While it may seem that cell phones, computers and other technology gadgets are Americans’ most coveted items, teens and adults agree that the toothbrush is the one invention they cannot live without.

The 2003 Lemelson-MIT Invention Index, an annual survey of Americans’ perceptions about inventing and innovating, found that technologically advanced items significantly lag in importance behind the toothbrush, which was developed in the 15th century.

When asked to select the invention they could not live without from among five choices–toothbrush, automobile, personal computer, cell phone and microwave–more than a third of teens (34 percent) and almost half of adults (42 percent) cited the toothbrush. The automobile ranked a close second, getting votes from 31 percent of teens and 37 percent of adults.

The toothbrush first surfaced in 1498 when a Chinese inventor had hog bristles imbedded in a bone handle.

In 1938, DuPont introduced toothbrushes with nylon bristles to replace pig hair.

Important Inventions for Consumers (% respondents)

Adults Teens
Toothbrush 42% 34%
Automobile 37 31
PC 6 16
Mobile phone 6 10
Microwave oven 6 7

Source: Lemelson-MIT Program, January 2003



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