The Mother of Invention

It’s snowing outside as I type. Big, fluffy flakes descending rapidly from the sky. This morning it’s cold, cold enough for the snow to stick to the ground, leaving tracks as I make my way from backdoor to chicken coop. We’re a week shy of the official start of winter, but it’s frigid enough I have to bring the chickens’ waterer in each night or it freezes solid. Sometimes, I forget. Which is why our chicken waterer is now cracked.

Once upon a time (10 years ago) I had a metal waterer. It started sturdy, but quickly became dented, then leaked, and eventually rusted through. So I replaced it with plastic. The plastic waterers claim to be freeze proof, but they’re not. I’ve gone through two of them now. They expand and contract with the weather and eventually they break. Months ago (in chicken years, another flock ago), I lined the cracked plastic trough of our waterer with duct tape, sealing the water in. It looks slightly unsightly, the silver tape testifying against the glaring green plastic, but it works. Through 3 seasons it’s held fast.

This morning, as I once again hefted the duct-taped waterer out to the henhouse, marveling at the steadfastness of the fix, I thought: JUST WHO INVENTED DUCT TAPE? A quick Google search and I discovered it was a woman! A woman named VESTA!  

Vesta Stoudt (1891-1966) Duct Tape Genius

During World World II, Vesta Stoudt worked as a packer/inspector in an ammunitions plant in Illinois. The rifle grenade cartridges she handled were being used in the war by both the US Army and Navy, and as two of her sons were serving in WWII as enlisted navy men, she had a particular interest in seeing them packaged right. Each box of cartridges was sealed with tape and wax to prevent water from penetrating the package. To make the boxes easier to open, a small slip of paper tape was left loose from the waterproofing wax to act as a primitive zipper pull. Unfortunately, the flimsy paper tape would oftentimes rip right off –without opening the package! — leaving desperate soldiers clawing to get the boxes open in the midst of enemy fire. 

Vesta’s sons’ lives and the lives of countless others were at stake. This potentially perilous situation had to be rectified. Vesta wisely suggested that the thin paper strips be constructed of stronger, waterproof cloth. She devised a substitute tape and demonstrated its workability to inspectors at the ammunitions plant. And then… nothing. That’s right. Nothing. Despite the fact that she had a great solution that corrected a known problem, she just couldn’t get anyone to switch the tape. But (and this is the part of the story that I truly love) rather than accept defeat, Vesta took matters into her own hands. Literally! She wrote a letter directly to the President of the United States, Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Letter from Vesta Stoudt to FDR (2/10/43)

Within weeks, the War Production Board had Johnson & Johnson producing Vesta’s “Duck Tape,” so named because of its waterproof, cotton duck fabric. She received a letter of gratitude from President Roosevelt, as well as the Chicago Tribune’s War Worker Award. Vesta’s wise determination helped save countless lives and changed the course of history. How many of our modern lives are better because of her genius idea? Definitely mine and my chickens!

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