A Very Inventive St. Patrick’s Day

March 14, 2019

St. Patrick’s Day has evolved into a celebration of Ireland, the people of Ireland, and the influence of the Emerald Isle on world culture. To that end, here are some indelible contributions to technology and science by those of Irish descent.

Chocolate milk

It’s strange to think that somebody had to invent the addition of chocolate to milk, as the two ingredients go together so well, or that we have documentation of its creation. But somebody did, at a certain place and time, and that man was naturalist Hans Sloane of County Down in Northern Ireland. While studying in Jamaica in the late 1600s, he noticed the locals enjoyed a beverage of cocoa mixed with water. He hated it…but found it tasted pretty good when the cocoa was added to milk instead of water. (Oh, and with the addition of plenty of sugar.)

Flavored potato chips

If you walk down the snack aisle at a grocery store today, you’ll find dozens of flavors of potato chip, like barbecue and sour cream & onion. But until 1954, there was just one kind of potato chip on sale in both the U.S. and Europe: salt. That year, Joseph Murphy, founder of the Ireland-based Tayto snack foods company, devised a way to create cheese-and-onion-flavored seasoning and applied it to potato chips. Before long, Tayto was a very wealthy company and Murphy had earned the nickname “Spud.”

Tattoo machine

Like more than a million of his countrymen and women, Samuel O’Reilly’s parents departed Ireland in the mid-19th century to find their way in the United States. O’Reilly really left his “mark” on society…he invented the modern-day, electric tattoo machine, patenting his device in 1891. Based on Thomas Edison’s autograph-printing pen, O’Reilly’s device used rotary technology (not too different from what’s used today), and it’s what he used to personally tattoo patrons in his parlor in New York’s Chatham Square.


Okay, so bacon wasn’t so much invented as it was discovered by some anonymous individual thousands of years ago who discovered that the fatty part of a pig’s underbelly was delicious when fried. But to get bacon from pig to store to plate involves a process, that was invented — in 1820, by Waterford, Ireland, butcher Henry Denny. The man had a healthy professional interest in bacon, and patented a number of bacon-curing techniques and revolutionized the way its cured. Up to that point, bacon was prepared by salting huge chunks of the meat in brine. Denny thought long, flat pieces — strips of bacon, in other words — would cure more efficiently, and also more effectively, in dry salt rather than salty brine. (He was right.)