10 Funny Inventions That Changed the World


Duct Tape

Duct tape: the right tool for keeping this guy quiet.
Duct tape: the right tool for keeping this guy quiet.

Use the right tool for the job, but if that tool isn't available, then the next best thing just might be duct tape. People reach for their handy roll of silver-sided tape for almost everything, from keeping their car's dangling side-view mirrors hanging on to making fashion statements (duct tape shoes, anyone?).

Duct tape began as a serious solution. During World War II, the U.S. military needed a strong, waterproof tape to help keep ammunition cases dry. By modifying medical tape, researchers at the Permacel division of Johnson & Johnson came up with a three-ply tape that sandwiched a fabric mesh between a layer of polyethylene on top and a rubber-based adhesive on the bottom. Their take on tape performed better than anyone expected. It was exceedingly strong, yet allowed soldiers to rip it easily into strips. And its ability to repel water became legendary, inspiring admirers to call it "duck" tape because it reminded them of a waterfowl's waxy feathers.

After the war, the housing industry boomed. As soldiers returned home and took jobs on building sites, so the legend goes, they remembered the really strong tape from their military days and recommended it to heating, ventilating and air-conditioning contractors, who needed something to hold ductwork together. Soon, manufacturers started making the tape with a silver-colored polyethylene top so it matched the aluminum ducts. Shortly after that, people began to realize the universal usefulness of duct tape.

In 1998, the U.S. Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory exposed a variety of sealing materials, including duct tape, to conditions that might be experienced in a real HVAC system. According to those tests, the worst duct sealant solution is duct tape [source: Preuss]. That's kind of funny, too, isn't it?

Nature's call inspired the next humorous creation.