Napoleon put out a tender which led to the design of the tin can (1809), as a challenge to preserve basic food provisions for troops over long periods.
This kind of wisdom will be imparted at Science Museum exhibition Hidden Heroes, which tells the design story of everyday objects.
Subtitled The Genius of the Everyday, it looks to give praise to objects so ubiquitous and purposeful we can’t ever have imagined living without them.
Indeed it’s quite difficult to imagine what people did before coathangers, when Albert J Parkhouse, who – faced with a wall of coathooks all in use at work – bent a piece of wire into a coathanger. Presumably the evolution of the wardrobe swiftly followed.
Elsewhere questions of how a descending aeroplane may have inspired the design of bubble wrap are answered, and the genesis of the teabag is revealed – an accidental discovery made when dipping unopened packets of tea into hot water to test quality.
Then there’s Percy Shaw’s Cat’s Eye (1934) – shown here with cracking original poster – inspired no less by the headlights of Mr Shaw’s car seeking out the eye of a cat.
And the tale of the sticking plaster, formerly a sealant for inner tubes, but reappropriated by a Mr Earle Dickson who’s employer Johnson and Johnson produced it.
Success of some products tracks social change, like Nicolas Conte’s pencil (1795); the first product consisting of a core of clay and graphite, hardened in a kiln and encased in a wooden holder. Education and the proliferation of writing helped it’s success.
Similarly Napoleon’s tin, no longer the preserve of an army marching on its stomach, has since found popular use as the industrialisation of food production allowed it to.
The exhibition has been curated by Vitra Design Museum, Germany, and poster has art has been designed by Johnson Banks
Hidden Heroes: The Genius of Everyday Things runs from 9 November 2011 – 5 June 2012 at The Science Museum, Exhibition Road, London, SW7