The simple backyard shed has always been a refuge for the work-at-home genius, slaving through the long hours of the night with a torch and a pair of pliers, and you’d be amazed at the sheer breadth of thought that happens within people's minds in their own home workplaces.
Some of the most crucial and important inventions throughout history have been created by one person tinkering alone, and a few other ingenious ideas have sprung forth from the same well. Not everything made in a shed has revolutionised society, but sometimes the best inventions are those that you take for granted; small comforts, ideas, and brands that simply form part of your daily life.
You might take the simple packet noodle for granted. It’s a mainstay of people too busy to cook (because they’re too busy inventing!), but the packet noodle was first thought of by Momofuku Ando, a Japanese-era Taiwanese man.
During a food shortage following World War II, Ando was perplexed by the constant supply of wheat and reminders to eat bread from the Ministry of Health, rather than the Japanese staple of noodles.
After months of work by himself, he developed a flash-frying method that would make noodle production not only easier and quicker, but allow them to last a lot longer than fresh noodles and make them easier to cook.
Later additions would include a styrofoam cup, invented specifically for American use after he discovered the propensity for foreigners to snap the noodles in half and cover them in water to cook them. By this stage, he’d moved out of the shed and into a gigantic corporate office!
The instant noodle catapulted Ando to the head of a gigantic international food company, and helped salve the food shortage of Japan, all from the safety of his home garden shed. Ponder on that next lunchtime over a bowl.
The Wright Brothers are well known as the pioneers of the first aircrafts, but did you know that the vast majority of their work was done in a home-constructed shed? Over a three year period, the intrepid duo constructed their original prototype glider on a field in their property; there wasn’t a whole lot of aeroplane hangers before the invention of the aeroplane, after all.
Trevor Baylis is credited with the invention of the wind-up radio, which came to him while watching a charity broadcast against AIDs in Africa.
The program had said that the best way to lead humanitarian efforts would be through information, and that radio broadcasts would be important in that. Baylis reasoned that it would be much, much easier to convey information to people if they could have a self-sustaining radio that wouldn’t need constant battery changes or a fixed power line, so he adjourned to his garden shed.
Armed with a radio, an electric toy car, and a music box, he tinkered around with the power mechanics enough to provide an electrical current that could be achieved with a simple crank shaft.
Unfortunately, nobody else seemed to believe in his invention, and it was met with rejection from both the patent office and those he approached. After getting onto an investor programme named Tomorrow’s World, however, he won multiple accolades, met with the Queen and Nelson Mandela, and started large-scale production of his model.
He’s also set up the Trevor Baylis foundation for aspiring inventors, helping those who create to get ahead with their ideas, meaning less people have to experience the same rejection of their brilliance. If Baylis hadn’t been as strong-willed as he was, he never would have contributed such an important invention to the developing world.
Hold on a second, how could something as large and important as a computer company come out of a backyard shed? The answer is that the original inventors Hewlett and Packard weren’t originally building them, but instead developed an Audio Oscillator that undercut costs of their competition by up to 75%.
Their original genius invention, that sold for $54.40 over competitors $200 by use of an inbuilt stabilisation loop, catapulted them into financial success when Walt Disney Productions purchased an early order for use making Fantasia. Add in a couple of military contracts during World War II, and by the start of the 60s they were considered one of the foundational elements of Silicon Valley.
From their simple beginnings, HP are now one of the largest computer companies in the entire world, and in fact were the largest producer of computers during the late 2000s. It’s now splintered into two divisions, representing their computer and printer divisions, but the original parent company went from two engineering students to a multi-billion dollar enterprise in the Fortune 500 (top rank of #9 in 2009) from a little inspired tinkering.
Getting creative in the backyard shed
The combination of the quiet space, the environment around you and being alone with your own thoughts can make spending time in your backyard tool shed a great moment to have a think about things that might improve the world. Our Titan Garages and Sheds might have you as the next Steve Jobs. Go for it!