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Random Origins: The Flashlight, 911 Call System, and the Slurpee

August 28, 2013

Once again Uncle John answers the question: Where does all this stuff come from?


radom origins FlashlightA few years after D-cell batteries were invented in 1896 came the first battery-powered hand lights. The first one— called the “Electrical Hand Torch”—was invented by American Conrad Hubert. Because early batteries were weak and the contacts faulty, the lights flashed a lot, hence the name “flashlight.”

Even after the batteries and contacts were improved, the name stuck. (In the U.K., flashlights are still referred to as “torches.”)


random origins 911 emergency systemThe 999 emergency phone number was set up in England after a 1937 house fire killed five people. It wasn’t until 1967 that the FCC and AT&T worked together to create the system in the United States. They chose “911” because “999” took too long to dial on a rotary phone. But AT&T was taking a long time to implement the system, so Bob Gallagher, president of the Alabama Telephone Company, ordered his plant manager, Robert Fitzgerald, to set up the nation’s first 911 service in Haleyville, Alabama. By the mid-1970s, most of the U.S. could dial 911.


random origins the slurpeeOn a hot day in 1957 Omar Knedlik, a World War II vet, put some pops in the freezer at his Dairy Queen in Coffeyville, Kansas. By the time the sodas were opened, they’d turned to slush. And Knedlik’s customers loved them. Inspired, he started tinkering with parts from the soda fountain, an ice cream machine, and his car’s air conditioner. A few years later, the machine—which blends flavored syrup, C02, and semi-frozen ice—was complete. Knedlik called his new the drink the ICEE, and was soon selling machines all over the U.S. In 1967 the 7-Eleven corporation licensed them.

A company ad man named Bob Stanford came up with the name “Slurpee,” based on how it sounds when sucked through a straw.

Since then, more than six billion Slurpees have been slurped.


This episode of Random Origins was brought to you from Uncle John’s 24-Karat Gold Bathroom Reader.

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