09 April 2011

The Human Cost of Comfort

Sourced from Credit Loan, 2009

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'Can you imagine living without the Internet? Well, the Internet’s not even that old. How about living without your television or telephone?

Today, we take a whole range of human comforts for granted. We also don’t appreciate just how inexpensive most of our creature comforts – cling plastic wrap, anyone? – are.

Here’s a brief rundown of some of the human comforts that we now take for granted and the average cost of these items.

Take toothpaste, for instance. This essential product was invented in the 1700s. But that long-ago toothpaste bears little resemblance to the toothpaste of today. In the 1700s, the product was made from burnt bread or from resin and cinnamon. Today’s toothpaste is made from hydrogen peroxide and baking soda. You can credit Dr. Washington Sheffield with inventing toothpaste in a tube. He accomplished this feat in 1892. The cost of this creature comfort? About $3 to $5 a tube.

Air conditioning is another comfort that we barely think about, unless our central air units suddenly stop working on a 90-degree day. Willis Haviland invented the first modern air conditioning unit in 1902. Haviland sought to control the temperature in a printing plant. Before this, cooling the air was hardly an easy process. How much does this basic human comfort cost us? Just pennies an hour.

Credit Leonardo da Vinci with another of our prized creature comforts: contact lenses. The great inventor proposed the idea of contact lenses as a method of studying the eye. The first useful contacts came on the scene in 1887. These were made of hard glass, and were far from comfortable. Soft contacts made of hydrogel were invented by Czech chemists Otto Wichterle and Drahoslav Lim in 1959. Nearly 40 million people in the United States now wear soft contacts. These contacts cost as little as $10 apiece.

What if you have a headache? You can always reach for the aspirin. But this wasn’t always the case. French chemist Charles Frederic Gerhardt first invented aspirin in 1853. By 1899, Bayer had patented aspirin and was selling it in great quantities. Acetaminophen, the main ingredient in Tylenol, came onto the scene in 1956, while ibuprofen showed up in 1969. You can now achieve pain relief for as little as a few cents per headache.

The next time you’re folding laundry, spare Louis Goldenberg a thought. He invented the electric washing machine at the beginning of the 20th Century while working for Ford Motor Company. Spin dryers were added to the mix in the 1930s, forever changing the way we wash and dry our clothes.

We may grow tired of listening to our co-workers, family members and fellow commuters babbling on their cell phones. But think of how difficult life would be without these handy devices. Martin Cooper of Motorola is credited with inventing the first mobile phone in 1973. The FCC eventually approved the first commercial mobile phone in the United States in 1983. Today, of course, these phones are everywhere. You can chat on your mobile phone for as little as $40 a month.

And finally, don’t forget about the amazing flushable toilet. Life truly would be more of a challenge without this wonder. John Harrington developed the precursor to the first flush toilet in 1596. Eventually, we ended up with today’s modern toilets. You can expect to pay about $200 to avoid the indignity of having to take your potty breaks in outhouses.'

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