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Innovation economy

Can you identify 22 inventions born in Massachusetts?

Two books detail a history of innovation that stretches over centuries.

A yet to be released iRobot Roomba 980 in a demo room at iRobot in Bedford in 2015.Aram Boghosian for The Boston Globe/file

Two recent books highlight just what an innovative state Massachusetts has been over the past four centuries or so. One, by Bob Krim and Alan Earls, is “Boston Made”; the other, out next month and written by Jean-Jacques Degroof, is “From the Basement to the Dome,” which focuses on the entrepreneurial powerhouse that is MIT.

This column is a list of 22 things we’ve invented or pioneered — along with three that were invented in other perfectly fine states. Your job: Identify those three.

  • Spacewar!, the first video game — and an inspiration for the arcade classic Asteroids.
  • Toll House chocolate chip cookies, a baking mistake that became a classic… and the first published recipe for oatmeal raisin cookies, too, published by Fannie Farmer in 1896.
  • The first successful home robot, iRobot’s Roomba. An early model is in the collection of the National Museum of American History.
  • A machine that could read any printed book, magazine, or important document aloud to visually impaired people, the Kurzweil Reading Machine.
  • A chemical process for making natural rubber more durable: vulcanization, invented by Charles Goodyear.
  • The first sewing machine, which won a race against five human seamstresses in 1845. (The machine was slow to sell, however, and inventor Elias Howe was forced to sue Isaac Singer and others who copied elements of his design to get royalties.)
  • The steam shovel, used to help fill in the tidal marshes of the Back Bay — and later, to help build the transcontinental railroad.
  • The “gateway” technology that began knitting together academic computers into the ARPANET, the forerunner of today’s Internet.
  • The first head-mounted virtual reality and augmented reality systems, allowing people to see either fully computer-generated environments or digital information overlaid on the real world.
  • The integrated circuit, or silicon microchip, in 1959. MIT alum Robert Noyce was a key contributor.
  • The first microwave oven, weighing 750 pounds and standing six feet tall. A commercial version for restaurants was dubbed the Radarange.
  • Basketball, created in Springfield as a safe indoor game for young men to play when the weather outside was rotten.
  • The very first Technicolor movies, shown near Downtown Crossing in 1917. (The company’s name paid homage to MIT, then known as The Tech.)
  • A championship series of baseball games to determine the best team in the country, begun in 1903 and today known as the World Series. (Cy Young pitched the Boston Americans, now the Red Sox, to victory.)
  • The original emoji: graphic designer Harvey Ball’s smiley face, created to improve employee morale at a Worcester insurance company. (Ball was paid about $45 for his work.)
  • The terms “hacking” and “hackers” — originally intended to refer to people who enjoyed experimenting with new technology to see what was possible, as opposed to using technology for malicious purposes.
  • The first laser printer, in 1971, which produced crisp and professional-looking documents from personal computers.
  • The first successful flight of a rocket powered by liquid fuel, above a farm in Auburn, which helped point the way to human spaceflight.
  • Chemotherapies to slow the progress of cancer, initially focused on children suffering from leukemia.
  • A disposable, double-edged razor that put an end to the chore of re-sharpening blades. (World War I helped turn it into a mass-market product ― the military began issuing the disposable razors to every serviceman.)
  • The high-contrast, low-power screen used in a range of electronic books, including the Amazon Kindle.
  • The research, funding, and social activism that led to the first birth control pill, Enovid — and allowed women across the country to use it. That required two Supreme Court battles.
  • The original computer bug — a moth found trapped in the relays of the Harvard Mark II computer, in 1947. Programming pioneer Grace Hopper helped make the incident famous.
  • The first mass-produced helicopter, the R-4, which inspired the design of most subsequent helicopters.
  • The telephone, and telephone numbers 1 and 2, which connected a home in Somerville with the owner’s shop near present-day Government Center.

• • •

Not invented here (did you catch all three?):

Early integrated circuits were developed at Bell Labs in New Jersey and Texas Instruments in Texas.


The first laser printer was developed at Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center, in California.

Close, but not Massachusetts: Igor Sikorsky developed the R-4 in Stratford, Conn.

Scott Kirsner can be reached at kirsner@pobox.com. Follow him on Twitter @ScottKirsner.