This is a tribute to a group of men and women who, through inspiration and ingenuity, changed the way you and I live. But unlike Thomas Edison or Alexander Graham Bell, their names will never appear in a textbook and a Spencer Tracy or Don Ameche will never portray them in the movies.
This is the story of Virgil Browne.
Mr. Browne died in Oklahoma City on the last day of the 1970s at the age of 102. He was well-known in Oklahoma as a philanthropist and businessman. He helped found Braniff Airlines.
Virgil browne invented the six-pack.
He accomplished this fantastic feat as a partner in a Coca-Cola bottling plant. I do not know how he happened to hit upon his idea; perhaps he saw milkmen delivering their wares or perhaps he was trying to solve a marketing problem. The genesis is really secondary. The fact of the matter is, Mr. Browne profoundly changed the lifestyle of soda drinkers and beer drinkers the world over.
His is the rare invention that benefited both consumer and producer. Not only did it allow the shopper to more easily transport the beverage home, it increases sales by making it nearly as convenient for the shopper to take home six bottles as one.
Without the imagination of Virgil Browne, Ed McMahon and the Clydesdales might be selling patent medicine, and the Pepsi generation would have a Coke and a frown. The idea is simplicity itself, but not so obvious that anyone before Virgil Browne put it into use.
Mr. Browne made his mark on more than just thirsity people. He also provided financing for another innovative thinker, Carl Magee, to develop the bane of the city driver and the messiah of money-hungry municipalities.
Mr. Magee invented the parking meter.
Perhaps Mr. Browne was more fortunate than his fellow unknow inventors. At least he managed to receive a national obituary from the Associated Press and undoubtedly received greater recognition in his home state.
But what about the other people, living and dead, who during a special moment in their lives created a monment to themselves that would survive far longer than their name? People like:
Margaret Knight, who invented the flatbottomed paper bag.
Whitcomb Judson, who invented the zipper.
Georges Claude, who invented the neon sign.
Sylvan Goldman, who invented the shopping cart.
And what about those people whose names may be lost to history forever?
The person who combined good looks and function to invent designer toilet paper.
The sloppy person whose nagging mother prompted him to develop the coat hanger.
The persons who, struck with a vision or vindictiveness, devised the whoopee cushion and the dribble glass.
The person who changed the face of America by giving us the tax shelter.
To each of them, and to many others, I raise my six-pack in a toast.