Historian Reveals Connecticut Inventions That Changed The World

CH Booth Library brought back historian and storyteller John Cilio to lead another information-packed program through Zoom on June 14.

This time he presented “CT Innovations That Helped to Change the World” to uncover unique tales about Connecticut inventors whose creativity and innovations made an impact on society.

“During the presentation we are going to cover a couple innovations,” Cilio said, prefacing his talk.

He encouraged the audience to participate by asking questions in the chat feature throughout the program, so he could answer any questions they may have.

“During the 19th and early 20th Century, Connecticut was number one in creating patents. We averaged about one patent per 700 people in the state. Most were one per 3,000 people in a state,” Cilio said.

To give an idea of ​​just how many creative minds were in Connecticut, he listed off more than a dozen inventions that he would not be diving into, but that he encouraged everyone to pursue learning more about. Among those were the cotton gin, the submarine, the hamburger, the frisbee, the pull-chain electrical light socket, lollipops, the American English Dictionary, the first juvenile publication, the pay phone, the Wiffle ball, the first practical helicopter, the improved sewing machine, chest protectors for baseball, portable typewriters, the paper clip as we know it, and the Colt .45 pistol.

Something To Smile About

“Teeth have been important to all of us, and they have been important throughout time. When you look at documentation, there are recipes for keeping your teeth clean that date back to 5,000 BC,” Cilio noted.

Over time it evolved and in the 1700s the most common way that people took care of their teeth in America was by taking a birch tree twig, fraying the end, and using it as a primitive brush.

By the mid-1800s, people were using tooth powders packaged to help people clean their teeth.

“Along comes this Connecticut dentist Washington [Wentworth] Sheffield … in 1850 he goes into apprenticeship and in 1852 he opens his own office in New London. There were less than 5,000 dentists when he started,” Cilio said.

Sheffield later went to surgery school and worked in the Navy, but he returned to open a private practice in New London.

“From all that experience that he had in the Navy, he learned how to flavor his tooth powder so that it not only cleans the breath, but is also more pleasing to the people who came to his office,” he said.

As a result, people loved it and wanted to purchase it premixed to have at home. Sheffield began selling it in jars in 1870.

“It would be another three years before Colgate sold premade toothpaste in a jar, so he’s quite a bit early,” Cilio said.

Sheffield also created a mouthwash for his patients to help them keep their gums clean.

His son, Lucius Tracy Sheffield, also became a dentist in 1878, graduated from Harvard, and went to Paris to study their work. While there, I watched artists work with paint tubes and was inspired to put his dad’s product in them.

The father-son duo was able to get patents, create the product at their factory in New London, and began selling the toothpaste in a tube — the only one of its kind at the time.

“That’s not the end of the story,” Cilio said. “Dr Sheffield Sr figures out how to make crowns really effectively and really strong, and also how to do the bridge work that keeps crowns together.

“He’s considered one of the most successful dentists of the late-1800s,” Cilio said, adding: the company is still in business 160 years later. It’s called Sheffield Pharmaceuticals.”

Pepperidge Farm

The last innovations Cilio discussed came from Margaret Fogarty, who was an investment advisor on Wall Street.

“She was obviously a move and a shaker. Ella she’s not afraid of business, because there are not many women professionals at the time, ”he explained.

After marrying Henry Rudkin, Fogarty became a housewife and lived at their 125-acre estate in Fairfield. On the property, there were a lot of black gum trees, known as Pepperidge trees.

When their son was diagnosed with asthma the doctor said it was likely a food allergy from the additives in store-bought foods.

After hitting hard times — losing money in the stock market, her husband getting into an accident that led him to be unable to work, and the economy in the Great Depression — Fogarty ended up trying to make money by selling their horses, all their cars except one, and their help at the farm.

“She had been really close to her grandmother who was a great baker, and she starts trying to bake bread,” Cilio said.

After using old recipes that used natural ingredients with no additives, her son’s asthma began to improve, and the doctor credited it to her ingredients. Since he believed it to be so effective, he asked her to bake more so he could sell her to his patients.

“In 1938, she is baking 4,000 loaves a week,” Cilio said.

Fogarty decided to partner with the local markets to sell her bread and her husband sold it in Manhattan. Even though it was much more expensive, people loved it.

“In 1939, Reader’s Digest puts an article out and talks about her bread,” Cilio said.

Now she was so highly in demand that she created a factory in Norwalk to keep up with the orders. She began producing 50,000 loaves of different breads a week and was adamant about keeping it the same quality.

Fogarty grew the business to expand into making cookies marketed as healthy, rolls, coffee cake, melba toast, and Goldfish crackers.

Before frozen products were mainstream she began selling them.

“She knows how to anticipate a market and is really good to her employees,” Cilio said.

In 1947, she built a new factory, also in Norwalk, and produced 4,000 loads an hour.

“Her 1963 cookbook, The Margaret Rudkin Pepperidge Farm Cookbookwas the first cookbook to ever make New York Times best sellers list,” Cilio noted.

Ultimately, because of her business strategies, not using additives, and anticipating markets, Margaret Fogarty revolutionized the concept of commercially baked products around the world.

Additional Resources

Cilio’s talk included more than half a dozen Connecticut inventors in detail, such as Daniel Halladay, who patented the first commercially viable windmill in 1854, called Halladay’s Self-Governing Windmill; Windsor-born John Fitch, who produced serviceable steamboats before Robert Fulton; Berlin-born Daniel French, who was awarded a patent for his steam engine by him; and George Coy, who created the New Haven District Telephone Company and state telephone book.

Cilio provided a list of books that he recommends people check out if they are interested in learning more about the subjects he covered. The list includes:

*The Origin of Toothpaste by Jeremy Jaramillo,

*Power from Wind, A History of Windmill Technology by Leslie Hills,

*The Remarkable Connecticut Inventor I’ll Bet You Never Heard Of … by John Guy LaPlante (online),

*The Amazing Life of John Cooper Fitch by Art Evans, and

* The First Century of the Telephone in Connecticut by Reuel A. Benson.

Cilio’s program was able to happen thanks to funding from the Friends of the CH Booth Library. For more information about registering for upcoming programs, visit chboothlibrary.org or call 203-426-4533.

To contact Cilio, e-mail johnvintageflyer@gmail.com or visit vintageflyer.com.

Reporter Alissa Silber can be reached at alissa@thebee.com.

Historian John Cilio presented his “CT Innovations That Helped to Change the World” program virtually through CH Booth Library on June 14. In it, he highlighted Connecticut dentist Washington Wentworth Sheffield’s variety of products, including a toothpaste in a tube.

Connecticut dentist Washington Wentworth Sheffield had a son, Lucius Tracy Sheffield, who followed in his footsteps, becoming a dentist and helping create products for their company.

Margaret Fogarty Rudkin, of Fairfield, founded Pepperidge Farm and created bread, as well as other products, without additives. Her business savvy and method of creating products was revolutionary for the food industry.

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