Can you imagine a world without cell phones, DVD players, and the Internet? Most older adults can! Inventions have a great impact on our everyday lives. From the telephone, to toothpaste, to computers, inventions often make our lives easier and more comfortable. August is National Inventors’ Month – an opportunity to celebrate the world of innovation and the ingenious people who have helped to change our lives with their gadgets, devices, and products. Hats off to their creative minds!

Here are some activities related to inventors/inventions that you can use with your group throughout the month. The emphasis is on the 20th century.

  • Ask participants to name some of the greatest invention in their lifetimes and to tell how they impacted their lives.
  • Brainstorm characteristics or qualities of inventors by asking participants to complete this sentence: Inventors are . . . (e.g., creative, risk-takers, resourceful).
  • Name some inventions to fit each of these descriptions: helpful, unusual, complex, useless, life-changing.
  • 1950s suburban housewives filled their kitchens with the latest inventions and gadgets. Show pictures of vintage advertising for classic kitchen gadgets, e.g., electric skillet, blender, mixer, can opener, juicer, ice crusher, electric ice cream maker, butter curler, waffle maker, egg timer. Ask your group to name some of their favorites.
  • Watch a movie about the life of the great American inventor, Thomas A. Edison. Enjoy the 1940 film, Young Tom Edison, starring Mickey Rooney, or choose Edison, The Man with Spencer Tracy.
  • Discuss the meaning of the proverb “Necessity is the mother of invention.”
  • Ask participants to describe life before the invention of disposable diapers, dishwasher, automatic washer and dryer, Perma-press fabrics, fast food, safety razors, etc.
  • Display the following props: frozen TV dinner, TV tray, a copy of TV Guide, and a TV remote control. Ask: What was the first brand of TV set that you owned? When did you buy it? When did you purchase your first color television? How did television change your life? As a parent, did you feel television had a positive or negative influence on your children?
  • Pass around some 20th century toy inventions, e.g., Barbie doll, Lincoln Logs, Slinky, Hula Hoop, Frisbee, Yo-Yo, Tinker Toys, Silly Putty. Ask group members to name their favorite childhood toy.
  • Hold up a useful invention, e.g., Post-it Notes, Velcro, nylon stockings, Gatorade, Teflon skillet, or Wite-Out, and ask participants to tell what need it fulfilled or problem it solved. Ask:What do you think needs to be invented to make life more comfortable for older adults?
  • Invite a professional photographer to talk about technological advances in the field of photography. Reminisce about some favorites among your group: Polaroid camera, Kodak Instamatic camera, disposable flashcubes, etc. Ask: What was the first camera you owned? Did you enjoy taking snapshots? Demonstrate a digital camera.
  • Show photographs of old hand crank, rotary dial, and touch tone phones. Share memories of the following: information operators, long distance operators, rural party telephone lines with friendly town operator, payphones, phone booths. Demonstrate a cellular phone.
  • Challenge your group’s creativity by encouraging them to invent something “new” – a new flavor of ice cream, a new dish, a new game, etc.
  • Generations of children are raised on various forms of media. Ask participants to describe the impact of radio on their childhood. How was it different from their own children, who were raised on television, or their grandchildren who favor computers? Enjoy some old-time radio shows with your group. (See Journey Through the 20th Century: Activities for Reminiscing and Discussion for suggestions.)
  • For participants who grew up on a farm: Discuss how the inventor/entrepreneur John Deere (who founded the John Deere Company) changed American agriculture with the invention of the steel plow and other farming equipment. Ask group members if they ever owned any John Deere lawn and garden equipment. Challenge them to name the company’s trademark symbol and colors. (Leaping deer; green and yellow)



Hare fun with the following trivia quiz about inventors and their inventions and discoveries. (Note:

  1. Who invented the first mass-produced car, the Model T? Henry Ford
  2. This inventor – with over 1,000 patents to his credit – was nicknamed the “The Wizard of Menlo Park.” Thomas Edison
  3. This official document grants an inventor the exclusive rights to make and sell his invention for a period of time. Patent
  4. Who invented a system for blind and visually impaired people to read and write? (Hint: Raised dots) Louis Braille
  5. These brothers were the first to build and fly in a powered plane. Wright Brothers
  6. He discovered electricity with a kite and a key. Ben Franklin
  7. These coin-operated record players were popular in the 1950s. Jukebox
  8. Who introduced the Brownie camera in the early 1900s? Eastman Kodak Company (George Eastman)
  9. Levi Stauss was the creator of this popular clothing item. Levi’s denim jeans
  10. His plastic food storage containers were a big hit at “home parties” in the 1950s. Earl Tupper

“INVENTIONS” written by Sue Hansen. © 2008 ElderSong Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.

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