Friday, March 12, 2010

Five Important Contributions by Prison Inmates (not counting eyeball tattoos)

If you brushed your teeth this morning before settling down to read whatever fascinating new material was posted at In Cold Blog, you were unwittingly celebrating a prison inmate.

That's right. In 1770, British merchant William Addis was doing time for causing a riot. That's when he decided that the customary tooth-cleaning of his day -- rubbing your teeth with a sooty, salty rag -- wasn't the best idea. So he cadged a small bone from a piece of prison meat and bribed a guard for some horse-hair bristles, which he tied in tufts and inserted in small holes in the bones. Voila! The first modern toothbrush was created.

In fact, more contributions to the betterment of the world have come from prison than you might imagine. In a bawdy recent post at, blogger Manhammer (?) listed five of the most notable inventions or ideas to come from behind bars, including William Addis' toothbrush.

You might be surprised to learn the Erie Canal and the modern carbine were prison products. You've heard of the Birdman of Alcatraz (pictured above, looking nothing like Burt Lancaster)? How about Don Quixote?

OK, so these guys were the overachievers of the hoosegow. Face it, most inmates devote their imaginations to tattooing naked women on their scrotums and trying to figure out how to make a shank out of a cockroach. How many times have you said to yourself, "If only these criminal masterminds would put their creative energies to work for the benefit of mankind, the world would be a better place?"

Well, here you have it. Isn't it nice to know that some inmates have put their "time" to good use?

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