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November 13th, 2013 MARTY SMITH | Dr. Know
 

Dr. Know: Portland’s Better Mousetraps

Does Portland lay claim to any big inventions?

drknowILLUSTRATION: Hawk Krall
I recall that when I lived in Baltimore, there used to be a poster in City Hall that listed all the things that originated there (the refrigerator, the Ouija board, the dredger, Bromo-Seltzer, etc.). Does Portland lay claim to any big inventions?

—Chris Y.

I’m gonna give it to you straight, Chris. Aside from our obvious contributions (running shoes, urban planning and trench foot), our region is pretty lean in the cute-invention-factoid department.

According to my research, we can take credit for the following: maraschino cherries, Hacky Sack and the Erector Set. Alert the Nobel committee.

I’m sure I’ve missed a few. But it’s not like we invented Velcro or handjobs or happy hour or something that really changed the world.

Moreover, even these slender claims to fame aren’t 100 percent made in Oregon. Maraschino cherries already existed when an Oregon State University researcher discovered a better way to preserve them in 1931. Hacky Sack-like games had been known for ages when two Oregon City jocks started marketing them in the 1970s. And the Erector Set was invented by an Oregonian who had long since relocated to the East Coast—sort of like the way Herbert Hoover was raised here but moved back East to invent the Great Depression.

Even our name is a retread. Most folks know that Portland, Ore., was named after Portland, Maine—the guy who wanted to call us Boston lost the coin toss. It’s less well-known, though, that Portland, Maine, stole its moniker from the Isle of Portland, off the coast of Dorset, in England.

To this day, there is a hereditary English peer attached to that island whose official title is—I shit you not—the “Earl of Portland.” Apparently, he’s an actor whose family fortune was squandered generations ago, which sounds about right.


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