Most people take for granted the magnificent achievements of modern capitalism. Wherever you look, you will see the life-advancing technologies produced by modern industrialists, including automobiles, MRI machines, lumber, computers, mass-produced clothes, and on and on.
Some things are seemingly so mundane, and we use them so routinely, that we scarcely notice how important they are to our lives. Take, for example, common kitchen supplies. Pause for a moment to consider how businesses developed four essential products—and how important those products are to our daily food preparation.
Cling wrap: In 1933, Ralph Wiley, the “father of Saran,” discovered unusual polymers—subsequently called Saran resins—while working for Dow Jones Chemical Company. Starting in 1953, Dow Chemical sold Saran Wrap, justifiably billed in an ad as “the most amazing food wrap ever developed.” Imagine the wonder of seeing, for the first time, “the crystal-clear plastic that lets you see everything you wrap.” I use cling wrap (now made from polyethylene) virtually every day.
Parchment paper: “Parchment paper is an indispensable utensil of the everyday gourmet,” Paper Chef advertises. I quite agree: I use it to bake pizza, cookies, even bacon. Although I could not readily discover who invented it, Bee Wilson reports for The Telegraph, “Baking-parchment, which is made by running cellulose paper through a bath of sulphuric acid, has only been around since the 20th century.”
Aluminum foil: Not only does nearly everyone in the industrial world keep aluminum foil stocked in the kitchen, a wide range of foods come packaged in foil. As Mary Bellis writes for About.com, “Charles Martin Hall patented an inexpensive method for the production of aluminum” in 1889. Then, in 1910, “the first aluminum foil rolling plant ‘Dr. Lauber, Neher & Cie., Emmishofen’ . . . opened in Kreuzlingen, Switzerland.”
Plastic zip bags: I doubt there is any adult in America who hasn’t used a plastic zip bag. As Wikipedia has it, the story of the zip bag began in 1951 with a company called Flexigrip, Inc.; eventually S. C. Johnson acquired the rights. (See also an account by Anton Busch of eHow.com.) Now several companies sell competing zip-style bags.
Next time you’re in the kitchen, you might say a silent “thank you” to the scientists and businessmen who made these astounding products possible and who continue to improve, produce, and market them today.