Sometimes invention happens in a shiny lab, but most of the time Necessity gives birth in someone’s garage or cluttered workshop. Today in 1878, Henry Tibbe patented the design for the corncob pipe, which joins the ranks of “Huh, that was patented?” along with safety pins and paper clips. Corncob pipes were handcrafted by locals who just needed to wind down after a long day in the fields, but Tibbe brought mechanical engineering into play to make the pipe smooth and uniform.
Tibbe’s creation not only brought pleasure to pipe smokers, it brought several improvements to the Missouri town where he lived; his Missouri Meerschaum Company was responsible for bringing electric light and the telephone to Washington, Missouri. He retired a rich man in 1921, but his pipes would march on: fans of the corncob pipe included General Douglas MacArthur, President Eisenhower and Popeye.