The Greatest Canadian Invention
Greatest Canadian Invention: The Inventions and Their Inventors
[Each of the fifty inventions listed below, with one exception (number
includes one or two recommended websites to serve as a starting point
student research. The amount of information available varies considerably
invention to invention. Students should be encouraged to explore other
and traditional resources as necessary.]
Click here for the CBC
site to get started and look at the
50 inventions here
You can also check here
for another list of websites for Canadian Inventors
THE TOP 50 CANADIAN INVENTIONS
(in alphabetical order)
1. Alkaline Long-lasting Battery, 1959 [Lewis Urry]
Long-lasting alkaline batteries were invented by Lewis Urry. One of
prototypes is now displayed near Thomas Edison’s light bulb in
“Lew Urry” http://www.corrosion-doctors.org/PrimBatt/urry.htm
National Public Radio: “Lewis Urry, Alkaline Battery Innovator,
2. Ardox Spiral Nail, 1954 [Allan Dove]
Allan Dove really hit the nail right on the head with this invention.
He created a
spiraled nail that? once nailed in ?held firmly in wood.
Canadian Home Workshop: “Ardox Nails”
3. Automatic Lubricating Cup, 1872 [Elijah McCoy]
Elijah McCoy was born in 1844 in Colchester, Ontario? the son of former
who had fled along the Underground Railroad. His invention inspired
“The Real McCoy.” It was a device that fed oil to machine
revolutionized the mechanical industry.
AfricanAmericans.com: “Elijah McCoy”
4. Basketball, 1892 [James Naismith]
James Naismith was looking for something to keep his bored students
So he invented a game involving a ball and two open-bottomed peach baskets.
The rest is hoop history.
About.com: “Basketball – James Naismith”
5. Birch bark Canoe [First Peoples]
Greatest Canadian Invention in the Classroom p. 6 of 24
The only canoe in the world made out of birch bark. This vessel was
Canada? and its ingenious design has stayed afloat for centuries.
Canada’s SchoolNet: “Aboriginal Innovations in Arts, Science
6. Blackberry, 1999 [Mike Lazaridis]
The wireless hand-held phone with email is so addictive they call them
“crackberries”. In 1999, Mike Lazaridis invented this device
that lets your thumbs
do the walking.
EETimes.com: “The Interview: Mike Lazaridis, Research in Motion”
7. Bloody Caesar, 1969 [Walter Chell]
Walter Chell settled on a mixture of hand-mashed clams, tomato juice,
Worcestershire sauce, salt, pepper, and a celery-stick for a garnish.
EnRoute: “You Say Tomato, I Say Clamato”
8. CANADARM, 1975 [Spar Aerospace/NRC]
The robotic CANADARM lifts Canada’s technical wizardry to new
hasn’t malfunctioned once in 50 missions with NASA’s Space
CBC Archives: “Canadarm - A Technology Star”
IEEE Canada: “The Canadarm”
9. Caulking Gun, 1894 [Theodore Witte]
This inventor saw his “puttying tool” as a useful way to
insulate windows. And it
all started when he was watching his local baker decorate a cake.
Canadian Home Workshop: “Caulking Gun”
10. Cobalt-60 “Bomb” Cancer Treatment, 1951 [Harold
No, it didn’t bomb countries—it destroyed cancer cells with
radiation in a fast,
cheap, and powerful way.
Greatest Canadian Invention in the Classroom p. 7 of 24
CBC Archives: “Debut of the Cobalt Bomb” archives.cbc.ca/IDC-1-75-346-1855-
11. CPR-Mannequin: “ACTAR 911”, 1989 [Dianne Croteau,
Croteau and Brault invented a light and easily transportable life-size
replace the heavy full-size ones being used for CPR training.
The Canadian Design Resource: “Actra 911 CPR Trainer”
12. Crash-Position Indicator-CPI, 1957 [Harry Stevinson]
While working at the NRC's National Aeronautical Establishment, Harry
Stevinson invented a special system for locating a crashed plane.
I EEE Canada: “The Crash Position Indicator Aviation Safety”
13. Electric Oven, 1882 [Thomas Ahearn]
Thomas Ahearn invited a skeptical group of electrical engineers for
dinner. After they had eaten, he informed them, to their surprise and
it had been cooked by electricity? shocking news at the time.
CBC.ca: “Thomas Ahearn”
14. Electric Wheelchair, 1952 [George Klein]
One of the tragic legacies of World War II was the number of quadriplegic
veterans returning to North America. Prolific inventor George Klein
came up with a joystick-driven wheelchair to give them mobility. Sadly,
no Canadian manufacturer stepped up to the plate to build them…
so the design was handed over to the United States.
National Research Council of Canada: “NRC Helps Welcome Home
a Great Canadian Innovation: Original Electric Wheelchair Returns to
15. Electron Microscope, 1939 [James Hillier, Arthur Prebus]
Postgraduate students working in the Physics Department of the University
of Toronto, James Hillier and Arthur Prebus developed the first ever
high-resolution electron microscope for all types of samples.
16. Electronic Music Synthesizer, 1945 [Hugh Le Caine]
A scientist and musician with a wry sense of humour, he named his
first instrument the “Electronic Sackbut”. It evolved into
the synthesizerâ€• without which disco music may never
have been born.
HughLeCaine.com: “Le Caine, an Inventor’s Notebook,”
by Gayle Young www.hughlecaine.com/en/index.html
17. Explosives Vapour Detector, 1985 [Lorne Elias]
A chemistry professor from Carleton invented one of the first explosives
vapour detectors that sniffs out hidden bombs. His portable devices
keep people safe in airports worldwide.
Carleton University: “Explosives Expert Lorne Elias” magazine.carleton.ca/2002_spring/763.htm
18. Five Pin Bowling, 1908 [Thomas E. Ryan]
Smaller bowling balls, half the pins, and… presto! Tommy Ryan
invents a Canadian twist to an old game.
Canadian 5 Pin Bowlers Asociation: “History of 5 Pin Bowling”
19. Fog Horn, 1853 [Robert Foulis]
Robert Foulis was a land surveyor in New Brunswick. The foggy weather
of Saint John inspired his invention of a coded series of steam whistles
to warn ships that the shore was looming. It worked in a similar way
to a teakettle.
20. Goalie Mask, 1959 [Jacques Plante]
Montreal Canadiens goalie Jacques Plante was sick and tired of having
his face stitched up from flying pucks. So he and Fibreglass Canada
developed the goalie mask and made hockey history.
Wikipedia: “Jacques Plante” en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jacques_Plante
Library and Archives Canada: “1959 – Jacques Plante and
the First Hockey Mask” www.collectionscanada.ca/hockey/kids/024003-3006-e.html
21. Green Garbage Bag, 1950 [Harry Wasylyk, Larry Hansen]
This one has it in the bag. Millions are in use every day. Raccoons
everywhere can testify to their convenience.
About.com: “Garbage Bag – Harry Wasylyk” inventors.about.com/library/inventors/blGarbageBag.htm
Library and Archives Canada: “Garbage Bag” www.collectionscanada.ca/cool/002027-2005-e.html
22. G- Suit, 1941 [Wilbur Rounding Franks]
No, it didn’t make you fly. But Dr. W.R. Franks’ invention
of the Anti-Gravity Suit at the University of Toronto let jet pilots
withstand higher centrifugal forces without passing out.
Banting Research Foundation: “Dr. Wilbur Franks” www.utoronto.ca/bantresf/HallofFame/Franks.html
23. Instant Mashed Potatoes, 1962 [Edward Asselbergs]
A gourmet’s worst nightmare: the instant mashed potato flake.
Asselbergs invented a special technique that dehydrated a spud into
flakes while working for the Department of Agriculture.
Wikipedia: “Instant Mashed Potato” en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Instant_mashed_potato
Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada: “Potato Facts” res2.agr.ca/fredericton/centre/facts-faits_e.htm
24. Instant Replay, 1955 [CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada]
In 1955, George Retzlaff at the CBC produced the first in-game replays.
Sports broadcasting took a quantum leap into the future when the instant
replay was born.
Museum of Broadcast Communications: “Hockey Night in Canada”
25. Insulin, Treatment for Diabetes 1921 [Frederik Banting,
It came to Banting in a dream one nightâ€• the Nobel-prize
winning idea of how to treat diabetes with insulin. With the help of
Charles Best, he finally isolated the compound that has changed the
lives of millions of diabetics ever since.
Canada’s Digital Collections: “Insulin: Saving Millions
of Lives Worldwide” collections.ic.gc.ca/heirloom_series/volume4/10-13.htm
26. JAVA Programming Language, 1994 [James Arthur Gosling]
No, it’s not a mellow cup of coffee, but a multi-purpose, cross-platform,
object-oriented programming language. It’s versatile enough to
be used in a wide variety of applications… including the World
BusinessWeek Online: “The Man Who Brewed Up Java” www.businessweek.com/technology/content/may2005/tc2005054_3448_tc057.htm
27. Key Frame Animation, 1970s [Nestor Burtnyk, Marcelli Wein]
Nestor Burtnyk and fellow scientist Marcelli Wein eliminated the need
for animation artists to draw each and every frame. Their invention
revolutionized the animation industry and earned them an Academy Award
IEEE.org: “Retired NRC Scientists Burtnyk and Wein honoured as
Fathers of Computer Animation Technology in Canada” www.ewh.ieee.org/reg/7/millennium/computer_animation/animation_honoured.html
28. Lacrosse [First Peoples]
It used to be played with a hair-stuffed deerskin ball known as baggatawayâ€•meant
to settle feuds among warriors. Now it’s one of our fastest-growing
sports and the official Canadian game of summer.
CBC Archives: “Lacrosse: A History of Canada’s Game”
29. Light bulb, 1874 [Henry Woodward, Mathew Evans]
In 1874, Henry Woodward and Mathew Evans patented the first electric
light bulb; after having tested it successfully in Toronto. Then he
sold the patent to Thomas Edison. Bad move.
Mysteries of Canada: “The First Electric Light Bulb” www.mysteriesofcanada.com/Ontario/first_electric_light_bulb.htm
30. Marine Screw Propeller, 1833 [John Patch]
John Patch installed a screw propulsion system on a schooner in the
Bay of Fundy in 1834, moving a large ship forward without wind powerâ€•
and astonishing local onlookers. Tragically, Patch was denied a US patent
when he went to Washington, and he later died as an inmate of the Yarmouth
Canada’s Digital Collections: “John Patch: Propeller of
Ships 1781-1861” collections.ic.gc.ca/heirloom_series/volume4/278-279.htm
31. Marquis Wheat, 1908 [Sir Charles Saunders]
The wheat that won the west. In 1908, Dr. Charles Saunders developed
a coldweather resistant grain that turned Canada into one of the great
breadbaskets of the world.
Canadian Grain Commission: “Marquis Wheat: King Wheat is 100 Years
32. Pablum, 1930 [Alan Brown, Theodore Drake, Frederick Tisdall]
The original breakfast of champions. Three doctors from the Hospital
for Sick Children came up with the perfect baby cereal that is still
SickKids: “Alan Brown” www.sickkids.ca/abouthsc/custom/brown.asp
33. Pacemaker, 1950 [John Hopps, Wilfred Bigelow, John Callahan]
Can an ailing heart be jolted into working? John Hopps thought so, and,
in 1950, he developed the first pacemaker.
CBC Archives: “First Pacemaker Implanted in Human” archives.cbc.ca/IDC-1-75-942-5469-10/on_this_day/science_technology/pacemaker_implanted
34. Paint roller, 1940 [Norman Breakey]
Who could paint a ceiling without it? Norman Breakey invented the device
that changed the world of home renovations forever.
Canadian Home Workshop: “Paint Roller” www.canadianhomeworkshop.com/stuff/inventions2.shtml
35. Plexiglas, 1931 [William Chalmers]
You can stomp on it, protect your eyes with it, and see right through
it. A grad student in chemistry at McGill perfected a technique for
making transparent polymerized methyl methacrylateâ€•
more commonly known by the name “Plexiglas”.
McGill News: “Unknown Inventor” www.mcgill.ca/news/2001/spring/letters/two/
Canadian Home Workshop: “Polymerized Methy Methacrylate”
36. Poutine, 1957 [Fernand Lachance]
In his small restaurant in Quebec, Fernand Lachance answered a trucker’s
hurried request for fries and cheese curds by putting them all in a
paper bag and saying it would make “a bloody mess.” That
“mess”â€• poutineâ€• has
gone on to become a culinary classic unlike any other.
CBC Archives: “Vive la Poutine!” archives.cbc.ca/IDC-1-69-1371-8372/life_society/canadian_food/clip5
37. Radio Voice Transmission, 1900 [Reginald Fessenden]
Many feel that Reginald Fessendenâ€• not Marconi â€•should
be considered the true “Father of Radio”. Fessenden transmitted
history’s first wireless voice message in 1900. Then in the year
1906, on Christmas Eve, he made the first radio voice broadcastâ€•
singing a carol to ships in the Atlantic and as far away as the Caribbean.
IEEE Canada: “An Unsung Hero: Reginald Fessenden, the Canadian
Inventor of Radio Telephony” www.ieee.ca/millennium/radio/radio_unsung.html
38. Retractable Beer Carton Handle, 1957 [Steve Pasjack]
The sacred two-four deserves the perfect carton. In 1957 Steve Pasjack
came up with a nifty way to carry your beers with a retractable handle
on the case.
The Canadian Design Resource: “Scarborough Suitcase” www.canadiandesignresource.ca/officialgallery/index.php
39. Robertson Screw, 1908 [Peter Robertson]
He called it the biggest little invention of the 20th century. Peter
Lymburner Robertson of Milton, Ontario, invented a square-headed screw.
The little screw that carries his name is now an essential part of the
Mysteries of Canada: “Robertson Screws” www.mysteriesofcanada.com/Ontario/robertson_screws.htm
40. Self-propelled Combine Harvester, 1937 [Thomas Carroll]
In The Great Depression, Thomas Carroll rolled all stages of wheat harvestingâ€•
binding, stooking, threshing and cleaningâ€• into one
operation. During WWII, his invention was doing the work of hundreds
to make up for a shortage of farm labour.
Australian Dictionary of Biography: “Carroll, Thomas (Tom) (1888-1968)”
41. Separable Baggage Check, 1882 [John Mitchell Lyons]
While waiting in airports, tired travelers might sit and ponder who
invented the separable baggage check tag. Well… they might be
startled awake to know it was an inventor from Canada’s Maritimes.
And the inventive idea still travels well.
42. Ski-Doo, 1922 [Armand Bombardier]
Talk about teenage ingenuity. Joseph-Armand Bombardier, a 15 year-old
kid from Quebec, took the motor of an old Ford, somehow attached it
to a sleigh, and changed winter transport forever.
J.Armand Bombardier Museum: “J. Armand Bombardier” www.museebombardier.com/en/content/jab/jab.htm
43. Snowblower, 1925 [Arthur Sicard]
He was considered oddly optimistic for trying to conquer winter. But
in 1925, Arthur Sicard’s contraption quickly cleared Montreal’s
roads, and got the city moving after a snowstorm.
Suite 101: “Snowblower” www.suite101.com/article.cfm/farming/112466
44. Standard time, 1878 [Sandford Fleming]
If you want to make sure the trains run on time, you better have all
your clocks ticking in unison. Sir Sandford Fleming, one of the architects
of the CPR, did just that.
CBC Archives: “Sir Sanford Fleming Delivers ‘the World
on Time’” archives.cbc.ca/IDC-1-75-2079-12894-10/on_this_day/science_technology/twt
45. Telephone, 1876 [Alexander Graham Bell]
Canada’s most famous inventor started to experiment with sound
when he was just a teenager. After years of tinkering he figured out
how to send sound-waves through wire, and the firstâ€•now
famousâ€•spoken words: “Mr. Watson, come here,
I need you,” were transmitted on March 10, 1876.
CBC.ca: “Alexander Graham Bell” www.cbc.ca/greatest/top_ten/nominee/bellalexander-graham.html
46. UV Degradable Plastics, 1971 [James Guillet]
This Toronto chemistry professor discovered a new plastic that, eventually,
turns to dust when continually exposed to sunlight.
University of Toronto: “James Guillet, Chemist and Teacher: 1927-2005”
www.news.utoronto.ca/inthenews/archive/2005_10_01.html (under Alumni
47. Walkie-Talkie, 1942 [Donald L. Hings]
In 1942, Donald Hings invented the walkie-talkie for the Canadian military.
Over 60 years later it’s an essential tool for soldiers everywhere.
HyperStealth Biotechnology Corporation: “Donald Lewes Hings”
48. WEEVAC 6, 1980s [Wendy Murphy]
It’s got six sturdy warm pockets to carry newborn babies to safety.
The WEEVAC 6 is a first in stretchers â€• it can fit
half a dozen tiny patients at once.
Inventive Women: Inventive Women Biographies: “Wendy Murphy”
49. Wonderbra, 1964 [Louise Poirier]
“Plunge and push” is the secret technology designed to maximize
cleavage in this gravity-defying invention. Louise Poirier, a designer
working for a Montreal-based lingerie company, developed the revolutionary
University of Michigan Business School: “Sara Lee: Wonderbra”
50. Zipper, 1913 [Gideon Sundback]
Can you imagine a world of just buttons and buckles? Do you know how
long it would take to get dressed in the morning? Thanks to Gideon Sundback,
that part of our lives became a lot easier.
About.com: “The History of the Zipper” inventors.about.com/library/weekly/aa082497.htm
Suggested Additional Web Resources
Canadian Inventors and Inventions
“Canadian Inventors – All About Canadian Inventors and Inventions.”
About.com, 2006. (inventors.about.com/od/canadianinventors/)
“Canadian Science and Engineering Hall of Fame.” Canada
Technology Museum, 2006.
“Inventive Women.” Inventive Women, 2006.
Greatest Canadian Invention in the Classroom p. 15 of 24
McGaghran, Terry. “50 Canadian Innovations That Changed Our Lives.”
Northeastern Ontario Communications Network, 2004. (www.operationdialogue.
National Research Council Canada. “Canadian Innovations and Innovators.”
National Research Council Canada, 2006. (www.nrccnrc.
Library and Archives Canada - Made in Canada: Patents of Invention
the Story of Canadian Innovation
Intellectual Property and Patents
Bellis, Mary. “Lessons on Turning a New Invention Idea Into Money.”
2006. (inventors.about.com/od/firststeps/a/lesson_money.htm) [Note that
information is specific to the United States]
Canadian Intellectual Property Office. “Patents.” Strategis,
CBC News. “Protecting Your Ideas in Canada.” Canadian Broadcasting
Corporation, 2006. (www.cbc.ca/news/background/patents/)
I ntellectual Property Institute of Canada. “About Patents.”
“Patent (Consumer Tips – Legal).” Better Business
Bureau of Southern Alberta,
Invention As a Process
“Inventions.” Pitsco Ideas and Solutions, 2006.
National Research Council Canada. “A Day in the Life…”
Council Canada, 2006. (www.nrc-cnrc.gc.ca/education/innovations/sti-dilmain_
Smithsonian National Museum of American History. “Inventors at