9 Everyday Things That Were Invented in Oregon

Did you know our state created some of today’s most ubiquitous stuff?

By Ryan Ashby Photography by Michael Novak Published in the Design Annual: 2019 issue of Portland Monthly

Phillips Head Screw & Screwdriver (Portland)

As the aviation and automobile industry began revving up in the early 1930s, companies needed screws that could withstand greater torque and provide tighter fastenings. One Portlander, John P. Thompson, set out to revolutionize manufacturing. Little is known about him other than that he was variously a bank cashier, laborer, and auto mechanic, but his cruciform-topped screw started a revolution that was quickly adopted by the auto and rail industries. For unknown reasons, Thompson gave the patent to local mining company director Henry Phillips—hence the name. 

Safety Release Ski Bindings (Portland)

Ski bindings of the early 1900s kept your legs firmly attached to skis. So firmly, in fact, that breaking them was quite common. So when, in 1937, renowned ski champion Hjalmar Hvam awoke in a drug-induced stupor at St. Vincent’s hospital after an accident, he began drawing ideas for a design that would release your boot in a tumble.

Image: Michael Novak

Big League Chew (Portland)

While playing for the legendary Portland Mavericks baseball team in 1977, left-handed player Rob Nelson noticed a bat boy carrying around a packet of chewing tobacco stuffed with black licorice. Liking the idea, he decided to purchase a DIY bubblegum-making kit. He sold his idea of shredded strips of gum in a pouch to a subsidiary of the Wrigley company, allowing generations of kids to pretend they were Major Leaguers without hurling.

The First Wiki (Portland)

Although it’s hard to remember an internet without Wikipedia, wikis didn’t exist until Portlander Ward Cunningham developed a website that allowed multiple users to author and edit the same page on the web in 1995. Cunningham settled on the term “WikiWikiWeb,” borrowing the Hawaiian word “wiki,” for fast or speedy. And so, the bane of every college professor was born.

Image: Michael Novak

Non-Boozy Maraschino Cherries (Corvallis)

In the 19th and early 20th centuries, Croatian-born Maraschino cherries, preserved in a sweet liqueur, were highly sought after in American bars and restaurants. But Prohibition put the kibosh on fun—cherries and all. Though his intent may not have had anything to do with Prohibition, OSU horticulture professor Ernest Wiegand replaced the booze content with a briny solution of calcium salts, which kept the cherries firm and whole, but effectively bleached them of their color. Good old sugar and food coloring did the rest. 

Marionberries (Corvallis)

The marionberry was the brainchild of Oregon State University prof George Waldo, who spent his career cross-breeding and inventing enough new and interesting berry varietals to make your head spin. The marionberry, first bred in 1956, is a cross between the tasty Olallie and the high-yielding Chehalem blackberry, ideal for growth and consumption.

Image: Michael Novak

Plywood (Portland)

As part of the 1905 Portland World’s Fair, local box and barrel maker Portland Manufacturing Company was asked to come up with something new and exciting to exhibit. So the company’s manager, Gustav Carlson, began experimenting with laminating thinly lathed wood together using paint brushes and glue, then smushing them together with pallet jacks—making them very strong. Several thousand orders later, the plywood industry was born.

Gardenburger (Gresham)

Paul Wenner opened vegetarian Gardenhouse Restaurant in Gresham in 1981. There, he ended up taking some leftover rice pilaf and veggies and shaping them into his first iconic patty. While the restaurant didn’t last, the Gardenburger has stood the test of time as a meat-free stand-in for the everyday burger. 


Image: Michael Novak 

Tater Tots (Ontario)

After hopping into the frozen food industry, brothers F. Nephi and Golden Grigg noticed their French fry cutter kept spitting out bits of irregular-shaped potato. First using them as cattle feed, the two eventually began mashing the pieces through holes poked in a steel drum and frying them. They debuted their bite-size nuggets at the 1954 National Potato Convention in Miami, and the salty, crunchy tots became an instant hit, gracing bar and kid menus forever more— ensuring that we would no longer have to imagine a world without tots. 

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