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Inventions aren’t always an instant success. Many have taken several decades—even centuries—to develop into their modern forms and are rarely the product of a single inventor. Even Edison’s electric lightbulb (which has become the symbol of an inventor’s inspiration) was the product of a team of inventors, engineers, and scientists. In truth, most inventions are collective efforts that combine and tweak existing ideas and technologies in novel ways. The idea is only the beginning of a successful invention.

Take the invention of Jell-O. The story begins with Peter Cooper, a self-taught engineer known as the inventor of the first American-built steam locomotive, the Tom Thumb. Fortunately, Cooper didn’t limit his ideas to trains. In 1845, he invented a dessert that has become a world favorite.

But it wasn’t until fifty years later, when Cooper sold his gelatin patent to a construction worker and inventor named Pearl B. Wait that things began to “gel” for Jell-O. Wait turned Cooper’s dessert into a prepackaged commercial product, which his wife, May David Wait, renamed “Jell-O.”

Even with the fun new name, Jell-O still didn’t sell very well. In 1897, the Waits sold the rights to Jell-O to Francis Woodward for $450. Woodward, who had had some success in the food industry, began to advertise Jell-O in national magazines and through public demonstrations at grocery stores. The marketing paid off and Jell-O quickly became a popular dessert across the country.

Although it took over fifty years for Jell-O to become a success, it has remained a favorite for over 100 years. The rest, as they say, is history…

Materials:

  • 2 packets of unflavored gelatin powder
  • 2 to 3 cups of a beverage of your choice (such as fruit juice, soda, etc.)
  • 2 cups water
  • Pieces of fruit, nuts, candy, or other food as desired.

Get started:
These are basic guidelines only. Be creative!

  • With an adult’s assistance and permission, boil 1 ½ cups of water.
  • Pour ½ cup of cold water into a large bowl and sprinkle both packets of gelatin over the cold water.
  • Carefully add the boiling water to the gelatin and cold water mixture.
  • Stir the mixture until the gelatin is dissolved.
  • Let the mixture cool for five minutes and then stir in the juice or beverage.
  • Place in the refrigerator until the gelatin is partially gelled (about 30 minutes).
  • Add fruit, nuts, or other goodies and put back in the refrigerator until the gelatin has completely set.

The next step is to taste the finished product! You can taste it yourself, or ask your family and friends to test your invention. How does it taste? How does it look?

What can you do to improve your gelatin invention? How will you make it different next time?

Take a picture of your gelatin invention and e-mail it along with your recipe to Sparky at sparklab@si.edu. (Make sure you have a parent’s permission to send the photo and include your first name, hometown, and age.)

Download this experiment »

 

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