In the course of looking for background on Canadian Inventions, I came upon a list of the top 50 Canadian Inventions (Five-Pin Bowling is number 4). This list came out of a show put on by the CBC (who else) in 2007. Following on the heels of the Greatest Canadian this show put it to all Canadians to rank our 50 greatest inventions. To see some background on the show go to www.cbc.ca/inventions/
I was trolling through this list and suddenly it struck me. I couldn’t identify a single company that had been created and gained worldwide prominence out of the first 15 inventions. Where was the pharmaceutical giant spawned from the development of insulin, the nutraceutical behemoth formed from Pablum? Instead I found a list of fabulous inventions which for the most part were opportunities not seized. Certainly Poutine has been a worldwide phenom but have we capitalized on its creation to bring untold wealth back home?
In the top 15 companies there were only two examples of a Canadian company that continues today to benefit from the commercialization of a Canadian invention. (Cobalt-60 by AECL and the Canadarm by MacDonald Dettwiler, for now anyway). I was very pleased to see that Wonderbra made the list but it was marketed by a Canadian firm for only 4 years before the company was sold to Sara Lee.
To be fair, Bombardier with the Skidoo, and RIM hit the list at numbers 17 and 18 but I was once told to keep lists short and I didn’t have time to keep on researching. Here then for your edification and enjoyment are Canada’s top 15 inventions and where they ended up.
1. Insulin, Treatment for Diabetes [1921, Frederick Banting, Charles Best] Marketed by Eli Lilly, US based pharmaceutical giant who made it big specifically as a result of insulin.
2. Telephone [1876, Alexander Graham Bell] Conceived in Canada. Patented and Marketed in the US by National Bell Telephone Company.
3. Light Bulb [1874, Henry Woodward, Mathew Evans] Unsuccessful at commercializing it. Sold their invention to Thomas Edison in 1879
4. Five Pin Bowling [1908, Thomas F. Ryan] Not a commercializable product
5. Wonderbra [1964, Louise Poirier] First successfully commercialized in Canada by Canadian Lady – Canadelle but by 1968 the company had been sold to Sara Lee out of the US.
6. Pacemaker [1950, John Hopps, Wilfred Bigelow, John Callaghan] Among many contributors to development – successfully commercialized by Cardiac Pacemakers Inc of the US in 1972.
7. Robertson Screw, 1908 [Peter Robertson] Sold almost entirely in Canada as the inventor refused to license the screws to anyone (including Ford) due to problems with the first licensee in the UK.
8. Zipper [1913, Gideon Sundback] Not really invented in Canada. Sundback was a Swedish born engineer working in the US at the Hookless Fastener Company
9. Electric Wheelchair [1952, George Klein] No Canadian manufacturer stepped up to the plate to build them so the designs were sent to the US.
10. Poutine [1957, Fernand Lachance] Not a commercializable product – actually not even a tasty one.
11. Cobalt-60 “Bomb” Cancer Treatment [1951, Harold Johns] Commercialized still by AECL.
12. Java Programming Language [1994, James Arthur Gosling] Done in the US by a Canadian for Sun Microsystems
13. Bloody Caesar [1969, Walter Chell] Not a commercializable product – but this one is tasty. Who wouldn’t want to own this patent.
14. Canadarm [1975, Spar Aerospace/NRC] Actually remained Canadian but may not remain so as MacDonald Detwiller tried to sell itself to a US company this year
15. Standard time [1878, Sir Sandford Fleming] Not a commercializable product