Close, but not quite Featured

10:00am EDT July 22, 2002

Here are some moments that, in retrospect, seem to have deep meaning, though they didn’t make the list.

1901: King Camp Gillette patents the disposable safety razor. Worst news for barbers since leeches. Now, “suits” are only two steps away (battery-operated razors, cars) from shaving on the Interstate.

1909: Cincinnati Reds play the first pro game under lights at night. Bosses suddenly wonder why the office doesn’t look as empty as it used to.

1911: Carrier invents air conditioning. Office staffers in wool suits are revived and get back to work.

1920: Background music is introduced in stores and elevators. Next stop: Orchestral arrangements of Roll Over Beethoven.

1922: Push button elevator is invented (after annoying background music drives operators out?).

1930: Based on angry feedback from a customer—”Take this tape back to those Scotch [miserly] bosses of yours and tell them to put more adhesive on it!”—3M re-introduces its auto-painting tape as Scotch Brand Cellulose Tape. It will be another half-century before someone coins the phrase “customer focus.”

1936: Culligan Water Technologies Inc. rises to market dominance in distributing water purification systems. Now workers have a place to gather to talk about last night’s game.

1948: The U.S. Bureau of National Standards builds the first Atomic Clock. Predictions that people will now be on time for big meetings prove overly optimistic.

1959: The first electric drip coffee maker is mass marketed, raising the question in offices nationwide: How did we ever survive before?

1969: Don Fisher opens the first Gap store for disillusioned Baby Boomers—who now have high-paying suit-and-tie jobs, but still wear Gap duds for casual Friday.

1973: Fred Smith founds Federal Express based on a class project he was assigned at Yale. (The prof gave him a failing grade on the paper, saying the whole idea of building an overnight delivery business was doomed.)

1980: 3M makes its second great contribution to this list: Post-it Notes.

1988: The rise of independent business as the driving economic force is noted. The same year, SBN publishes its first edition. Coincidence?

1989: Dilbert, the cartoon character, is born, giving voice to those who spend their days in cubicles, and prompting CEOs of all the largest companies to say: “So what’s the joke?”

1993: Michael Jordan leads the Chicago Bulls to a third straight NBA title, retires in his prime to try baseball, proves he can’t, in fact, do everything, and still manages to retain the title of world’s highest-paid pitchman.

1998: Sen. John Glenn retires from Congress and returns to outer space, a hero once again. All without doing a single celebrity endorsement—yet.