Pet Rock inventor Gary Dahl dies at 78. He put a rock in a box and sold millions.

Before toy stores were stocked with pet plants, virtual pets and pillow pets, an advertising copywriter called Gary Ross Dahl was dreaming up the Pet Rock, a 1970s novelty toy craze since called a “ridiculously successful marketing scheme.”

It was meant as a joke — a “pet” for people who didn’t want to care for one. But it hit the market at just the right time. The Vietnam War had ended. Watergate was beginning. “There was a whole lot of bad news going on,” he told the Houston Chronicle in 1999. “People were down. It wasn’t a real good time for the national psyche. I think the Pet Rock was just a good giggle. Everybody needed a good laugh and the media ate it up.”

It’s that multimillion-dollar gag for which Dahl will be most remembered. The inventor died March 23 in southern Oregon from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, his wife, Marguerite Dahl, confirmed Tuesday to theAssociated Press. He was 78.

Dahl was born in Bottineau, N.D., and raised in Spokane, Wash. He attended Washington State University and then pursued a career in advertising.

But his biggest business success occurred to him in the mid-1970s in a bar in Northern California. Sitting with some friends in Los Gatos, the conversation turned to pets — feeding them, cleaning them, training them — and he bragged that his animal never caused any trouble. “I have a pet rock,” he said, jokingly, according to the New York Times. Just for fun, he decided to try to sell it.

Dahl got some investors and went to work, putting small smooth stones in cardboard carriers that he filled with breathing holes. He added an owners’ manual with instructions on how to care for them. “If, when you remove the rock from its box it appears to be excited, place it on some old newspapers,” the original instructions said. “The rock will know what the paper is for and will require no further instruction. It will remain on the paper until you remove it.”

The Pet Rock hit the market just in time for Christmas 1975, selling for $3.95 each. Dahl and his wife started an assembly line in their small cabin in the Santa Cruz mountains, he told The Washington Post in 1977. But within six weeks, he needed another 300 people to get the job done. By the time the short-lived fad had fizzled out, he had sold some 1.5 million rocks,he once said.

With a production cost estimating about a penny per rock, he had pocketed a large chunk of change.

“Sure, we live differently today,” he told The Post in 1977. “We drive Mercedes instead of Hondas. Instead of a Franklin stove we’ve got real heat. And our swimming pool is bigger than that whole cabin.”

With his new-found wealth, his wife said he designed and built the Carry Nations Saloon in Los Gatos.

“Dahl got rich, got cocky, had a damn good time, opened a bar, bought a big house, drank too much,” the Houston Chronicle said. He “sold his bar, dreamed up a few clever but cataclysmic marketing flops, took up golf, got a real job, sued, got sued, felt betrayed.”

Dahl had a few notable mentions in the years that followed but none that overshadowed his rock in a box.

In 2000, he won the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest for dreadful prose. His entry began: “The heather-encrusted Headlands, veiled in fog as thick as smoke in a crowded pub, hunched precariously over the moors, their rocky elbows slipping off land’s end, their bulbous, craggy noses thrust into the thick foam of the North Sea like bearded old men falling asleep in their pints.”

He also wrote a book called “Advertising for Dummies.”

In 2006, he and his wife retired and relocated to Jacksonville, Ore.

Still, years after his rock gimmick, he was remembered for the money-making phenomenon. “I’m sick of the whole damn thing,” he told the Houston Chronicle.

“Most inventors call me because they’ve come up with their own novelty idea,” he added. “A pet stick or pet poop or pet gravel. I’ve seen them all — they’re all bad.”

His wife agreed, telling the AP it was fun while it lasted. “Over time, however, people would come to him with weird ideas, expecting him to do for them what he had done for himself. And a lot of times they were really, really stupid ideas.”

Years later, Dahl was laying low, dodging the news media for fear that “a bunch of wackos” would come forward and threaten him with lawsuits, he told the AP in 1988. He said it made him think about what life would have looked like without rocks.

Via Washington Post

handSteady Mug Can Help People with Parkinson’s or Motor Neurone Disease

ALONG with wearing a bowler hat and talking about the weather, drinking tea is one of the things people around the world associate with slightly mythical concept of British-ness.

But if you suffer from Parkinson's disease or another condition that gives you tremors, such as Motor Neurone Disease or Multiple Sclerosis, enjoying a cuppa with friends and family  is not an easy task.

Luckily help, if you'll excuse the pun, is at hand, in the form of a special mug which has been developed by Cambridge inventor Chris Peacock.

The handSteady has an adjustable handle which makes it easier to steady and drink from the cup without spilling your beverage. Already on the market and receiving rave reviews from users, Chris has now launched a crowd-funding campaign to enable him to take the handSteady into mass production, which will lower the price from £40 to £15.

Explaining how the idea for the mug came about, he said: "I have a close family  member with Parkinson's, and it was causing him to have tremors that were really limiting his dexterity. I thought there must be a way to make things easier for him."

After first working as an inventor at IBM, Chris spent two years studying industrial design engineering at the Royal College of Art . It was here that he came up with the concept of the handSteady, and after winning several awards for the idea, he decided to turn it into a reality.

"The mechanism uses ball bearings," said Chris. "I worked with an engineer to refine it and we now have the rotatable handle which makes it easier to steady the mug with your other hand and take a drink. It's a lot more effective than a normal mug."

Now the challenge is to get the handSteady to more people who will find it useful, hence the CrowdFunding campaign, which is being run on the IndieGoGoUK platform .

"I want to be able to bring the price down and take it from a premium product to one that is more affordable  for the mass market," said Chris.

"I'm talking to healthcare providers and pharmacy chains that are interested in stocking it."

The aim is to raise £10,000, and incentives for investors include tea at the Ritz with their holdSteady cup, or a bulk donation of the mugs to a charity of the investors choice.

For more about handSteady, log on to handsteady.com. Or to be part of the firm's campaign, visit igg.me/at/cuppa.

Via Cambridge News

In 1922, an American inventor created the world's first 'Kindle'

Admiral Bradley Fiske's reader could condense an entire novel into a few cards

Long before Amazon came to dominate the e-reader market with the Kindle, an American admiral by the name of Bradley Fiske was already trying to change the way we read book, condensing tomes and novels into something that could fit in your pocket.

And lo, the Pocket Reading Machine was born, a six inch by two inch contraption that could hold cards filled with more than 100,000 words – enough for a novel about the same length as HG Wells War of the Worlds.  

In the June 1922 issue of Science & Invention magazine, Admiral Fiske’s reader was revealed for the first time, along with images of its creator using it. While holding the magnifier to your face might look uncomfortable, the write-up assures readers that that the reader causes no great strain to the eyes:

Admiral Fiske was decorated officer in the US Navy, and served his country at the end of the 19th century. He was a keen inventor, and is credited with having influenced such innovations as radio-controlled torpedoes and a number of nautical instruments which dramatically improved the efficiency of warships.

In 1916, he retired, but continued to tinker around with inventions, including a proto-Kindle device that could contain an entire novel on just a few strips of card.

Via Newstalk

iPod Inventor At TED: "Think Young"

Wearables technology that helps deaf people “hear,” settling people on Mars and cloning human minds are just some of the hot topics that are being explored at this week’s TED Conference in Vancouver. The annual conference, which features a wide range of speakers from all over the world, focuses on the latest innovations in technology, education and design. One buzzworthy talk that caught our Counselor editor’s eye yesterday: a speech given by Tony Fadell, who created the iPod with Steve Jobs and now is the CEO of Nest, the company that developed the “smart” thermostat for the home.

In his talk, the product designer said that he and his employees fight every day against the tendency toward habituation – humans’ tendency toward getting used to everyday patterns or behaviors, even if they aren’t useful. One example: We get used to peeling off the annoying stickers on fruit like bananas, so much that it’s become second nature. We may not like peeling off the stickers, but we’ve become resigned to doing so.

Fadell said the trick for product designers is to try to view their product every day “for the first time,” so that they can uncover invisible problems and solve them. He offered up a few tips to try to avoid habituation.

First, focus on the details. When he first created Nest, Fadell said, he and his team members literally spent months agonizing over designing a tiny, custom-made screw that would make installing the home thermostat much easier. Though this process took a long time, he said, the result was met with rave reviews by users.

Next, thing young, hire young. Fadell said young people (his own kids included) often ask questions that adults would never dream of, like “Why doesn’t the mailbox just check itself and tell us when it has mail?” Young people, he said, are less exposed to everyday problems, so they often think more creatively. “Have people with young minds on your team,” he said, and hire as many young people as you can. “We all saw the world more clearly before habits got in the way,” he said.

Via ASI

How this regular programmer became a 'Master Inventor' at IBM

IBM is awfully proud of its patent portfolio.

The company spends about $6 billion a year on R&D and has research scientists working on everything from nanotechnology to evidence of the Big Bang.

In 2014, IBM broke an invention record: it became the first company to earn more than 7,000 patents in a single year (7,534 patents). This was the 22nd consecutive year IBM topped the annual list of U.S. patent recipients. IBM inventors earned an average of more than 20 patents per day last year, the company boasted.

IBM's secret? It's not just research scientists doing all the inventing.

Any employee can become an inventor, and IBM has a team that helps hobbyist inventors apply for and land patents.

Take IBMer Kelly Abuelsaad, age 33

For instance, Kelly Abuelsaad, 33. She currently works as a software engineer for IBM's cloud services team, and she started as a system administrator. (That's an IT person that keeps a company's technology running smoothly.)

She bills herself as an "accidental inventor" yet has invented so much stuff for the company in the past six years, she's been crowned a "Master Inventor."  That's a special title at the company for someone who has lots patents and helps other ordinary employees do the same.

"To date, I've filed 55 patent applications with the US Patent Office, 12 of which so far have been granted," she told Business Insider.

But seven years ago, "it wasn't really something I had ever considered doing. I had thought you needed to be like a rocket scientist in order to create a patents," she says.

Then a friend decided he wanted to try getting a patent on a way he invented to view pages in specific Web browsers. He asked her Abuelsaad to help him.

She worked with him to write up the idea, and a bunch of others, and submit them to an internal IBM team that reviews employees patent ideas.

And a light bulb dawned

"We got three ideas through the process and it opened my eyes that creating inventions was something anybody can do. Really. It's not reserved for PhD rocket scientists," she says.

When she wanted to try her hand at a few patent ideas of her own, she joined an inventor's brainstorming support group, scattered across the world, who met online to discuss their ideas and discovered, "This is something a lot of people do in their spare time at IBM."

The group was chock full of other IBMer's in their 30s, too, including Lisa Seacat DeLuca, who at the age of 31 became IBM's most prolific woman inventor, with more than 370 patent applications. (Here's DeLuca's Ted Talk.)

You, too, can become a master inventor

Abuelsaad says becoming a patent-producing inventor, "is something a normal person can do." Here's how:

1. Look for problems you encounter "as a regular person using technology." The first few patents she did, had nothing to do with her expertise in cloud computing. "They were really common place everyday things," she says.

For instance, one of her patents is for providing cell phone subscriptions for email threads (U.S. No. 2013-07-16 8489690). Another is for adding a teleconference caller to a group instant messaging chat (U.S. No. 2013-12-10 8605882)

2. Use your imagination during your day job to spot problems that everyone deals with.  "Every day in all of our jobs, all of us have pressures to execute and deliver, deliver, deliver," she says. "Allow yourself to stop and observe all the problems you are solving in your work."

Maybe you are solving the same problem over and over again and you could come up with a permanent solution. Maybe something you are doing can be applied to a bigger audience, a broader problem.

3. Allow yourself to toy with solutions. Say to yourself, "Wouldn't it be neat if ... <solution to problem>," she says. For instance, wouldn't it be neat if there was a way to let someone know about a meeting when they were offline, and have the meeting notes automatically sent to them?

Start there.

4. Join an inventor's group. At IBM that's easy. Ditto for many other big tech companies that apply for lots of patents.  If your company can't help, you'll need to do some sleuthing to find an inventors meet-up that works for you.

"Brainstorming with like-minded people is incredibly liberating," she says. But its also helpful to find a mentor that can guide you through the patent process.

Creativity feeds on itself

"Getting a patent is a reward. It is something that I’ve got my permanent record inside IBM and outside IBM. All these inventions I created, I’m very proud of," she says.

But inventing also "helps you be more creative, observant and be more proactive about solving issues. Now whenever I see a technical issue, I think, what kind of invention could I create? Anybody can come up with ideas that are patentable, if you stop and train your mind."

Via Business Insider

5 Kitchen Inventions You Had No Idea You Needed

1.) Edible Gold Paint

Iggy Azalea once asked our generation an immensely important question: “Can’t you taste this gold?” As long as you’ve got this kitchen essential, you can finally answer her majesty with a resounding “YES!” That’s right—this flashy food accessory gives whatever food you’re serving the appearance of being made entirely of precious metal. After all, just because you are a financially-struggling college student who eats Pizza Rolls for dinner twice a week doesn’t mean you shouldn’t project a façade of luxury whenever possible. You’ll never serve a lackluster (pun intended) meal again.

2. BBQ Brander

If you’re like most other food-lovers, you’re probably all too familiar with that horrifying, suspicious feeling that someone has swapped their steak with yours. It must’ve happened when you turned your back to grab the A1 out of the fridge! Didn’t your ribeye have better grill marks than this? Was it this well-done before? When it comes to slabs of meat, trust no one.

Finally, we can all breathe a sigh of relief, because science has come up with an invention that will henceforth remove the plague of uncertainty from your dinner (and your week): Hello, BBQ Brander.

As long as your initials are clearly seared into your prime cut of glorious meat, you’ll never have to worry about it getting into the wrong hand—or mouths—again. Vegetarians, never fear! You don’t have to miss out on all the branding fun. Use the BBQ brander on your slab of tofu, or one of those confusing faux-meats.

3. Twirling Spaghetti Fork

You may have been taught, at a young and impressionable age, that there are three key utensils with which every meal can be eaten. Dear, innocent child, I am here to tell you that you have been led astray. Until this moment, you have certainly overlooked one vital component of any self-respecting table setting: the obligatory Twirling Spaghetti Fork.

“Now, wait a minute,” you may be thinking, “can’t I just use a normal fork and twirl the pasta myself?” Don’t be absurd! Human wrists were not adequately constructed to carry out such trivial (not to mention exhausting) rotations. Until now, you’ve been sitting down to your grandma’s homemade spaghetti dinners, totally unaware that Granny was really serving up a steaming plate of eternal joint pain. Do yourself a favor and go snag one of these babies before it’s too late. Arthritis is no joke, and obviously, neither is this fork.

4. The Sandwich Toaster

Imagine this scenario: you are camping in the wilderness with your younger brother. He has been a picky eater since he was a little boy and refuses to eat anything that is not a) toasted and b) a sandwich. His food pyramid consists of paninis, toasted bagels with cream cheese and hamburgers on nicely browned buns. So you, being the great big sibling you are, pack up enough toasty sandwiches for 3 days and hit the woods.

At the end of the third day of camping and sibling bonding, you are ready to head home. But suddenly you realize that you left the lights on in your Subaru and the car battery is completely shot. Your parents can come pick you up in a few hours, but it is lunchtime, and lil’ Johnny is crying for food. If you don’t feed him soon, he will tell your parents what a horrible sibling you are and you’ll definitely end up grounded! You can’t go without TV, or all your friends will mock you for not knowing what happened on the latest episode of Scandal. How do you avoid social suicide?!

Don’t panic, because you’ve remembered to bring the Sandwich Toaster! Quickly, you scavenge up some edible greens, slap ‘em onto two slices of leftover multigrain, and stick ‘em in the toaster. You quickly hand Johnny the sandwich and he stops crying almost immediately. Yup, I think someone just won the Sibling of the Year Award.

When faced with everyday situations such as that one, how do you not own one already?!

5. The Egg Cube

I really think this one speaks for itself.

Via The Daily Meal

Patent Licensing: The Road Less Travelled

Patents have been considered as trophies given to inventors when they come up with inventions which are a significant improvement over the state of art. However, the relevant questions are whether obtaining a patent is enough and what is the value of the patent if it cannot generate revenue?

A patent is a negative right which allows third party exclusion. However, a more pertinent aspect is the monetisation of patents. The strategy adopted by most companies is to either sell them or license them, if manufacturing or using the patented invention is not the primary motive. That is the most responsible approach when one has shareholders to tender to.

Even reputed companies are either shipping off their patents non practicing entities to make revenue through the sale and also on the licensing profits which the non practicing entity makes with the company’s portfolio. For those who have not heard about the term non practicing entity, it is a less derisive term for patent trolls.

Though patent trolls have been seen in bad light lately, in reality they are furthering the goal of providing patent protection i.e., fostering innovation. For example, in university laboratories, where innovation happens without an agenda, and not in a particular sector, the only way such patents see light at the end of the tunnel is when they are licensed or sold to companies. The line separating non practicing entities from corporates is increasingly blurring. Not only manufacturing companies but even technology-based companies are increasingly licensing their patents.

Let us consider this major player in the telecommunication sector, which created a separate unit largely to protect its patent licensing business from law suits. Mobile communication is one such sector where the scheme of the patent law is not analogous with the ever-changing technology landscape, making it one of the most difficult sectors to monetise them. Thus, licensing patent portfolios is the only way out.

Qualcomm established Qualcomm Technology Licensing which is a separate entity taking care of patent licensing of the company and turns out to be one of their key business strengths. It is one of the technology giants with respect to mobile communication technology which is now capitalizing its resources far beyond its own walls to truly thrive. This is necessary as Qulacomm has a comprehensive patent portfolio including more than one lakh patents which are either issued or applied for. They also have around 3500 exclusively on the Chinese and US cellular essential patent list and the issued patent country list comprises 65 countries. They also have license agreements with a total of 195 companies. Most of the income generated by Qualcomm is by using this portfolio to license agreements with third party manufacturers, where most of these agreements are in perpetuity.

It is often said that if one manufactures a 3G cell phone then most certainly one has to pay royalty to Qualcomm. This is a fine portrayal of the strength of their portfolio. Qualcomm’s extensive patent portfolio includes digital wireless communication technologies, CDMA (3G) and OFMDA (4G LTE). If any small time chip manufacturer wants to use these technologies, and all of them do, they must have a license agreement with Qualcomm and pay a royalty fee; there is no alternative. Qualcomm has license agreements with every minor and major mobile manufacturer. The list comprises Intel, Samsung, MediaTek, Broadcom, HTC, Nokia, LG, Foxconn (Apple’s manufacturer) and many more.

Another colossal player in the mobile communication sector is Ericsson. With some 35,000 granted patents and holding the largest number of patents which are Standard Essential as far as the mobile communications are concerned, they have around 100 patent-licensing agreements in place which generates royalties.

Thus, licensing and not litigation is the best way to monetize patents and generate revenue. Though there is no denying that even licensing leads to patent wars and extensive litigation in some instances, it is an assured way to capitalize on one’s inventions and the sweet sweat of the R&D teams within companies.

Via Your Story

Elegant design solutions to save your food from languishing in the fridge

As life-changing as the invention of the refrigerator was, the hulking and ubiquitous appliance is a major energy consumer. It’s also a place where food can easily be forgotten—and as anyone who has found lettuce moldering at the bottom of the crisper knows, ultimately wasted.

The designers Jihyun Ryou and David Artuffo set themselves the task of reducing our refrigerator dependence. With their project, Save Food From the Fridge, the goal was to design tools and containers that would preserve the nutrients and tastes of foods without refrigeration.

This month the design duo, known as Jihyun David, showcased three pieces at the Ambiente consumer goods trade fair in Frankfurt as part of the event’s Talents program, which highlights young designers.

The pieces on display not only keep vegetables and fruits fresh, but also turn them into beautiful decor: A shelf-like storage system to maintain and display fresh produce, for example; a bowl that uses water to cool down and preserve fruit; a cool marble platform to keep vegetables such as cabbage and lettuce fresh.

“Many vegetables and fruits that we are keeping in the fridge, actually are suffering in the fridge, from the cold, but we don’t know that,” said Ryou in a 2012 TEDx speech. “But in all the times before the refrigerator came into the society, people used to know that. I want to bring back this close relationship between food and people.”

The designs are on sale by demand, Ryou told Quartz via email. Interested buyers can contact the designers to arrange for the prototypes to be reproduced. Only the shelf and fruit bowl have been sold so far, Ryou said, but the pair are preparing to launch a crowdfunding campaign this year for a shelf.

Ryou also keeps a Tumblr that’s packed with knowledge and tips on food preservation (keep your cauliflower in a vase instead of the fridge, for example, or dip the stem of your aubergine in wax).

The shelves

We tend to store root vegetables horizontally, rather than vertically, which is how they grew, Ryou said. Ryou suggests keeping the vegetables standing upright, and the shelf that she and Artuffo designed uses sand to do so. The sand has the added benefit of maintaining the right humidity levels and preventing individual vegetables from touching each other and rotting.

Ryou subscribes to the belief that potatoes last longer and won’t sprout when in contact with the ethylene gas given off by apples (though some dispute that). It’s also best to keep potatoes in the dark, she says. A shelf the pair designed houses potatoes in the covered bottom and apples above, settled into holes that let the potatoes absorb the apples’ gases from below.

Ryou suggests not storing eggs among other foods in the fridge, because the porous surface of eggshells allow eggs to absorb the smellsaround them.

Of course, unrefrigerated eggs can rot more easily. To identify whethereggs stored outside the fridge are rotten, a water jar in the shelf offers a quick test: If the egg sinks, it is fresh; if it floats, it’s rotten.

Fresh fruit bowl

The “knowledge fruit bowl” is made up of a perforated top and a water-filled base. The idea is to pour water into the base and lay fruit on the perforated top, so that the evaporating water creates humidity that will help keep the fruit fresh for longer.

Leafy vegetables base

The marble plate’s coolness helps preserve the freshness of the lettuce and cabbage, Ryou said. Water is also poured into the base, as with the perforated fruit bowl.

Even the aesthetic appeal of these design objects—and of the vegetables and fruits they hold—has a role in preventing that lettuce-moldering-in-the-crisper scenario, Ryou said: “By having their beauty under our eyes, we will surely not forget to eat them again!”

Images by Jihyun David

Via Quartz

Lee inventor's magnetic hammers are a hit with roofers

Juan Carlos Fraga was working as a roofer when inspiration struck — there had to be a better way to pound tacks into a roof.

As it turned out, he hit the nail on the head with his line of magnetic hammers designed to improve a roofer's speed as well as minimize the banged-up knuckles that plague the trade.

The tack sticks on the tool's head so the roofer can hammer one-handed, using the other hand to keep up a steady supply of tacks.

Now Fraga — who came to this country from Cuba 20 years ago and has been in Lee County for 15 — has 20 patents and a thriving manufacturing business based in North Fort Myers.

He designed his first all-steel, ergonomically designed hammer for his own use but co-workers soon noticed the difference and asked to buy one from him. "They were tired of beating up their fingers and busting up their knuckles."

Fraga didn't have a ready supply to sell, so he founded JC Hammer Inc. 12 years ago and started making them himself.

Now he has a warehouse in Miami and does most of his manufacturing in China, although he still makes small orders at his shop in North Fort Myers. Besides hammers, he sells a variety of other roofing tools.

Scott Ortegon, manager of tool distributor Sunniland Corp. in Naples, said the hammers are an easy sell to roofing contractors even in a competitive market.

"The guys like them," he said. "The roofers who come in say 'This one lasts the longest.' "

For a roofer who's been using the hammers a long time, Ortegon said, "It's almost as fast as a nail gun."

Dave Pahl, founder of The Hammer Museum in Haines, Alaska, said the first magnetic hammer was invented in 1886 by tool manufacturer A.R. Robertson, who intended it as a way to let someone tack up a poster at a high level.

The hammer-nail connection has always been problematic, he said, and inventors such as Fraga have come up with a lot of ways to make it easier.

"There have been over 120 patents for nail-and-hammer features," Pahl said. "It's amazing how many different little gadgets have been designed and invented."

Via News Press

The Accidental Invention of the Snow Globe

A snow globe captures the magic of winter.

Turn one on its top, give it a light shake, and watch a whirling gust of snowflakes alight to the dusty ground within the crystal-clear orb. Inside, you might find a smiley-faced snowman, a pair of elegant dancers, a rosy-cheeked child, a forest of evergreen trees... For a passing moment, time stands still.

The snow globe is a toy loved by children and adults alike. For children, it reminds them of magic and for adults, it stirs up feelings of nostalgia for those cold winter days playing in the snow and the magic we once believed in.

But that wasn't always the vision, says Erwin Perzy III. He is the grandson of Erwin Perzy, who is widely regarded as the inventor of the first-ever snow globe or "schneekugel."

In the late 19th century, Erwin Perzy was a producer who specialized in surgical instruments. He worked in a small home on the countryside outskirts of Vienna and the last thing he set out to make was a toy. Rather, his tinkering was to invent a brighter light source. "My grandfather tried to improve Edison’s lightbulb to make it even better," Perzy tells us. "He mounted a solid glass lens in front of the lightbulb to get more magnification of the light. A solid glass lens was very expensive these days (around 1900) and therefore, he employed a water-filled glass globe instead of the lens. To get more reflection, he poured glass powder (glitter) into the water, but the powder sank rapidly to the ground."

He needed to find another material -- one that would stay afloat in the liquid.

"One day, he found semolina in the kitchen of his mother," Perzy says. "He poured this powder in the water and it started 'snowing' in the water globe." Hence, the magical semblance of snowfall. This coarse, crumbly product otherwise used in pasta and breakfast cereals, inspired a moment of creativity that would bring happiness generations to come.

When he created the first snow globe, it measured 40mm in diameter, in tribute to the natural beauty of Vienna.

Snow globes are made by different producers around the world, but the original design has stayed in the Perzy family. "These days we produce about 200,000 globes a year," Perzy says proudly. "The newest design is always my favorite."

They have since expanded their line by producing globes in four sizes (ranging from 25mm to 120mm) and one-offs as special gifts to people such as former President Bill Clinton. Their 250-year-old shop doubles as a museum and a workshop.

So is the snow still made of semolina? It’s a family secret.

Perzy describes it simply: "The magic of a snow globe is the wonderful world inside."

Via Martha Stewart