The dictionary defines innovation as “a new idea, method, or device.” Missourians from all walks of life have become innovative thinkers and doers, whose work has enriched our daily experience and shaped our state and even the world. As we look ahead to Missouri’s Bicentennial in 2021, here are the stories of twenty-four innovators among the hundreds that we can claim from across the state.

Culture

Creating kindergarten: An enthusiastic proponent of German educational ideas, St. Louis-born Susan Elizabeth Blow founded the first public kindergarten, a German word for child’s garden, at Des Peres School in St. Louis in 1873. A year later, she established a training school for kindergarten teachers. Within a few years, St. Louis became the benchmark for US kindergarten programs. Perhaps most remarkable is the fact that Blow ran the system without receiving pay.

Codifying journalistic style: Hungarian-born St. Louis resident Joseph Pulitzer purchased the St. Louis Post Dispatch during 1879, and his family members remained involved with the paper until 1995. Pulitzer, who also created the Pulitzer Prize, is considered the father of proper journalistic style and standards.

Making beauty products for Black women: Chemist and entrepreneur, Annie Turnbo Malone became a millionaire by developing and marketing hair care items for Black women. By 1902, she was serving clients in the St. Louis area. This remarkable woman also used her wealth to promote African American advancement, while generously funding charities.

Photo by Eye for Ebony on Unsplash.

Making new music: The son of a former slave, Texas-born musician Scott Joplin spent most of his life in Missouri. Joplin was already a brilliant piano player when he helped develop the ragtime style of music, which became wildly popular by the early 1900s. “The Entertainer” and “Maple Leaf Rag” were two of the most popular ragtime songs that Joplin penned.

Fashioning stylish but affordable dresses: A seamstress from an early age, Nell Donnelly Reed met and married Paul Donnelly after she moved to Kansas City. She created Donnelly Garment Company and pursued her passion to create flattering, affordable house dresses and aprons. While enduring the Great Depression, worker unionization efforts, and divorce, and then marrying James Reed, Nell created the world’s largest dress manufacturer.

Seeing movies differently: Multiplex movie theaters got their start in the Kansas City area, with the 1963 opening of AMC Theatres Parkway Twin movie theater. By 1969, the concept expanded to four and then six theaters operating under a single roof. The multiplex then became a nationwide phenomenon that only the pandemic has slowed.

Health

Organizing Osteopathy: Physician Andrew Taylor Still moved to Kirksville in 1875 and opened the world’s first osteopathic medical school there seventeen years later. Considered the founder of osteopathic medicine, Still was one of the first physicians to promote the idea of preventive medicine and treating disease rather than just the symptoms. The Museum of Osteopathic Medicine at A.T. Still University in Kirksville commemorates the founding of osteopathy.

Contriving smarter bandages: In 2010, researchers at Missouri State University Center for Biomedical and Life Sciences in cooperation with Crosslink at Jordan Valley Innovation Center created smart bandages to treat wounded soldiers. The new bandages addressed a variety of wounds, from incisions to punctures. Battery-operated and timed electrical currents release antifungal, antibacterial, and healing chemicals from the fabric, too.

Augmenting reality in operating rooms: St. Louis-based SentiAR has recently created augmented reality (AR) for use during surgical procedures. A hands-free holographic visualization of the patient’s actual anatomy floats over each surgical patient, significantly enhancing treatment and analysis of cardiac arrhythmias. SentiAR will eventually submit this platform for FDA approval too. The company is also developing new and improved colonoscopy diagnostics, called Geneoscopy.

Reducing chronic pain: A 2016 grant to Missouri State University helps to fund medical interventions associated with reducing chronic pain. Overseen by Dr. Paul Durham, this ongoing research addresses orofacial pain, the trigeminal nerve and inflammation promoted by a peptide that the trigeminal nerve releases. This peptide causes inflammation and pain. Through extensive research, Durham and his team have noted increased need for personalized medicine in the treatment of chronic pain.

Food

Pasteurizing beer: German immigrant and St. Louis resident, Adolphus Busch was the first American beer brewer to adopt use of pasteurization to prevent spoilage. Beginning in the early 1870s, Busch used this process so that he could ship beer across long distances and deliver a consistent product.

Constructing the ice cream cone: At the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair, Syrian concessionaire Ernest Hamwi wanted to help an ice cream seller who had run out of dishes for serving his frosty delicacy. Hamwi created the first ice cream cone by curling a waffle cookie that could hold the cool treat. The rest, as they say, is history.

Photo by Kenta Kikuchi on Unsplash.

Promoting peanuts: Botanist George Washington Carver, born at Diamond, discovered three hundred uses for peanuts and sweet potatoes. He also developed techniques to improve soils depleted by growing cotton. In addition, Carver designed a mobile classroom to help teach farmers while also promoting environmentalism. There is a national monument to Carver at Diamond.

Boosting moods with soda: In 1929, St. Louis native Charles Leiper Grigg invented Bib-Label Lithiated Lemon-Lime Soda at The Howdy Corporation. Lithium citrate boosted moods, which was especially appealing as it launched in the shadow of the 1929 Wall Street crash. The beverage later became known as 7 UP Lithiated Lemon Soda and, finally, 7 UP. By this time, lithia had been removed as an ingredient.

Concocting a special cake: During the 1930s, John Hoffman owned the St. Louis bakery where a new German American baker accidentally reversed the proportions of butter and flour in a recipe. The result was Gooey Butter Cake. Since then, this iconic St. Louis dessert has frequently garnered media attention, from The New York Times to the Chicago Tribune.

Keeping Food from Sticking: If you can’t live without your Teflon-coated frying pan, you can thank a Kansas City innovator, inventor, and professor for the idea. Without the genius of Marion A. Trozzolo, the Happy Pan would never have entered kitchens across the nation, beginning in the 1960s.

Hatching the Happy Meal: Kansas City advertising mogul, Bob Bernstein, secured his place in culinary history when he invented the Happy Meal for McDonalds. Kansas City debuted the now-iconic children’s meal in 1977, alongside St Louis, Phoenix, and Las Vegas.

Technology

Automating fire alarms: These devices were the brainchild of Kansas City fire chief George C. Hale, who served from the 1880s to 1902. Reflecting one of more sixty patents Hale received for firefighting equipment, the alarms helped fire stations to pinpoint the exact location of a fire. Another patent also improved on the safety of previous design for firefighter suspenders.

Dreaming Mickey Mouse: Walt Disney created some of his earliest animation projects in his Kansas City-based Laugh-O-Gram Studios, which opened in 1921. Functioning for about two years, this was the birthplace of Mickey Mouse through Disney’s collaboration with other animators.

Introducing sliced bread: Chillicothe Baking Company had the first machine for slicing bread. After Iowa inventor, Otto Rohwedder created his Rohwedder Bread Slicer, the device found its way to Chillicothe. The baking company offered the first loaf of sliced bread, anywhere in the world, during 1928.

Photo by Jude Infantini on Unsplash.

Imagining aircraft advances: In 1967, St. Louis aerospace manufacturer and defense contractor McDonnell Douglas resulted from the merger of McDonnell Aircraft and Douglas Aircraft Company. Each company had already made significant advances in the field, from the Douglas DC-3 and DC-6 in the 1940s to McDonnell’s F2H Banshee and F3H Demon, for the Navy. Together they became a formidable, multi-faceted aircraft supplier.

Creating integrated circuits and more: Jefferson City-born electrical engineer Jack Kilby received the 2000 Nobel Prize in Physics for his role in the invention and development of integrated circuits. His breakthrough came in 1958, which facilitated development of microelectronics, the basis of all modern technology. He was also a pioneer in microchip technology.

Opening doors with feet: When three telecommunications coworkers noticed that fellow employees often opened doors with paper towels rather than touching the handles, the friends invented StepNPull. Mike Sewell, Ron Ely and Kelly Coddington introduced their foot-operated door opener in 2007. Within several years, major US corporations and international distributors signed on, and as a result of the pandemic, demand exploded in 2020.

Developing unparalleled power: More than fifty years ago, the University of Missouri Research Reactor (MURR) took shape on the Columbia campus. The result was a ten-megawatt thermal power reactor, making it the largest neutron source on any University campus in the country. The reactor is used for such diverse research as prehistoric migrations of the Puebloan people and the development of radioisotopes to help detect and treat cancer and other diseases.