Fish Glue and Bread Erasers

by Karin Lindstrom

You don’t have much time left to stock up on school supplies. Choosing just the right gear can be difficult when you’re bombarded with everything from holographic spiral notebooks to shimmering blue glue.

Have you ever wondered where all these school supplies came from? Take a peek back in time and find out.



Did you know a walk in the woods led to the invention of modern paper?

In the early 1700s, French scientist René-Antoine Ferchault de Réaumur stopped to look at a wasp’s nest and realized it was made of paper. (The Chinese invented a similar type of paper more than 1,500 years earlier.) Réaumur figured that wasps made paper by eating twigs and rotting logs which mixed with their saliva and stomach juices.

More than 100 years after Réaumur’s discovery, Americans William Tower and Augustus Stanwood built a machine that could “digest” wood sufficiently to make paper from wood pulp.



A couple of cousins made it possible for your school projects to be drawn in a rainbow of hues. Students were delighted when cousins Edward Binney and Harold Smith invented crayons.

Binney and Smith had already developed an industrial marking crayon, but it was too toxic for kids. The duo experimented with colored pigments mixed into wax. The result: kid-friendly crayons.

In 1903, the first Crayola crayons came in a box of eight and cost a nickel. Today, Crayola cranks out more than 120 different crayon colors, including screaming green and atomic tangerine.



Glue used to smell even worse than it does today. The British issued the first glue patent in 1750, and the sticky stuff was made from fish!

Soon other inventors concocted glues using boiled animal bones or hides, milk protein, natural rubber and starch. By the early 1900s, chemists started using synthetic substances to improve the glue’s stickiness.

Glue is now made entirely from man-made substances. It can also be found in many forms: glue sticks, epoxy glue, wood glue, glue dots, glue pens and even blue glittery glue.



The world’s first eraser was a cube of bread. No kidding! But the bread worked better as a snack than an eraser.

In 1736, French explorer and scientist Charles-Marie de La Condamine introduced rubber to Europe. Thirty-four years later scientist Sir Joseph Priestly noted how well rubber wiped out pencil marks. However, rubber rotted easily.

In 1839, Charles Goodyear accidentally dropped a mixture of rubber and sulfur on a hot stove. He didn’t mind the mess though, because it made the rubber more stable and longer lasting.

In 1858, Hyman Lipman came up with a top-notch idea. He attached an eraser where it belonged: on top of a pencil.



During World War II, the British Royal Air Force was desperate for a pen that wouldn’t leak at high altitudes the way fountain pens did. Hungarian journalist Laszlo Biro perfected a new pen design in 1938 when he placed a ball bearing at the pen’s tip and used a thicker, more permanent ink. His pen could write for a year without refilling and didn’t leak. The British loved Biro’s design.

Many inventors made imitations of Biro’s pen. French Baron Marcel Bich dropped the h from his name and began producing Bic pens. In 1951, Bic sold 21 million pens. Today, 14 million Bic Crystal pens are purchased each day.



Backpacks have been around since Bible times, but it wasn’t until about 30 years ago that students started carrying their books around in them.

Isaac likely used a type of backpack to carry the wood up the mountain with his father Abraham before God spared Isaac’s life. Roman soldiers carried 60 to 80 pounds of gear in a sort of backpack when they marched to battles. Native American women even created a type of backpack to carry their children.

But the modern outdoorsman backpack wasn’t invented until 1952 when Dick Kelty sewed on a hip belt and used a lightweight aluminum frame to create a comfortable carrying system.

Today, most students are required to have a strong backpack with wide, padded shoulder straps.


People needed to write, color, correct mistakes, stick things together and carry them around. The inventors mentioned above found a way to fill those needs.

God gave you a complex, intricately amazing mind to think, analyze and create. Can you come up with a new product? Or maybe you have an idea on how to improve something that’s already invented.

Engage your mind this school year. Use your God-given creativity. Who knows? Maybe your name will appear on a future list of famous inventors!

This article originally appeared in the September 2005 issue of Focus on the Family Clubhouse magazine. Copyright © 2005 by Karin Lindstrom. Used by permission; Photo © Sally Mahoney/, used under Creative Commons license.