids can make everything from bracelets to key chains by using rubber bands, a loom, a hand tool, and c-clips. These woven creations can be customized by color and pattern. And with some practice on the various techniques, the sky’s the limit!
What’s in the box: Rainbow Loom, a bag of c-clips, mini rainbow loom (hand tool), instruction manual, and 600 non-latex rubber bands in assorted colors (enough rubber bands for 24 Single pattern bracelets). This week, we caught up with our Rainbow Loom expert, Rachel. Rachel has wowed her local Learning Express of Alpharetta storeowners with her brilliant bracelet-weaving skills, and has invented Rainbow Loom styles all her own. We chatted with Rachel to find out how she first became interested in the Rainbow Loom, and how she ended up making a bracelet the length of her driveway!
LE: How were you introduced to the Rainbow Loom?
R: I first discovered it at my friend’s house a few months ago. My friend showed me the basics of how to use it. I thought it was cool and I went out and bought one myself that day.
LE: Had you ever done any weaving or bracelet-making before using the Rainbow Loom?
R: I used to make friendship bracelets, the embroidery thread ones. Now I use the bandz.
R: The Rainbow Loom used to be called Twistz Bandz.
LE: Did it take some time to figure out the techniques?
R: At first I said, “I can’t do this,” but then my friend showed me how a couple of times. I also went on the Rainbow Loom website and they show you how to hook them, put the rubber bands on, and finish with the c-clips. They have videos and instructions you can print out.
LE: Now that you are more experienced, what types of things do you make on the loom?
R: I make different types of bracelets like really long Singles and Triples, and Tulip Towers, mini bags, and necklaces. I also made a really long Single bracelet that reached from my backyard to across the street. My favorite style to make is a Triple.
(You can learn about these different patterns here: http://rainbowloom.com/ instruction.html)
LE: Wow, that’s a long bracelet! How long did that take?
R: I worked on it for some time each day, and it took about three days to finish.
LE: Do your friends like the Rainbow Loom?
R: It’s a really big trend. My friends were asking me where I got mine and now they’re telling me they have a loom too. All the girls in my class have them. A lot of boys have kits too. They make Singles—they ask the girls sometimes to turn the bracelets into necklaces. They also use the loom to make key chains for their lunchboxes.
LE: How often do you work on the Rainbow Loom?
R: Probably at least an hour a day. I get refills of the rubber bands every couple of weeks. You can buy individual colors. My favorite colors are aqua, green, and pink.
LE: What do you usually do with your creations?
R: Some of my friends ask me to make them bracelets, and I’m going to make bracelets as holiday gifts this year. I also take some of my designs to the Learning Express Twistz Bandz Tuesdays where I teach the kids how to make bracelets and show the staff what I’ve invented.
LE: If you had to give advice to kids just starting out with the Rainbow Loom, what would it be?
R: Don’t give up! When I first started I needed help making the bracelets, but now my friends say, “Now you’re faster than me!” If you stick with it, it’s a lot of fun. You can work on designs in the car or when you’re sitting around the house and bored.
I’m sure you can see why the Rainbow Loom is our Favorite New Find of the Season! It’s fun, unique, and allows for endless creativity. If you have any amazing Rainbow Loom creations of your own, feel free to send them to us at This entry was posted in Toy Review, Initiatives on November 21, 2012 .
Hello, Learning Express readers!
As a child, I remember feeling that the period of time between Thanksgiving and Christmas marched along painfully slow, like an endless chasm of waiting and waiting.
Now as a mom, the five weeks between the holidays seem to just evaporate into thin air. One day I’m in a food coma from the rich sweetness of the November feast and then, poof, Santa’s already due to be leaving treasures under our tree.
This week’s Top Toys would be the perfect way for kids to kill time between the two holidays, and the perfect way for mom and dad to join in and savor some family time before another season passes us all by.
Learning Express Exclusive Shrinky Dinks Elf on the Shelf Kit
Ok, apparently I was deprived as a child. I never knew the joy that is Shrinky Dinks. As soon as I walked into the home of Elizabeth (11) and Emily (8) bearing my toys for review, their parents took one look at the Shrinky Dinks box and cheered.
“Oh my gosh, these were my FAVORITE THING as a kid in the 70s!” said mom.
“Yay, here come the Shrinky Dinks, let’s fire up the oven!” said dad.
The girls, for their part, were super excited that the kit was Elf on the Shelf themed. They love the story and were eager to have this supplement to a very dear tradition in its own right. And good thing these girls love coloring because the kit comes with over 50 characters and accessories to work on.
Mom had to explain to me exactly what we were doing with these Shrinky Dinks. Basically, you color in all the pieces and bake them in the oven. The pieces shrink down into a tiny fraction of their original size and become these darling, miniature, glossy-plastic charms. You then take these charms and decorate the provided Elf on the Shelf landscape and Christmas tree. In the end, you will set it up (picture a diarama without the box) and proudly display it as the best Christmas decoration in your whole home.
A “kit” truly is an apt description here because the product comes with everything you need, top to bottom, to complete the task (ie glue, colored pencils, sharpener, etc). These details are greatly appreciated!
The Shrinky Dinks Elf on the Shelf kit would be a wonderful family activity. I’m picturing a roaring fire, the tree all lit up, hot cocoa all around, and the whole fam gathered together, busily coloring all the little characters together. In fact, I’m almost tearing up because my boys are too young to color in such detail. This kit is so fun though that I’m buying it anyway. I’ll invite my girlfriends over so we can rediscover two old girlhood loves – coloring and miniatures!
Swish™ Game by Thinkfun
Swish is a game that I applaud for its ingenious originality. As I sat down to watch Elizabeth and Emily play, we all remarked that we had never seen anything like it, and “How on Earth do they come up with this stuff?” The cards are made of a clear plastic with different colored circles and rings. The object of the game is to create Swishes, or matches of balls and rings by stacking the cards on top of one another. The game is truly a brain workout because you have to really concentrate in order to see the Swishes. Each is a mini puzzle waiting to be solved. Check out this video to see how it works!
The girls seemed to catch on more quickly than the adults. In the end though, we were all playing with great gusto, which you definitely need to win because you have to find a Swish before anyone else snatches it up first. This game also has varying rules so that one could play solo or as a group from beginner to advanced.
This greatly increases Swish’s shelf life since it can grow with your kids. I’m also keen on the handy storage bag. This game is durable and won’t take up much room, so it would be great for travel.
Overall, this is a game that would likely become a loved family tradition, a game that would be wonderful to play in the long (or short) span of time from here ‘til Christmas.
Thanks for reading. Happy shrinking and swishing!